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Role reversal

Sunday 18th November 2018.  18.11.18.

I meet up with my dear friend Liz, also from St Ives Cornwall but a real born and bred Cornish lady not an Emmet like me.  She’s been out in Hong Kong since July.  Like me she very recently become a grandmother, but her daughter is living here in Hong Kong.  And my little family live slap bang in the middle of England.  So my quarter Chinese grand daughter Phoebe was born in Warwickshire and her 100% Cornish granddaughter was born here in Hong Kong.

I watch Liz for a few seconds, just by the Peninsula fountain.  She’s searching for me I think.  Today everything is back to front.  “Normally I can instantly spot you Laura” she laughs later.  “Dark hair, animated, colourful. But here you’re just one in 7 million”.  Totally get what she’s saying, but this does not bode well for my search for my birth family, just a few amongst these 7 million, and maybe not still alive.

Liz, on the other hand, is one of the liveliest people I know, and is the easiest person to find today.  Blonde, tall and her own gorgeous inimitable style, that some of the very cash rich, but style poor, Chinese might do well to take note of.

We reminisce, stroll the designer baby mall (the baby changing rooms are something to behold, we are so far behind in the UK).   We marvel at Baby Burberry, Baby D&G, Baby Armani, you get the drift.., and later in the Ocean Terminal supermarket (nothing like a supermarket, more like a food art gallery) we gawp at grapes that cost £26, and an onion for £3.  Sweet potatoes are very popular, all sorts averaging at £4 a piece.  This perusing made even more hilarious because Liz’s husband used to run the very wonderful but now closed fruit and veg shop back home in St Ives.  I kid you not, you need a small mortgage to buy cheddar cheese, indeed anything dairy here, except clotted cream which at just under £4 is an absolute steal.  Tuna sashimi anybody.  No problem.  Cheap as chips.  

Home comfort
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I belong here

Three things from yesterday, when I spent much of my time being lost, that make me know I have a deep connection to this place.

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It’s here

Only 48 nail biting hours behind me. And all documents intact. Air France you are sh**, but I adore and salute you 

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Maybe she lived here

Another hut in Kam Shan village
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Following in her footsteps

One of a few un numbered huts still remaining

In her statutory declaration as to why she gave me up for adoption, my mother gave her address as an unmarked hut, in Melon Garden, Kam Shan Village, Tai Po.

The wonderful Winnie managed to get us to the village,which is amazingly still there, on the edge of Tai Po, when most of  Tai Po has been totally redeveloped.

We were able to look around and see that a few huts still remain.  Winnie is sure that the right to inhabit will have been passed down through generations, and looking at the price it costs to rent a dire two bed apartment – £1.2k per month, only moments from these huts, I can see why.  Still cannot get my head around the idea that I may have walked and stood exactly where my Mother once was.  We are going to go back again with posters and letters to see if we can find people who were there in the 1960s.  I posted on a facebook page, Hong Kong in the 1960s, and so many people have sent good wishes, shared it with other relevant social media sites.

This isn’t the most eloquent of posts but I promised myself I would blog daily….  Still getting to grips with this crazy crazy place.  One minute I‘m walking the streets, nearly mown down by Prada, Hermes, Gucci, LV, Chanel, D&G, designer frenzied shoppers, the next I’m staring at a hut where my Mother could have lived.  It leaves me speechless and a little confused.

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Roomies

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Especially for Paloma.

10.30am Friday 16th November 2018.  Day 2.

Hop inn mody hostel. Hong Kong

My new roomies.  All 7 of them.

Absolute silence, apart from the shower running. It’s been flowing continuously since 9. I’m  in an unsaid queue, last in line.

Comforting to catch glimpses of my roomies – all Asian, especially their long dark  hair 

All so young

 And so intent on beautifying

It’s hard not to stare

As I imagine them fitting perfectly in a back dressing room for a production of Miss Saigon

Straighteners? In a hostel?

Each one, and they’re not all travelling together, also has a curler in her fringe to make it stick out (in what we westerners might deem to be an old lady shampoo and set look)

Face masks. Yes. Honestly .  Thick and White. Giving a geisha girl look

Sculpting

Powdering

Curling and mascaraing

Brow plucking and shaping and waxing and painting

Products by the suitcase load

No rucksacks in this dorm 

Push up bras

So hard not to stare

Cheap plastic heels

Short skirts

I’m a flower girl/princess t shirts

I get my shower.  It’s a very very long, let’s begin again shower.  Exceedingly un eco friendly, despite all the let’s save water signs, but a much needed restorative drench and purge.  And I figure after my less than easy journey I deserve it.  I’ve Hired a big white towel as I have zilch.   Bliss. 

I emerge. Roomies still at their ablutions. Still in silence. Like watching a religious ritual in very slo mo.

