I have written this blog for just over 10 years, its intention was to share, inform, inspire and motivate me to take photos; its changed directions several times, some are pure information, listings, ponderings, opinions and some show an insight into my life. it was a quandary whether to share this particular writing, but then I thought, so many of us hide behind our social media platforms; our addiction to images and screens can somehow project different perfect lives that we all know is not always the full story. so for the last couple of weeks, I have been a bit quiet, but I now feel the need to share my sadness this week; I have always tried to be true, honest and hope that some of my wanderings either touch or inspire you to live a fuller life. I still share this with tears in my eyes, but somehow it also gives me some release to acknowledge that we all go through our ups and downs, happiness and sad times.
And so last weekend my mother passed peacefully – her strength, smile and easy going nature will always stay with me and it is heart warming to know that she is finally at peace.
I wish that I knew more about her life and past, but sadly the years has flown by and the relationship that we had during her 57 years of being healthy and able to speak was not of the kind where she opened up about her life and emotions. She is definitely a strong resilient woman – bringing up 3 children by herself proves that, but she must also have been an independent free thinking female too. She met my father through a friend in Hong Kong – in fact that friend also settled in the UK, but has sadly passed away. She was in Hong Kong to escape the hardships of China when the family tailoring business was taken away and they had to restart their lives as agricultural farmers – my grandmother died in the village that she was born into and never left it ever. Her father had built the school of the village, but sadly the village is now a ghost town as all the young leave to get jobs, shunning the life of farmers and banana plantations.
I recently learned that my father had been a troublesome child, raised by his aunt Elisabeth, he was in Borstal by the age of 15 and chose the army to escape imprisonment. He was stationed in Hong Kong and met my mother there. I am presuming that they were early 20’s when they met, as my mother always told me that she was 24 when I was born, but to this day, we are not quite sure of her actual birthday. She always had 2 birthdays, a Chinese one as well as her western birthday. She was a little bit older than my father too, though there are discrepancies about her real age, relatives have told me that she could be as much as 6 years older! From the photograph that I have of them dancing, they looked so happy, but that newborn happiness brought a rift to my mother and her family. They didn’t speak to her for many years – embarrassed, ashamed that their eldest daughter married an English soldier and settled in the UK. I know that my mother always sent them money all the time to help them rebuild their lives and in fact when I finally did make it to the village in China to meet my grandmother and extended family, I was so surprised to see the houses that they built themselves with the help of the money that my mother had sent throughout those many years.
I cant remember when they forgave my mother, but I do remember my mother going back to Hong Kong several times, filling a truck with fridges, clothes, kitchen stuff and driving them across to China to her parents’ house. This was when communism was still strong and you were not able to buy these products easily. My mother also brought over her younger sister to live in Manchester, found her a husband and put down payment for another house for her to live in. I remember that Yik Oiy was only a little older than myself and had never eaten cakes – that was my first lasting memory of her. Sadly she died fairly young with breast cancer leaving behind 3 young daughters. As I left home at 19 and my own life took its route, I only saw my mother maybe 4 – 6 times a year. When I finally reached that inquisitive stage of my life to ask more about her life, she had a massive stroke – about a year in hospital and rehabilitation and her speech never recovered. She could only say the first sentence of what she wanted to say, but apparently still being able to understand us. How frustrating. So with all the distance between her own family, her own marriage falling apart so early, she kept most of those emotions and feelings trapped to herself.
My eldest daughter Alice is fascinated by our Chinese roots and has really embraced and tried to understand more, but it’s not until recently that I too have become more intrigued and touched by our heritage. Perhaps it’s the moving times that has spurred this, but more the reality that my mother has slipped away and all that unknown leaving with her. I think that recently this strange lockdown has ignited my thoughts and desire to discover about my past history– it’s probably the much needed therapy that allows me to speak and learn about my own heritage. For so many years, generations have lived with their secrets, hiding their backgrounds hoping to be included and respected. Being Chinese in a western society was never completely easy and I think that’s why my mother hid a lot of her past.
We have decided to use a Chinese Funereal company, which has unveiled a world of superstition and tradition. we just thought it was nice to incorporate some of the intriguing rituals that I know my mother believed in; my mother had this amazing resilience to accept the good and bad times in her stride, I never saw her upset or angry, she seemed to accept its ups and downs. It is a relief that she passed painlessly and is now finally at peace, surrounded by her 3 children whom she dedicated her life to. I feel such gratitude and guilt about many things around our relationship, but I also feel lucky to have had such a wonderful mother.