Posts tagged ‘immigration’


Eighty-three today with Alzheimer’s: a caregiver’s viewpoint

15.08.2018


Above: Dementia Wellington’s support has been invaluable.

Today my father turned 83.
   It’s a tough life that began during the Sino–Japanese War, with his father being away in the army, and his mother and grandmother were left to raise the family on their land in Taishan, China.
   In 1949, the Communists seized the property and the family had to start again, as refugees, in Hong Kong.
   Ever the entrepreneur, during the Vietnam War, Dad and his business partner, an US Army doctor by the name of Capt Dr Lawson McClung, set up a mail-order business for deployed troops. As I recall it, Lawson said that he would be able to secure jobs for my parents—my late mother was a nurse—at his stepfather’s hospitals in Tennessee. We either had a US green card, or one was merely procedural.
   My mother realized we had family in Aotearoa and I remember going with her to Connaught Tower, to the New Zealand High Commission. I didn’t know what it was for, but filling in the gaps it must have been to secure forms for immigration. As Plan Bs go, it was a pretty good one.
   In 1976 came another move as we headed to New Zealand, originally on holiday, given that my grandfather had taken ill whilst here. As we flew in to Wellington, Dad pointed at the houses below. ‘Those are the sorts of houses New Zealanders live in.’ I thought it was fascinating, that they didn’t live in apartment blocks.
   That first night here, on September 16, 1976, it was Dad who tucked me in, which at this point wasn’t typical: it was usually my grandmother who did this. He asked if I wanted to see the two Corgi toy cars that my grandmother had bought me prior to the trip, which I could have if I behaved myself on the flights. I did. He took them out of the luggage and I had a brief look at them. This was an unfamiliar place but it was just a holiday and things would be back to normal soon.
   It was during this holiday that word came that our immigration application had come through. My parents regarded our presence here as serendipitous. They neglected to tell their four-year-old son that plans had changed.
   For the first 18 years of my life, I regarded ‘the family’ as being my parents and my widowed maternal grandmother, who lived with us ever since I could remember—and I remember an awfully long time. We even had a photo taken around 1975–6 of the four of us, that I just remember represented everyone dearest to me.
   As ‘the family’ lost one member to a stroke brought on by Parkinson’s disease and complications from diabetes, and another to cancer, by 1994 it was just Dad and me.
   At the beginning of the 2010s, Dad had a bout of shingles. By 2014 he was forgetting individual words, and I insisted he get checked out for dementia. Around the time of his 80th birthday, in 2015, the diagnosis from the psychogeriatrician was formal, although he could still speak with some stuttering and one or two words unreachable by his brain. The CT scans showed a deterioration of the left side of his brain, his speech centre. Within half a year there would only be one or two words per sentence that were intelligible.
   The forms for an enduring power of attorney were drawn up as 2016 commenced. He was still managing, and he had his routines, but in mid-2018 we decided he should get some respite care.
   He wasn’t happy about this, and it took four hours of persuading, as well as a useful and staunch aunt, who got Dad to put on his shoes and head up with us to Ultimate Care Maupuia.
   We had thought the second visit in late July would be easier but it took 19 hours over two days, an experience which we do not want to repeat.
   Dad had lost the ability to empathize with us and was anxious and agitiated. While he insisted he could look after himself while home alone, there were signs over the last year that indicated he could not. He fell while having the ’flu in mid-2017 and Amanda and I came to a house with all its lights off. We had no idea how long he had been down. By 2018 he would cry if left home alone. Even at his most insistent that he could look after himself, we returned after the first day of trying to coax him to Maupuia to find that he had not eaten.
   The second day was when I called everyone I could think of to find a way to get to respite, since we weren’t going to be around to look after him.
   You name it, I called it, Age Concern aside.
   Dementia Wellington, the police, the rest home, Wellington Free Ambulance, Driving Miss Daisy, Care Coordination, Te Haika, and so on. I spoke to 11 people that day.
   Te Haika said that the issue wasn’t mental, but legal, which was about as useful as telling an American Democrat that Donald Trump was the Messiah.
   Driving Miss Daisy said that I wasn’t in their area but a colleague was, not that I ever heard back from that colleague.
   Dementia Wellington, the police, and Free Ambulance were brilliant, as was my lawyer, Richard Brandon of Brandons. Our GPs at Kilbirnie Medical Centre were also excellent.
   The up shot was that Free Ambulance could take Dad if the enduring power of attorney was enacted, and that would take a declaration of mental incapacity by the GP, which was duly written. He was also good enough to prescribe some medication to calm Dad down.
   However, because it wasn’t an emergency situation, there was no telling when Free Ambulance could come by.
   It did make me glad that they were one of the charities I gave to this year.
