Hong Kong

I’m reviewing the situation…

And keeping myself safe. And not panic ing.

“Go home and wash with hot water, wash your nasal cavity, rinse your mouth with a hairdryer. Prions will lose transmission at 56 ° C”

This is the google translation of a message sent to me by my sister in law and just one of the many pieces of ‘advice’ I have had.

The news comes thick and fast. Carrie Lam, under pressure to close the border with China has sort of half done it by suspending high speed rail and cross border ferry services.

Government workers are ordered to work from home and private companies are following suit. Public facilities are all closed indefinitely including swimming pools (had decided this was a bad idea anyway and glad I didn’t get in that day) and museums etc. Schools are shut for 2 weeks beyond the normal lunar holiday.

Ironically the centre I got my weekend job at is still planning to open and asked me to go in saying the children would wear masks and use hand gel. I have politely declined, as I have to use crowded public transport systems to get there, which is a definite no no.

I had a long chat with my hosts, Mr and Mrs Leung this morning and asked them if they would prefer me to move out. Their daughter and son in law are both doctors, living and working in London, and very worried for their parents. Mr and Mrs Leung spend 6 months in the UK each year and this means that their English is great and also they don’t think exactly the same way as traditional HKers. This has helped hugely when trying to have such a conversation and making some plans. We have agreed that for now, none of us will go out unnecessarily or have contact with others. We will take walks out within the area which is rural compared with TST where I stayed last. I am not going to see my family for a few days. Yesterday I walked to see them, rather than using public transport and we ate in a very quiet private type restaurant and they gave me a lift home. But even so it is really hard to totally relax and enjoy myself and also return back to here wondering if I have brought the virus home.

I never imagined when I set off that I’d end up having to think about all this stuff. Whether to stay, or come home, from these people, this place, that I am trying to get to know better. Coming home, whilst sounding good, also has some downsides. Being confined in a plane with a couple of hundred unknowns for 13 hours has limited appeal. And then on arriving back in the UK, I’d probably self quarantine for 14 days and would definitely not go near a vulnerable 90 year old mother in law or a little young grand daughter, well anyone who I care about really.

All food for thought. Quite different from my visit a year ago. But important to not panic, take in as much reliable information as possible, and keep reviewing the situation.

reminding me to also keep a sense of humor, as stress increases cortisol and reduces immunity
Hong Kong

no idea what anyone’s saying

I’m spending the 3rd day of New Year with my family and there’s an air of excitement because the NY horse racing is on the TV. It is a big event and I think some of them have placed bet and might have attended, rather than watch it on tele’. But the virus problem means only members and owners are allowed to go. Cannot say I would have been tempted, the Chinese gambling gene seems not to have been in my DNA, though I do love the 2p shove machines in St Ives arcade, and if I am honest I am wishing I could be beamed up there right at this moment.

It’s hard to be surrounded by 10 people all chattering excitedly when you simply have no idea. I can pick out the odd word here and there, but even then don’t know if I am right, as one word can mean any of eight words in a tonal language.

On the plus side though, my understanding of numbers is getting a good work out as I try to name the horses, and for now I guess I’ll just have to be happy with that.

Throughout the afternoon dish after dish is placed on the small table, and now a little cake for my nephew’s daughter’s birthday. We celebrated last week but it seems as she is a rat and it’s her year, then the celebrations continue on. That definitely gets my vote.

update. it seems Emily, Eunice’s Mum, has a line into a member at the races who is taking telephone bets for us. I have bet on number 7, as the jockey wearing red. perhaps I do have gambling Gene’s after all.

Everyone laughs as I urge on number 7.

because I shout cat, cat thinking I’m shouting 7, 7. but I am apparently shouting stupid scrotum? oh dear:
cat6″. The original character is “𡴶”, which means “scrotum”. On the contrary, in modern slang uses, it refers to the penis in a flaccid state, and commonly written as “𨳍” or “柒”. The implied meaning is thus “useless”, “stupid”, etc.

but even with the language divide I can feel part of this excitement. come on number 7! Wish me luck.

Hong Kong

when the dog bites, when the virus stings

when I’m feeling sad

I simply remember my favourite things

and then I don’t feel so bad

didn’t bring much stuff, but every little thing I did, means so much to me. A reminder of home, those I love and things that let me do my daily rituals to help me stay strong in a crisis over which I have no control.

