‘Too late’ she cried

Doing that thing where you say ‘this is my last Friday’ here, rationing the running out toothpaste, shampoo, slither of the big fancy bar of soap I brought out with me. Wondering if I can make the contact lens solution eek out, as gas permeable lenses and therefore solutions don’t seem to exist here. Obviously can afford to buy all this stuff but then have to find room in the two cases I’m bringing home. Home – I’m going home. Where is home now? HK , SUA, St Ives, they now all have a special place in my heart. Family and friends in all 3 places now.

Today I bought a new book. Trying to decide whether to stick with Mandarin, as my family do speak it. And it’s OK for simple one to one conversations. And it only has four tones. But if I am to understand my family when they are talking to each other en masse I will need to make the switch to the harder to learn, nine toned Cantonese. Is it all too late now ??? I’m wondering. I’ve just been getting to grips with what’s happening back home and Ive a feeling Theresa May, maybe thinking the same.

Hong Kong’s Camel Trail

I have never seen so many bicycles. It’s 23 degrees and the last big day of the main three to celebrate Chinese New Year. Families and friends are out in force at the special area near my little sister’s home. Even though I’ve already eaten I am given a huge bowl of congee and a box of rice rolls and a large sticky glutinous bun as soon as I enter her home. I’ve ridden the MTR and had a lift with my niece from Tai Po MTR to Ting Kok Village. And am about to go walking. So maybe food is in order, as I also ran around the sculpture trail at KOwloon Park before setting off.

My Mother came here to look after my two nieces Suui and Wendy when they were babies. It makes me smile to know I am sitting in homes she sat in. Hugging young women who she helped raise. Eating delicious food that she taught my little sister to prepare.

Here are a few pictures I took. I learned to say in Cantonese ‘I am very happy’. Sounds like ‘gnaw Ho hoi sum’. It’s a very useful phrase on such a day as this

Getting New Year off to a cracking start

The new siblings were all up to different things today. I went with big sister to spend the day at my little sister’s house. Big brother in China on a painting holiday, not sure if he’s teaching or just painting for pleasure. Second big sister working. Second big brother doing crazy pyromaniac stuff at his village. Me, I ate tofu, got a kitty fix and gave a couple of massages and taught some basic tai chi and yoga to my rellies.

Wishing I was an Angel

Kung Hei Fat Choy

Zhu Ni Xinnian Kuai Le

Happy New Year (of the pig)

Wow. What a day. It’s late, but I want to remember some things. I think this is going to come out a little like those ‘in my holidays’ first day back at school essays, for which I apologise in advance. But as I said, it’s late and I’ve had a very busy day.

I remember.

Running round Kowloon Park early this morning, and enjoying it! The Pool is shut for New Year, 3 days, and I was not looking forward to no early morning swims. But perhaps it was a good thing because I ran instead and at the end bumped into a Tai Chi master from Sydney. I’d been meaning to do tai chi in the park, but somehow never quite managed it. I suppose our Vietnam sojourn and finding my birth family and early morning swims got in the way. But today I had some expert tuition from Chi and realised how powerful and at the same time calming it is, just the 15 minute Qi Gong type warm up. I am definitely going to add this into my exercise mix. Technical hitch. Video on separate blog post

I remember. Meeting Angel. Wishing I had kept up with my Mandarin, when I met Angel on the MTR, coming home from my eldest sister’s home in Tai Po. There’s nothing like a cute and very bright bilingual 5 year old to make you feel very stupid. Dinosaurs, Frozen (as in the children’s film), the science of condensation……Watch this and enjoy!

Video on separate blog post Technical hitch. Apologies

an Angel

I remember. When I was about 8, my Dad made me a pair of stilts. Not the baked bean can and string affairs, but the sturdiest wooden ones whose tips you put behind your shoulders. I remember I got quite proficient and could go up and down the steps in the back garden. I was wishing I’d kept them when I went to join the tightly packed throng of the Cathay New Year Parade around the streets of Tsim Tsa Tsui. I don’t often lament being short, and I must be average height here (all my HK H&M clothes fit perfectly), but somehow I got squished behind the tallest and widest Chinese man in christendom. And he had a huge camera with the longest lens that when he wasn’t filming he held at an angle that completely blocked my view. The only upside was I could see some of the parade in the large screen on his camera. Still, it wasn’t quite the vantage point I had planned. ‘Why didn’t you just move?’ I can hear you ask. But honestly, once I was squished in, it was literally like Chinese sardines. No going forwards, backwards or sideways until the Parade was over. Not an experience for the faint hearted or those who suffer from claustrophobia. I think next time I may watch on a large screen, or book an actual seat. Next time, did I say next time? Freudian slip?

