A day bursting with sunshine. I get to spend the first day of December basking on the beach on the laid back island of Lamma. It’s just two picturesque ferry rides, but a world away from the chaos and high rise of Tsim Tsa Tsui. No Partridge in the Pear Tree for me, just Cornwall’s own blonde version of Wild Swans. Hong Kong is now blessed with three new and outstandingly fair daughters, Tilly, born here on 19th July 2018, her Mama Aimee, and her Po Po aka Liz Rashleigh Mounsey.
In the book Wild Swans, author Jung Chan depicts a haunting and barely recognisable China. The country and the lives of the people are portrayed within the biographies of her Grandmother and her Mother, and her own autobiography.
Late into yesterday evening, I read another Chinese author’s social commentary masterpiece. Xinran’s comparatively slim but equally tear jerking ‘What the Chinese Don’t Eat’. The book was a lucky find on my walkabouts yesterday. Years ago I read Xinran’s book The Good Women of China and I knew her to be the founder of Mother’s Bridge of Love charity
The book, a collection of wry and observant short articles originally written for the Guardian, made fascinating reading but nothing could have prepared me for this. An article about abandoned Chinese daughters which left me weeping silently. Attached here for you to read if you’d like, but do have a tissue at the ready.
Ps. Realise it wasn’t Dec 1st. Genuine mistake. Not poetic licence.
It was bound to happen. Blog block, that dreaded moment when I’d be lost for words. Tonight is that night, my head’s in a spin, I don’t know my arse from my elbow.
So I’m going to let the pictures from today tell the story. So many times I wondered if I was really in Hong Kong. Could so easily have been Sydney, Ibiza, Croatia, Cornwall, Greece or Portugal.
Thank you to the wonderful, gorgeous, generous hearted being that is Robby Nimmo, for showing me a very different face of Hong Kong. Welcome to Sai Kung.
Today was mostly spent faffing and researching flights in and out of Vietnam, with several mistimed “I’m not sure” conversations back home. I must learn how to subtract 8 hours and stop waking people up in the early hours of the morning. 2 weeks in a dorm in HK and my brain has gone to mush.
What, with the much anticipated comings and goings of Mr P and Lucy, and the shall we, shan’t we go to Vietnam, and if so, how long, and the overlaps of my much anticipated visitors, and the who is where and needs a bed when, I have become as skilled, and off hand, and as surly as a polyester clad Lunn Poly travel clerk. Do you remember Lunn Poly? Another retail victim of the internet phenomena. Perhaps if they had relocated to Hong Kong?
Into this ‘travel agency from my bed’ set up, enters new roomie number 267 (I made that up of course but it feels like over 200 have come and gone since I arrived), Agnes from Amsterdam.
Agnes is everything you want from a roomie. Smiles a lot, up for a lot, spontaneous and not adverse to sharing a cheap curry in the much derided Chung King Mansion. And Agnes has just stepped off a flight from Vietnam, full of passion for this compelling country and its friendly people, buzzing with stories and recommendations, and now she maybe wants to live there. Who could resist, Agnes or her new love?
So can you guess who’s booked 3 weeks in Vietnam? Yours truly. The one who was so lost two weeks ago. I can also proudly add that I am the one who guided Agnes on her first short tour of Tsim Tsa Tsui.
What a difference a day, indeed 14 days, makes.
However bad you are
Sunday, I talk to my little family back home. Tom & Lisa and baby Phoebe. Heavy rain, so everyone seeking refuge in the common room. A bunch of Korean women cooking up a delicious smelling feast. Most seats taken, so I perch myself on the sofa next to a young guy. He can hear my conversation but it’s the best place to get a decent signal so I babble on regardless. I’m engrossed, watching my little grand daughter, hoping she can see me too, as she squirms and wriggles with delight. Telling Tom and Lisa how I’ve managed to borrow a saxophone and why it’s important to keep playing, keep the embouchure and diaphragmatic breathing strong. How happy I am to be able to play again, though where and how I haven’t yet figured out.
After I hang up, I strike up conversation with the guy on the sofa, not least to apologise that he’s had to listen to all my high squeaky ‘Hello Phoebe, it’s NaiNai’, over and over.
Cody. From LA, a music producer. And he couldn’t help overhearing my conversation and tells me that he majored in saxophone at university. A semi professional classical saxophonist. On the sofa next to me in HK. But he’s stopped playing, no chance of getting a job, felt under pressure, stopped enjoying it. He shows me a video of him playing when he was young, and it makes me want to weep. Such talent, not being used. And me with very little talent, desperate to play every day, loving every minute.