Hong Kong

New Years Day tonic

a good night’s sleep and a long talk and a lot of sensible advice but also a lot of laughter with the lovely Lucy Gibbs, and remembering yesterday’s facetime with Tom and Lisa and little Phoebe and I’m feeling a lot brighter. it’s chucking it down with rain, perhaps it will wash the virus clean way ~ whoosh, wouldn’t that be wonderful.

when I don’t put all my focus on the virus I remember other lovely stuff. asking my sister in law to see her wedding pics from 40 years ago produced an old album containing these nuggets of gold

Hong Kong

a sombre start to the New Year

The mood here is definitely sombre and I am subdued. So this won’t be an upbeat post. I am sorry. I haven’t been sleeping well these last few days, so am a little tired, and I’m finding it hard to get excited about New Year when the news is choc a bloc full of Corona virus updates, all very disheartening and really quite scary. Everything I read and see suggests that the epidemic is getting worse by the day and HK may have missed the boat in preventing highly contagious Wuhan visitors from entering, many of them symptomless and unaware they are carriers. HK had 4 diagnosed cases this morning, two being treated in a hospital very close to here. More worldwide cases were highlighted on this evening’s news and I believe Scotland was mentioned? Schools here are closing for an extra 2 weeks (just as I begin my teaching job) and the marathon and all major public sporting events have been cancelled. The Cathay NY Parade and NYE fireworks had already been cancelled to eliminate risk of further rioting. The fields near my eldest brother’s house are still full of the beautiful pink blossom trees that should have been bought to decorate the houses for NY, a sign of economic downturn according to Mr Ngai. It feels like there is rubbish everywhere. Partly due to less collections over a public holiday combined with the removal of proper bins because protestors were setting them alight and also because the Chinese seem to think nothing of fly tipping – bicycles abandoned everywhere, broken furniture, old cars, household waste…….

Daisy, Mr Ngai and I braved the Lam Tsuen wishing tree event that I first went to last year. It was definitely much much quieter with no queues for anything. This major tourist attraction has a carnival/festival type feel with performances, an on site temple, displays, a vegetable market, gifts souvenirs stalls and all manner of Asian food vendors. Those who had come out to celebrate entered into the spirit of the day, lighting huge blocks and bundles of incense to honour their ancestors, and hoping for the Gods to grant their wishes by writing them down and hurling the requests strung onto lucky plastic oranges into the replica plastic tree. Today, I was cynical and tired (plastic oranges and a plastic tree because the last 3 real trees died, really?!) and I could not be tempted by any of the activities that last year had me jumping around like a small and excitable child. For I was weary and on edge and could not be persuaded to eat street food, of any kind, even though I hadn’t had breakfast. Between you and me, even If I was a starving die hard meat lover, I would NEVER have risked eating any of the things on offer. Against the backdrop of a potential killer virus epidemic, it seems madness to do this. The food is prepared and served in a big open public place where it must be very hard to maintain good hygiene standards. I’m sure the standards today were nowhere near as appalling as the Wuhan live meat market that’s at the epicentre of the crisis. (If you haven’t seen the photos of the Wuhan live meat market I suggest you don’t google, truly alarming), so my lips remained tightly sealed behind my surgical mask, the cost of which has now doubled, as HK runs out of supplies.

Tuesday, our family had made plans to all get together again and continue ‘celebrating’ ,at my 2nd BIg Brothers house, to include a visit to my Mother’s favourite temple for lunch.

But as I write this blog, a message pops up from Winnie

Your second brother’s gathering on 28th January will be cancelled because of the virus attack in HK.

Hong Kong

Luckiest girl alive

It’s New Year’s Eve. The last day of the Chinese Year, and I am home alone reflecting on how much I have to be grateful for. Here’s just a few reasons:

  1. Of the 103 adoptees brought to England in the 1960s, by the National Children’s Home and Dr Barnardos, only 3 of us had birth certificates, i.e were relinquished, rather than abandoned. So we 3 had a bit of a chance of finding our birth family. Only 2 of us had by the end of 2019, and one more adoptee just did using DNA testing. I hope she is the first foundling of many to succeed using DNA. She found her sister who was one of the 600 sent to the States during the same period.
  2. The orphanage my Mother put me into was a good one, still exists today. Horror stories abound of orphanages in China where babies were left for days in layers of nappies. Basically the babies were fed, but not picked up, changed, cuddled or comforted.
  3. Although my adoptive family fell apart and my adoptive Mother refused to have contact with me from the age of 21, I had a good early start in life. A great schooling, all my health problems sorted, learnt ballet, the piano, went to Brownies and had family pets and went on family camping holidays to great places. I feel I really was loved, in those early days, and had a loving and close relationship with my Dad, who lived a good and meaningful life until he died aged 83, when I was 53.
  4. Less is more. I may not be in touch with my adoptive siblings any more but have my own small and wonderful family . So proud of them and grateful for their love and support in all my weird and wonderful endeavours.
  5. So many friends, old and new, near and far. Ones I see regularly and ones I see every now and again. But each and everyone of them there for me, cheering me on through the highs of life, and hauling me up from the low spots.
  6. Health and wealth and happiness, with some to spare.
  7. Living the dream in beautiful St Ives, a home right by the sea where I can swim and sing and dance and write. Play my saxophone and feel like I belong to a community.
  8. I found my birth family. And the siblings who survived infancy are all still alive, connected and living close to each other here in HK, when two of them spent long periods abroad and might have remained there.
    And, unlike other adoptees who found their birth families but were rejected by them, mine have welcomed me with open arms, and big open hearts.

