Gail’s father was in the Army and stationed in Hong Kong when she was born. She had no memory of the place at all and never got to go there, but her passport stated clearly that her place of birth was Shatin, Hong Kong. She took great delight in telling people where she was born – particularly when some commented that she ‘looked Chinese’ – and we’d spoken several times about going but, when we probably could have managed it, other things seemed to take precedence and, later, when we had more time and money, Gail’s health precluded a 14 hour odd flight.
Grief does strange things to the mind though and in December of 2018, I suddenly became obsessed with taking Gail to Hong Kong and visiting her birth city of Shatin. With a lot of financial constraints lifted – it’s surprising how much cheaper everything is when you’re travelling alone – I just sat down one morning and booked a flight and hotel.
We got married on Friday 13th February – always ones to fly in the face of convention – and, facing that hurdle, Valentines Day on the 14th and my birthday on the 16th, and a week in which Gail and I would always have gone somewhere, it just seemed sensible to span that whole week with the trip to Hong Kong.
I couldn’t bring myself to go without Gail though; the thought of her ashes sitting in the bedroom while I was nearly 6,000 miles away in the place where she where she had spent the first year or two of her life, was something I just couldn’t cope with so, as I had the paperwork for her ashes, I determined to take her with me. Back in the box her ashes arrived in, I wasn’t bothered particularly with taking her out of the country as the assumption would probably be made that I was going to scatter her ashes in her birthplace. What might prove troublesome though was the fact that I fully intended to return with her! There’s probably few people take their dead wife on holiday!
Nevertheless, on February 11th I left for Hong Kong. For anyone worried about taking their loved ones ashes out of the country all I can say is, don’t be concerned. Make sure they are in your hand luggage, you have the paperwork (this should be given to you as a matter of course by the Funeral Director when you collect the ashes) and, not unreasonably, expect to have your case diverted for a hand search. As soon as I mentioned they were Gail’s ashes though, the security team couldn’t have been kinder. They even refused to touch the box, simply testing for drugs by brushing over it. I was on my way… but nothing could prepare me for what I was to discover the next day!
Well, that was a day I wasn’t expecting!
On Gail’s passport it has her place of birth down as Shatin and that’s what she’s always – not unreasonably – told everybody. While looking for her daughter birth certificate the other week, I came across Gail’s and decided to bring it with me.
I arrived in Hong Kong at 6am local time but just after midnight UK time. I found my way to the hotel and, unsure if I should go straight out or grab a few hours sleep, I sat down and decided to plan out my week. I got out Gail’s birth certificate and, although I must have seen it dozens of times before, made a note of Gail’s actual birth place; the Royal Military Hospital, Bowen Road.
When I typed in Bowen Road, Hong Kong though, I got a huge shock. Google Maps revealed it was about 15 minutes from the hotel I’d randomly selected and nowhere near Shatin at all! We knew Shatin was her Father and Mothers home address as that was also on the birth certificate. What we didn’t consider was that the Military Hospital itself wasn’t in Shatin. In fact, it wasn’t, and Gail was actually born on Hong Kong Island.
All thoughts of rest or sleep went out of my head and actually didn’t return until 11pm that night. I was on a mission and I left the hotel just an hour after arriving, intent on finding Gail’s birthplace. Bowen Road; Those two words. As the day unwound before me I think they became the sub-title for the whole Hong Kong trip and, ultimately, the entirety of 2019.
So there’s some fascinating reading on the former BMH Bowen Road but what I quickly discovered is Bowen Road is little more than a track and runs around the back of what is now the Hong Kong Park. Part of the hospital grounds now form part of this park. This is a beautiful area of fountains and lakes, adorned with flowers and sparkly dragons. It’s absolutely gorgeous and Gail would have loved it. I just adored the fact that the actual spot of Gail’s birth was so beautiful. By the time I’d investigated the area, it was midday. I should have been tired but I felt as if I was floating. At one stage I just sat and sobbed, I was so sad she couldn’t see how beautiful it was, but so happy I could see it for her.
Bowen Road is also very hilly and, I discovered as I started a steep walk up, is now designated as a 3km fitness trail So, on a very warm day, accompanied by joggers wearing singlets and shorts, I trekked the whole thing with a rucksack containing Gail’s ashes on my back – the old heart was certainly getting a work out in more ways than one – and found, along the path, there’s a place called the Lover’s Stone Garden. My heart just soared when I found this place, it was as if the whole thing was just opening up for me. I discovered the Lover’s Garden is used locally for fertility issues – I’ve long been snipped so good luck with that! – but I was able to climb to the top of the garden, the whole area smelling beautifully of flowers and incense, before buying flowers and lighting some candles for Gail.
There’s a photo of me holding Gail at the top of Lovers Rock on the Bowen Road but it’s too personal for me to post here. Suffice to say the fact that the flowers they were selling were Lilly’s; one of Gail’s favourites and a flower she rarely had at home as they made me sneeze and that pretty much put the top hat on a day that just seemed magical from the moment I set foot in Hong Kong.
Some people may find the fact I’ve dragged my dead wife’s ashes halfway across the world and brought them back to where that life started as distasteful and even odd. But I’m so glad I did it. The whole thing was just moving and very beautiful and the fact is was all so surprising just added to it.
I think today was the first day since last July I actually felt there was a point to life.