Today I’ve rigged up a practice area. The dorm is empty and I play some blues and Christmas carols. Nobody bangs on the door to complain. And I know for sure I’d rather have little skill and be using it, than lots of skill and not. I hope Cody plays again. Criminal not to. Listen and see. One day I’ll be brave enough to post a YouTube of me. Perhaps.
Monday 26th November 2018
Love that film. Gwyneth Paltrow at her best, before she went a little weird. Sliding Doors, the film that depicts how it might have gone, one person, two very different lives.
I had my own Sliding Doors Day today. (Winnie, who is co-ordinating my search has arranged for me to go back to where I was born). I got off the MTR at Long Ping station, 30 minutes from where I’m staying in HK and took a 10 minute train ride to my birthplace. The doors slid open and I saw how my life might have been had my Mother kept me. How life would had been had she not relinquished me, complete with my full story into Po Leung Kuk orphanage, 10 weeks after giving birth to me. She gave birth to me, her fourth child, in a hut, in Hung Shui Kiu, Tai Po, New Territories. She gave birth to me in the hut of a man she cohabited with after my birth Father left her, and her 3 children from her first marriage (she a widow) when his own wife appeared from mainland China with their children. Are you getting this? I barely can. Complicated, and so very sad.
Such a sad, sad, heartbreaking story. And equally sad, the stories of older women today, forced to gather cardboard to eek out their meagre ‘pensions’.
This could have been my life, a life of sickness and poverty. I am extremely shortsighted, -16.5 in one eye, -15.75 in the other. Would be blind without my lenses/glasses. My feet are an amazing mess, lots of work in my early years. My teeth were not good when I arrived in UK, but are now wonderful due to great NHS dentistry in my early years. I had an amazing education. But had I not been adopted I would likely be dead, illiterate, struggling with my health…., gathering cardboard.
People, usually English, on hearing my story, sometimes say “You must be really angry with her (my birth Mother)”. As a therapist I was taught never to say “You must” followed by a feeling. That when you get it wrong you close the other person down. Better to say I wonder if you feel……Be tentative.
But I know not to be closed down by You Must statements, and have the courage to not just agree, but say my truth. And the truth is this.
I am not angry with my birth Mother. I am sad for her, and my heart breaks when I think of how hard it must have been for her. To give away her 10 week old baby. To struggle to survive. To give birth in the hut of a man who was not my Father, and then put the co habitee’s name on the birth certificate because she had been deserted. How can I be angry at this? I want to thank her, tell her I turned out fine, more than fine. That I am loved, know what love is. How to give and receive love. That I have my own family, she has amazing grandchildren and a great grand daughter. I am grateful. So grateful. She relinquished me, into the orphanage with my story. Of the106 adoptees that were brought to England in the 1960s, only 3, me included have a story, information. Most were abandoned in stairwells, on doorsteps, in public places. My mother could have done this too.
If I don’t find anyone, I won’t be sad, disappointed. It’s hard to explain how much it means to have walked in my birthplace. To receive so much help from the people here. To finally see the place I had only seen as words on a birth certificate before.
To say aloud, in the place she gave birth to me “I love you and I thank you” and let the words fly to her in the wind.
I am both attracted and repulsed by articles entitled ‘How to go straight from work to a party’. Topical at the moment if a) you’re working b) have party invitation/s. Neither apply to me, and even when they did, I don’t remember doing any of this:
But say I had the need. I’d do it like my newest roomie, Shreya, from London’s, grandmother.
Today I finally exit my bunk bed around 2pm, (yes, really got that routine thingy nailed), eyes stuck together by mild conjunctivitis, (maybe the pool’s not as clean as I thought, sleeping with air con all night, lack of fresh fruit and veg?).
But through the bleary stuck up eyes, lo, this apparition, a gorgeous women, preparing for a wedding party, instantly my eyes are wide open and unstuck, face all agog.
Shreya tells me that the sari she’s wearing is 100 years old and belonged to her Grandmother, an Indian doctor, who would wear it during her work day and then go straight on to a wedding or a party afterwords. She shows me some barely noticeable stains, from the chemicals used during surgery and to clean up after.
Now that’s what I call real style, both then and now. Who needs the Daily Telegraph telling us what and how to wear? Fishnet ankle socks? Really?
Lucky for Shreya though, that I have no work, no party, or I would have had that outfit off her back in a heartbeat.
What have you been doing today? That’s a normal sort of question from one spouse to another I guess, when one of the pair has taken off to bright lights and city on the other side of the world for 3 months.
