Reflections on a Weekend with Muriel

Hong Kong Adoptees at Feb2015 ReunionMim Writes:

It’s been hard to put into words my weekend with my fellow adoptees and Muriel Tonge. I had to return how, reflect and contextualize what occurred in February. It went beyond a nice meeting and bonding with fellow adoptees.

Muriel brought more meaning to my adoptive world by living and breathing the reality that I lived but didn’t know. Implicit memories, probably, but on a conscious level, the reality of life in an orphanage, of things I didn’t know, of sad circumstances and vivid photos. And then there was that film.

I can’t forget that film. Viewing the film was seeing you, me and every adoptee. In that film the adoptees became me. But beyond me, I saw this woman right in front of me who gave, and cared, and did her daily tasks at the orphanage because she wanted to. She wasn’t paid and she wasn’t the director. She was a volunteer who loved children like you and me and cared. And again, there she was so feisty and beautiful and wise. And we owe so much gratitude and thankfulness to her. She represented all those caregivers in the orphanage I didn’t know but who for years cared for us.

Our circle time was wonderful. I love it when it’s just us without the partners (shh, don’t tell Chuck!). We shared our thoughts in kind, deep ways. And in our vulnerableness, I felt a deep bond with everyone, new and “old”. How far we’ve come, how much we’ve crossed and how still, our journey is beginning. I haven’t been able to completely digest our weekend. Some of it I’ll keep in my heart and build on it for the next reunion which is HK.

Hanging out in the park by the water. Refreshing. Wonderful walk with Mei Yan despite twisting my ankle. Good talking. More sharing. Many thanks to Kim for sharing her house and actually going elsewhere to make room for me. Thanks to Kim, Helen, Meaghan, and Kathy who helped organize and plan. I apologize if I missed someone.


Fanlingers at Feb2015 Adoptee ReunionSt Christopher's Adoptees at Feb2015 Reunion

Muriel Tonge Tribute Memories

Meaghan Writes:

When I was asked to write my impressions after attending my first reunion in February 2015 I was hesitant not because I did not want to but rather it was because I did not know how to express my feelings in word form. After 5 decades of showing no emotions out in the open, this was going to be a challenge for me.

Walking in the room filled with other adoptees was a dream that came true for me. No words were needed. I felt like a ton of bricks was lifted from my shoulders. I had a sense of belonging. I could be myself. No need to try and “fit in” to the group. Instead of a minority I was in the majority. While the whole weekend was packed full of different activities I most enjoyed the circle sharing and the informal social gatherings afterward.

The circle sharing was very moving for me. For the first time, I heard similarities to some parts of my adopted life. Finally, I thought to myself, someone else that understands and has experienced the life that I had growing up. While I may not have had the words to describe it others knew exactly what I was trying to say and filled in the blanks for me. It was reassuring and fun to be able to finish the other person’s sentences with nods and “YES”…I went through the same thing!”

The informal social gatherings were the best. Being in a relaxing environment with no agenda except to have fun and get to know one another better was a bonus. Sharing stories, laughing and taking photos like the paparazzi made for great memories.

Muriel Tonge Tribute memories:
I met Muriel Tonge, then 91, when I began my journey 1.5 years ago. Muriel Tonge was the supervising nurse at St. Christopher’s baby home where I was. It was an amazing find for me. After joining the HKAN via KimR in late 2014 and “meeting” some of the adoptees during my first Skype call, I excitedly got in touch with Kim to share my surprise.

We had 13 adoptees, representing 4 different orphanages (Po Leung Kuk, Shatin, St. Christopher’s and Fanling Babies Home) of Hong Kong, that traveled in from all over the US to meet Muriel and her daughters, Leslie and Elizabeth, in late February 2015.

