About a year ago a woman contacted me via Facebook asking me how she could start a lunch club in St Ives, Cornwall (my home town). She said she’d been told I’d be a good person to ask for ideas as I was local and knew what was going on. You can imagine how puffed up I was. A ‘local’, in itself a great accolade, but a local who knows what’s going on. Anyone who knows Cornwall’s distrust of incomers will know why I was beaming from ear to ear. Mr P had to make the doorways bigger THAT day.
This morning I was chatting to a young student backpacker (I have the pick of a very large bunch, as the hostel teems with them). Lauren was tall, willowy and very smiley, on her way back to New Zealand after a month of TEFL in mainland China. Hungry and a little broke and finding the cost of being in HK a big shock after mainland China. In contrast only yesterday I was talking to a Belgium girl who is working in Korea, and had stocked up on piles of chocolate as it was so cheap. Apparently Korea protects their own limited confectionary industry by banning imports. Apologies. I digress…. So Lauren and I shared my porridge oats and ginger and honey and chatted about things she might do on a shoestring budget. I recommended the Classic Star Ferry across to Hong Kong, followed by the ferry to Lamma, gave her a map, told her which Pier to head to and recommended she make a day of it, coming back after dark to see the skyline all lit up. Gave her the timetable and wished her a happy day. Also told her about the cheap veggie eats in Chung King.
Today, more about being than doing. A lazy day amongst the locals, swimming at Kowloon Park in the downstairs training pool reserved for the elderly and infirm (if the pool is quiet others who want to avoid the huge pool upstairs are allowed in) where very elderly ladies do gentle exercise and smile and chat, and blind people swim in a lane reserved exclusively for them, all of us eventually making way for groups of learner school children around 4pm. Tired but happy I returned ‘home’ to read and write and pack up my things ready to move to Sai Kung tomorrow. I’m saving the more touristy things, and my energy, for when Martin and Lucy arrive.
And then I bumped into Lauren. She had just returned from Lamma and was bearing a take out curry from Chung King Mansion. “I had the best day” she said, handing me my map. “Your recommendations were spot on, better than asking a local”.
27 nights, and I’m better than a local. Seriously? When I still get lost if I leave Kowloon and head to Hong Kong. But I smile and take her compliment. And punch the air in triumph.
Fast paced city this. But I’m a fast learner. Hong Kong, I’m coming to get you.
Hop Inn Mody, Kowloon. Sunday 9th November 2018. 18.43 my time.
Munching on warm roasted chestnuts as I type. Wearing Icelandic looking woollen jumper over a long floaty red dress. I kept these two items from the H&M stash. The temperature has dropped, and it’s beginning to feel a little like Christmas.
The dorm was empty when I emerged bleary eyed from my bunk. It wasn’t that late, about 09.30 but most roomies are only here a couple of days and get up early to make every moment count. I’m making every moment count too, just in a slightly different way.
Lovely friend Yo had asked to see some of the H&M stash before it went back. So I decided to transform the empty dorm into my own H&M walk in wardrobe. It occurred to me everything I’d bought was black and white and red, and that this has always been a strong theme in my wardrobe. And I discovered today it’s also H&M’s Christmas Instagram ditty. Here are some pics from when I first visited Hong Kong in the 80s, wearing clothes I purchased in HK that trip. And here’s a picture of an outfit I bought for Phoebe, and some of my favourites from my on line albums. I’m just so predictable, just didn’t know it.
Being a kind and considerate roomie, not one who showers at 3am in the morning, does frog impressions throughout the night and repacks every item around 4am, I Tidied it all away, and walked to swimming pool.
There’s a K11 glitzy shopping arcade a few moments from the hostel. With a typical covered ‘stage area’ Today as part of the Christmas celebrations, a singing school are entertaining with Christmas carols and the cutest children singing when they’re not picking their noses, chatting to each other or waving to their Mums and Dads (yup OK, parents and carers if I have to be politically correct, do I? In my own blog?) . The school is called Red Vocal and kerpow, it hits me, where I get my love of black and red and white. The children, all black haired, are kitted out in red and black and white. It looks exactly right. Sequinned red Santa hats with white bobbles, girls in red dresses with black sashes and boys in black leidherhosen and braces with red shirts. And me in my red floaty dress and a black tie around my waist. Given that I now believe my first gift to be the blow up Father Christmas that accompanied me to England, my black, white red fetish makes complete sense. Must have burned into my retina at a very young age.
