Friday, 1 September 2017

Sir David Tang & the “monster” on the bus.


Uncle David, Mui’s de facto godfather, died this week. He’d been fighting cancer.
In the forward to our book The Girl Behind The Face, David writes of us as a family: “I am an admiring friend.”
Well, we’ve admired David since the very first day we met him; the day he changed one vile act of discrimination, into something very, very good. The day he changed our lives.
When Mui began at international school, she had to go by bus. Tina booked a seat for the coming term. The first evening, Tina received a phone call from a woman from the bus company.
‘I saw your daughter, today,’ the woman spat down the phone, ‘your daughter looks like a monster… She’ll scare all children… She will never go to school on my bus…’
No one offered help; people looked the other way. Unstable health meant Mui’s life hung in the balance then and Tina and I were coping together alone; no time to fight vile discrimination.
Mui was banned from the school bus and there was nothing we could do. It was a devastating moment. We shielded her from the truth and moved on.
Three years later, Tina received a phone call from a man we’d never met. An eloquent English voice asked: ‘Is that Tina?’
Tina answered, ‘Yes.’
‘I’m David Tang. I’ve heard about you and your family. I’d like to meet you, Roger and Mui. Can you come to the China Club on Wednesday?’
On Wednesday we made our way to David’s private club.
David’s humour was immediate, outrageous and fun and he had Mui in a fit of giggles and Tina and me laughing out loud from the off. And he wasted nobody’s time:
‘What’s this about a school bus…? Right, let me sort something out… How about a taxi back and forth to school…? You find a driver… I’ll pay…’
The following Monday, taxi driver, Mr Lee, became Mui’s twice-daily chauffeur.
One reader of our book wrote after reading the chapter in full: “Sickening to read these hurtful, ignorant comments but how good was D. Tang! Fantastic.”
And that same evening David did a second fantastic thing for us. Trips, parties, lunches, dinners, a medical conference in Seattle and so much more... down the years, David and Lucy, his wife, have done so many huge and big and small “fantastic” things for us.
On Mui’s 21st birthday, a day doctors said she’d never see and we would never celebrate, we celebrated together with David and Lucy, on Sir David’s boat. It created another magical memory on such a special family day. Later in the afternoon as Mui opened presents and David told funny and mischievous stories, we sailed past the hospital on Hong Kong Island where Rog and I first met Mui and where we’d celebrated Mui’s second birthday – our first together. The distance travelled between both birthdays was lost on neither Tina nor me.
David has been a larger than life figure in a great many people’s lives and it has been a privilege to be called a friend by him and to call him our friend, too. So please keep Lucy (Lady Tang) in your thoughts and prayers, right now.
So many happy, funny and fun afternoons and evenings. We shall miss David greatly.
Thank you, David.
Rog, Tina & Mui Thomas (The Girl Behind The Face)

By Rog Thomas
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Friday, 30 June 2017

We saw this happen, but couldn’t believe our eyes

20 years ago today, Mui stole the show:
Adapted from: The Girl Behind The Face.

It’s June 30th 1997. The eyes of the world are on Hong Kong. It is a sultry night. 156 years of British rule are ending. The territory is being handed back to China. The “Great Chinese Takeaway” Prince Charles calls it in his diaries.
At a few minutes to midnight, Tina and I sit glued to our TV.
Mui has a fever. She sleeps fitfully in her room a few metres away.
CBS news anchor Dan Rather, who Mui likes to watch and calls Uncle Dan, is dressed in khaki fatigues ready for four thousand Chinese soldiers to arrive on Hong Kong soil.
I fill our glasses with champagne.
Prince Charles represents the Queen. He begins to deliver his farewell speech. In minutes Hong Kong will once again belong to China.
The door of Mui’s bedroom opens. She stands bolt upright in the doorway. Eyes stretched wide-open, she looks ahead with the opacity of a blind man’s stare. ‘She’s still asleep,’ Tina whispers. Tina and I remain stock-still. Mui often sleepwalks. We guess it’s best not to wake her.
Bloody from scratching, Mui walks round the settee and squeezes into her favourite spot: in-between Tina and me. She stares vacantly at the television. Tina looks at me, I look at her, we both look down at Mui. We stifle giggles and sniggers. We’re missing Prince Charles’s farewell speech. But we can’t take our eyes off Mui. ‘Should we wake her?’ I whisper. Tina shakes her head.
It’s midnight. The rigmarole is done. The Union Jack is lowered, the communist flag is raised, the PLA rumble into Hong Kong in their thousands.
Mui stands up and sleepwalks back to bed. Only now, of course, her bed’s in China!
With champagne, we toast our daughter and Hong Kong.
Thanks Rog

Friday, 9 June 2017

"You are an example to us who are starting this difficult path."


