Singapore woman, 90, reconnects with daughter she gave up for adoption in Malaysia 58 years ago, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper
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Singapore woman, 90, reconnects with daughter she gave up for adoption in Malaysia 58 years ago

It was a decision made under the dim light of a kerosene lamp in the early hours of a January morning some 58 years ago.

But the pain of giving up one of her seven children has kept the memory clear for Madam Teng Ek Kiew, 90.

In 1964, the housewife, who already had five other children, gave in to a prominent Malay family in their kampung in Bukit Besi, Terengganu, after they begged her incessantly for her newborn daughter.

The Malay family had only sons and was desperate for a girl.

Speaking to The Sunday Times on Sept 12, the stoic great-grandmother said few words about how she felt at the time.

"I cried a lot when they took her, but (the adoptive mother) kept begging me every day," she said in Hokkien through a translator.

Her eldest child, Mr Ling Kok Heng, 68, still recalls when the adoptive mother came to take his newborn sister. He was nine years old at the time.

"The others don't remember or were actually asleep, but I was pretending to sleep. I heard them carry her… I was crying but didn't want anyone to know I was awake," said the retired electrician in Mandarin.

The daughter was named Hamsiah Mohamad and raised by the Malay-Muslim family. The Lings asked that the adoptive family be not named.

Madam Teng recalled: "After my confinement, I went to see the baby and saw that there were three women taking care of her. I was comforted when I saw she would have a good life."

Along with her late husband, Madam Teng lived in a small kampung near Bukit Besi, a mining town north of Pahang in Malaysia, known for its iron ore. Her husband Ling Ek Koon was a motor technician at a tin mining company when they lived there.

They would see their daughter around the kampung in the early years of her life but never told her they were her birth parents.

Madam Hamsiah found out she was adopted when she was 15, after one of her adoptive mother's friends let it slip, but she was not told who her birth parents were.

Woman, 90, reconnects with daughter she put up for adoption 58 years ago

Madam Teng and her husband moved to Singapore in 1969, but by then, Madam Hamsiah and her adoptive parents had moved north to a town near Kuala Terengganu and Madam Teng  lost touch with the adoptive family.

But she continued to talk about how she gave up her daughter, especially when she met people from Malaysia in Singapore, her children told ST.

Earlier this month, Malaysian newspaper Sinar Harian reported that one of Madam Teng's children, Mr Ling Kok Ong, 66, tracked down Madam Hamsiah, 58, in Bukit Payong, Terengganu, with the help of the Malaysian History Association in Dungun.

Mr Ling Kok Ong and his wife, madam Josephine Ng, shows a recent photograph of themselves with Mr Ling’s sister, Madam Hamsiah Mohamad. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG

 

The family had previously decided against searching for Madam Hamsiah, as they did not want to intrude into her life and upset her adoptive parents.

But there were a couple of treasured occasions when they received updates about Madam Hamsiah from a distance.

In the late 1970s, one of Madam Hamsiah's adoptive brothers came across the Causeway and visited the coffee shop where Mr Ling Ek Koon used to work as an assistant. He showed him a passport photo of Madam Hamsiah.

The following year, Mr Ling Ek Koon went to Kuala Terengganu to check on Madam Hamsiah. He saw her but did not meet her, and told Madam Teng that their daughter had grown to be pretty and looked like a gentle person.

Madam Hamsiah recalls receiving a cheongsam from an anonymous person around this same period. The family believes it was sent by Mr Ling Ek Koon, who died in 1989.

The family decided to search for their long-lost sister only in 2016 after a woman named Nazli Abdullah, 63, contacted them.

Madam Teng Ek Kiew waiting for a video call with her daughter, Madam Hamsiah Mohamad, on Sept 12, 2022. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Madam Teng Ek Kiew and her daughter Madam Ling Lay Tin, 67, in a video call with Madam Hamsiah Mohamad, on Sept 12, 2022. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

 

Madam Nazli was looking for her birth parents as she had been given away by a Chinese family in a kampung near Kelantan.

She found out that her birth parents, like the Lings, had moved to Singapore, and hoped that she was their long-lost daughter.

But even though photos of Madam Nazli as a child resembled those of one of the Ling sisters, her age and blood group did not match up.

The family remains close to Madam Nazli, who has not found her birth parents. She has even travelled to Singapore to spend Chinese New Year with the Lings.

"We really hoped it was her, that Hamsiah had changed her name," said Madam Josephine Ng, 62, Mr Ling Kok Ong's wife.

She added: "It motivated us to find Hamsiah because it showed us that those who are given away do want to find their birth parents and trace their roots."

Mr Ling Kok Ong and Madam Ng decided to go to his former kampung for a short trip in August and see if they could get an update on Madam Hamsiah.

"We didn't dare to hope that we would meet her. We just wanted to see if anyone could give us some news on how she was doing, like if she had kids," said Mr Ling Kok Ong, a retired coffee shop assistant.

The family in a video call with Madam Hamsiah Mohamad on Sept 12, 2022. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

 

His wife added that it was also important to them to make the trip while they could still walk and their mother's memory was still sharp.

While on their trip, Mr Ling Kok Ong and Madam Ng met a local couple who offered to drive them to Bukit Besi.

On their second day, they went to have nasi lemak for breakfast at the recommendation of the couple and ran into Malaysian History Association honorary secretary Wan Mohd Rosli Wan Ngah.

He told ST he wanted to help Mr Ling Kok Ong and Madam Ng because he had seen the lengths they had gone to, to find Madam Hamsiah.

"Even though we're of different religions, races and countries... it's been 58 years and they've not met, of course they would need help.

"(It) was also the hope of Mr Ling's mother to see her child before she dies. That is why I made the decision to help."

He located Madam Hamsiah's niece three days later through a mutual connection.

The Lings had already returned to Singapore but spoke to the niece over the phone and Madam Hamsiah's story matched their long-lost sister's.

Madam Hamsiah and her family were excited to meet her birth sibling, so Mr Ling Kok Ong and Madam Ng made the 12-hour trip to Kuala Terengganu by bus to meet Madam Hamsiah at her home earlier this month.

Madam Hamsiah's niece had old pictures of Madam Hamsiah's adoptive parents, and Madam Ng sent them to Madam Teng, who confirmed that those were the parents she had given her child to.

The adoptive parents have died.

Mr Ling Kok Ong and Madam Ng met Madam Hamsiah at the coffee shop she owns on Sept 4 in Taman Tasek, Bukit Payong.

Madam Hamsiah, who is now a mother of two and a grandmother, said she never thought she would reconnected with her biological family.

Mr Ling Kok Ong is happy that he and his wife could track down Madam Hamsiah in Bukit Payong, Terengganu, with the help of the Malaysian History Association in Dungun. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

 

While plans for Madam Teng - who occasionally needs a wheelchair - to meet Madam Hamsiah in Kuala Lumpur later this year are being finalised, the pair have met over video calls.

When ST went to Madam Teng's flat in Ubi during one of these calls, the matriarch's face lit up when her daughter appeared on the screen.

The pair beamed at each other while conversing in simple English to overcome the language barrier.

Madam Hamsiah is a woman of few words. Her soft and droopy eyes are nearly identical to her mother's and Mr Ling Kok Ong's.

When asked how she felt when Mr Ling tracked her down, she only smiled and said "very happy" and "surprised".

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