Ian Gill

Ian Gill

Ian Gill is a freelance journalist who has worked on staff in Asia and the Pacific for publications as diverse (and some defunct) as the Asian Wall Street Journal, Asiaweek, Insight, Fiji Sun and Even

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Tracking down my secret grandmother in a Chinese city with a Russian past
Harbin, in China’s far northeast, owes its modern beginnings entirely to a railway. For the first three decades of the 20th century, it was effectively a Russian city. It is a place that has sparked my curiosity ever since I came across a 1927 ship’s passenger list that revealed the name of my grandfather Frank Newman’s “second wife”: Nina Kovaleva, 25, born in Sevastopol, Russia. He would leave his Shanghai-based family with her in the early 1930s. The list also named a daughter, Kyra, aged five, born in Harbin. It was a stunning revela­tion. It implied that my grandfather, an inspector for the Harbin postal sub­district from about 1912, had led a double life for at least a decade. I conta