Fifty Shades …

I bet that got your interest!

… of Yellow.

And now, it looks like a rating scale for cowardice …

by Claire Martin, adopted from Hong Kong to England.

I was found on the staircase of 61 Berwick Street in Hong Kong on about 23 December 1960. They reckoned I was approximately 2 days old. My birth was registered by the matron of Po Leung Kuk, an orphanage and refuge for mothers. My parents always believed that I was eventually in Fanling Babies’ Home. Sally Rigby’s (name changed for privacy) parents believed, to the contrary, that I was in St Christopher’s. It irritates me profoundly that I don’t know as none of the paperwork I’ve uncovered so far confirms where I was. I arrived at London Airport (now Heathrow) with 8 other adoptees on 20th December 1962. My parents had been put in touch with the Rigbys, also from the Wirral (between Chester and Liverpool), and they travelled in my father’s car to collect Sally and me from the airport. The name on my birth certificate is Lam Ling Chi. I also had a bracelet with this name on. I don’t know where the name came from. I had thought it was my original name but many adoptees were given their names by the director of the children’s home they were in.

My dad was 2nd generation Chinese, born in Cardiff in 1922. His parents were so poor, he was adopted by a man called Chin (surname), in exchange for a laundry. During WW2, he met up again with his birth family in Liverpool. He married my mum in 1951 in an era when mixed marriages were extremely rare and very much frowned upon. They met as lab assistants at Shell’s Stanlow Oil Refinery in Ellesmere Port on the Wirral. They couldn’t have any children so they adopted me. They thought “Ling Chi” would be unpronounceable (in Mandarin, it’s Ling Zhi) so I became Claire Ling Chi Chin.

Dad’s blood relatives took an enormous interest in this adoption and were extremely supportive. Like dad, they were born here and couldn’t speak Chinese at all. His sisters, however, had both married Cantonese speaking Chinese men, and they tried to communicate with me. There were 2 small problems. One was that I was extremely traumatised and would scream my head off in the presence of men. Poor dad couldn’t go anywhere near me for the first couple of days back in Little Sutton village where I grew up.  The second was that I either couldn’t or wouldn’t speak. A somewhat alarming report on my adoption file assesses me as “extremely under developed”.

My mother died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage when I was 12. I was never close to the few relatives she had, so imagine my surprise, when playing in the village, some English kids approached me claiming to be my cousins. The family was rather tight lipped about the whole affair and I’m not really sure how much her side of the family viewed our rather unusual situation. Mum’s father refused to attend the wedding when she married dad, so who knows…

Of the 100 or so of us who were adopted by British families as part of the Hong Kong Project, I was pretty unique in having exposure to Chinese relatives and Chinese culture.  But just how Chinese were we really? Dad and his family were BBCs, British Born Chinese.  The food we ate was what we could cobble together from the village shops and the odd trip to Chinatown in Liverpool for soya sauce. Supermarkets didn’t exist in the 60s as they do now – at least not on the Wirral. An English school friend invited me to tea and was delighted to serve me Vesta Chicken Chow Mein. I’d never heard of it. It didn’t resemble anything my family had ever encountered.

Even more excruciating was the occasional visit to Chinese restaurants. My poor father once had to withstand a tirade from a waiter who claimed dad wasn’t Chinese at all. “You don’t talk Chinese, you don’t walk Chinese, you don’t even look Chinese.” Imagine what they made of me, with my English mother. What’s worse, I actually look Japanese. When I visited dad’s younger brother, who’d escaped all this abuse and emigrated to Singapore, I met enormous hostility in Malaysia because I was mistaken for being Japanese. The conversation went something like:

“She’s Chinese, she’s our cousin.”

“She doesn’t look like you.”

“She’s adopted.”

“How do you know she’s Chinese, then?”

