Do you remember that file I so desperately wanted to read? The one held by the Social Welfare Department in Hong Kong. The one they said they never had when I wrote to them in 2004. The one that tells about my very early days, detailing my Mother’s and my family’s circumstances, why she put me up for adoption. Containing the names of my half siblings. The one I tried to decipher over the Social Welfare Department desk. Well I finally got it. After two meetings, and a lot of heated email exchange I received an email from the department of access to information – DAIO, with a bill for $79 Hong Kong dollars, that’s about 8 quid, saying ‘pay this, and the file’s all yours. Ready for collection’. I am offered the chance to pay in all manner of ways, but not by what might be simplest, cash on collection. I choose the most unsophisticated but easiest method of paying, in person at the 7/11 shop. (There’s a 7/11 on almost every street. Like popping into a branch of, mmmm and now I’m struggling to think of a chain of shops in the UK that are similar to 7/11s. Where in the UK can you can buy almost anything to eat, from Asian snacks to Haagen Das ice cream, sandwiches, fresh fruit, milk, batteries, newspapers, wine, ciggies, toiletries, gifts? You name it, The 7/11 has it all, like a mini mart. Here you can top up your Oyster, pay your bills, cook and eat your microwave supper. Is there such a chain in good old Blighty?)
I digress. Sorry. It’s been a long hard battle to win my file. 7/11 snacks kept me going. In the end I was forced to quote HK law to the DAIO government office, as nicely as possible, so as not to **** them off entirely and have them double their efforts to prohibit my access to the file. But the law is the law. Even in a two system Special Administrative Region of China. And HK law states that all of an adoptee’s files must be held in perpetuity and released to the adoptee if s/he is root tracing. After about 32 emails, backward and forwards, forwards and backwards, I think they must have thought ‘this woman is not giving up, we can’t take any more of this. Give her the ****** file’. I think only two of about 700 adoptees, who were sent abroad from HIK in the 1960s, have managed to get their files, most, not surprisingly, just give up! Some of my fellow UK adoptees are looking for me to pave the way in this root tracing conundrum, so I’m glad not to have disappointed. Similarly, I now know how to advise regarding getting HK right of abode which more UK adoptees are already considering applying for, in light of my recent success.
So, early Thursday morning, I make my way across the sea to Wanchai, the business district on Hong Kong Island. The irony that the DAI office is in a huge tower block above the McClaren and Rolls Royce showrooms is not lost on me. Above showrooms that house millions of pounds worth of pointless (to me) gleaming status symbols (where is there to actually go in these cars?), that can be easily bought by any of the multitude of billionaires that live here, my 61 page file is incarcerated. Within those pages the story of my starving birth family, barely surviving on welfare rice. My Mother and me, a newborn baby and my three half siblings, clothed in rags and all squished into a 16×16 foot dilapidated hut with a rusty bed , some old suitcases and a couple of chickens scratching in the corner.
Look, here is the ‘entrance’ to the DAIO office. Am I I imagining it, or does it look to you as though they really do NOT want anybody having access to anything? In the corridor, every other government office has a glass door, a welcoming reception area. But I don’t feel welcome here. NOW I can see why it’s been a long drawn out battle, this place is like Fort Knox. Through the small hole in the wall I sign a paper to confirm receipt of my file.
And I have it. Finally in 2019. A file first started in December 196, when I was 3 months old, and closed in 1968 when I was legally removed from the responsibilities of my temporary Hong Kong guardian. In my hands I clutch the very first chapter of my life story. Priceless. It’s unlikely I know, but say I was offered a swanky car from the ground floor showrooms, OR or my file from the 25th floor, could have one OR the other. I’m pretty sure you know which one I would pick.