   However, you don’t ever imagine a situation where you effectively drug your Dad to be able to put his jacket on and take him to a rest home for respite care. I felt like part of the Mission: Impossible team, except the person being drugged wasn’t a Ruritanian dictator, but someone on the same side. When I say Mission: Impossible, I don’t mean that series of films with Tom Cruise, either.
   On September 16, 1976, you didn’t think that in 42 years’ time your Dad would have dementia and you’d need to break a promise you made years ago that you would never put him in a home.
   You also feel that that photo of ‘the family’ has been decimated, that you’re all alone because the last adult in there isn’t around any more for you to bounce ideas off and to have a decent conversation with.
   I realize I hadn’t been able to do any of that with Dad for years but it feels that much more painful knowing he can’t live in a place he calls home presently.
   And you also realize that as a virtually full-time caregiver who has cooked for him for years—and now you know why I didn’t reenter politics in 2016—that his condition really just crept up on you to a point where what you thought was normal was, in fact, not normal at all.
   You also realize that the only other time he was compelled to leave his home without his full volition was 1949, by a régime he had very little time for through most of his lifetime. You don’t expect to be the next person to have to do that to him, and there’s a tremendous amount of guilt that comes with that.
   Earlier this week, our GP reissued his letter in ‘Form 5’ (prescribed under the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988), which I drafted, since these procedures aren’t altogether clear. It makes you wonder how people without law degrees might cope. Tomorrow I will meet with Care Coordination and see if Dad can be reassessed based on his current condition. He was only very recently assessed as not needing long-term care so it will be interesting to see if they accept that he has deteriorated to this extent. I’m not a Mystic Meg who can make a prediction on this.
   The rapidity of Dad’s change—one which he himself noticed, as years ago he would complain that his ‘brain felt different today compared to yesterday’—has been a surprise to us, although mostly he is happy at Maupuia and interacts positively with the staff. It’s not all smooth sailing and there are days he wonders when he can come home.
   And I find some solace in that his father, and his mother-in-law, wound up in care for less. My grandfather had PTSD from the war and was unable to cook for himself, though even at the end he was bilingual (being educated in the US) and had successfully quit smoking after 70 years. My grandmother needed care because of her insulin injections but was also mentally fit.
   But part of me expected that I’d see it through with Dad to the end, that these rest homes were some western thing that separated families, and here is part of that immigrant experience.
   The reason you didn’t see as many Chinese New Zealanders on welfare wasn’t down to some massive savings’ account, but a certain pride and stoïcism in being to keep it to yourself. You’re in a strange land where there’s prejudice, and that’s often enough for families to say, ‘F*** everyone else, we’re getting on with it and doing it ourselves.’
   And that’s what we did as ‘the family’. We fought our own battles. Dad was once a helluva correspondent whose letters used words like proffer and the trinity of ult., prox. and inst., and plenty of officials got the sharp end of his writing. When Mum got cancer we brought in our own natural medication because westerners couldn’t fathom that the same stuff cleared my grandfather’s liver cancer in 1976 and healed several other members in the whānau. Dad sacrificed everything to try to save Mum and that was the closest example I had of what you’d do for someone you love.
   When you’re deep in the situation, rationality goes out the window and you’re on autopilot—and often it takes serious situations, like two days’ angst and stress of trying to get someone into respite care, to make you think that staying at home isn’t the best for someone who did, even though he won’t admit it, thrive under rest home care.
   We know that if we left it even later, it would be even tougher to get Dad into care and he would resist his new surroundings more.
   Today’s lunch at Maupuia was curried beef on rice in recognition of Indian Independence Day, a much nicer meal than what I might have made for Dad.
   He has staff to hug and laugh with even if I have no idea where he’s putting his dirty undies.
   And while aphasia means he hasn’t made any new friends yet, I have faith that he’ll do well given the circumstances.
   It’s those circumstances that mean the situation we find ourselves in, with Dad at the home, is one which we’ll roll with, because, like 1949 and 1976, forces outside our control are at play.
   I’d love to make his Alzheimer’s go away given that I already lost one parent prematurely.
   My mind goes to a close friend who recently lost her mother, and her father was killed in a car crash around the time my Mum died. Basically: not all of us are lucky enough to have both our parents peacefully go in their sleep. Many of us are put through a trial. And there’s a real reason some of us have been hashtagging #FuckAlzheimers on Twitter, if out of sheer frustration.
   For those who have made it this far, here are the points I want you to take away.
 
