“If there was no grief to hollow out our hearts, where would there be room for joy?”
I can’t say I was not warned. F’s family friend told me of a 工廠妹 （factory girl） from one of my fiancé’s family businesses; she was helping out in their kitchen when their cook was off. I’d met her at dinner one night; she was dishing up the rice. F’s mother was impressed by her industry and usefulness. I thought nothing of it.
F told me two weeks before they married how her family was ecstatic to have him (mine didn’t get excited); anyway, she was pregnant and his mother wanted the grandchild. F said: well, at least she’s happy. I’m not sure if he meant his mother or his wife-to-be. He asked me not to hate him, told me I could keep his ring and I should return to Sydney where, he said, I belonged.
I went back to school and studied Hotel Management in Hong Kong, graduated dux of year.
By this time my half brother the prodigal son had returned to the family bosom. He made my father happy by bringing home his family. Before long his Australian wife left him, taking their sons back to Sydney and he disappeared with clients’ funds that my father had to replace in order to save face.
Often when I came home from work there’d be me, my ten year old brother and Grandma sitting at the big round table that was once crowded. My parents were having their own crisis. One night my mother threw herself off their balcony. Her injury was minor since they lived on the first floor of the house and she landed on the lawn.
I went out with a number of nice men who remained good friends before I met David. We spoke of a future together. I was returning to Sydney and he was to follow. A few weeks before I left Hong Kong, David, 23, was found dead. The lifts were out of order at his apartment building and he suffered a heart attack as he climbed the stairs. No one knew that he had a congenital heart disorder. People stepped over his body all night and the next morning. His sister found him on her way to school.
Yes, there are always people worse off but it would be mean to take consolation from it, unless you do something about it. The last thing I did before leaving Hong Kong at the end of 1974 was to record a book for the talking book library for the blind. It was still in circulation when I enquired in 2007 and obtained a copy of it on nine cassette tapes. I didn’t read well and there were plenty of hiccups but by the end of the book I had an audience. As I looked up after reading the last word, I saw that the sound engineer’s room was packed with blind people. Unbeknownst to me, they’d been listening to the recordings session by session and turned up for the finale. Did it make me feel better? Yes.
My permanent residence visa was automatically granted as I’d lived in Australia for six years, according to the immigration directives at the time. If I hadn’t gone back for that extra year of study three years earlier, my application would have been denied.
Back in Sydney I was to be bridesmaid so I stayed with my friend’s parents after I landed. My sister-in-law had taken over my mother’s house and decided that the house was now hers so after the wedding, I found myself homeless.
I took a room in a boarding house until I was offered a job at the United Nations and rented my own apartment.