Muriel is an inspiration in my life. Her zest for life and sense of humor is very contagious. I describe Muriel as a dynamic woman who dared to stand alone for her beliefs when it came to her babies. “Re-gifted” babies was her preferred way of describing our orphan period because she strongly believed that “abandoned” represented rejection or getting rid of which was not the case in her eyes. My feelings are still very raw so I’m not able to eloquently express them in words to this day.

Muriel felt like a celebrity with all the adoptees acting like the paparazzi taking photos and videos of her throughout the weekend. An informal social was held afterwards to celebrate Muriel’s upcoming 93rd birthday. Muriel loved the photo book that I had made as the group’s gift to her. The photo book consisted of each adoptee’s past and present photos with their special message to her. Reciprocally, Muriel and her daughters are in awe of us….knowing that we all made something of ourselves regardless of the circumstances in our childhoods is a remarkable accomplishment.

While it started as a Tribute to Muriel Tonge, I see it also as a Tribute to ourselves. Indeed, In the Circle of Life we are ALL Connected! Muriel borrowed a quote by Art professor Alma Adams that summed up what she believes to be true for all of us: “Where you start out in life doesn’t have to determine where you end up or how far you can go.”


Meeting Muriel Tonge by Kathy

After attending the Muriel Tonge Tribute this past February 2015,

Kathy Writes:

The BanquetI was brimming with excitement to meet the woman I read about and admired in the book “The Banquet” written by Emily Foster (Muriel’s granddaughter.) Since Muriel was the supervising nurse at St. Christopher”s during my year in residence there, I was determined to find and contact her. What a stroke of luck that Meaghan had found her and subsequently found us.

The day of the reunion started like others:   a few nervous jitters meeting new adoptees mixed with the joy of seeing old acquaintances. We were all anxious to hear Muriel speak and she did not disappoint.

Muriel Tonge photoShe recounted many stories of orphanage life.  As she spoke of the challenges and hardships both the orphans and staff faced, I felt myself transporting back in time.  I was going back more than 50 years and imagining myself as a baby in her care.  Was I the one she spoke of with dysentery?  Or maybe it was me that suffered prickly heat and had oozing pus sores.  Was I malnourished and fed by tube?  Perhaps not.

But what I did learn was Muriel gave every newly admitted orphan to St. Christopher’s their first bath.  It was her way to personally check our physical condition.  AND THAT I knew was ME! Muriel gave me my first bath!  She held me and bathed me!  I finally had a confirmed piece of my history.  A beautiful snapshot of my early days that I can press in my mind and imagination.

Baby photoI have to tell you that I found a photo of myself among the many old pictures that Muriel brought with her.  The picture cut off the lower portion of my face below the nose.  But out of the hundreds of photos she had, I found myself.  It was amazing.

But I’m getting off point….I want to tell everyone who was unable to attend the reunion about Muriel.  If you’ve read “The Banquet” then you know what a courageous, dedicated, and innovative woman she was back in China and Hong Kong in the 50’s and 60’s.  She loved babies and children and she would do ANYTHING to improve their given situations.

What you might not know is that this 93 year old bundle of energy (like the energizer bunny) is a master at chopsticks and knows EXACTLY what to order in Chinese restaurants, is highly opinionated (don’t call yourself “abandoned”, you are “regifted”) and believes the cup is ALWAYS way more than half full (It doesn’t matter where you begin in life, it is where you end up and what you make of yourself.”  She believes with every ounce of her feisty self that the human spirit can triumph over any adversity.  She is living proof.  We are living proof.  Her positivity is infectious as is her love for all of us.

I hope that we can all meet again with Muriel.  One day was incredible but somehow not enough.  Her story continues as does ours.  I hope we cross paths again. -Kathy

Muriel and Kathy


Muriel Tonge Fills in Lisa’s Puzzle Pieces

Lisa attended the Muriel Tonge Tribute held in Los Altos, California the weekend of February 28, 2015.  Muriel Tonge was the Supervising Nurse at St. Christopher’s orphanage in Hong Kong during the early 1960’s.  We were so fortunate to have her share with us her memories when she worked at the orphanage.