• Immediately upon finding out your parent has dementia, get your enduring power of attorney sorted out, for both property and personal care.
• Dementia Wellington is an excellent organization so get yourself along to the carer support groups, second Monday of every month. Dementia New Zealand can’t help at this level.
• Care Coordination has been very helpful and their referral to Dementia Wellington proved more effective than phoning—however, I should note that the organization changed for the better between Dad’s original diagnosis in 2015 and how they are today.
• You do need ‘Form 5’ from your GP or someone in a position to assess your parent’s mental capacity to kick off the enduring power of attorney.
• It’s OK to cry, feel emotionally drained and ask your friends for support. It’s your parent. You expected to look after them and sometimes you need to let others do this for everyone’s good. It doesn’t mean you love your parent any less. It also doesn’t mean you are placing yourself or your partner above him. It just means you are finding the best solution all round.
 
   Dad is still “there”, and he recognizes us, even if he doesn’t really know what day it is, can’t really cook for himself, and doesn’t fully understand consequences any more. I’m glad I spend parts of every day with him while I’m in Wellington. And while this wasn’t the 83rd birthday I foresaw at the beginning of the year, he is in a safe, caring environment. I hope the best decision is made for him and for all of us.

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Posted in China, culture, general, Hong Kong, New Zealand | No Comments »


Twenty years on, the Hong Kong handover reminds us how impotent Britain proved to be

01.07.2017


Hong Kong’s skyline in 2008, photographed by Scrolllock.

