The One Show

The One Show - 29 March 2018

I knew it was approaching the anniversary of the Babylift.  Since I’ve been searching for answers I’ve been very conscious of this time of the year.  This year was no different.

Until now…

Out of the blue I receive an email from The One Show.  I must admit, to begin with I thought it was a bit of a hoax.

He explains his name is Glen and he’s a researcher for The One Show.  He explains he’s covering a story on a man called Vance from Northern Ireland in his search and the fact that he is in Vietnam currently, having found his birth mother through a DNA test.  He was a baby on Operation Babylift in 1975 and all of a sudden it starts to fall into place.

I met Vance just two years ago when he did his own documentary and I even introduced Vance to Brian Freemantle, the instigator of Operation Babylift, all those years ago, when he was the Foreign Editor of The Daily Mail in 1975.

So I call him back and this Glen is a right laugh!  I found him really easy to talk to and really enjoyed our conversations, telling him all about my past and what I know (and more importantly, what I don’t), and he’s so interested – bless him, I know he needs to pay attention but I can wax lyrical about my story, my sure his eyes glazed over at some point, but being so easy to talk to I’m sure this has secured my place on the show.

So, before I know it, I am firming up details of appearing on The One Show and now they want Brian to be on the show as well since I have told them I will be bringing him as my guest.

That evening, Wednesday 28 March 2018, I will never forget.  I am being interviewed next to Brian Freemantle by The One Show’s Matt Baker and Alex Jones right next to Dakota Fanning and Luke Evans (Miss Saigon) talking about my former life – such a surreal experience.  Other guests on the show included Mariella Fostrop & Rev Richard Coles and George Ezra singing his new song, ‘Paradise’.

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Sussex Press Agency Debuts On BBC Inside Out

An Eastbourne woman’s journey to find out her past in Vietnam is the story behind a BBC Inside Out which was featured on BBC1 Monday 9 November 2009.

Co-Produced by Paul Gibson from the Sussex Press Agency, the piece which was screened by BBC1’s Inside Out South-East is part of a longer documentary which highlights Viktoria Cowley’s journey to find out her background, after being adopted from Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Above: Polly Evans and Rob Smith from BBC South-East Today talk to Viktoria Cowley Live on the programme.

Viktoria was one of the 99 babies airlifted to the UK during Operation Babylift which was organised by the Daily Mail. 34 years later, Vikki has set out to discover her past and meet as many of the other adoptees who were on the same flight as possible. BBC Inside Out will feature Viktoria discovering a photograph of herself on the front page of the Daily Mail in 1975, and travel to London to meet a group of other Vietnamese Orphans.

April 2010 marks the 35th Anniversary of the airlift, and thousands of people will travel to the country to re-unite and mark this special anniversay. 2,500 babies were airlifted from the country during the Vietnam war, but only a handful came to the UK.

BBC Inside Out will also be producing a 30 minute special programme inconjunction with the Sussex Press Agency early next year as the crew travel to Vietnam with Viktoria.

Over a two day period, Viktoria Cowley completed fifteen radio interviews and one live television news discussion programme. These were as follows:

BBC Radio Kent, BBC Radio Sussex, Sovereign Radio, South-East Today, BBC World Service, BBC 5 Live, BBC Wiltshire, BBC Radio Derby, BBC Radio Berkshire, BBC Radio Scotland, BBC World Today Programme, BBC Five Live, BBC World Service. Other Coverage included; Eastbourne Herald, Hastings Observer, Bexhill Observer, BBC Magazine.

The programme is also expected to be screened on BBC World Asia in the near future.

Read more about Viktoria’s story

You can also listen to two of the interviews for a further 6 days:
BBC Radio Sussex: Monday 9 November 2009 – The Breakfast Show – click through to 2hrs 12 mins.
BBC Five Live: Tuesday 10 November 2009 – The Breakfast Show with Nicky Campbell – click through to 2hrs 39 mins.

Read more about the Sussex Press Agency.

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.

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!

Identity Confusion: Fact, Fiction, Feeling

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I’ve had a few hours to myself to try and process the information in that email and I have to ask myself “How do I feel now?”

I have to remind myself that the facts of how I came to be adopted cannot be changed. I have to remind myself that my life is so much richer for having lived in the Western World. I also have to remind myself that the answers uncovered will not change the way in which I live my everyday life. On top of that, I also remind myself that I never thought I would ever find the answers to these questions, so I feel very fortunate that I’ve been connected to the people who worked in Vietnam at the time of the Babylift that can provide valuable insight.

However, despite all of that, I find myself feeling emotions that I never thought would be possible and I’m not sure why. I have always been able to detach myself from situations and emotions and not be affected by them – that’s not say I don’t understand, empathise or feel compassion because I do, but I am able to simply look at things from outside the box.

So why do I feel the way I do? Firstly, let’s deal with the question: How do I feel?

So many emotions. I’m so grateful that I can find some insight into the manic processes of the time of Babylift and how desperate the times were in order to save as many babies as possible. I’m also extremely grateful that I was one of them. However, I feel slightly saddened at the possibility that I could be in possession of a document that survived a baby who did not. I also feel gratitude for the possibility that the demise of a baby had allowed me my freedom, if that was indeed the case.