A glimpse

I spent the best part of the day, and it was the best part, with my family. My eldest sister lives in a tiny flat, the one where my Mother lived. I love being in the space. Seeing the tiny bed she slept on. My eldest brother also lived there for a while, and my nephew too. I’ve never worried about entertaining from a small space and maybe it’s a Chinese thing.

When I arrived, some of the family were seated around the table, some squeezed in the tiny kitchen, some sitting on small stools. My sisters took turns to prepare and bring out food. There was my youngest sister and her husband and one daughter, my eldest sister and her son, his wife and their daughter, my second eldest sister and my eldest brother joined us a bit later. More new family to meet and names to remember. Straight away I was given tea and soup and rice and tofu. Sometimes I was eating alone, and sometimes other family members joined in as other dishes were placed on the table. When my eldest brother arrived, his food was laid before him as mine had been. Prosecco was served in mugs and the meal concluded with a large chocolate cake, the only item that was eaten by everyone together. I loved the relaxed feel of this way of dining. I’m not sure that this is how it’s done in all homes, but it seemed to work for my family, both the guests and the hosts, nobody getting heated about having to get all the food out at exactly the right time.

I remember. After lunch some of us caught the bus to Lam Tsuen to the very traditional and popular Wishing Tree Celebration. Fishermen used to worship a tree in Tai Wo, asking the Gods to keep them safe and give them big trawls. After some TV coverage a few decades back, it became a popular New Year’s pilgrimage for many HKers. My brother tells me the story on our bus journey of how it caught fire (I think that’s what he meant) and the HK government repaired it with concrete, nearly killing it. So now there’s a replica plastic tree. You buy an orange and a tag, this year in the shape of a pig, write a wish, and hurl it into the tree’s branches, where it has to stay for any chance of the wish coming true. In my case it took several hurls, and an over enthusiastic and badly aimed throw nearly knocks out a bystander when it fails to lodge in the branches. But eventually I manage to make it stay. It felt greedy to ask for anything more, after my huge gift of the past week. My new instant jackpot family, who have welcomed me into their hearts in a way I could never have imagined. Strange and at the same time lovely to think that I will leave them here in just over a week, to return to my other small and wonderful family back home. Perhaps one day I will be able to bring both families together at the Wishing Tree.

I remember I had a wobbly day the other day, feeling very emotional and somewhat lacking in my ability to understand what is expected as a younger sister, and struggling with the language barrier. But as the days go on and I relax, I am feeling happy and confident. A bit like with all the new things I’ve done these past 3 months. Sometimes I expect so much of myself, to be able to get to grips with so much new stuff rapidly and with no hitches. Is this possible at 58? Perhaps if I was 5 again like Angel…….. I’d be fluent in Cantonese in a year, and be able to identify all the different dinosaurs in Hong Kong. Oh, and she knew about volcanoes and eruption and lava. Perhaps I will retract today’s wish that I hurled into the branches of the Lam Tsuen tree, and just wish to be 5 again.

My surprise little sister

I was always the little sister in my UK adoptive family. And when I set off for HK on 14.11.18 I thought I was the little sister of my birth family too.

I was wrong.

Li Yuk Lin is!. She is my moy moy in Cantonese, Mei Mei in Mandarin. I see me in her, and her in me.

Surprise Surprise

We went on the bus together to my eldest brother’s house for what referred to, by everyone, as New Years Eve Family Reunion Dinner. What a Reunion Dinner it is for our family. Couldn’t have chosen a more fitting title if we’d tried.

My second eldest sister was working, so we still haven’t managed to get a photo of all six of us together, but we did get some lovely pictures to remember this very special day. My sister in law had put sweet peas on the table. These are one of my favourite flowers. The whole house was filled with the fragrance of the sweet peas and narcissi.

I tarted up a Tesco’s finest cheesecake, as I couldn’t get the Bain Marie thingy to work and decided a frozen cheesecake would travel better on the MTR on such a hot day (yes 20 degrees) and thaw out nicely en route. It went down a treat, but my sisters and sisters in law loved the strawberry picture napkins more than the cake itself.