Lisa Writes:

The experience at the tribute was magical for me.  I see my life like a jigsaw puzzle. I try to put it together with many pieces missing.

the puzzle pieces of lifeIn the big picture; I’m just a tiny piece in a much bigger puzzle.  All of the Hong Kong adoptees are tiny pieces too. And when we meet, it is emotional.  Muriel was able to give me three large pieces to my small puzzle. And she gave countless pieces to the big picture.

I feel honored to have been a part of the tribute. She is a positive uplifting person with lots of humor. She gave and cared and did so
much for the children. I just loved listening to all the stories and
I will treasure her forever.  -Lisa

My First USA Reunion


I really thought I could handle only one reunion and the London reunion would be it for 2013. But back in the United States, KimR and Mei Yan were plotting and conjuring up an American HK reunion and I realized I just had to go to Berkeley. Going allowed me another chance to meet more HK adoptees, meet some of the people I’d been skyping with and plus, I’d get to see Debbie, Sue and Serena all the way from the U.K! What I noticed is that I didn’t have the doubt and fear I had like the first time in London. Instead, I’d graduated to incredible anticipation! And this reunion did not disappoint!

My observation was that the Americans were a bit louder and as we shared in a circle, more kleenix was passed around. My favorite part of the day was the circle sharing and openness. My second favorite was the shouting “Fanling Fanling” with the other Fanling adoptees. And there we were in the same room sharing the same space laughing and crying perhaps like we had as toddlers and young children.

marina-group-480After a very emotional morning crying my eyes out, I enjoyed taking a windy walk along the Berkeley marina and in the evening eating a delicious meal with the group. I can’t remember what the name of the restaurants we ate at, but I do notice a pattern. Most of the restaurants are either Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai. My fav is Thai… but my Swedish Norwegian upbringing says meatballs and potatoes are okay too!

Thanks to everyone who helped plan the reunion.  A shout out to KimR, Mei Yan, Sau Chan, and KimB.  Looking forward to the next reunion! -Mim


2013 San Francisco Reunion Recap

adoptees-DavePhoto-467x311-lightKimR writes: The origin behind a San Francisco Adoptee Reunion goes all the way back to our fellow Hong Kong adoptees living in New Zealand. A big thank you to the New Zealanders because they started the reunions. Over 30 of us went to the first Hong Kong reunion in the Fall of 2010. Before leaving, a vote was taken to hold the next reunion three years later in San Francisco.

Having helped on the 2010 reunion, Mei Yan and I weren’t too keen to work on another. But duty calls and Debbie, our half-pint size, but fearless British adoptee leader said she was coming and bringing Sue and Serena. So that settled the matter.

committee-august2013-cropFortunately, we met KimB and Mei Kin in 2013 and they jumped right in to help us organize the reunion. The two Mei’s and two Kim’s met several times in Berkeley to plan and taste test restaurant food. Mei Yan reserved a free meeting place in her condo complex. We thought this was perfect since Berkeley offers Bart trains and two airports, San Francisco and Oakland.

We set the date for October 12th weekend because Columbus Day made it a 3-day weekend. It was also a good date for our Canadians, Barbie-Siu and Jemma as it’s their Thanksgiving holiday weekend. And we had a lot to be thankful. The weather was California perfect. 20 adoptees and 10 guests attended. Too bad we had a looming Bart strike and Federal shutdown. But as the Brits say,”Keep Calm and Carry on!

The reunion began for FridayDinner-SerenaPhoto-Crop-294some on Friday, October 11th. Mei Yan gave us a tour of UC Berkeley. We ended the day with a scrumptious Japanese Ramen Noodle meal. Breaking with reunion tradition, we’re proud to say that we purposely managed to avoid eating Chinese food the entire reunion weekend!

