Mini Reunion – London Town

Peter, Kim, Gemma, Le Thanh & Viktoria

It was hoped that we could get something arranged so some filming could be done for the documentary, as this was the biggest meet up that I had been involved in was taking place so far, it was quite important that plans were firmed up so it could be captured on camera. Unfortunately because we had people coming from different areas, having people meet up together was tricky. It was hoped that we could meet at the O2 as this was a prominent landmark.

It became clear that this wasn’t going to happen since the day before it became apparent that the District Line and DLR tube lines were out of service due to weekend maintenance which put paid to that plan. Also, permissions would have be changed and applied for and time was far too short to be able to cater for this. Sadly, this meant that the cameras had to stay in situ on the living room floor!

Kim, Viktoria & Gemma

The weather couldn’t have been better if it had been pre-booked. Some of us had previously met before, and a couple of us had met for the first time.

I met Le Thanh outside Victoria Station and the meets were staggered from then on with people arriving at different times at Moon Under Water pub in Leicester Square. On reflection, this worked extremely well so I was able to meet with each person personally and in good time and have a good chat with them without being overwhelmed by the whole situation.

The Reunion was a lovely occasion, and thoroughly enjoyed by all, polished off quite nicely by a meal at the Viet Noodle Bar on Greek Street in Piccadilly. It was quite strange because although we were practically strangers, the fact that we share this unusual and unique fact that start our lives off, this is the only bonding fact that we needed to ensure that a conversation ensued and the bond is something I’ve never really experienced before. Having a common connection that many of us don’t remember is enough to form a lifelong friendship, I still have difficult fully explaining this but totally understand it.

Viktoria, Gemma & Le Thanh

It was mentioned that all of us adoptees or Asians have “Foot-in-Mouth syndrome” and perhaps there should be a study on it. There were even a few adoptees who agreed there was a likeness between them and this fact cannot be ignored – because we all went in our own directions after that airlift and without proper documentation, this is a very real fact, that through these reunions (and upcoming plans to have DNA tests recorded) a sibling could well be discovered.

It’s amazing how the food seemed to bond us together; the aroma & textures appeared to weave its magic smells on us, except the smell of the fish sauce was not to my liking, plus it appeared that the fish sauce wanted to bond with my hair!! To others, the smell of fish sauce reminds them of the Mekong Delta.

So now we’re all looking forward to more reunions in the coming months and of course the big reunion in Vietnam April 2010.

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Meeting with Trista

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I’d never turn down the chance to meet with a fellow adoptee, even from another country. Trista came over from the US to visit London and Paris and luckily I was able to take the day off work and meet with her in London.

Of course, no meeting with another Vietnamese adoptee is complete without sampling some Vietnamese cuisine.

During my walk from the tube station in Old Street, I was amazed to see the number of Vietnamese restaurants en route to the restaurant I was meeting Trista in which indicated that there was a great Vietnamese community there. I think I counted five restaurants I passed before finding the one we met in.

There was a great choice from the menu which was great but not having tried much on my previous samplings, I wanted to try a bit of everything. Trista ordered a whole variety of dishes, which were unfinished. I was invited to box them up and take them which I had no hesitation in doing.

It was lovely to meet with Trista. She is a very prominent figure in the Vietnamese community, having set up the weekly international teleconferences, hosting a variety of subjects from our own personal stories to information on getting DNA testing set up. A great networker in the knowledge of people and subjects of transnational and transracial adoption.

It was a very educational meeting and hugely enjoyable. I hope I’ll be able to meet up with her when I visit the US later in the year.

 

Remembering my father, my hero

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My father was in the Royal Navy. He loved the sea.

After leaving the Navy he worked abroad much of the time. He was the Manager in the British American Tobacco company (BAT) in third world countries such as Nigeria, Cambodia and later, Vietnam.

My mother and father had a son, Jonathan. He was a beautiful child with a shock of the blondest hair you’d ever seen. In every photo I’ve ever seen of him, he was always laughing or smiling. No doubt, he gave my mother and father the proudest joy.

My mother didn’t feel as though the family was complete without a daughter, though. During my father’s years in the BAT, they lived for a few years in Penang and later, Saigon. It was at this time, while my mother was volunteering at some of the orphanages in Vietnam during the Vietnam war that the subject of adoption came up.

I only learned recently that my father was against this. He felt that children should be left in their natural environments no matter how bad the situations. It was only after a long while that my mother learned of how bad the situations were that the idea of adoption was taken seriously.

My father chose me. I don’t know how he settled upon me, or how many children he’d looked at, how many orphanages he’d visited before he found me, but I was chosen to be his daughter.

With the help of the BAT who provided valuable support and contacts, my father was able to contact the British Embassy to get the paperwork done, the adoption was taking place.

I was one of the nine children bound for the UK who had families waiting for them when they arrived in England.

My father was a proud family man. He would much rather stay at home with his family than anything else. His family meant everything to him. I never remember a time when my father did anything without the family being involved or thought of in some way.

My father continued to work abroad. Months would go by without seeing him. My mother was a housewife, making sure that my brother and I were never left unattended and were never forgotten. When he came home, he would come laden with an extra suitcase, full of presents – mostly trinkets from the country in which he was working. We’d have his undivided attention for a few weeks before he’d set off again.

My brother and I were typical siblings – always fighting. My brother teased and taunted me to the end of my mother’s tether. But I had a happy childhood.