After posting on Facebook about our most recent Family Talk, at J.P. Morgan bank, Deisy, a woman in Peru, shared our page. I thanked her. She replied: "You are an example to us who are starting this difficult path."
Deisy is the young mother of a baby born with Harlequin Ichthyosis.
When our Family Talk was over at J.P. Morgan, Ryan, the Managing Director who invited us to share, said: ‘I shall hug my daughters extra tight tonight.’
And then Ryan made a charitable donation of twenty thousand Hong Kong dollars (HK$20,000) for us to forward to our Ichthyosis charity of choice: F.I.R.S.T. He arranged the J.P. Morgan “testimonial” for our new website, too:
Mui, Tina and Rog,
We had approximately 110 people in the auditorium and joining via telepresence for your Family Talk. Many of those colleagues have reached out to me to express their thanks and say how they had been touched by your family’s story – and the way you tell it. You have faced many painful challenges as a family and your courage to speak of those challenges gave us all tremendous respect for your family’s journey and gratitude for sharing it with us. Thank you for such a moving and thought provoking session. We look forward to staying in touch with the wonderful Thomas Family.
Ryan
This is our motivation to invest our lives into what we are doing. It’s not easy. Of course it’s not. Deisy understands that. It’s why she wrote. Ryan understands that. It’s why he donated.
During our Family Talk at J.P. Morgan, while sharing memories of life changing moments from her childhood and youth, Tina felt her throat tighten and her heart begin to race. She quickly became overwhelmed by a deep, deep sadness. But she sucked it up and smiled and carried on. ‘I battle my memories with smiles and laughter,’ she says.
Once, at the end of one of our Family Talks, Mui burst into tears when details were revealed about bullying that had taken place in school behind her back. She too has chosen to continue. ‘I'm feeling more and more comfortable now, talking about past experiences,’ she says.
Tina and I admitting we’ve both been diagnosed with PTSD; Mui admitting “attending sessions with a specialist... I have a lot of deeply rooted issues.” in our blog isn’t easy, either. Reactions like those of Deisy and Ryan make it worthwhile.
We met Mui 20 years ago as an act of random kindness to a stranger who wanted to be loved. With so many act of random terror happening around the world, Tina, for her birthday this week asks: ‘Please do one act of random kindness for a stranger.’ It need not be big. A simple smile will do. Who knows, it may even lead to something great. A simple smile and wave was how I came to marry Tina. How great was that!
To help us challenge attitudes to visible differences, cyberbullying and commitment simply “Like” our Facebook page at the top: https://www.facebook.com/GirlBehindTheFace
Thanks


Saturday, 20 May 2017

300... students / “I saw some of the teachers cry today,” the young girl said.

At the conclusion of our Family Talk, at Yew Cheung International School opposite Australian International School, after Q & A, I invited the students and the teachers to come forward and say hi! or give a hug or take a selfie… and with a cheerful roar, three hundred students swamped Mui in a scrum of smiles and laughter!
One smiling teacher shared with me: ‘The kids don’t normally do this!’
Another, to another teacher exclaimed: ‘I told you it would be like this… I told you, didn’t I!’ and her colleague agreed, ‘You did!’
One girl, no more than 14 years of age, approached Tina on her way to Mui, and with a smile she said, ‘I saw some of the teachers cry today!’
And Mui? She barely spoke. Instead, she grinned and posed for selfies and was hugged, and hugged others back and was group hugged and autographed the arms of students.
Giving school and corporate talks – our Family Talks – remains something very new for all three of us. We’re not old hands.  We’re not tired, professional motivational speakers. We’re just a mother and a father and a daughter.
It comes constantly as a surprise to us that our story generates such emotions as tears. We really wonder why. Perhaps because as most parents of a child with special needs say, we say: it’s simply normal life. And Mui? She knows nothing else. Life is life, we enjoy it. We do not see it as a big task. We see our daughter’s potential; we want her to be independent.
Mui says: ‘I don’t see myself as being different. I’ve never wanted to admit I have special needs. I just want to get on and do my thing. I’m thankful my parents have enabled me to live a pretty normal life.’
Nevertheless we do know that most parents of children with special needs are all too often given short shrift. Their stories are under-reported. It’s why perhaps so many such marriages end in divorce. The frequently-quoted statistic is of a majority divorce rate in marriages where the parents are raising a child with special needs. It’s a startling statistic. Perhaps it shows how much more attention should be paid to the lives of such people?
Thank you too to all those who responded warmly to my previous blog: The elephant in the room / the insult in the street. It was a big decision for Tina and me to reveal that such things as being insulted in the street still happen to us; and to reveal, too, that we both have been diagnosed with PTSD, and that we have a normal family story not a “Disney-ending” one. Thank you for your kind support.
Sharing our story as The Girl Behind The Face is a platform to empower others. We are grateful for all the support and opportunities we receive.
Please “Like” our Facebook page The Girl Behind The Face to help us to continue challenging attitudes.
For more on our school & corporate Family Talks, or to book one, please see our website for details.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The elephant in the room / The insult in the street