I have 3 more days of celebrations to enjoy now. One day is where you go to the Wishing Tree and hang your wish but I’m not sure I could wish for anything more this year…

Getting to grips

Sort of. With being with a large group of people speaking a different language from me, but sometimes talking about me.

How not to make any more faux pas over the next very important days. Chinese New Year, the most auspicious time for families.

Who to give money in red envelopes to, how much is deemed acceptable, where to find an ATM that’s not run out of money.

As little sister, being told on a need to know basis, sometimes with short notice, where I have to be and when. But never being quite sure who will be there when I arrive.

Spotting when a sibling says it’s not important, but actually means it’s very important.

How the hierarchy in a traditional family works.

My head is quite confused. But I know that my heart is willing. As an independent strong minded woman in the UK, it is a huge shock to lose almost all my autonomy at such an emotional time and not to be able to understand most of the discussions around me.

I was told not to bring anything apart from my ‘face’ to NYE dinner. In case this is not what is actually meant, I’ve bought some strawberries, white chocolate and dark chocolate and will attempt to melt the chocolate in the common room microwave Bain Marie style and create something artistic. Imported Danish Cookies seem to be very popular but I couldn’t bring myself to buy these.

This morning, I met up with all my siblings except my little sister, and we took my ‘new’ second brother to my Mother’s grave. His first visit and my second. Another very emotional time. It was like summer’s day. I’d already been taken to McDonalds for breakfast, and two hours later lunch. But it felt good to be sitting and sharing with my family, delicious vegetarian food, chosen especially for me, in the restaurant of the famous Yuen Yuen temple where our Mother is buried. They are some of the kindest, warm hearted, caring beings. Gentle, wanting to help me do everything, as if I were 5 again, so for now I’m just going to try and be a well behaved and obedient little sister and enjoy the ride.

This afternoon all my siblings had jobs to do, so I headed over to Victoria Park to experience the real get ready for NYE deal. The Lunar festival fair in the park. It felt like a mix of the Ideal Home Show, Wellesbourne Market, Wyevale Garden Centre, the Good Food Show and goodness knows what else. Some great Instagram shots to be had, if I did Instagram and could take a decent photo. But here’s a few snaps so you get the idea.

So much more I’d like to tell you but I have to go melt and dip.

Trivial pursuits

  • So there’s apparently lots of contemporary customs before New Year.
    not sure this is one of them. But as the shops are packed with a million different kinds of face packs I thought I’d give it a try. The last time I used a face pack I think I was probably 16. A pack that resembled mud and dried like clay making it impossible to speak. This was quite a different affair. You have to peel the white plastic bit off and then you’re left with a soft pliable floppy blue sheet you smooth onto your face. And then You lie down and let it all sink in.
  • And so I lie down and let it all sink in. Gosh what a lot of stuff to sink in. And I listen to a bit of Cantonese and wonder if you I should continue with my Mandarin or make the switch.

    I eat lightly. Play my sax again for the first time since I went to Vietnam.

    I know the next few days are going to be full on. I know that there’s much going on ‘out there’ that I could do all of this trivial stuff when I’m back home, that there’s places I’ve still yet to explore, things to do, people to see. But today I just need to let it all sink in.

    Jackpot Family Part IIu

    This is my journal entry from today Friday February 1st. 11.30am.

    Just as we were at my Mother’s grave, my big brother kneeling and bowing on the floor, holding sticks of incense in prayer, and my big sister laying out the food for my Mother, and me not quite knowing what to do, I got this message from Winnie.

    Bessy (Red Cross) has just rung and said they have found your other brother “name hidden” and made the appointment at 3:30pm at HK Red Cross today!

    Totally surreal moment. Like being in a movie.  The moment where everything comes together finally. My siblings always knew about him, my Mother had gone regularly to the village where she thought he had been sold and longed to know of him until her death. My siblings wanted to find him but were too scared to try. But being on the receiving end of being found by me has totally changed things. There is a shift in thinking from ‘he won’t want to know us, to he may be really pleased to know us’. At the news my eldest brother broke down and sobbed. After we managed to persuade him to find someone to take his art teaching duties for him this afternoon, that he must come with us to the Red Cross offices, it is confirmed that he will be reunited with his younger brother later today.  60 plus years after he and my mother returned home from farming to find their opium addicted father/husband had sold the little brother for 200 dollars. Twenty pounds!  I’m crying inside. My heart is breaking at the thought of this.

