An unlikely journey

A story that has nothing to do with luck but with dedication, hard work and the willingness of being always the different one


It has been a month since my grandfather passed away. I could said many things about him and probably people will relate with my story. However, I want to tell you what made him unique and, without planning it, one of the most amazing travellers.

Chi -yi Chen

Chi -yi Chen

I am Venezuelan (South America) and my grandfather, Chi – yi Chen, was Chinese. You can start to imagine the journey his life was just with that piece of information. He left China when he was 19 years old with help of some Jesuits priests that were expel from China by the communist revolution. He was already Catholic and probably he had an adventurous spirit; two things that were uncommon for a little village in the Anhui province. By that time he saw his first bicycle, got beat up by some other boys and slept on top of a buffalo at sunrise.

Chi – yi went to Europe, to Rome and the unusual started to grow more and more. He studied Latin, Philosophy and some Theology. Nevertheless, he was not content there and travelled to Belgium to study Economics. By that time he had already acted as an extra in a movie (he never remembered the name, but he was part of the crowd in a casino) he had flown on an airplane with a wooden interior and he had learned Italian, of course.

In Belgium, he lived in the house of one professor, worked in the dining room at university and got a PhD in Economics with a Thesis that got published with the highest distinctions. He told me he drank a beer that day and that was all his celebration. None the less, as his biggest achievement there Chi-yi Chen mention he met my grandmother.

I have to mention here a rare person with a rare journey has to have a rare wife. A beautiful Spanish,  who specialize in teaching to kids with Down syndrome. She once said: “I went to the door and your grandpa opened it; he was smoking a pipe and I though he looked so interesting”. By that time he had travelled to several places around Europe with friends, he spoke French and he had taken his future wife to eat Chinese food and dance Cha cha cha.

Chi -yi and Conchita

Chi -yi and Conchita

After Belgium came Paris but Chi –yi was getting maybe too comfortable in Europe and less unusual, how he liked it. Therefore, he moved to Venezuela; as far as he could an again as uncommon as possible. He worked on an urban planning project and later he took the job that would give him more joy. He became a teacher at the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (UCAB). Of course, as an adventurous spirit he travelled all around his new country, he marvelled with the geography of Venezuela and where there was no road he tried to open one. By this time he had married a beautiful Spanish, he had learned Spanish, slept in a car under the stars and had two daughters.

The upcoming years for Chi –Yi will be singular in many ways, so he never left Venezuela. He will do some of the most important population studies in Venezuela, help the UCAB to grow with an Economics and Social Investigation Institute, teach thousands of students and will always inject new ideas to everything he did. By this time he had made money in the Stock Exchange, he learn English, traveled even more parts of the word; he finally could see again his Chinese relatives, published several books and did barbecues almost every weekend.

Chi -yi and his siblings

Chi -yi and his siblings

Chi –yi Chen’s final years where more quiet, but he stayed as unusual as he could. He liked to take care of his garden, watch the news and take his granddaughters around Venezuela. He was made a member in the National Academy of Economic Sciences in Venezuela and stayed active with lecturing conferences and writing articles. By this time he had Twitter, Facebook and checked the news online, skyped with me every weekend, and kept smoking his pipe despite the doctor’s prohibitions.

However, even the most extraordinary journey has to end and that happened last month at his 87 years old. When I asked him about his life he used to say he was a vagabond, a perfect description for an unusual traveller who made every possible journey throughout his life. He made many physical journeys, but also spiritual, intellectual, emotional, cultural and even though he was a man of few words and he never said it,  he knew how unlikely all his life was.



Personal note: Thank you grandpa for showing me that being a hopeless vagabond with determination and hard work gives you an amazing life. I will try to catch up with your remarkable journey.

Me and my grandparents

Me and my grandparents


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