An Account of the UK HKAN Reunion in Birmingham on 6th October 2012 contributed by Laura Tan. Some names & info has been removed or abbreviated for data protection:
“Would anyone be willing to write a blog of today?” asks someone, possibly Debbie, or Kate or Jessica. Yes, it has to be one of the brilliant trio who have worked so hard to steer the group forward and by sheer determination, hard graft and careful planning have made this re-union (maybe a union for first timers) possible – thank you.
My ‘volunteer to write the blog voice’ stays quiet. But my hand seems to shoot up all by itself . Today I am energised and excited by all that has happened. On a roll, thinking, learning, reflecting, growing. Finding my authentic voice, which often seems to get lost in other situations, and indeed got lost at the rather large (for me) BAAF conference earlier this year in London. At the BAAF event, I felt unsure and overwhelmed – and this is in no way intended to criticise what was a brilliant event. I have since worked out, that personal buttons about being the focus of attention for being adopted and Chinese were being stimulated and uncomfortable memories triggered.
After Saturday’s event, on Facebook, Jess offers me good advice “Basically the blog is meant for people that might not have been able to make it to an event so they can get a sense of the day – it doesn’t need to be complex at all”. She also adds “it would also be great to have a personal touch from your perspective of the day and maybe how you felt a little if you’re comfortable with it =).
Advice from both Jess, and Ernest Hemingway (“write the truest sentence you know”) stimulate some deep and complex thinking about what I want to blog. I have written about my feelings of being adopted in my journal, but that was just for private consumption. It feels quite different to write a piece that aims to do justice to such a brilliant day and for an audience with whom I have some deep connection, but barely yet know. To find an authentic writer’s voice. I hear it in my head, I feel it in my heart, but how to put it into words?
The truest sentence I know, is that prior to Saturday, I flinched at the very idea of fellow adoptees calling, or referring to me as Sister. After the BAAF conference, I reported back to my husband that I felt again, here was another place, another group, where I had hoped to fit in, but didn’t feel I did. And now something feels different. Now the event is over, and as I continue to process something has shifted. And I want to go back to edit my first paragraph and write – Thank you, SISTERS, to the SISTERS who organised, and the SISTERS who attended. I want to shout the word SISTER from the rooftops, and hear a thousand Chinese voices shout it, whisper it, mouth it back to me, Jie Jie (big sister, big sister), Mei Mei (little sister, little sister) – welcome home.
Back to some neutrality. Some objective (well, I can but try) account of the day.
Doors opened at 10.45am. The day is a bright sunny Saturday 6th October.The venue was Birmingham’s Chinese Community Centre. Generously donated free of charge, Kate’s workplace. There seemed to me to be time to refresh, meet old and new faces, exchange contact details on a usefully prepared list.
But there was also a finely honed structure to the day, presumably put in place by Kate. And so, to try to add clarity to this blog I’ll try and structure the blog from here to match the structure. Helpful, when my thoughts are literally all over the place.
The icebreaker was announced whilst I was in the loo. Jess has since reliably informed me that “people were asked to match up with someone they didn’t know and talk about the last adoption thing they came across. Then we would have to tell the groups who and what we talked about as a mini introduction”. And not everyone present was adopted. Adoptees had brought with them sisters, husbands, daughters and possibly friends.
Debbie has asked Yvonne to take H. under her wing as it is her first time to a HKAN reunion. They are seated next to each other on my table. H. is speaking to the group and reads aloud from an article detailing the names of the babies and children who travelled to the UK with her. She reads a name and Yvonne shouts “That was me”. I am instantly struck how I yearn to find my fellow travelling companions. Almost as much as I long to find my birth family, I yearn to find those who were with me in Po Leung Kuk.
And we have an international adoptee from the USA who has come for the first time to the UK. She has a beautiful book of photographs from Fanling (Babies Home orphanage). Earlier I have talked properly with two adoptees who were adopted into the same family as sisters. They are also seated at my table. Their united names form the name of our American visitor. How cool is that? I feel I have been witness to something beautiful. Debbie hands me a gift. A beautiful little mirror with our logo and website address, now changed to .com which very appropriately marks the inclusion of our American sisters. A present, now safely treasured, from Kate, Jess and Debbie. Is there no limit to this trio’s generosity of time, spirit and heart?
