Debbie Cook was asked to do a presentation for British Association of Adoption & Fostering (BAAF) as part of the British Chinese Adoption Study (BCAS) Presentation in January 2012 and people had asked her to make a copy available online.
The information on this page is a copy of her speech. This presentation explores Debbie’s personal adoption journey & expands on the creation of the UK HKAN group. You can find supporting information on the About page.
For those of you who don’t know me my name is Debbie COOK, I was abandoned in Hong Kong when I was approximately 2 weeks old and taken to Fanling Babies Home. I was chosen when I was 17 months old by my adopted parents, who happened to be in Hong Kong visiting my father’s family and a few months later the International Social Services facilitated my passage over to England, where I was legally adopted. Miss Tsen the Assistant Superintendent of Fanling Babies Home gave me my Chinese name TSIN Sui Fan which means a lovely fragrance.
I am not a public speaker but I hope I can deliver this speech well. I would like to thank you Julia and your team, for all the hard work that has gone into preparing this survey, we all really appreciate it. I know that this study has taken approximately three years to collate and I have looked forward to seeing the final published paper. Over the last couple of years there has been a surge of interest amongst Hong Kong Adoptees in attempting to contact others who have shared a similar experience and the survey coincided with this search. It is with your help Julia that I have managed to contact many other adoptees and the internet especially Skype [a free internet call service] has made contacting others so much easier but the internet connection really started when two American girls started a Website for Hong Kong Adoptees.
In 2005, Kim met Ms. Tsen, Assistant Superintendent Fanling Babies Home (this was her official title) who introduced her to Mei Yan since she knew they lived near each other. Thus in 2006, Kim and Mei Yan decided to create the fanlingbabies.com website to honor those who pioneered in taking care of orphans.
Its main purpose was also to help us all find each other and share what little history we had as there was nothing (publicly recorded) written down or saved at that time. The irony is that Kim and Mei Yan had visited HK many times looking for Fanling Babies Home, neither found the orphanage in time or each other. When they finally met, Kim and Mei Yan discovered they had been at the orphanage at the same time.
It was my mother who made the first contact to the website in 2006 and I can recall her great excitement that there was one even written! I must admit irrespective of my mother’s enthusiasm I did not make contact until some 6 months later as I was still on the dial up dot. dot, dot, internet connection and perhaps not ready to embark on this journey. When I eventually made the contact with them myself they put me in touch with other Fanling Adoptees in the UK who had given permission to be contacted which I can remember at the time as being absolutely amazing.
The HK adoptees living in New Zealand were the first to find each other. They organized major reunions in NZ every 10 years. In 1999, they agreed to hold their reunion in HK in 2009. Since Kim was in contact with the New Zealanders, they agreed to expand the reunion to include the USA and UK adoptees that Kim and Mei Yan knew.
The reunion of HK adoptees took place the end of September early October 2010 in Hong Kong where over 30 adoptees mostly from NZ, UK and USA attended. The first 2 days were hosted by the New Zealanders and took place in Kowloon. The next 2 days of the reunion were held on HK Island and organized by CAAWR Committee. I was privileged to be part of the CAAWR Committee which included the two girls who created the Fanling website.
We conducted all the committee meetings over Skype. The Skype conference calls were also a fun way of getting to know each other and they led to lasting friendships being formed amongst the committee members. Those who attended the HK reunion in 2010 also formed lasting friendships because when you meet face to face and share a good meal, it really cements the bond that you already have as a fellow HK adoptee. As a result of the 2010 HK reunion, the NZ adoptees continue to organize reunions for those living in NZ and Australia. Kim and Mei Yan organized two USA reunions in 2011 and plan for more. That left the UK/Europe to me!
Spurred on by this involvement [with the CAAWR], my enthusiasm led me to reconnect with some of those UK contacts that I had made, one I arranged to meet at my parents house as she lived nearby (not to be advised as I found that there was so many things I wanted to ask but couldn’t, as they were things that perhaps only adoptees can share.) We met again soon after this and since have become great friends. She has given me great encouragement to arrange other meetings for adoptees and the first meeting was in: Manchester, followed by one in Birmingham then the last 3 in London and the last meeting was at the Betjeman’s Arms at St Pancras Station, London, where Julia Feast was able to arrange a boardroom free of charge. These meeting require a private room if they are to be successful because the group needs to have their own space to discuss personal matters the meeting turned out to be a great success and the following are some of the comments I received:
1) It has given me a sense of belonging because in some ways it has helped shape my identity; another said It feels like a second family, but one I have chosen; another said It feels like an exclusive club and it makes me feel unique; another said It’s given me a whole new special set of friends who share a unique experience with me.
