Monday 25.3.19. Train from St Ives to London
The day before I’m due to fly, St Ives mocks me. Yesterday she played her weather hand, and with a trump card, showed her true colours. Typical. I’ve suffered since I came home from Hong Kong, weather wise. Day after day of dreary grey mist and pelting rain, that makes me me stay under the duvet long after I would normally rise, bleating to myself ‘will this never end?’.
So on Sunday St Ives puts on all her finery. She’s not going anywhere, but seems to know I am. As if she’s saying “why would you ever want to leave me? Don’t you want to stay here with me, your gorgeous Cornish Rose. No rain today to hinder your lofty viewing. Look outward Laura. Stop your gloomy introspective ponderings. See my award winning creamy beaches, my azure shimmering sea and baby blue sky, perfectly smattered with soft and fluffy clouds. See all the people, their little silhouettes of black, the odd smattering of sou’wester yellow and nautical stripes. A small child squatting to dig with a tiny red bucket and spade. The stuff of picture postcards. See all these people who have travelled miles to this fine and safe harbour of ours. Even without binoculars you can see their little figures criss crossing the shoreline, making their marks on the tide washed, tide out, expansive clean slate of sand. See the dogs, racing to and fro, in and out the water, wet dog shenanigans interspersed with random vertical bounces, sometimes solo and sometimes with new found canine friends.”
And surprised by her unexpected sunny disposition I stop my packing and my cleaning for five minutes and gaze out across the sea to an opposite shore sitting neatly on the horizon. It is so bright today, that every image has shadow, a double delight of impeccable seaside views.
And gazing on, of course I have to ask myself why anyone in their right mind would want to leave the jewel in Cornwall’s crown. Was the weather really that harsh, go on so long that I felt I had to leave her and rush back into the arms of my new love. Hong Kong. Sky scraping dizziness. Heart stopping
pace. Babble of incomprehensible tongues. The city where I, a small town, city phobic, woman unravel and lose myself. And find myself all over again. This strange and familiar country where I have to take the MTR to escape to islands that remind me of my Cornish home, travel wider afield to gulp down fresh air and frown upon lackluster seas and beaches. What madness is this? What attraction lies within a windowless 8 bed dormitory where good sleep seems an unlikely event? Do I really want to trade the promise of a perky Cornish Spring for a hot and humid, make you sticky all over climate, where the only respite is to travel by subways or head into the ‘free’ air conditioned spaces where I’ll likely become prey to Hong Kong’s consumer madness?
St Ives, you’ve played your trump cards. Location and climate. But you cannot win. For today we are not playing weather trumps. Today we’re playing that old childhood game of Happy Families. A game I never used to win. Never enough cards in my infant hands. And then as my palms grew bigger, I fashioned myself a special few cards, but so precious I dare not really show my true hand for fear of losing them all.
But look now St Ives, see, how confidently I lay down my winning hand. Cards tumbling and falling from my open outstretched hands.
Is just one of the decisions I am making as I prepare for my unexpected and shorter trip back ‘home’ to Hong Kong. Not quite as simple as whether to pack an electric toothbrush for a 20 night stay away, or whether to pack 5 pairs of socks or 4.
Let me write it down for you, we say about recipes, and writing “it” down can be a recipe for a far tastier, far more savoury life. Recipes are precise, even if their language is offhand. A pinch of salt. Writing out how we feel and what we think is also precise-even if what we are writing is “I’m not sure about what’s going on between us right now. Writing is a way not only to metabolise life but to alchemise it as well. It is a way to transform what happens to us from passive to active….
So writes Julia Cameron in The Right to Write, my bible of how to continue to make writing a pleasurable and integral part of my life, without getting hung up on ‘is it good enough’, am I a proper writer. Will I ever write my memoirs, get published, blah blah blah? Julia encourages me, encourages us all, to write because we want to, need to, because it’s an integral part of being human.