So clearly there are shades of yellow and, in the eyes of “proper Chinese,” I’m patently at the pale end of the scale. In fact, they call us bananas in the light of the controversy over Ashley Cole (famous black British footballer) being accused of being a choc ice, I’ll leave you to ponder that one.

I was determined to counter this by dressing Chinese (jackets only: you have to be thin as a toothpick to wear a cheong sam) and learning Chinese. I went to Durham University and studied Mandarin. I was supposed to study in China for a year but extensive medical tests led to discovering I was a carrier of Hepatitis B. It took 18 years before something vile came out of the woodwork relating to my dodgy origins, and this was it. It meant I had to go to Taiwan instead (China wouldn’t let me in).

There were no direct flights in 1980, so I went via Hong Kong, on my own with food poisoning (don’t ask) and only half my luggage (Cathay Pacific sent the other half to Los Angeles). Oh, and I’d learned Mandarin, not Cantonese (which is what they speak in Hong Kong). So I ended up in even more complicated explanations for my inability to communicate in my own tongue. Which brings me to how I’m perceived by Brits. One of my bolt holes in Hong Kong was an English school friend’s mother. I arranged to meet her on Victoria Peak where she lived. She was shocked when she saw me. Hence another somewhat surreal but oft encountered conversation:

“You’re Chinese!”

“Yes.  Didn’t Anne tell you?”

“But you sounded just like a girl from Liverpool over the phone.”

“I am a girl from Liverpool.”

And that’s what I am. A Scouser. What I discovered in Taiwan was that I wasn’t nearly as Chinese as I thought I was. I’d learned to talk Chinese, even dress Chinese, but, in the end, I couldn’t act Chinese. It was a huge disappointment to the family of course. Being the first of my generation to learn Chinese and go back out to the Far East, they expected me to meet and marry someone Chinese.

I came back to Durham speaking far better Chinese and promptly had a nervous breakdown. I didn’t actually know that I was having one. Everyone put it down to the Hep B at first but after being tested for everything under the sun including glandular fever, we were all very non-plussed. Eventually the university psychologist got wind of this from my prof who was worried I was falling asleep in his lectures. Hence another one of these weird conversations:

“Is she Chinese?”

“Yes”

“Chinese don’t recognise Depression.  They just get ill instead.”

This was all a mystery to dad and me given neither of us had indulged in anything so exotic as Depression with a capital “D.” We both resolutely smiled through our trauma – poor dad lost his eldest brother, his mother and his wife within a short space of time and claimed he couldn’t remember the 70s at all. So when I asked him if this assertion still applied to Chinese brought up here, he said the most extraordinary thing:

“You were always more Chinese than I was.”

My 50 shades just got yellower…until I started dating. I’d had mild interest from a Chinese lad in Taiwan, who being very Chinese or very shy, took so long to declare his intentions that I was due to go home before he’d said anything. I went out with a batty American from LA who kept telling me to “mellow out” whenever I got ratty and complained that I was too English and two timed me with a local Chinese girl (Miss Saigon re-enacted). Back in Durham, there was a chap from Malaysia who was interested but went about it as slowly as the Chinese lad in Taiwan. And then I met David Martin. He didn’t give a sausage about how Chinese I was, the Hep B or the nervous breakdown. Not being Chinese, he didn’t hang around either. I remembered how my landlady in Taiwan had been treated by her husband and mother-in-law. I realised that I couldn’t bow and scrape to a Chinese man – which is why I’m not married to one. I finally recognised how British I was.

In the year 2000, I discovered that I wasn’t alone. Despite their best efforts, my parents and the Rigby’s didn’t get Sally and me together that often. Jasmine (we Hong Kong adoptees have agreed only to use first names publicly) and her journalist mum organised the first re-union but I had to miss it due to a family wedding. But Sally and I got together that year for the first time since we were 7 and Jasmine and I met in London. I also Googled the Fanling website and found a whole bunch of American adoptees from Hong Kong. Kim, who runs the site, put me in touch with Debbie who has been very active in organising UK reunions. I met Sue at the Birmingham one, ironically, since we both live near each other, then we met up again in London. Julia Feast, a British social worker, launched the British Chinese adoption study which brought even more of us together. Imagine the joy of meeting some of the other babies in the Heathrow picture.