On Saturday morning, KimB arrived with an SUV full of breakfast and lunch food. Thanks to all those who pitched in to make this reunion a success. We had a Sharing Table. Many brought things to show each other. This tradition we learned from the British reunions.StepIn-IMG_5014-DavePhoto-lightcrop-800After breakfast and mingling, we played our “Step-in game” which we learned from Amanda at the 2010 HK reunion. Those from Fanling Babies Home had a spontaneous football huddle and cheer during the Step-in game. We’re impressed to learn that two of the adoptees can speak Cantonese. The rest of us are no doubt envious.

family and guests-DavePhoto-433x288Then it was time for photo taking.   We drafted Serena to be our photographer.   Due to the position of the sun, we have what we call our “jail house photos” of family and friends in front of the brick wall.  After lunch, we retook the adoptee group photo since Jemma had finally arrived after getting lost in San Francisco.   The lunch bonded us further, as evidenced in that we made such a ruckus during the 2nd photo shoot that we got yelled at by a condo resident to turn down the volume!

BerkeleyBayWalk-BethPhoto-495x332Everyone agrees that the afternoon circle sharing session was the most memorable. We all promised that as the American saying goes, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” That means we honor the confidentiality of what was shared. We ended Saturday with a walk around the marina and an “awesome” meal at Anh Hong Vietnamese restaurant in Berkeley.

Angel-islandFerry-DavePhoto-402x268Sunday morning, 11 of us took the ferry to Angel Island from Tiburon while 3 took the ferry from Pier 39 and Kathy took the ferry from Pier 41. Mei Yan took some on a strenuous walk around the island while wiser souls like myself took the tram tour. Miraculously, we all eventually met up at the Immigration museum at the same time.

The weekend flew by too fast and it was sad to see our newfound adoptee friends dispersing back home. But we hope to hold the next reunion in Hawaii, Las Vegas or Florida. In the meantime, we promised to hold group skype concalls the first Saturday of each month at noon California time.

For many this was their first adoptee reunion.  Once you’ve experienced one, you’ll never want to miss another reunion.  If you’re from a Hong Kong orphanage, we truly hope you join us on our next skype concall and see you at our next adoptee reunion too!  Contact us at


3 Brits in San Francisco

This post originally was posted in the UK site but we felt it worked better here. The original post was here (and has some comments there too):

Picture taken By Kim BA

A few words from the Founder of HKAN

Leaving London Heathrow Airport , with great excitement!  After an 11 hour flight a little tired but surprisingly ready for the wonderful reunion journey that we were going to embark on together with our American sisters.

No matter how many reunions I have attended each one is so special when meeting new sisters (even brothers), it is just staggering!   A whole new family.  Its unbelievable after all this time when I thought it was only ME, that I now find so many of us who have started life the same way in Hong Kong abandoned or relinquished from our birth parents.   I had been a traumatised child and subjected to a lot of racial prejudice as my adoptive parents lived in a  ‘White Suburb’.  Meeting so many new sisters has taken away that feeling of being ALONE, we sat in a circle at the reunion & shared so many aspects of our lives that had us all in tears because finally we could all relate to each other.  That is so therapeutic!

Saying goodbye was hard.  But the warmth and depth of our goodbye hugs sustained me on my journey across the water back home with my two wonderful travelling companions Sue and Serena, thank you.   A big thank you Kim R for your lovely generous hospitality and for those who arranged the reunion, Kim R, Mei Yan, Kim B & Mei Kin and last but not least for all those who attended and made it possible.


Here are two wonderful accounts highlighting more from our Journey ‘Over the water’.

Sue writes:-

Having been with our lovely American sisters for over a week I was getting used to hearing how things were “awe-some” or “cute”

While they puzzled over our use of “bits and bobs”, they used “a whole bunch of”, but not in reference to fruit! They were totally mystified by the word “jumper” (for sweater) and the fact that we wear “trousers” (not pants…!). They found it amusing that we frequently needed the “loo” or wanted a “cuppa tea” Just to cause further confusion we teased a little by slipping in references to going up the “apple and pears” – which, of course all Brits use on regular basis!