But today I’m glad I don’t have to answer that question, on a FB video, or What’s App call, where Mr P might notice a flicker of embarrassment as I mumble “er not much.” For today, there’s no thing of substance to report. I haven’t hired a junk or hiked the Dragon’s Back. No Harbour Cruise, or Big Buddha, well not today anyway.
Today I made porridge, with bananas and blueberries. The first cooking I’ve done in over a week. And I brewed ginger, lemon and honey tea. I washed my clothes, changed my bed, sorted my stuff. And sorted my stuff. And sorted my stuff some more. For someone with so little stuff, I seem to spend an unproportionate amount of time tending it, as though each individual item were some small child or animal needing daily monitoring and encouragement. But I noticed how happy each item made me as I lovingly put it back in its rightful place. The 3b pencils, the little pots of honey and ginger tea, charging cables, the little key fob that reminds me of my beautiful Granddaughter Phoebe. I don’t remember the last time I smiled when I changed a sheet on a bed. A task usually done with lots of whingeing and complaining.
I was never a huge fan of Eckhart Tolle’s work, but the one thing I do remember is something about needing to build and tend one’s base camp if one is to climb mountains. And over the years I’ve got good at this, building base camps, literal ones and my own internal one, that I tend through meditation, writing, reading, swimming, yoga, playing my saxophone.
So no mountain climbed today my love, today has been about base camp stuff, so I am ready to climb the mountain tomorrow, maybe.
But I did head out, for hostel living can get a little claustrophobic, and joy oh joy I found a saxophone shop just one MTR stop away. Hired me a saxophone and was given a book of Christmas songs. And invited to go back and join one of the little offshoot groups, that informally play after group lessons.
I then decided to go for my daily swim on the way home, walking with the sax, instead of taking the MTR. Bit of a stupid idea, but I knew if I went back to the hostel I might not get out again. And not an easy feat with so many shoppers on the street enjoying HK’s national pastime and me lumbering along with a big black case. At one point I thought of stopping and seeing if the tide of fervent shoppers might just sweep me along, so tightly were we pressed together.
I wasn’t sure what I would do with the sax whilst I swam, sort of hoped I could leave it with the Security Office. But no, lots of fast and loud Cantonese, lots of head shaking and pointing. ‘You go down, you go down’ a cleaning lady interrupts my vain attempts to give the guard the borrowed sax. So I follow her down to level 2, the training pool area, wondering what I will find. And lo and behold, a long bay of exceedingly large, lockable lockers, so big I could have got in one and played the damned sax.
So here I am, home to HK. I’m tending my little, temporary, base camp, and there’s no doubt in my mind. Hong Kong, you got your prodigal daughter well and truly covered. Thank you.
I woke up this morning missing the sea and the sky, and lo and behold had a last minute invitation to lunch at the Yacht Club at Marina Cove, Sai Kung, New Territories. Think sunshine, clear blue sky, yachts and boats bobbing on what looked like a bright and clean ocean. Probably not at all, but it felt good to believe so.
If I have been putting you off coming to HK, please fogive me. As well as being chock-a-block full of mega malls, street markets, neon lit and nitty and gritty, it is also a place of jaw dropping beauty and contrast at every turn. Incredibly wonderful kind people, and most of the ones I have struck up conversation with do not dispose of their saliva publicly, this pleases me greatly.
After a very long lunch I made my way back to Tsim Tsa Tsui. Now I’ve got the hang of the MTR, the world truly is my Oyster, or should that be Octopus? I have that same glow about me, that same bubbling inner joy that I remember when I first realised I could put letters together to make words, and words to make sentences, that I could read and write. I was the only child in my class who could do either, but my precociousness caused me problems when I wrote PENSLIS (thank heavens for the SL) on the pencil box and vehemently denied it to my very lovely and non shaming teacher Mrs Houghton. Oh what joy I have remembering. I feel five again. Imagine Dick and Dora and Fluff and Nip, or whoever YOU learned to read with, hugely magnified and plastered all over the underground walls, and being able to make sense of it all and you’ll maybe get the drift. I stand there staring, transfixed at the map that tells you which entrance is nearest to which streets, and there are a lot of them in TST, and then why not imagine a small rather silly, beaming face looking up in wonder? Can you, are you? That’s MTR literate me.
I’m feeling very proud that I have not succumbed to buying anything yet apart from delicious morsels. But it’s very early days yet. And it is so very very tempting. There is absolutely NOTHING that you cannot buy here. The shops stay open until 12pm. I wandered into the newest shopping mall that only opened this week. An Agnes B restaurant and chocolatier. I thought she was a model? Here’s just a few images of things that made me smile.