It’s extraordinary to meet others who have been through the same experience. We have an uncanny bond. It’s a novelty to share anecdotes and we can giggle at those weird conversations I’ve quoted because we’ve all had them. I’ve met about 50 of us now – and we’re like a family. Some of us have tried to be Chinese and some of us haven’t. Some of us flew into a tailspin trying to complete the recent census forms – anything that puts us into boxes is a nightmare because we just don’t fit anywhere. Then Lucy, another adoptee, came to the rescue. Her advice:  Tick “Other”, insert “British Chinese”.

So here I am, Claire Ling Chi Martin, British Chinese and 50 shades of yellow.

Battle Scars in Adoption

by Mike, adopted from Hong Kong to New Zealand.

These are my battle scars from when I was around 12-13 years of age, done around these holiday times. I would get really depressed looking at all those loving families with parents who look like them, spoke like them, etc. It didn’t help I was a Chinese male with white parents.

Whenever I look at my wrists I am thankful I made it through those times. It took me till the age of 30 before I really dealt with my PTSD and depression due to my inter-racial and intercountry adoption. Now and then I have moments where I go back into my past and think about “was it all worth it”, living my life and getting to where I am today – am I better off or should I just have ended my life back then?

I guess a lesson to be learnt from this, is no matter what you do as an adoptive parent – there are some things that a child needs to learn the answers to questions themselves. It’s not up to you as parents to give them the answer that you want them to believe in and hear.

Mike’s other guest post at ICAV.

Tough, Resilient and A Survivor!

Guest post by Mike, adopted from Hong Kong to New Zealand.

I remember growing up in an orphanage until the age of 6. Some of my memories include playing in the little park which had a pond and loving nature, the little frogs and birds. When we were naughty, the older kids would hide rubber spiders in our beds saying they only came ’cause we naughty, till one night I got angry, sad at it and cut it in half – laughing and crying at same time, chucking it at other kids. I was always being the big brother figure.

I remember getting pushed off a stage and hurting my head. That’s where my fear of falling and being scared of heights comes from. It was heaps of fun growing up in orphanage. There I learnt what family was, my culture, my heritage, my language, I had a sense of belonging and identity. I was the smart but naughty kid!

I remember the last day before getting taken to New Zealand for adoption. My birth mother came to see me to say goodbye but I didn’t recognise her. She could only spend a couple of minutes with me because she didn’t do the paperwork. So for a while, that was always on my mind about so many “what ifs” and if it was my fault that I got taken away because I didn’t recognise her.

When I got adopted at age 6 and taken away to New Zealand by a white European couple, I had to re-learn and adapt so fast. It was all about fitting in and surviving!

My adoptive parents were not ready for the challenges that came with an older adoptee with a sense of identity. There was a lot of physical and emotional abusive. It was a crap family environment where they were abusive to each other, physically as well. They also had 2 foster kids who were spoilt! I was the black sheep of the family. I got bullied at school then would come home to be abused and beaten up there too. It made me grow up real fast and made me tougher.

They often used their abusive ways to try and mend me into the child they wanted. This of course, pushed me further and further to the point of running away at an early age, depression, attempted suicide, self harm, etc. At age 10, I ran away from home and ended up with a bunch of street kids for a week until they turned on me and beat me up, leaving me bloodied for the police to come pick me up and take me back to my adoptive parents. They tried so hard to mend and fix me with various psychologists, counsellors, etc., but to no avail.

