My parents had sent my eldest half brother to Australia to establish a family home in Sydney ahead of a communist take over. There were riots and unrest in Hong Kong during the 60s. They had fled China during the civil war between the communists and nationalist and lived through three years and eight months of Japanese occupation during WWII. Their wish was to resettle the family in a land of peace.
According to my Australian sister-in-law, my brother had abandoned his studies and was working as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant. She claimed to have discovered him in a cupboard when she visited his flat. He was hiding from immigration so she married him.
The money my parents sent them to buy a house evaporated together with funds for my board and school fees. They disinherited him for a second time (the first time was for marrying a foreign woman without their consent). My mother decided to establish a home in Vancouver, Canada and be an ‘astronaut’ mum, flying between Hong Kong where my father and Grandma lived and Vancouver to care for my younger siblings there.
After I left boarding school to live in Sydney, I took over the house my sister vacated. She’d cleared out and the tenants had also left so there was no money and no income to maintain the house and myself. I took a number of jobs on weekends and during the holidays, from being a nanny to working in a number of factories on assembly lines. I’d found the work from the bulletin board at Sydney University, so I had to pose as a uni student.
There were three children I cared for after school and on Saturdays. There was a sweatshop, a garment factory where my job was to gather up pieces of a garment from the cutters and tied them into bundles for the seamstresses. After a while the son of the owners started harassing me and I had to leave. The worst job I had was packing tins of corned beef. The job was simple if boring but I would never forget the smell of the vats of meat soaking in brine.
Once the new term started I was able to find a couple of student boarders and lived on the rent. Instead of going back to school I tried to cram two years of syllabus into one and failed to matriculate (university entrance). I had to see someone at the immigration department about renewing my student visa. They looked at my excellent grades at school and asked me to explain the drop in my performance. I can’t remember what excuses I gave but I managed to convince them to let me continue my studies in Australia when I return from Hong Kong, after attending my sister’s wedding.
I couldn’t tell them the truth: I seldom attended class. My boyfriend at the time was six years my senior and wanted to marry. He left Sydney a few months ahead of me and expected me to give up my studies. There was no one else giving me advice or guidance. I was on my own. How I had the presence of mind to arrange my return visa remains a mystery to me; I was a bit dumb at the time but that changed the direction of my life.