I pull on my now less than clean silk nightie, made more seemly by the addition of two little knots in straps

On with the bottom bit of the jack wills onesie

Tie the upper half and hood around waist

Fasten black cashmere jumper strategically for more modesty

Tie on headscarf, not like the queen, more like Alicia Keys hopefully

A little red lippy 

Day old socks

Vivo barefoot shoes for I want to feel the land of my ancestors beneath my feet 

Shoes are Black and big and flat and  

Ugly , but essential for my deformed ‘bound lookalike’ feet

5 minutes and I’m ready. Me and my ‘I’ve seen a bit of life’ liver spotted face.  This face that causes sales assistants in chemist to thrust products that promises to whiten and brighten at me, when all I asked for was toothpaste.

But as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so as part of my empowerment strategy, I tell myself that I am beautiful and  ready to swim with this crazy Hong Kong current that’s now my life. 

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because she’s worth it

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It seemed absolutely right that my little granddaughter of 4 months, Phoebe Olive Gibbs, came to give her Nai Nai (patenernal grandmother) the best send off to find my, and her, and Tom and Lucy’s roots. Thank you lovely Lisa x

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Seeking long lost family and just lost luggage

21.18

15.11.18

Hong Kong Airport

I’ve arrived.  But my two very small pieces of luggage have not.  Those that know me know I have a tendency to lose stuff.  So as I arrived very early at Birmingham, I thought it wisest to check my minimal luggage in.  No chance of losing it then.  And In it all the very valuable root tracing documents. And the copy set. What an idiot!  How could I get it so wrong?

On arrival I turned on my phone to be greeted with this text

“Flight AF188: your baggage item no102196 will not be delivered upon arrival. It is still in transport. Please go to the Air France Baggage Services desk”

and another duplicate text for the small rucksack containing the few clothes i decided to bring.  You know pjs. socks.  pants.  

 An hour of trailing around and much discussion with officials.  Me looking like crap, tired and emotional and not in the business mode I’d normally assume for such important conversations. I’m given a form and told by the man who looks about twelve, and who seems to think that as I’m here for 3 months it’s slightly funny and absolutely fine they have lost my stuff, that it will possibly arrive midnight tomorrow.

I know, I know, I wanted to travel light.  Occurs to me that I’m coming ‘home’ with roughly the same amount of stuff I left with back in 1961.  Me, and my little bag, and my stuffed monkey Marve today.  Back then, me and my little bag and a blow up Father Christmas.

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Like the 3 wise monkeys in transit

In transit

Flight A188 CDG to Hong Kong

14/15 November 2018.

On plane from Charles de Gaulle to Hong Kong.

An eleven hour flight squished between 2 older Chinese men.  I have no idea how old.  Both wearing baseball caps.  One is grey.  He is sitting in the window seat and all the way through the 12 hour flight he looks out of the window.  Despite the cabin crew telling him not to keep opening the blind, flooding the dark cabin, (it’s a night flight) with light.  He doesn’t watch anything on the screen except to follow the flight path.  And occasionally looks at some sort of dinner invitation with a menu typed out, that he is carrying with him.

The man on my other side, the aisle seat, sings to himself, and does a massive version of a Rubik’s cube.  Click click, sing sing, click click, sing sing.  And I’m sat in the midddle in my jack wills onesie with buttons that don’t do up properly so revealing more than is absolutely ideal for such a situation.  I look like a little old Chinese woman, wearing too few clothes – I do have my silk nightie on under, but the straps never stay up for that long. Oh and I forgot 

 to say they are both wearing their coats and these remain on for the whole of the flight, a grey hooded anorak – Nike, and Aisle, Rubik’s cube singing mans is  a beige waistcoat affair with lots of pockets for when you go fishing, which I guess he does between the flying and Rubik’s cubing and the singing.

What a fine trio we make.  I realise that, although its a million to one chance we could be related somehow.  We all have matching eye bags.  All look a little weird.  And I’d like to strike up a conversation, but I dare not.  I’ve already had the thing with the air hostess who tried to talk to me about dinner, at first in Cantonese and then in Mandarin, until I said “I’m English” and saw that look, I’ve seen it before, confused, bemused, whaa, look on her face.  Compounded when she tries, and fails to, find my pre ordered veggie option.

So if I can’t talk to the two fellow passengers, what’s it going to be like in a my homeland city, full of people like me, but not like me.  There’s a little bit of me beginning to think maybe this is a big mistake.  But we’ve begun our descent now.  Got to stow my hand baggage.  I’m told it’s a no smoking terminal, passed over when it comes to being given an immigration card to fill,  and I’m told to collect my baggage from carousel no 5.  The full irony of this instruction hits me much later. If only that was all the baggage I was carrying. Some of the emotional baggage I’ve carried for years that’s coming up already, the so familiar themes of belonging and not belonging, I’d rather leave going round on carousel no 5.

Afternote.  As we landed the ‘look out of the window man’ suddenly began earnest conversation in broken English.  Turns out he lives in Edinburgh.  A retired restaurateur.  Coming back to HK to get his ID card (Just like me) and visit his brothers.  His wife coming out Saturday.  Asks me lots of questions, doesn’t get concept of being born and then adopted.  Doesn’t know where Cornwall is.  I struggle to understand his English.  He’s been in Edinburgh 48 years.  Just kept telling me in the bit of Mandarin I do understand that everything is too expensive. House, food, ……’

So my Mandarin for ‘do you have anything cheaper?, will come in handy, maybe……