Has it been 20 years since Dad and I sat in front of the telly to watch both Britannia sail out of the harbour and China set off a magnificent fireworks’ display to celebrate getting Hong Kong becoming one of her possessions again?
   Following some of the 20th anniversary commemorations through the media, notably the BBC World Service which followed them keenly, I had very mixed feelings.
   Having been born British in the then-colony (whilst cheering the All Blacks today, natch) I have some nostalgia for the Hong Kong of old. If it weren’t for some aspects of colonialism, my mother wouldn’t have secured a decent job at Wellington Hospital (viz. an English and Welsh qualification) and I probably would never have learned English before the age of three. It all helped.
   It was the spectre of 1997, specifically the fear of what the Communists would do after July 1, 1997, that prompted my parents to make plans to emigrate as early as the 1970s.
   Of course, history as shown that largely those fears have not come to pass, although the Umbrella Revolution highlights that universal suffrage is not a reality in the city.
   In a post-Brexit (or at least a post-Brexit vote) era, these past two decades also highlight that British nationalism is meaningless and little more than a tool for politicians to yield for propaganda.
   You can fairly argue that that is what nationalism always has been. It could also equally be argued that nationalism is founded on some rose-coloured-glasses past, painting a picture that actually never existed.
   American nostalgia looks back at a 1950s’ economic boom while ignoring segregation while British nostalgia shows a child pushing his bike up a hill to Dvořák’s New World Symphony.
   Brexiters, rightly or wrongly, want to reassert a British self-determination founded on a British national character.
   Most Britons I talked to, regardless of their politics, agree that if you are Hong Kong British, then you are British. That should be some solace to the families of those HKers who lost their lives fighting under the Crown in both World War II and the Falklands.
   Yet there is no reality to this claim when it comes to government. Fearful of an influx of Hong Kong British emigrating to the UK, the British National (Overseas) category was invented in 1985, to replace our previous status as Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. It didn’t do the wealthy any harm, mind: a lot went to Canada and Australia and took their money there. Others stayed and invested in China, and helped fuel the growth of Shenzhen as a technological powerhouse. The Hong Kong Chinese person is generally industrious, many having descended from refugees from China in 1949 who decided to make the most of the freedoms in the colony. That work ethic was certainly nothing any Briton in the UK needed to fear, yet somehow we were classed as Johnny Foreigner.
   When I went to the UK in 2001 with that BN(O) passport, I had terrible trouble at immigration, denied entry when queued up with other British subjects. I wound up at the back of the queue with some white South Africans, who were less than impressed and said, ‘But that’s apartheid.’ Correspondence to the High Commission, Foreign Secretary, and Shadow Foreign Secretary went unanswered, though I did get a response from the PM.
   In other words, the fears within Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech held more sway in Blair’s Britain than any sacrifice in the Falklands (even if, I should point out, Powell was not addressing immigration per se). Today, I wonder if they still do.
   The Tiber was greater than the Atlantic.
   Labour were quick to point out how wrong the Tories were with BN(O) back in the 1980s, but in 2001, Labour wasn’t working.
   Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said at the time of the handover in 1997 that Britain would ‘walk with you’, that Britain had won assurances that elections in Hong Kong would be free and fair, and that if China ever failed to live up to this pledge, Britain would take the matter to the United Nations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
   In 20 years, Britain has not lifted a finger.
   We might get lucky like the Gurkhas one of these days if Joanna Lumley wants to come to our aid. But we certainly can’t rely on any politician.
   Being British (I retained my nationality and applied before the deadline to be a BN(O)), you can see how the pro-Brexit position was hard to stomach to me. The likes of Nigel Farage and the “other” New York-born politician with funny hair, Boris Johnson, seemed to revel in some idea of British unity, but anyone from Hong Kong will tell you that in politics, that is an empty concept.
   Only one of my friends who was pro-Brexit voted based on the idea of an independent Britain being more efficient when freed from the whims of Brussels, and I respect him for it; most of what I saw was aimed against immigration. The current PM’s belief in safeguarding the interests of British subjects should be cold comfort to those affected: if they couldn’t defend our interests, will others fare any better, especially with a minority government in a Conservative Party that actually remains as divided as ever?
   Not that I am championing the People’s Republic of China for its handling of relations between mainlanders and Hong Kongers; it has equally been exclusive of us and our unique culture. I have already gone into the Umbrella Revolution elsewhere (even if the TV One website omitted my televised comments about Wikileaks’ reporting of US State Department interference as this goes against the western narrative), and this doesn’t need exploring again. The disappearance of publishers critical of Beijing should sound alarm bells—I note that one of them was a British subject, but the best the UK could muster was an expression of concern. I cannot help but wonder if this is the fate that awaits Britons on the Continent should something happen to them.
   Some negatives aside, I am happy that when I visited a “Chinese” Hong Kong in 2006, I found a city whose character was intact, and I remarked at how unchanged that was. In subsequent visits in 2008, 2010 and 2012, that core remained. Given all the paranoia before 1997, ‘One country, two systems’ has certainly not been as bad as many of us—including those of us who moved our entire lives abroad because of those fears—predicted. I wish all HKers well on this 20th anniversary.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, politics, UK | No Comments »


