The McGowan's treated me as family and taught me English.
‘How do you use these things,’ I asked, holding a knife and fork.
Erupting into laughter, Michelle helped me eat without my chopsticks.
Seven years later, Robert officially adopted me.
‘You have always been my daughter,’ he said, hugging me.
Back then, I didn’t need a passport for our travels, but when it was time for my new family to return to Australia, Robert explained I would need documentation.
‘There’s no better day than Christmas Day,’ he smiled, pointing out that on my ID card he’d made my birthday December 25, 1953. B
But before we made it home though, Robert passed away. I was devastated to start my new life Down Under without him.
I soon got a job at a dry cleaners and fell for my handsome colleague, David. After marrying in 1980 we had three perfect children, Olivia, James and Jennifer.
Settling down on the outskirts of Sydney, I was so happy to finally have the family I always dreamed of. But in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but feel like a part of me was missing – the part that made up my genetics.
Where are my parents? I wondered over the years. What happened to my little brother? Last year, Olivia, then 37, contacted a TV show and asked for help to find out more about my past.
Agreeing, they filmed Olivia and me as we travelled to Taiwan. They managed to track down the Changs, who still worked at the acrobatic centre.
‘You were declared dead!’ they told me. ‘Nobody knew where you went.’
I couldn’t believe it.
But there was more shocking information.
The Changs told me it wasn’t my uncle who abandoned me that day – the man was my dad.
Why would my own father give me away? I thought bursting into tears.
I also discovered my real first and surname.
So, we headed to a government agency to retrieve legal papers about my blood line. Reading through, I was stunned.
‘My birthday is on Christmas Day!’ I laughed at the coincidence.
With her arm around my shoulder, Olivia and I read that my parents were an arranged marriage and had two children, me and my younger brother Hai Hsiung. In 1960 they divorced. Dad took me to the acrobatic centre and put Hai Hsiung up for adoption.
Then, the papers said that within months both Hai Hsiung and Dad died, while my mum had passed away in 2016. My heart was broken.
‘There’s no-one left,’ I wept, burying my head in Olivia’s arms.
‘Your mother remarried,’ Olivia read on. ‘You have a half-brother named Charles!’
Tracking down Charles, we found he lived in San Francisco, USA.
A DNA test confirmed it and when he flew to see me, I ran into his arms.
‘I see Mum in your face,’ Charles smiled.
Exchanging photos and tales, I felt this sense of family I’d always missed.
Finally, the show had another surprise for me.
They’d tracked down a man called Mr Tang, 93, in Taiwan who’d worked with my dad as a tailor. Meeting him, I was excited to learn more about my heritage. But he had some even more incredible news.
‘Your brother, he’s alive,’ he said. ‘He lives down the road!’
‘What?’ I sobbed.
When we arrived at my brother’s home, Hai Hsiung embraced me.
‘I’ve been waiting my whole life to see you again,’ I cried.
After being adopted, Hai Hsiung had eventually found Mum in 2000, but she’d never mentioned it to Charles.
‘She asked me to find you,’ Hai Hsiung said.
By then, my name had been changed so it was impossible. After multiple dinners with Charles and Hai Hsiung and their families, it was time to go home.
Staying connected online, we will never lose contact again. Charles and his family even visited a few weeks ago. I still can’t believe my brother and I were legally declared dead – only to come back to life!
My last memory of my brother as a kid is hugging him as we unknowingly said goodbye forever. Sixty years later I have him back, have gained another brother and know exactly who I am.
Spritzing my perfume called Miracle it certainly reminds me of my journey of finding my family. It is a miracle we made our way back to each other.
Watch Li Ying’s journey on ‘Every Family has a Secret’ on SBS on July 2 at 7:30pm or watch it here on catch-up.