My adoptive parents eventually got divorced when I was aged 15 and I ended up with my adoptive mother. Things went more downhill after that, which eventually lead me to a life of crime. I loved life as a youth criminal, the excitement of shoplifting, stealing, breaking into cars, etc., being part of a youth street gang. But this eventually led me to prison at age 19. I put 2 white boys in hospital from a group fight. The reason for the fight was because of my own racist views against the white people because at that time, I didn’t know all the issues and the mental state of mind I was in.

I got out of prison at age 21 and went back to my adoptive dad. It didn’t last very long because he was still stuck in that mentality that he could bully me and mould me into that model citizen that every dad can dream of. Much to his disappointment, I was in a deep state of depression, denial and hatred because I was so institutionalised – prison was kinda like the orphanage. I ended up joining the Triads and becoming a leader.

I have no regrets with the adoption, my past and everything that has happened as I have achieved so much through sport. I represented my country/homeland in sports, travelled the world, married the girl of my dreams, etc., but as I get older (37 in July), I am afraid of what future I have. My wife wants kids but I don’t have a job or stable income. I don’t want my kid(s) to go through what I did. In a gang, the lifestyle that I live, it’s hard when you have a criminal history, PTSD and a sense of fear of rejection.

A few years ago, my birth mother found me on Facebook. I went to Hong Kong to meet up with her a couple of times. It was disappointing. Maybe I expected the movie dramatic emotional meet up – but it was nothing like that! I was just like, “Oh yep! You’re my mum”. But we couldn’t communicate much due to the language barrier, so it was a bit disappointing. I have half sister who speaks English who lives with my mum. I found out my mother was only 18 years old when she had me and at the time. She was living in a women’s home. Her mother (my grandmother) was divorced at age 15 and had no ability to give her 2 girls stability – so she sent them to a girls home to survive.

Despite all I’ve lived, I guess what I want to say to adoptive parents is, you have a responsibility to the child you adopt – be a positive mother/father figure to the child that you’re bringing into your world. Try to have a better understanding of the challenges that your inter-racial child may have.

Mike welcomes your messages in response to his story.

What Questions are Normal?

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Is it Normal to Question when we have a Positive experience of Adoption?

I interviewed Fiona for a couple of reasons, the first being I have been connected to Fiona for many years because she and I ended up being adopted into families with the same surname that isn’t a common last name. Naturally I had a curiosity about her life and her experience because as adoptees we are aware of how easily we could have been adopted into a totally different family, country, culture, life than what we otherwise have had. As an adoptee and the older I get, the more I see it for what it is – a random lottery whereby an adoption agency or facilitator had the power to allocate us to whichever family had been successful when they submitted a request to adopt.

Secondly, I knew Fiona had been adopted from Hong Kong and I haven’t had many adoptees share on our website who’s origins were from Hong Kong (apart from my previous post on Lucy Sheen). Thirdly, Fiona is seemingly “well adjusted and happy” in her adopted land and family but one point I’d like to highlight from Fiona’s experience was pretty much summed up in her own words – when we spoke, she asked “Is it normal for an adoptee at my age to wonder about my origins?” My answer was “absolutely!” We adoptees seem to always get to some point in our lives where we have a natural curiosity for where we came from and who we were born to. It could be as early as 6 or 7, in our teenage years, in our mid 20s when we are busy establishing ourselves and forming our own identity outside our immediate families, and sometimes even later in our 30s, 40s or beyond. Sometimes the birth of our first child, or the birth of a child to someone close to us like a brother or sister – this event can trigger our curiosity and feelings that may have laid buried up until then.

Many adoptees like Fiona who have lived what they term “a pretty good life” get a bit shocked to have this rude “awakening” especially when they’ve had wonderfully supportive adoptive families and almost feel like they’ve been a bit “disloyal” or ungrateful for their “wonderful life”.

I’d like to suggest that it is completely natural to wonder at some and many points in our life about our origins and the questions of why, who, how, and when we were given up.

Thank you Fiona for sharing your experience with us!  Read Fiona’s story here.