I had perfect scores but no “tiger parents”

15.05.2011

Now I see 60 Minutes New Zealand is on the act: how there’s supposedly something “different” about ‘Asians’. (God, I hate that term—I am neither Japanese, Sri Lankan or Kazakh. Prior to Winston Peters being on the scene, I thought I was Chinese, or a Chinese New Zealander.) The report surmised that it’s all about the pressure we got as kids from our parents.
   I wonder if there’s a Chinese edition of the programme investigating why Caucasians are physically stronger than we are, if we’re to buy in to a stereotype.
   I don’t dispute that the report had merit, and that there was some statistical basis for it. It made people think, and, as with Wesley Yang’s article in New York, it prompts a response. Creating dialogue is a good thing. It would be nicer to see a follow-up along Wesley’s lines, on how many ‘Asians’ wind up in leadership positions.
   But as I watched the programme, I kept wondering if somehow, the household I grew up in was anomalous, or whether TV3’s sample of three is representative enough of all ‘Asians’.
   One mother paused for a long time before she said that it was her pushing her daughter. But was the question loaded? Could we have asked a mother from any other race in this country, whose daughter is excelling at school, to see what her answer would be? I’m willing to bet that there is an above-average level of parental involvement in most academically gifted children.
   I had a pretty decent academic career. Like the kids on 60 Minutes, I came over as a child. English is my second language. I was Dux at St Mark’s Church School and Proxime Accessit at Scots College. I had the highest grades in my honours year for my BCA (Hons.) at Victoria University. (I didn’t do quite as well at law school, other than my intellectual property and jurisprudence papers, which gives you a hint of where my interests lay.) Getting 100 over a range of subjects is not unknown to me.
   But this whole idea about tiger parenting, of parents pushing their children to excel, just seems foreign. Didn’t happen to me. (I was encouraged to have literacy and numeracy skills from a young age, but the reason for that is explained elsewhere. And it certainly wasn’t extreme as 60 Minutes wishes to make out—it was enough to nudge things in the right direction in the place I lived in.)
   Everything I got in to, I got in to through dialogue. I didn’t learn the piano till I was 16. I picked up playing by ear in a couple of lessons. But I could have begun learning at five, because we moved into a flat whose previous tenant left her piano behind. My parents were willing to negotiate with our former neighbour to purchase it. I said I wasn’t interested. I was never forced into it. The movers came and Dad put his stereo and I put my toy cars where the piano used to be.
   Similarly, I was never forced to attend Sunday school, the only place in which one could learn Chinese literacy in those days. It was suggested to me, on more than one occasion, but I declined. I wound up learning French.
   I could draw in three dimensions when I was four years old because my father saw I had a love of doodling, and began drawing things at different angles. I copied him and the rest was left to me to develop. (I’m still reasonably good though the cars I draw tend to be stuck in the Life on Mars–Ashes to Ashes era.) My parents respected my interests and allowed them to flourish.
   Despite coming first constantly, and despite an offer from St Mark’s to put me up a grade, my parents said, ‘We’d still be proud of you and we’d still love you even if you came second.’ I never did while there.
   You know, I simply chose to score 100s because I reckoned I could. And took up stuff when I was good and ready. I like to think I turned out all right.
   Having Confucian values is one thing, which the report hinted at, but that’s nothing to do with having pushy parents.
   So for all those ‘Kiwi’ parents (the term was used on telly in a way that made me think: so, were my parents not Kiwis? Am I not a Kiwi? Why were we excluded?) watching the story and wondering if a hyper-competitive environment is right for their kids, stop that thinking now.
   You now have a story with a sample of three, and the testament of one other. My recollection is that nurturing and conversation worked. Kids have an amazing ability to reason and work things out for themselves. And that’s how I got my good grades at school.

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Posted in China, culture, interests, New Zealand, TV | 4 Comments »