The other thing that we heard a lot of was about the federal shut down and daily reports on whether the National Parks would open up. This was quite significant because, although the trip was absolutely amazing (as summarised in Serena’s account), for Debbie and myself the end of the trip was going to be a visit to Yosemite. Due to the distance and time limitations, this was quite ambitious, but we were very fortunate to have Mei Yan who said she would take us and be our guide, and her sister Sau Chan had also agreed to come along to spend time with us.

As the time drew nearer, I was resigned to the fact that we wouldn’t get to go and we started making alternative plans….

…..then very suddenly and unexpectedly it seemed that we were getting packed for YO-semite.

I think the photos say it all!

 Mei Yan treated us to incredible views of El Capitan (the highest vertical granite walls on earth and 3,000ft /914m), Half Dome (which she herself has climbed) and the Yosemite Valley from Glacier point.






We walked through the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees when we arrived. The Grizzly Giant is estimated to be 1,800 years old. The next day we followed the Mist trail to Vernal Fall (317ft/ 96.6m). Due to the lack of water at this time of year, the trail was not misty, but instead we enjoyed the autumn colours and the beautiful light. After our walk we stopped by the Ahwahnee Hotel – named after the native American name for Yosemite Valley – “the land of the gaping mouth”.



To cap it all, after going to Glacier Point, we caught an incredible sunset over El Capitan. I can truly say that it was “awe-some” and there were a “whole bunch” of mountains. Yes bigger, larger and more expansive than I have ever seen before. It was an unforgettable experience. As was the whole trip to San Francisco.  



I would like say a big thank you to Kim R,  Mei Yan, Kim B and Mei Kin for organising the US HK adoptee reunion and for their hospitality, and generosity. And last but not least to thank Debbie and Serena for making such good travelling companions.

Serena writes:-

When the chance of an invite to go to San Francisco to meet other Hong Kong adoptees at their 1st USA reunion came up, I was very pleased and jumped at the opportunity.

Debbie, Sue and I were met by our kind lovely host Kim at San Francisco airport and driven to her home where we stayed for the next two weeks.

The reunion was held at Mei Yan’s condo complex in Berkeley, about 19 ladies and 1 young man attended, 10 came with their partners guests.

The day of the reunion started off with us arriving at the venue with a wonderful breakfast spread, meeting and chatting to everyone arriving. Many of the adoptees had not met a Hong Kong adoptee before. Only Kim, Mim, Sau Chan, and Mei Yan from the USA had been to a UK reunion or had met UK adoptee ladies.

Mei Yan welcomed everybody, Helen and Kim R introduced everyone with a stepping game which went well and truly broke the ice. Then we had a photo shoot and lunch which was another chance to get to know some more people, and afterwards Kim B led the circle sharing where we sat in a circle to have a 5 min talk about our experiences, there were some very moving and thought provoking stories. It’s amazing how each story was so different yet we could all relate to them. I sense  many questions were answered or a void had been filled and the talks really helped a lot of the adoptees.

Afterwards most of us went for a bracing walk by the harbour and then met the others for an evening meal which rounded the day off nicely. It was wonderful to be so welcomed by the USA adoptee reunion. I will most certainly stay in touch with a good handful.

My highlights of the trip are meeting the people at the reunion, travelling with Debbie and Sue and sightseeing USA together.  Getting to know our host Kim and travelling with new friends, Mei Yan, Sau Chan, Mim, Beth & Lusmila and viewing some amazing places together, especially the Golden Gate Bridge, viewing the murals in the Mission District and visiting the Women’s Building, the Google head quarters! And soaking our weary bones & joints in Kim’s communal hot jacuzzi after a hectic day of sightseeing.

All photographs courtesy of Serena, Sue, Kim R & Kim B