I want to blog, but if I do, I want this time’s blog to have structure. I want to be more clear about why I am blogging, to whom, about what. What is off limits, is a blog that omits what is uppermost and most important in my mind a blog worth blogging? I talk about whether I will blog to a dear writer friend. Discuss how I stumbled into blogging at the beginning of my last 90 days in Hong Kong. How it morphed from a personal account, just to record my thoughts and feelings, into something more. A way of staying connected, to myself and to those I wanted to tell about my journey, what was happening to me, as myself became a new self in a new home country with a new birth family.
That was before. The 90 days to find my birth family. A first attempt to blog. A contained piece.
And now I’m preparing to go back, for 20 days, to re meet with my birth family. To claim some records about our Mother and our early childhood lives that Hong Kong Social Welfare are reluctantly yielding. I will also hopefully get my Hong Kong permanent ID card, celebrate new found siblings’ birthdays, get to know them individually in quieter times not dependent on the rules of Chinese New Year Celebrations, meet unmet nephews and nieces, ask for a second DNA testing to confirm the possibility that my birth father and theirs were related. Improve my smattering of Cantonese.
A smaller, but no less important piece of writing. Yes, Yes, I will blog. A decision as easy as deciding to take 5 pairs of socks.
As Julia says,
We are all works in progress. We are all rough drafts. None of us is finished, final, “done”. How much healthier and happier if …….. we put “it” – all of “it” – in writing: the flaws, foibles, fantasies and frailties that make us human.
And now I’m left wondering, perhaps I should pack 7 pairs of socks. What do you think?
Fabulous flight home. Cheap as rice. A spare seat next to me. A large stretch out and do yoga space. A red rose. And the most fitting advertising campaign as I boarded the last leg home from Schipol to Birmingham. Can we fly together again one day please?
happy Valentine’s Day
Wednesday evening. Hop Inn Carnarvon. Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. Hong Kong. 13.2.19
I knew it was going to happen, the last night, the last time I saw people, the last time I took a swim at Kowloon Park, typed at this computer, ate Asian food cooked in Asia, took a shower in my room, made a cup of tea in the common room, went on the MTR. I knew it, but it still doesn’t soften the blow. It hits me right in the gut. A deep, blow that feels like its going through me. And yet, there’s also the exquisite pleasure of knowing I’ll be back with my loved ones tomorrow evening. Back on familiar ground. But now this is familiar ground too. It’s not the same as leaving a place that I’ve just visited for a week. I have a family. People whose faces I now recognise in a crowd, people who look out for me and recognise me, and hug me. A few faces amongst a sea of Chinese. I no longer look at everyone’s faces and wonder, are you related to me? 3 months and everything has changed.
I know that I will continue to process the extraordinary journey when I am back at home. I hope I will colour up some of the sketchier entries in this blog. Make sense of so much. Little things like hearing how my Mother was kidnapped from a casino in Macau, when I had thought her Mother had sold her. That my Mother liked dogs, but would cook dog meat to please her husband. That she liked to listen to buddhist chanting. I find it hard to reconcile the last two sentences! I will continue to put her small ID sized photos against my own passport photo and marvel at the similarity. To remember the places I have been where she also liked to go, one of them a Taoist Temple where my siblings took me to say goodbye. Our last lunch, in my honour, vegetarian, together as a family. Surrounded by rocks and trees, bonsais, ponds, bridges, waterfalls. Birdsong, the clatter of bowls and chopsticks. A restaurant full of people sitting around late round tables. And 9 of us, a reunited family and partners, all circling our own planet, eating rice, and congee and all manner of delicious vegetarian food. Mock duck and pork and a taro fish. Mock squid and prawns. Different types of mushroom, baby corn, sautéed greens, peppers. I feel my families generosity and love, as I know they are all meat lovers. I eat everything they pile onto my plate, every last last morsel. Most of their conversation flies around me and over my head. A couple of weeks ago I found this distressing, but now let it flow around me, delighting when I can pick out an odd word or two that I recognise.
I say Goodbye to Winnie on the MTR. Her stop, one before mine. A hasty ‘see you again soon’. I think she dislikes Goodbyes more than me. No big hugs on a crowded MTR, but we take a selfie and promise to meet up either here or in England. It seems to fast, too ungrateful and fleeting a goodbye, to just let her go, when she has been so instrumental in giving me the gift of the beginning of my life story, and a family.