For me, the ice completely melted when J. spoke of how important our group was for her, how she so valued being part of it, how she wanted to find her roots and her culture, and learn the language with, and for her children? For me the ‘ice breaker’ was more like a ‘snow former’. A thousand (well, yes, I exaggerate, there were probably about 30 adoptees and 8 guests) snowflakes, swirling, dancing, falling to make pure, bright, yet untrodden snow. And much later, when the group is discussing their experiences of being supported Debbie speaks out courageously to say how therapy didn’t work for her, but how important the group has been in her own healing journey. Are we all really snow angels in disguise?
“Sometimes a person has to go back, really back – to have a sense, an understanding of all that’s gone to make them – before they can go forward”. Paule Marshall
For those who came wanting to know how to find records, Speakers: Kate Roach, Barnardos and Maria Affinito, NCH Action for Children delivered a joint presentation on the records held about babies and children adopted from Hong Kong under the ISS overseas adoption programme in the 1960’s.
Their presentation was (I thought) exactly as billed. They told us what information is held, and the process for obtaining it.
But they were also very helpful in recognising that some adoptees were not part of this initiative and provided useful signposting.
I was struck not so much by the clarity of the information given but more by their generosity and genuine interest in supporting the group. They had given up their Saturday to freely support each of us. In my excitement of the day I didn’t thank them personally but if either of you happen to read this, xie xie.
Kate’s journey to find her records
“Sometime in your life you will go on a journey
It will be the longest journey you have ever taken.
It is the journey to find yourself”.
As well as organising the event, venue, catering, Facebook and Web updates on the event, Kate had also prepared a funny and poignant presentation of her own journey to find her records. A grown up “Show and Tell”, with pictures, documents, anecdotes and reflections.
It was informative, personal, touching, inspiring. Worthy of, and so much more, than these few lines. Worthy of being reported as an individual blog – anyone? Or hopefully Kate may put up her own summary (no pressure intended). I imagine the whole day must have been challenging to her in so many ways, as the key organiser, as a participant, responsibility for so much. But Kate rose to meet her challenges and more than succeeded. Way to go, mei mei (little sister), inspirational.
Summary and Goodbyes
We talked of many things and sadly I don’t remember everything. Root tracing, how to, whether to, cost of having documents certified. Orphanages that may or may not have been sorting stations for abandoned babies. Western interpretations and retelling of stories by our adoptive families to make the truth of abandonments seem less harsh, more palatable, when there is a possibility that the locations of “abandonments” may have been specifically chosen to ensure babies were found. Sisters, Mothers, Daughters. Husbands. We all share of our experiences in these roles. But equally we are allowed to adopt the role of listener if we wish. Feelings are honestly and emotionally shared. Facts are shared. Offers to help are made. And I have little doubt that more intimate exchanges are made throughout the day as we share informally one to one and in small groups and at the dinners before and after the structured part of the day. Debbie gives us some feedback about the BAAF study that been a very instrumental in bringing us all together, and talks of future possibilities. My heart takes a little leap at the thought of meeting up again with my newly found sisters. It is my wedding anniversary, so I can’t stay for the evening meal at Cafe Soya. I make a reluctant exit, but stay for the group photocall. Today I am proud, rather than reluctant to be in the picture. There are sounds of laughter and hilarity as we are directed by Jess towards the right camera to smile into – and there are many lenses pointing in our direction, one photographer somehow managing to juggle four devices.
I am walking across Birmingham City Centre surrounded by strangers. I feel the warmth of the sun on my face, and the sun in my heart. A glow, a warmth, a love. A sense of sisterhood, a sense of belonging.
(Tang Yuk Lang. DOB 1960. Place of Birth – Tai Po, Hong Kong. Stayed in Po Leung Kuk Dec 31st 1960 – February 1962)