But today, I learnt how really truly, I am the luckiest girl alive. Alive.

I arranged for big sister Daisy and Mr Ngai to meet my hosts Mr and Mrs Leung for Yum Cha. All my family are keen to meet my hosts and thank them for looking after and out for me. Daisy may have told the story she recounted to the Leungs today, before, but if so, Winnie has chosen not to tell it to me. Mrs Leung’s English and Cantonese is excellent and after Daisy has talked for a long time, Mrs Leung, gently and calmly, but with a sad look in her eyes turns to me and says,
“Daisy is saying it was so difficult for your Mother when you were born. (I already knew that my Mother’s first husband had sold away everything, including their second son, to fuel his opium addiction and died leaving her destitute). She had no money to buy food and was living in a hut with nothing, barely surviving on welfare rice. She had been deserted by both your Father and Mr Tang (the man whose name she put on my birth certificate). She was desperate. She was so desperate she believed it would be better if she killed you all, the 4 remaining children. So somehow she got some insect (rat?) poison and was going to kill us. But an old man, Mr Li (Ellen, my little sister’s father) persuaded her not to. He told her to put me into the orphanage and get me out when things got better. He offered her a share in the little bit of land he had and said if she would help him look after it, he would share the produce with her. He also encouraged her, as she was illiterate, to find somebody to write a statement for me, and to get my birth registerd. But it was still a struggle to feed everybody, and so your Mother did not get you out”.

All the paperwork in my possession supports the likelihood the story is true. I also believe that the authorities were keen to start sending as many of us as possible, as quickly as possible, to fulfill the aims of the project to send the babies overseas. Mine and other adoptees’ parents were impatient for the babies that had been assigned to them to be sent. If there hadn’t been such a project, would my Mother have taken me back?

It all happened so many years ago now, and none of us can ever know the whole truth. As Napoleon said ‘History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.’

But if the story Daisy told Mrs Leung is true, I think you might agree that I am indeed, the luckiest girl alive.

Hong Kong

Ho Mei ? (means delicious)

A quiet but industrious day today. Before New Year there is a designated day to clean the house, although it seems Mr and Mrs Leung have been cleaning and mending and making and painting ever since I arrived. Windows have been replaced, doors mended, constructions constructed, flags hung and there is a quiet frenzy of DIY. I hope not totally in my honour.

I cooked a simple lunch of cauliflower cheese, with left over bits and pieces I bought to do cooking with my friend’s little son Aaron who is 5. Very cute but doesn’t like eating much, so we played a game of I like, you like, we like, no like, where we used flash cards to work out foods that we all liked (not many) and made dinner together. It was a hit, in the sense that he loved the whole planning, chopping, grating, stirring cooking process, but still he did not eat his own creation, a smiley face of vegetables au gratin. No matter, he ate enough simple pasta to fuel him through a couple of days. And he loves oranges and cheese, so he’s more or less got most food groups covered.

The virus from Wu Han is starting to frighten everybody and I’ve been given boxes of face masks and have watched the South China Morning Post video on how to thoroughly cleanse my hands and put my mask on so it seals correctly. Bad timing as so many coming into HK for Spring Festival. Hopefully it won’t turn into a full blown SARS type epedemic and I will not be quarantined when I return to non European UK, I wonder if it will be chaos at the airport with those of us coming from China being pulled off in one direction, and the citizens of Europe having to go through a lengthy screening process. Heaven help you if you are a European coming from China, will they let you in? Will everything change at midnight on 31st January? Will we all be runing around like Cinderellas as our clothes turn to made in England rags as the clock strikes midnight?

The sun is still shining as I type at 4.04pm It is 23 degrees outside. Unheard of since it’s meant to be winter.