So I am back to continue with the packing. And with clarity and focus I turn mayhem into order, putting what is most precious and irreplaceable into my hand luggage, having learnt my lesson from the lost luggage debacle three months ago. The precious and irreplaceable include the photographs of my Mother, my birth records and results of all the searches Winnie did. The records I got from International Social Services here and my ‘in process’ Hong Kong ID application and supporting documents. I do my packing Kondo style, tipping everything onto the bed. It’s a scary moment seeing so much stuff, but the shock seems to goad me into action and I transform this, into this. Hurrah.
I’ve got two watches on, one HK time and one UK time. I’ve slept this afternoon, in an attempt to wean myself onto UK time. I need to stay awake a few more hours yet for this to have any chance of working. Perhaps a walk in the park
So this is perhaps my last HK entry. Thank you for coming along for the ride. See you on the other side.
Tuesday 12th February 2019. Day 3.
It’s hard when I’m on my own to stay fully present and not go forwards in time to my going home day on Thursday 14th, Valentine’s Day. Much easier when I’m not alone and I can focus my mind on whoever I’m with, what’s going on between us, instead of thinking about how I’ve got to pack a whole room into two small suitcases.
But today I had a whole beautiful hour of being fully present with a little 4 year old girl I sponsor. She lives at the orphanage I was in as a baby before being adopted to the UK – Po Leung Kuk. Founded in 1870s (Tbc) to protect women and children from trafficking, Po Leung Kuk is still a residential home for babies/children from 0-14. And there are over 200 young people being cared for in this building moments away from Causeway Bay, an affluent business area where you can buy Chanel, a Bentley, Cartier, indeed any high end luxury item.
An hour of play with SY. She wants to play doctors where I am the patient, and she, with her Hello Kitty doctors set listens to my heartbeat, takes my temperature and blood pressure, gives me an injection, prescribes medicine and makes me drink it and applies a plaster to where she has injected me. She seems to like my response, me following her lead and going to sleep when I am told, whilst she goes and tides the room we are in, carefully straightening all the little chairs around the tables. Then she wakes me, and we go through the whole game again, and again, and again. There are so many other toys and games and books in the room, but this is how we fill the hour, and just at the very end she realises I can count in Cantonese and English and Mandarin, as can she and we count using the little stickers from my Moleskine Diary. Then we play a game where we run around in a circle until we are both very dizzy. And at the end she asks me to pick her up and whirl her around, and doesn’t want to be put down when my arms tire. I find out later she has been here for two years and her elder sister is very poorly in hospital and could not visit her for Chinese New Year. Nobody knows if or when she will go back to her family. It’s time for her lunch, I must say Goodbye. It was so easy to be with her, fully with her, moment by moment. I hope she enjoyed our time together as much as I did. I hope, if the conditions are right, she gets to be reunited with her family, that I don’t get to play with her again. A lot of hopes, a lot of feelings. Such a lot to try and make sense of.
I end my day by meeting with Liz from St Ives. She was with me at the very beginning of my journey and has done a flying visit back to Cornwall and back here again, during my 3 months here. So much to catch up on as we looked across the skyline together as the sun lit up the sky bright red before slowly sinking down behind the skyscrapers. We sipped our Suzy Wrong cocktails and drank tea served in beautiful Van Gough china cups. A lingering ‘window shop’ at my favourite HK boutique Shanghai Tang, where every item of men’s and women’s clothing draws sighs of delight, appreciation and wistful longing. It so
I’ve briefly escaped a determined attempt to begin packing to write my blog. But I’m going to have to go back and finish for I do need to get this sorted. Day 2 of my countdown will be devoted to a farewell lunch at my second big brothers (the one who was also adopted). He lives right near the Chinese border so it’s an early start tomorrow and probably a late return. I’m hoping to start the body clock switch tomorrow night to try and avoid jet lag. I want to be wide awake on Friday morning for a little girl who is twice the age as when I left her in November. Whoops, thinking about Friday already, and it’s only Tuesday. No what was that I was saying about struggling to being in the moment?