Naively I never thought that the big C was a problem in Hong Kong. I’m not sure why, perhaps because they seem a very healthy nation compared with back home. Rarely see overweight Chinese. And folks doing self massage, do in (tapping acupressure points, may be spelt incorrectly) stretching, doing tai chi, is extremely common, and to me very comforting. But Cancer IS a huge problem here, just like everywhere else, and at Kowloon Park a ‘Hong Kong fights Cancer’ promotional event is taking place. Complete with another makeshift stage and lots of local groups performing (the kind of thing I’d do if I lived here), music, dance, singing, traditional Chinese music, martial arts demonstrations. All the voluntary and statutory groups who are related, some more tenuously than others, are in tents around the central arena, with literature, freebies and activites for the children.
I can’t remember the number of times I’ve been involved in similar sorts of events, usually as an organiser. It was great to take my inner child – little Laura – and to be on the receiving end for half an hour. I made this with help. Can you believe I applied the, take me back to my childhood in an instant, UHU glue, to the wrong side of Santas beard. I couldn’t make it fit. “Do you need help?”asked the young teenage volunteer switching from Cantonese to perfect English when she hears I cannot speak Chinese. “Don’t worry, you won’t see the glue when it dries”. Oh the embarrassment and shame of not speaking my native tongue, and having no spatial awareness.
I haven’t quite finished it yet. Felt I had to give up my seat to the more age appropriate punters. I picked up a couple of very useful leaflets, one from the Vegab stand, and got the locals take on the very best vegan restaurants to take Lucy to when she arrives January 9th next year. Many have asked “what next?” regarding my root tracing. One of the leaflets I picked up from the event is a Womens Charity, set up to support and empower women and protect the elderly in the exact area my Mother was. So I will contact them and see if anyone has ever heard of my haystack needle sisters and/or my Mother. I’m still getting help and advice, from a facebook post I made to a site called HK in the 1960s. And Winnie is like a terrier with a juicy marrow bone, ringing me up with ideas and next steps each day. Everyone is so helpful, so generous, so full of warmth and well wishing, it makes me want to cry.
The patient and gorgeous Mr P arrives on Wednesday. I am so looking forward to not being Billy No Mates and to being coupled up again. Just us two, sharing a little studio flat in Sai Kung. A small, exquisitely designed studio apartment over looking the harbour. Home from Home. Counting down the days to Christmas and our trip to Vietnam. Will be awesome.
I won’t be sad to leave the 8 bed dorm, but I will miss some of the hardworking, kind and friendly staff. Especially Rosa who cleans the dorm at the weekends. Rosa’s from the Phillipines and is always chatty, asking me how I’m getting on. Today I asked a little about her. Does she have grandchildren? She has 2, she says. Both in the Phillipines, one in college, one just finished. A boy and a girl. But they’re her children now she adds. He son died this year aged 40, from a sudden heart attack. He’d been drinking a lot since his wife’s death from a brain aneurysm in 2014. Rosa had just bought him a ticket to come visit her in Hong Kong. She had been in the Phillipines for her annual holiday just 2 days when he died. I hug her. I don’t really know what to say. But she thanks me for listening. And wipes away a little tear, as do I.
Remember that post the other day?Family Matters. Perhaps you can tell yours that they do. I know I’m going to.
You’d think being in the most illuminated place on the planet I’d be lucid, lit up, be bright and full of inspirational light bulb moments. Well I’m not. Today I pounded the streets looking in all the designer shops. And they’re works of art. Stunning. Innovative – a thousand ways of displaying a reindeer. And some of the Designer clad women are all of that too. Stylish. Perfectly groomed. Like they fell straight out of Vogue onto the HK sidewalk. The men less so.
But being shabby (I left behind all finery) in all of this glitz didn’t feel so nice and I succumbed to buying to comfort myself. Really enjoyed trying on a heap of stuff and looking at self all dressed up. And the kerching as I handed over my credit card. Finally I’ve entered the world of HK consumerism. I am running with my tribe. But back here in the dorm I look at what I bought. All lovely stuff but totally unsuitable for my life in Cornwall. And my forthcoming trip to Vietnam. (It was only H&M Martin, don’t panic). And it can all go back tomorrow on the 30 day return scheme.
But it was fun whilst it lasted
Not my pic obviously- but you can see how tantalising it is here
I took down the blog I wrote following my visit to Adoption Services. Raw and full of emotion. But I’ve kept it, and friends and family are welcome to read it if they want, because it’s an important record of this journey. Priscilla, the caseworker I saw was very kind, and really wanted to help me, and I do not want to jeopardise her position in any way. Supportive readers were already starting to share the post and so it seems wise to unpost it. I had a real sense of Priscilla wanting to help me, more than the Chinese Privacy Laws allowed. And I know she will also try to do the same for other adoptees in the future. Best not to jeopardise others’ chances. As the days go by I realise I am one of thousands. This is so much bigger than me. And this is just in Hong Kong. Orphans who were placed in orphanages and not adopted, just leaving when they reached young adulthood. Babies and children informally adopted by other Chinese families, with no records. Some may not even know they were ‘adopted’. Others, like me adopted internationally as part of the United Nations Refugee Programme in the 1960s. So many of us. All orphans but with very different stories.