Today is the eleventh anniversary of my father’s passing. I remember him often as he always was – smiling and proud. Today is not too different. But it is so very different in another way: Sadly, as we all take for granted people’s presence, he is more important to me today than he was when he was with me. That makes me really sad.

I think of the importance of the events. My father was with me during the first moments of my new life and I was with him, holding his hand when he took his final breath. I think my connection with my father was deeper than I realised at the time, as I knew that day it would be his last. They say you can choose when you die. I was due to leave home the following week and he always wanted his family around him, perhaps this was controlled more than we give credit for.

On my father’s birthday (11 August) in the same year that he died, there was a total eclipse of the sun. It was strange but beautiful moment that I felt I was sharing with my father, I felt so alone in my own thoughts as I was in a crowd of hundreds, perhaps, thousands of people … I felt cold and still, yet quietly magical.

I feel very sad today. Outwardly I feel happy in my life, in my views and in my personal situation. But apart from that moment when I sat with my father as he died, and during his funeral, I haven’t grieved for him. Now I feel the full impact of that day and the significance of what I’m trying to achieve in my personal mission. It lies heavy on my chest as I feel the force of a loss that cannot be replaced.

 

Searching for Siblings

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I now believe that I am one of three siblings that were in the orphanage. I always knew I had a brother. But just the other day I was looking at a few photos (in my album) and I saw there was a photo where there’s another child touching me with great fondness while I’m being lifted up by one of the nuns. At first I thought this was my brother as the child looked very similar to him.

On closer inspection, matching the clothing of that of my brother and this other child, I see that it isn’t my brother, but a girl I hadn’t really noticed before and she is in another photo which enabled me to match the clothing. Looking at the two children, I think they look alike. I also noticed on the rear of the both the photos there is a hand-written cross. One cross, when the photo is held up to the light, you can see the boy who is meant to be my brother. On the back of the other photo, the cross is where the girl who is touching me. So I wonder about the significance of these crosses. I know one is my brother. Does this mean that the other one is my sister?

So now I weep softly because I didn’t spot it before. I weep for the loss of my father who chose me from the orphanage, I weep because I know he personally took those photographs and I weep because I know he must’ve known the truth behind the relativity of the crosses on the back. I now break my heart that it didn’t mean so much to me to ask when he was alive, for now he is the only one with the answers and he took those answers with him when he left.

I hope that is my sister. I’ve always wanted a sister. I always knew that I had a brother and I always knew that if I travelled this journey, the decision to search for my brother would have to be made. Now I have to make another decision but now that decision to “make a decision” is no longer “shall I, shan’t I?” I feel I owe it to myself to at least try. If I fail then at least I’ll know I gave it good crack of the whip, but I ask myself each day, if I didn’t travel this road, would I regret it having not tried. Yes, I would.

And so I walk this path, hand in hand with others who are walking alongside me; some are walking behind me in my footsteps; some have walked before me and I walk in theirs; some are following with one eye closed, some with fear, some with terror, some with excitement, some with suspicion and apprehension. All these feelings are fine, but with no memories there are no attachments, I have thought of every outcome … abandonment, untruths, no details – I’ve even thought about the possibility of their deaths before I’ve made contact, and all I seek is the truth, if it hurts to learn it, it will make me stronger, but it will continue to make me whole.

Meeting a New Contact

Mini Reunion - London TownMaking contact with a new adoptee is always exciting.

There’s so much to find out about that person, who they are, whether they have an English or Vietnamese name, what they do for work, how Vietnamese they are in terms of looks and culture, whether they have tried to “become more Vietnamese” either from their own identity search or curiosity or perhaps they’ve had it instilled in them as they were growing up. So much to learn about new contacts.

I feel that it’s important to mention at this point that “meeting” a new contact is usually making “virtual” contact, whether it be via email, telephone, Facebook. In this context, however, it was a real live meeting.

The one thing that is always at the forefront of my mind when I meet new adoptees is “Do they look like me?” From conversations with other adoptees I’ve come to realise this isn’t uncommon and I feel very comforted in my thought processes nowadays. In fact, I feel a lot more comfortable with myself as a person as I used to think that my thought processes were so off the radar I thought I had mental health issues. However, I’m delighted to know that I am completely sane … well, if I’m insane, I’m insane in great company!!

So, what’s so different about this contact? It took me a while to pinpoint the reason why I was so anxious about this meeting but after thinking about it for a while it made sense: All the other contacts I’ve made, whether they be virtual overseas or UK based, they were all miles away and a lot of planning had to be put in place to physically meet with them and although a degree of planning had to be done to set up this initial meeting, he lives locally. Locally, being about 40 miles but the strange factor was that he works in my home town which took the element of the virtual world out of the equation. I realised that I could be walking down the street minding my own business, deep inside my own thoughts in my own little bubble and I could come face to face with him.

That factor isn’t a problem now having made that initial contact and if I did bump into him in the street, I’d be very happy!

So we met in Shoreham, my boyfriend’s home town. We met in a local pub and then had a delicious meal at the only Vietnamese resturant in Sussex, which was very enjoyable.

It has to be said that this contact has a wealth of information that overloaded my brain with facts and details. So I now have to process this and make sense of it all. He’s been in contact with a lot of adoptees over the years, delved into his own personal history, some of which is true, some of which needed a great deal of making sense and pulling together. I know this is what I have to do when I receive information from sources as I know that not all information I receive will be reliable or accurate.

But on the whole, it was a very successful meeting with another lovely contact.

Now the thought that he lives locally is not scary, it’s comforting!