My grandfather, who was born in Abruka (a speck near Saaremaa) and naturalized during WWII, was a sailor, because apparently on the coast of Estonia there isn’t much else to do. When he became an American, he sailed with the Merchant Marines; my mother remembers going to Turkey and Israel, and spending lots of time in Venezuela.
I don’t have a complete list of all his ports of call, but we know he went to Japan, and to Hong Kong (which at the time was under UK control), and likely stopped in China proper at least once.
That must be where he got the ring. It’s gold, nice and solid, and has four characters on it, separated by raised diamond shapes.
My grandparents split well before I was born, once their daughters were grown. (My grandfather was a bit of a bastard, and saying that is an offense to bastards everywhere.) My grandmother never mentioned her ex-husband much, except mockingly, and I never saw this ring – her wedding ring – until after she died. It’s interesting: I never saw her wear it, we never discussed it, it is from a part of her life that ended well before I began. But it’s still hers, and she was still the pillar of stability in my world when I was small, and it is, therefore, damn near sacred.
On a whim, a few days ago, I photographed it and posted to a few places online, to ask what language those characters were in and what they meant. I had no idea if I’d even gotten them right side up, though it turns out I had.
The translation, in Chinese, is rather simple: good fortune, and may things go your way. A nice sentiment for a wedding ring, I suppose — certainly better than the badly thought-out “Uh, that means chair, not strength” Chinese tattoos that have become popular these days. (Although it would have been funny: I hereby wed thee with PINECONE DRAINPIPE CLOUD SHOE.)
All of this is fairly normal, except: the third character. Depending on how one reads it, it could be 女ロ, which is Japanese. The Chinese symbol is damn near identical to my Latin-text-reading self: 如.
The hilarious part is that, in Japanese, that particular character means “Russian girl/lady/woman.” And y’all know not to call an Estonian a Russian. We get… grouchy… about it.
I wish I could tell my grandmother this, because she would laugh hard enough to burst something. “HE CALLED ME A WHAT? YOU SEE WHY I DIVORCED HIM!”
It is now, and forever will be, Grandma’s Lucky Babushka Ring. Because it’s funnier that way.