    There is some time between visiting my Mother’s grave and the Red Cross appointment. Dazed and confused, I share lunch in a huge cafe at Tai Po with my sisters and sister in Law. I go back to the house where my Mother lived with one sister and then go with her to meet my Brother at the bus stop. I listen to him tell me about his youth, the struggles to become and artist whilst trying to earn money for his family, as we ride the bus to the Red Cross Office. He tells me I have my Mother’s courage and determination and hope, and because I have these qualities, that he believes himself to lack, and an education, I am unstoppable. He thanks me for reuniting him with his brother, for reuniting the whole of the family in time for Chinese New Year, in the year my Mother would be 100. He believes she has sent me. I believe this too.

    And in the Red Cross Office…. I sob. Uncontrollably I weep. To see the brothers hug and hold each other after 60 years of longing. To see my eldest sister and my newly found brother’s wife crying with joy. My newly found big brother has had a difficult time since his ‘adoption’ and is sobbing with joy after find his real family. So many crying people. I cry with joy that finally we will all be together when my little sister returns from her holiday in Japan tomorrow, but also with sorrow because I realise that they are all reunited but soon I will leave them all behind. I also weep with frustration because I cannot understand a word of what is being said around me, and much is being said. Winnie translates as best she can, but it’s not possible for her to participate and tell me everything that’s being said. A room full of crying people talking in Cantonese and Hakka, and me crying, silently, looking on.

    Below, a summary of how I got to this point, more for my benefit, than yours! Just for the record.

    90 days to find a long lost family.

    I came to HK on 14th November giving myself 90 days to find my Long Lost Family. From the paperwork I had tracked down from Warwickshire County Council (my adoptive Mother destroyed/lost? my records) I believed I was my Mother’s youngest daughter. The fourth child of four, that I had my Mother and an elder brother and two elder sisters to find. I had a huge shock in November when I was told by Social Welfare Department that my Mother had had 7 children including me when she was forty years old. Her first 2 children had died in infancy, I had been adopted to the UK and one son, older than me had been ‘given away’. But I had been right about trying to find a big brother and two big sisters. There was just one more brother to find as well. I also at that point realised it was unlikely my Mother was still alive as she would be around 98 and had been in poor health when she had me.

    Armed with this knowledge, Winnie, who has been helping me with this search, did a death search for my Mother and found that she had died in 1997 aged 78. The death certificate had been signed by her daughter, my sister, and there was an address. We asked the HK Red Cross root tracing service to intervene at this point, and met with them on Tuesday 22nd January to sign papers to authorise them to act on my behalf.

    I had another surprise Thursday 24th January when the Red Cross told me, via Winnie, that my Mother had gone on to have another daughter after me. I had a little sister, I was actually number 7 of 8 children.

    I was reunited with my eldest sister at the Red Cross offices on Tuesday 29th January 2019. I was reunited with my eldest brother, my eldest sister (2nd meeting) my second eldest sister at a dinner on Wednesday 30th January. I also met my nephew (eldest brothers son) and niece (daughter of my surprise younger sister) and my sister in law (wife of eldest brother).

    Following the meeting where I met my eldest sister. Winnie, she and I decided to ask the Red Cross to help us again to try and find the other brother who had been given away. He had been sold aged 4, by his Father whilst my Mother and elder brother were out working one day, to raise money, it would seem to buy opium (whether this is true I am not sure). (He also changed my eldest brothers name from Wong Shui Mok to Wong Tim Fat which means get rich quick). One of the reasons Winnie and I could not trace my siblings was because their names have been changed. Name changes (including mine) feature heavily in this saga. It would seem only 2 of us 6 siblings have not had name changes.

    At the reunion dinner on Wednesday 30th January, we agreed I would go today, February 1st, with my siblings to visit my Mother’s grave together.

    Laura’s family

    Big Brother has wife (met) and one son (met) and one grandson aged 6

    Big sister has one son and one grand daughter aged 10, husband died many years ago.

    2nd Big brother has wife (met) and 2 daughters and one son not yet met and Ages not yet known

    2nd big sister, has been married but no children

    Me – I have a husband, one son and a daughter in law and a grand daughter and a daughter and stepson. Yay.

    Little sister, yet to meet. Has husband and 2 daughters. I have met one.