03/08/2015 03:50 EDT | Updated 05/08/2015 05:59 EDT

Meet Me in Venice documents journeys of hopeful Chinese immigrants

Imagine living in the Chinese countryside, where you trudge along dusty roads and toil on farms. In town, flyers plastered on bulletin boards advertise Italy offering Italian language or cooking lessons — and dreams of a better life.

That's the scenario that Vancouver-based writer and journalist Suzanne Ma describes after a year in Ching Tian, in the Ze Jiang province of China, documenting the lives of locals who dream of emigrating to Europe.

Ma even followed some of them there. Their emotional journeys are the focus of her new book, Meet Me in Venice. A book launch will take place at Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver on Sunday.

Much like the way people choose to migrate to Canada, Ma says many of the Chinese locals she followed had desperately hoped that moving to Italy would lead to a better life.

And many of them are disappointed.

"Their dreams are shattered when they arrive in Italy, for the most part," she told North By Northwest's Sheryl MacKay.

"[Ye Pei, the main character] thought she would be in Venice, riding gondolas and having gelato — which she did manage to do. But the dream that they do hold on to is to one day be their own boss."

Ma says many of the Chinese migrants face hardship, suspicion and separation from loved ones as they work in Italian garment factories and cafés for little pay, but they persevere.  

"The Chinese have been blamed in Italy for ruining the 'Made in Italy' image now that the news is out that Italian fashion houses contract work out to Chinese garment factories," she said.

"But at the same time, if those immigrants weren't there to keep that industry alive, I don't know if those fashion houses would have survived."

Ma's book launch will take place at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden at 2 p.m. PT Sunday.

To hear the full interview with Suzanne Ma, click on the audio labelled: Vancouver journalist's new book unpacks the Chinese immigrant experience in Europe.