This post is for Alex, Anna, Ann and Paloma.
Look what my big brother gave me today. It was delicious. Warm custard and perfect crispy flaky melt in the mouth pastry. It could easily have been Portuguese. I thought of you all as I ate it and how glad I was that you have accompanied me on my journey and how grateful I am for all your blog comment postings here. It’s kept me connected to home, rooted when at times I have felt more than a little adrift.
So thank you, and let’s share tarts together again very soon.
Our sculpture park walk was abandoned, because the Kung Fu corner had taken over the park for Chinese New Year Lion Dancing and Kung Fu displays. I took lots of video footage, but can’t manage to make it post to the blog. I was wowed by the 5 colourful lions and the martial arts displays, but my friends less so. I suppose they’ve seen a zillion New Year lion dances before. So we left the area to find a quieter place where they could get to know each other better, as none had met before. There were a couple of dry benches by some lush bamboo screening,
A couple of times since I’ve been in HK, I’ve been likened to a banana, not in an ill intentioned way, but from people trying to get to grips with who I am, where I come from, why I can’t speak Cantonese etc.
Banana (slur) Banana is a term for an Asian person living in a Western country (e.g., an AsianAmerican) who has lost touch with the cultural identity of his or her parents. The term is derived from the fruit banana, which is “yellow on the outside, white on the inside”
But this afternoon, inspired by the yellow bamboo, I decided Bamboo Girl was my preference if I am to have any nickname/slur. This yellow bamboo in the park, growing tall and strong, I like the idea of being like bamboo, light, flexible, Panda food (?), can hold up buildings, portable, used to make items that help conservation such as bamboo straws, Far better than banana girl, something that gets eaten or goes brown and black and mushy. Here we are in front of yellow bamboo. There’s a slight flaw in this renaming, in that I’m not sure whether bamboo is white inside.
I might not be able to post pictures of the lion dancing in Kowloon Park, but I thought you might like to see these three dogs in Stanley, dressed up in dog lion dancing costumes. They couldn’t dance, but they drew huge crowds.
On the day I fly home, it’s Winnie’s 60th birthday, so it’s her year, the year of the pig. (Your year comes round every 12th year, as there are 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac). It’s also Valentine’s Day and her husband Oliver’s birthday. As they declined to join me on a celebration trip to the UK, we went out for dinner to celebrate instead. A perfect end to a perfectly, not at all as planned, day.
So it’s the beginning of the long goodbyes. Farewells to places and things and people.
I returned the borrowed Sax today. I didn’t get to play it as much as I’d hoped but I do feel that I’ll slide back into lessons and band a little more easily and confidently than if I hadn’t played for an entire three months. It’s like losing a small golden friend. Even having it in my room, unplayed, gave me comfort and a sense I could and would keep going with my musical endeavours, wherever I found myself.
Sax returned safely I then decided to invite all the people I’ve met who aren’t family, to say Goodbye tomorrow on a sculpture walk. I sent an invitation that said :
To get, you must ask
To find, you must seek
Good morning. I’m counting down the days until I return home now. I’ll go back so much the richer, a family and a lovely lot of kind, supportive and encouraging friends.
Living in Tsim Sha Tsui has been amazing (thank you Winnie for the hot location tip). But it also takes a lot of energy. So I’ve often come to Kowloon park, to swim, run, look at the trees, hear the birds and look at the sculptures. Watch tai chi, hear opera, chuckle at the comic stars and very occasionally eat a fillet of fish from Maccy Ds. There are some very Hepworth esque sculptures that remind me of St Ives and also of Winnie’s amazing work! I came to the park a lot. All different times of the day. To come home to me. Get strong. Stay calm and focussed during the up and down search for my family.
So on Sunday 10th February I will do the last sculpture park walk. Would you like to join me? To say, not Goodbye Laura, but see you again soon Tang Yuk Lan
I had not really expected many takers as it’s still Chinese NY. But tomorrow about 10 of us will meet, do the walk and say farewell. On the one hand I’m looking forward to it, but on the other I’m so not, as I’m not ready to part company so soon. We only just met!