There is also hope. If this is my real name then it provides me with some direction, although I’m led to believe that Tran is the second most common name in Vietnam so I have much work to do on that front.

If this is the name of a baby who didn’t make it to the Babylift, at least I have their name and can give thanks for that and keep a silent moment for her, for now I could possibly be living two lives, one for myself and one in her memory.

One of the sections of the email makes me extremely sad: “The orphanages remain full and culture plays in as well with that. There are all sorts of omens with the Vietnamese that might make it lucky or unlucky to have a child and might cause a parent to abandon it.” I think I need to do more research into the culture of omens and asian luck to fully understand this. This is a hard fact to get my head around and having lived in the western world for what is practically all my life I may never be able to understand this as the reasons behind it may just sit so far removed from what we understand here in our culture.

It goes on: “… read the part about paperwork and how horrible it was as we tried to save the lives of those children with us but were forced to produce documents when none existed … Birth certificates were expensive and meant little as they had so little to do with the kids. I think the worst part of this is realizing how horrific the abandonment rate was/ is.” I understand this, it’s a disturbing fact but if that’s what had to be done in order for me to live my life in freedom then I thank those who worked tirelessly in obtaining the necessary paperwork – any paperwork – for me to do this, even if this was in the shadow and memory of some forgotten orphan; it makes my life so much sweeter, so much more worthwhile and although there is the possibility that I could’ve been abandoned, I feel that the attempts to save my life weren’t in vein.

“If I were any one of you kids I would search and I might also be rather frustrated or downright angry if I thought that people were careless with my identity. It was just that the papers meant so little. When I first went to Viet Nam to work I watched death after death and I remember they came in and told us that paperwork for ten children had just been cleared by Germany and that it had taken a year to get the papers done and therefore ten kids were going to get to go home. The problem was finding ten kids even close to a year old. The original babies had died for the most part and I watched astounded as ten kids were simply picked some about six months old and sent home to the families because the paperwork had made it, the kids had not. It was as though the two never qutie meshed with each others.” How very sad. Heartbreaking. But let’s try and look through the bleakness here, that I may never get to know what had happened to me. I feel that the information in this email provides more of an insight than I ever dreamed I would receive so I feel blessed that I got this far. But because of the complexities, because of the necessities, the time restraints and all the other factors that made the Babylift so rushed and vital, I find the whole mystery of my existence rather exciting!

Do I feel sad that I’ve only just realised I need to do this?

19958_268145841427_4018750_nYes and no. I do feel sad that I’ve only just embraced my true identity and I know I have so much work to do.

I know that history cannot be rewritten and the facts of my identity will still be the same today as they were in 1975 when I left Vietnam. However, with time, these facts get diluted, in that they may be more difficult to find answers to as the nuns at the orphanage may not be around today or, if they are, their memories of those days will not be as vivid.

It still may not be too late. Yet.

But still, I also realise that I may never find all the answers to my questions as not all the facts were written down or recorded, so a great deal of speculation has to be applied. That’s why the other adoptees are invaluable. With their facts and speculation, I can try make some outline of what I think my story may have been.

So the facts that I once denied myself has now become a strong need, a burning desire to do everything I possibly can to find out about such a tiny portion of my life, the first years of my life, that formed the basis of who I am today.

They say that the first two years of a child’s life are the most fundamental as they form the foundations of their personality, their mental standing, their maturity and their ability to deal with everyday life as an adult. So those first 18 months form 75% of that valuable time I need to uncover. I also believe that the outstanding 25% of that time was absorbed in getting used to a new life with a new family in a new country.

This is so very important.

So, in answer to that question, yes I feel grieved that I haven’t done this before now.

But on the other hand, I also realise that I obviously wasn’t ready to travel this journey before now. Everything happens for a reason: sometimes stars collide, sometimes the planets realign themselves. Even if it if it is too late, this journey will still have been worth it, if only to find out about my own personality rather than the facts of it. I have always been an immature child, I could never cope with mature conversations; the last 10 years is when I’ve done most of my mental growing up and so I feel that this past decade has helped me to prepare for what I’m doing today.

Another aspect of it is that I never knew how to approach it as I wasn’t aware of what tools I needed in order to accomplish this task. Since the art and facilitation of online networking sites, this task has become so much easier, that I can share experiences with others, obtain the right support and comfort from other people. So no, I don’t feel sad that I’ve only just started out as it would have been so much harder and a longer journey.

So, I also feel confused in my mixed emotions.

I’m extremely fortunate for the amount of love and support I have around me; from my family, my friendship circle and my online friends that I can share so much and put my story out there without fear or judgement and get so much back from them. I also feel so blessed for the people who have come forward to help me on my progressive journey to help uncover and record my story.

And to deal with the subject of angels: this covers every one of those people in these passages who have so much love in their hearts, so much time and information to give and their invaluable help and support, without whom, none of this would’ve been conceivable.