2) They were also interested to hear that many adoptees came over as part of an Adoption Project
3) Many are interested in how we have all coped with our experiences and feelings of being adopted. That you enjoy want these gatherings to continue.
And the list goes on.
DETAILS OF NEXT REUNION GATHERING
The next reunion will be on Saturday 21st April 2012 at the BAAF offices, Julia has very kindly let us use her works place to meet and I am hoping that there will be many more who will want to attend as a result of this presentation. Kate Gordon has very kindly organised a speaker from the ISS and /or other agencies who I hope will give us an insight into how they were involved in many of our adoptions, I am sure you will find this very interesting. The rest of the day will be kept very much for social get to know sessions, you are welcome to bring a family member or close friend to these gatherings as they too have stories to tell. So please find my email and phone number on the flyer. To be included with the latest information please let me know as soon as possible so that I can send out final details of the days agenda nearer the time. This group has gone from strength to strength and it is so gratifying to see friendships grow and blossom.
THE HONG KONG EXPERIENCE
From my own experience when I went out to HK in 2010, ‘It was like going home but being completely lost at the same time’. It was an overwhelming experience to meet up with so many of whom had started out in life the same way! Some of us went back Fanling Babies Home where it once stood it just felt incredible that some fifty one years later that some of us adoptees were standing with other adoptees who could easily been our cot mate or play mate. I also went back with three other adoptees to where I had been found; again this was also a very emotional experience. I call it my ‘Found and Hope day’.
CONCLUSION AND AN ACCOUNT
Lastly I would like to just finish with an account from a lady who was a young school girl of 13 years who had attended St Georges School, in Kowloon Tong. It’s amazing how we got hold of this story but it was through a friend of friend and I hope that this will be of some comfort to those of you who had been at Fanling Babies Home. For those of you who are from Po Leung Kuk this home is still in existence and has a fantastic museum so if anybody is contemplating going back you need to contact them prior to going out to request a visit. Shatin is now known as High Rock and is a Christian Youth Hostel but at the entrance they have pictures of the orphan’s that had once been there in the days of when it was a children’s home. But for the Fanlingers we have to hold onto any scrap of information to get an idea of what it was like when we were in the home. So Yvonne has very kindly let me quote from her story.
HONG KONG 1963 – 1966
(In assembly one morning the head teacher announced we were to have a guest speaker, who turned out to be one of the leaders of Fanling Children’s Home in the New Territories. We were told how the home was run, that babies were mostly girls, some were found on rubbish heaps or left on the doorstep of the home. We were, as a school going to help by holding events, running a tuck shop, money raised going to the home and going to visit at weekends and helping around the home. We also had a Friday giving assembly where we brought money every week, a collection which was given in as we filed into the hall. St Georges was quite a big school, children not only attended from Kowloon Tong and Kowloon, but we had children from Sei Kong and other Forces bases in the New Territories, Hong Kong Island and Stonecutters Island. So I did not get to visit the home as much as I would have liked as we had to go on a volunteer’s rota. We were all very excited and eager to help raise money and give our time.)
I remember my first visit to Fanling. My friends and I sat on the platform at the back of the carriage of the last train. Sitting in the sun, legs threaded through the iron railings that stopped us from falling on to the track we watched the built up busyness of Kowloon being replaced by paddy fields, sometimes on the flat and sometimes terraced on the mountain sides. When we disembarked at Fanling station we made our way to the children’s home. I remember it being a happy place. We were given blue cotton covers to put over our shoes so we polished the wooden floors as we walked around. We girls were encouraged to handle the children, to play with them either in the rooms or on a wide covered balcony. There were toys, some of which we brought with us and lots of laughter. The boys from our school painted furniture outside, or mended play equipment. I remember being allowed to help at lunchtime and I remember picking up a child who had woken from sleep and crying in her cot. I picked her up and she snuggled in, as I sat on a rocker and we had a quiet moment. For a fourteen year old girl and a small Chinese baby girl we shared a special moment. I went to Fanling many times, always with other girls and boys from St George’s school. I do not know if these few small memories are of any use to you but I remember in the times I went there, the home had a lovely feel, the children were looked after with care and there was love and laughter. I don’t know how much of that we brought with us but it was so long ago and I have tried to think back and pull memories out but I know we children got a lot out of our visits, caring, tending and helping, and we hoped the children did too.
Lots of influences shape our lives and make us the people we grow up to be, I hope the Fanling Children’s home was influential in making me and my friends the people we are now.
(When I had to go back to England in 1966 I was so upset as I loved Hong Kong and unfortunately I have never managed to go back but it will live forever in my heart).
Thank you for listening to me.