It came as quite a shock to Tina and me to be insulted, denounced and verbally abused by a woman in the street last weekend. It was insulting to have our love for our daughter questioned. And insulting to be told that we did not understand our daughter. This sort of abuse hasn’t happened to Tina and me for quite some time.
It’s funny how many people tell us: ‘I don’t know how you and Tina cope. I couldn’t!’ with regard to raising and loving Mui.’ Well it’s not that funny, I suppose, because Tina and I were diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder towards the end of last year as a result of coping with our daughter’s psychological challenges. Such is life. We are not complaining and nor is such a diagnosis an excuse for us to stop laughing. We just shut down our emotions. Bottle them up.
From the life changing challenges of her past that inspired her to help others, Tina’s dictum is the Robin Williams quote: “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anybody else to feel like that.” Mine comes from Bill Parcells: “Blame no one, expect nothing, do something (positive).”
Stress, depression, breakdowns, post-traumatic stress etc tend to be the “elephant in the room” when it comes to coping with a son or daughter with special needs. Because support and understanding for the chaos of psychological challenges still comes a poor second to having a visible difference or raising and supporting someone who has. We know both sides of the coin. More than one friend has severed ties with us when discovering the psychological challenges faced by our daughter. No doubt more will follow. We accept this and as a result tend to keep such stigmatized pressures to ourselves.
But what we don’t accept is being insulted, denounced and verbally abused in the street and having the sincerity of our love for our daughter challenged, or having the challenges our daughter faces belittled. It is shocking ignorance.
In response to the woman insulting Tina and me, Mui says:
“Yes, I have battled with my parents about going, but I have been attending sessions with a specialist and we are working through a lot of issues. I may come across as fine and chirpy but I do have psychological struggles. I have a lot of deeply rooted issues. Ones that I don’t have any desire to inform the whole world about. I would only mention the struggles in our book and not discuss them on other platforms because I would feel even more uncomfortable than I already do because it’s such a personal topic. My parents and I are making mental health decisions that work for us as a family. Please respect my family and our choices.”
Of the woman Mui adds: “She has repeatedly screamed at me that I just need to follow her advice.”
As a family we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Dr Lauren Bramley as well as to Sir David and Lady Tang.
Nevertheless, we do not expect support so why share all of this? Because as a result of our Family Talks and our Facebook page: The Girl Behind The Facewe have come to appreciate how sharing our story might be of help to others.

Please "Like" our our Facebook page: The Girl Behind The Face

Thank you.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Please tell us what you think!


On Facebook, a friend of Mui’s wrote of her:

‘I happen to know this loud mouthed, persistent little monkey for the last 12 years (God really?!?) Do not be fooled – her unedited-not-for-the-shops life story is chock full of alcohol induced activities, (much like all of us really!), rugby stories, anger management failures, plots to kill mini bus drivers and name dropping of almost every celebrity known to hit HK. I’m pretty sure none of that is in this book that her lovely parents have written… But you might have to buy it to find out and if not – go and have a pint with Mui Thomas down the pub (your round btw).’
***
The line: I’m pretty sure none of that is in this book that her lovely parents have written begs the question: ‘What is in our book and why should people read it?’
Our book is a bare-knuckle account of how and why one woman (Tina), the birth-granddaughter of an Auschwitz survivor, overcame the traumas of her childhood and, quite by chance, came to fight for and adopt and raise an abandoned child with a deforming skin disorder in Hong Kong. And what that child – just a baby – overcame to stay alive and the challenges day-to-day from then on up to the present day.
This book does not sugarcoat the reality of raising an abandoned daughter with special needs, does not build false images and confronts the issues head-on. Like so many other families who nobody knows anything about, we are ordinary people dealing with an extraordinary situation. The “voice” of the book is Tina’s though it’s written by me. Mui has contributed her own words, too.
In the words of some of the people who have read it:
·         “This book unfolds a dramatic real life story between a young woman’s traumatic life (Tina’s) and how it impacted her and a child’s life (Mui)…”
·         “… the narrative of Mui’s life is interwoven with Tina’s story…”
·         “The action is solid, the dialogue flows, and the whole thing is smoothly paced. Love the touches of philosophy…”
·         “I experienced and absolute rollercoaster of emotions…”
·         “… once in a while a story comes along which makes you sit up and take note and makes you want to get your act together…”
·         “This is a must read for anyone that admires the enduring human spirit and how it it triumphs against all odds…”
Our daughter is an inspirational young woman not because she has a skin disorder – she has always been told her skin does not define her – but because with support, she’s willing to confront and overcome challenges that might break many of us. It's why, as a family, we give school and motivational talks together.
We are grateful to the Duchess of York who introduced us to her literary agent, and grateful too to Mui’s de facto godfather, Sir David Tang, for introducing us to the Duchess of York.
We are a family getting by in a little village in the eastern New Territories of Hong Kong. We never thought our story would interest anyone beyond friends and family.
Please tell us what you think.
 

