A Trip Becomes a Journey

with my uncle as a baby

Reflections on finding biological family.

About a year ago, my DNA test led me to a first cousin.

“Exciting. A cousin.” I hear you say. “I found some cousins using a DNA test, too.” 

But, this DNA test was not simply an experiment in finding relatives. This test was a door to my unknown past. This cousin turned out to be the daughter of the uncle who lived with me when I was a baby. He had answers to questions that I never thought I would find answers to. He also gave me answers to questions that I didn’t know I had. 

“How was your trip?”

A few days ago, I returned from a trip to Brighton, UK, where I physically (versus virtually) met my uncle and two of his grown children living in the UK. Anyone who had an excursion filled with experiences that has changed their perspective on life, and affected them beyond checking off a box on a list of to-dos, knows that “How was your trip?” can be a Byzantine question. If I had to use a catch-all word to describe my journey, it would be ‘illuminating.” The light continues to shine, as I still mull over the emotions and realisations about my past and its impact on my present.

Discoveries I made.

My birth certificate had an error in the english translation. My name was not Ching Ha, but Ching Han.

My family came home one day, and my mother and I were gone. They were never able to find either one of us.

I had an older brother who was almost a year older than me. 

My uncle remembered me as a child with a sweet temperament.

I look like my mother.

My family remembered me, even decades after I had disappeared. 

I had been loved. 

What I now know for sure.

There is a fine line between imagination and memory.

On the surface, these discoveries provide a sense of solace and security. However, I had, long ago, made peace with a rationale that I had been put up for adoption to better my own life. The insight I gained from my uncle’s disclosures was infinitely more meaningful to me than knowing that I mattered. As a child, I did not think that I was given away because I didn’t matter to anyone. In fact, I grew up with an anguish that I did matter to a family somewhere. And, they were wondering where I was. But, in my new life, these emotions and memories were seen as nothing more than mere imaginings.

Identity is complex.

While our basic values and personality might be the same most of our life, our identity may change with time and experiences. Revelations can shape how we interpret and re-interpret our behaviour and our attitudes, our perspective on life, on ourselves, and others. 

My uncle told me about the years he spent living in the house with my father, mother, and, eventually, me and my brother. Life was hard in 1970’s Hong Kong. People were poor, but my father – who was unlucky in business – eked out an existence with different ventures.  Hearing stories about my first few years in a full household, I understand why I was plagued by overwhelming loneliness in my new home. I realise now that I wasn’t a “terrible child,” or “abnormal.” My childhood tantrums and acting out were a response to losing a family, and being thrust into a new home with a different language, culture, and lifestyle. While it was not fraught with financial hardship, it was a new home charged with unresolved emotions. It was a home where, perhaps, my new mother needed a dog, not a child, to soothe her overwhelming angst of recently losing her own child.

“I’m not all bad. I’m just drawn that way.” Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The reason I wrote Finding Ching Ha was to give a legitimate place to these blanketed memories of a warm, familial nest, and my childhood emotions and recollections (imagined and/or real). These were the impressions I had gathered during my first years that helped me build a history that I did not fully know, and to give me a foundation on which I could grow my identity.

There’s a misconception about “blood” versus adopted family members. 

While me finding my biological family has been nothing less than sublime, I am still a proponent that “blood’ is not thicker than water. I will elaborate on this in another post. 

Itinerary update.

I’m still awed by the chance and coincidences that led me to finding my uncle, and cousins in the U.K, and my aunt and cousin in Hong Kong. I’m also still mulling over the new context with which to interpret my childhood experiences. This trip to Brighton has added new signposts, diversions, and stopovers to my journey in life.

Stay tuned for the next post on my adventure.