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.

Problems with searching for your roots outside of the family

I was talking to a fellow adoptee last night and from the subject I was having at the time reminded me of something I meant to write about a while ago and it had just slipped my mind.

For myself, I have always been encouraged to try and find out as much about Vietnam as possible. Whether this is the route my family intended me to take is another matter, but whichever route I take, I feel that it’s the best for my own development in finding out about my culture, my homeland, and that missing link that completes the “me” which I feel needs to be discovered. That’s not to say that I don’t feel complete as a person as I’m very comfortable in my own skin, but the average person can be safe in the knowledge that they came from their parents and if not, they are aware of the parental roots from where they came.

When we start to communicate with other adoptees and that natural inquisitive spark takes over – we feel we have to be sure that we have our parents’ blessings in our search. There are some situations where this may be difficult.

For the most part, it must be the adoptee’s decision, to enquire and delve deeper into the whys and wherefores. No one else can do this, as it could be perceived by the adoptee as interfering, perhaps the adoptee doesn’t want to know the finer details, as it could uncover some traumatic information that they just don’t want to know or find it difficult to deal with.

Time is the only friend in this situation, and this really depends on the community in which you were brought up. If you were raised in a mostly white community then the need and want to be accepted as a westerner is so great, accepting your Asian traits is virtually impossible until the “right time” emerges.

When the time is right to start your search, where do you begin? Is it too late? You start to question why you didn’t open your eyes to this option sooner and then you start to tear yourself apart that you’ve wasted too much time hiding from what and who you naturally are and loving yourself for what you are that you become immersed in it completely.

It must have been an conscious thought in the adoptive parents’ minds at the time of adopting us that we would have questions later on in life. I feel that if any adoptive parent who adopted anything other than their own-race child should, as a matter of course, should expect nothing less than that child at some point in their lives wishing to search about their culture, possible siblings, the orphanage they came from and the circumstances which led them to be in that orphanage.

I remember having a conversation with my own mother just a few months ago to ensure her own thoughts and feelings were secure that my search reflected a blessing, that I wasn’t going against her innermost feelings, and that I wasn’t looking to find my “real parentage” or even my genetic relatives, but more to the point, searching for a culture in which I was born, a culture in which I would still be living had I not been “rescued”.

Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for my life, my luck, my fortune and my family. But there’s a big world out there, and rather than just travelling the world, I wish to discover a piece of myself.

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.

 

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!

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!