I was going to try and swim but Mrs Chang, our neighbour came round, first with cake, then a huge cat (not edible) , then a plan for us all to eat hot pot together. So I accepted it all, and offered to feed the big cat, King Kong, whilst they go to Singapore for 2 weeks. I don’t know how much this cat eats, but I’m guessing a lot as he is the size of a dog. There are loads of cats here, one neighbour has 9 apparently. Cat lover I may be, but I ain’t signing up to feed her brood should she decide to go on holiday. So instead of the swim, I ran, in 23 degrees, working up a big sweat and an appetitie for the hot pot (sometimes known as steam boat)
This contained:
goose intestines, anyone?
sea cucumbers that look like small grey ……
sea cucumber’s intestines
fish balls
fish something else
cuttlefish mince
meat balls
soy bean steak
and yummy fresh greens and parsley freshly picked from Mrs C’s allotment.

Hosts very kindly asked “Did I mind if they cooked the meat things in the communal hot pot broth”, knowing I am vegetarian. A sort of rhetorical question really. As I had contributed zilch to this communal endeavour it would have been very rude to say anything but No, and can’t see that they could do anything else. But boy was I mighty relieved when the intestine thingys went in right at the end, after I’d had my fill.
Ngoh bao le! I’m full. Very useful Cantonese phrase for such an occasion.
The bits I ate were delicious though. Ho mei. Delicious.

Hong Kong

Daisy Day

Daisy’s husband died when her son was young, and apparently my Mother brought up Henry, my nephew, whilst Daisy worked to support the family. But she now has a wonderful partner, Mr Ngai, who lives part here in HK and part in Amsterdam. His wife died, but he still has 3 daughters and 4 grandchildren in Holland so splits his time between two homes.

It’s a real joy to be with them both and see them caring for each other and hear how they’ve enjoyed trips to Europe and Canada (with 2nd big brother and his wife) and mainland China. All so exciting for Daisy who I don’t think has travelled much until recently.

Luckily for both Daisy and me, Mr Ngai speaks great Cantonese and English. We will sorely miss his translating when he goes back to Amsterdam at the end of the month.
He’s also takes a mean picture and enjoyed taking pictures of our shennanigans. He told me “you are just like your big sister, naughty, like a child, playful and fun”.
I guess we didn’t have a chance to play together as kids, so are now siezing every opportunity to make up for lost time.

Mr Ngai me and Daisy

Hong Kong

the greatest gift

I had dinner with my eldest sister yesterday. She gave me 9 toothbrushes, a nest of 5 red cosmetic pouches and two oranges. And a delicious home made dinner of tofu, rice, glass noodles and mushrooms followed by Chrysanthemum soup. All cooked and served with love in the tiny flat were she now lives, and where my Mother also lived with her for 5 years before she died.

I asked big sister Daisy when my Mother’s birthday was and she got out all my Mother’s old passports and right of re entry permit to Hong Kong, that allows HKers to travel to and return from mainland China. So Kam Lai it turns out was born 8th October, a Libran like me.

Before I found my family I tried 3 times before the Chinese government granted me a visa, because I had no HK ID and had had so many name changes. When I did finally get one it cost shed loads. Lucy paid over £200 I think, in 2019 to go to Shanghai after she visited me in HK.
So a right to return permit would be a great thing to have and would allow me to go in and out of China without applying for an expensive visa each time.
But I can’t have one, as Winnie and I discovered on my last trip and an aborted attempt. New rules mean I need to have a valid HK passport, not the same as the right of abode ID I did get, and requiring more bureaucratic hoop jumping and form filling. Winnie also thought I would be safer travelling in and out of China on my British passport. And even moreso in light of all the recent troubles. So I made the decision not to bother to reapply for the right to return permit, and just pay for a Visa as and when required.

But now I do have one, a re entry permit. Not mine, but my Mother’s. Of course it’s worthless in that it won’t save me any money, but i am so proud to hold it, own it. To touch something that was hers, that she had held and kept carefully. My big sister has gifted it to me and that means such a lot. Generously and freely given with no hesitation. After my adopted Dad died, my adopted sister was unwilling to let me have ANY of his personal belongings. The difference between the two sisters is vast, unfathomable. Enough said.

The permit is in great condition, enclosed in a bright red shiny cover that I too might have chosen, and it shows me all the dates my Mother travelled to China, sometimes just for one day. Also I know she was 64 in this photo.

Looking at the dates, I think she may have entered and left Hong Kong at similar times to me, when I first ever visited back in 1986. Perhaps our paths crossed at the airport. We shall never know, but I like to think so.