Saturday, 15 October 2016

This blog was first published by Cathay Pacific inflight magazine


‘Sai Kung in the eastern New Territories of Hong Kong is a surprise, a breath of fresh air, a relaxation, a break, a quality of life; Sai Kung is coffeehouses, bars, little bakeries, eclectic eateries, seafood restaurants and al fresco dining; and beyond the town itself, Sai Kung is rugged beauty: rolling hills, uninhabited islands and white sand beaches; wild monkeys, barking deer and feral pigs, and cows that wander through the streets. Sai Kung is a world away from the picture postcard images of Hong Kong: the hustle and bustle and towering glass skyscrapers of downtown Central; the “girlie” bars of Wan Chai made famous by Richard Mason’s The World of Suzie Wong; and the madding crowds of densely populated Mong Kok.’
(Extract from The Girl Behind the Face by Rog Thomas)
 
SAI KUNG IS also where my wife Tina and I raised our daughter, Mui. We became Mui’s parents quite by chance.
 
It was summer and Tina suggested we volunteer for a couple of weeks with young children. It sounded fun. We were introduced to Mui, an abandoned one and- a-half year old Hong Kong Chinese girl with a rare deforming and life threatening skin disorder called harlequin ichthyosis. We looked forward to having Mui visit us in Sai Kung.
 
But each time we visited Mui in the hospital where she lived, she screamed and turned away and ripped off her skin, tearing out clumps of hair until she was a bloody mess. For Tina, winning Mui’s trust quickly became a stubborn battle of wills. And each time Mui would finally calm down, she was inseparable from Tina, like a baby kangaroo in her mother’s pouch.
 
It wasn’t until the beginning of the following year that this battle was won and Mui finally came to visit.
 
Twenty years ago, caring for a child who looked as different as Mui did in Hong Kong was a constant challenge: people in wheelchairs were stared at. Taking Mui outside meant walking the gauntlet of  staring and occasional cruelty: sometimes people shouting insults at us, sometimes people screaming at Mui. Once, someone spat in Tina’s face.
 
But Sai Kung has always had a strong sense of community – although connecting with the warmth and kindness of the local Chinese population meant making a bit of an effort. It began with our first ever walk through Sai Kung.
 
In the market curious Chinese women, men and children clustered round us. Tina smiled and said jo san – good morning – to the different faces in the crowd and told Mui to say hello, too. An old lady pushed forward and demanded to know what had happened to Mui. Tina told her it was a skin disorder and added, Mui’s Heung Gong yan – a Hong Kong person. The woman smiled and gave Mui sweets. Tina told Mui to say thank you and give the woman a hug, and with a hefty nudge of encouragement Mui hugged the woman, who smiled, and the cluster of people was soon smiling, too.
When we left the market Tina told Mui to wave and blow a fei man – a ‘flying kiss’ – and everyone smiled and waved and blew kisses back.
 
In the street, some people stopped stiffly, some stared silently, some screwed up their faces. Some people recoiled or jerked their heads back like they’d been scalded. We walked on and smiled at them, said hello, made eye contact and sometimes held their stare, or chose not to see them.
Treating Mui as an ordinary child seemed to put the people we bumped into in Sai Kung at ease. As she has grown up, folks in Sai Kung have tended to embrace her and regard her as a sweet and confident girl.
 
How we came to adopt this courageous little girl, how our daughter grew up to inspire ordinary men and women across Hong Kong, how she won over a British prime minister, billionaires and royalty with her dynamism and spirit, and how cyberbullies drove her to the brink of suicide – that is our Hong Kong story. We’ve shared it in a book: The Girl Behind the Face and we have now signed with a US literary agent.


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