Today I got an email from Priscilla. There was so much to take in during our two and a half hour meeting, that maybe I misunderstood, but it appears I had 6 half siblings, not 5. Two died in infancy, so at the time of my birth I had two brothers, and two sisters. One of the brothers had already been given up for adoption, like me, but there are no records of his adoption.
The idea that I have another big half brother, also ‘presented away’ leaves me open mouthed, a stupid dumbfounded look upon my face, ‘You could have knocked me down with a feather’ is a saying that takes on a real meaning for me today.
So today, eating fresh slices of orange and drinking green tea, I have mostly been pondering upon families. My birth family, my adopted family, and my own dear little family that I’ve left back in the UK. Family matters. Yes. Family matters.
I posted a few photos on a facebook website “Hong Kong in the ‘60s”. Not thinking that anyone would respond. Wrong. So many wonderful people have shared the post and sent good wishes, 100s of them, I’ve met up with some, and carried on talking with others. It’s stuff like this that makes everything about this trip worthwhile. Even if I don’t find my family, something is changed and I have been changed for the better.
A 70 year old man wrote on the site about wanting to come back to Hong Kong. How could he do it on a budget, when was the best time? Would he ever make it and should he even try? I know I’m not 70, but I think he should. And I’m about to compile a piece entitled Hong Kong on a shoestring. HK always comes in the top 5 most expensive places to live, and to buy here is probably out of reach for most of us. But it is possible to to find a bed and a meal at an affordable price, if you know how, and I do now. But will he take me seriously and believe I am for real when another new friend tags me in a facebook post, posing in front of a Bentley? If he sees that my view on that day was overlooking millionaire’s boats, row upon row. But all of this luxury was freely and lovingly shared by another person posting on that same facebook group. Will he believe that I started the day scrabbling around in the dark in my 8 bed dorm?That I got dressed in pitch black from the few clothes I have for what I believed to be a hike, only to have the day take a quite different and more luxurious turn?
Today, a different day. I meet up with Winnie. This wonderful woman who devotes so much of her time helping adoptees try and find their birth families. How can I thank her enough? She’s arranged for me to go with her for a local’s massage. 90 minutes of being beaten back into shape again. Followed by dim sum and a look at Old Kowloon. We got to post her Christmas cards and meet up with a 70 year old lady who was an orphan in Fanling, but never adopted. I watch some children performing Christmas carols.
So to the 70 year old man, please just do it. So many secret destinations, right here, right now, in Hong Kong.
Yesterday I was deplete. Like an iphone that flashes low battery 2%, and with too many applications still running in the background.
Maps application always running, trying to navigate, whether on foot, bus, MTR. Getting better, but navigating my around HK constantly drains my reserves.
Calculator app always on too. Am I handing over 50 quid or 5? Getting the hang of this too, but so easy to get the calculation wrong when stressed.
Security app. Is it best to take all my stuff out with me and risk losing everything? Or should I lock it all away in the under bed wire cage and trust the 24/7manned desk will be enough. To lose my passport would really stuff things up.
Calendar app. What day is it? Where am I meant to be today?
And so it goes on. So I dumped everything in the wire cage and locked it in. All the technology, the phone, modem, charger, cables. The blue tooth keyboard. Locked away the passport and the driving licence. In went the cash and the credit cards. Everything of value under the bed. Declined an invitation to hike and boat, and stayed local. Just me, my swimming stuff and my pad and pencil. Went to where I know with just 5 dollars in my pocket.
Walked to Kowloon Park. Not at all like a UK park, but trees and children playing, and a smattering of grass and birds singing and quite a lot of concrete. Watched a wedding, and a group of elderly people doing tai chi, graceful and slow. Lay on a bench with my face in the sun and fell asleep, not worried about someone stealing my stuff. Did a few circuits of the elderly persons fitness trail (chin presses and push ups and monkey bars for old people, seriously). And then after the sun went in, swam 10 leisurely, but long lengths of Kowloon’s municipal pool.
Last night I slept well, the best since I’ve been here. Mr P is always saying we should turn off the internet for a day, perhaps he’s right.