David Lai Student of life
‘I NEVER USED TO WEAR HER HAT, BUT LATELY I’VE STARTED TO’ Sanele Manqele
Folded and unfolded dozens of times, the two-page letter in his hand is as familiar to David Lai as the lines on his palms. The reading and re-reading is an exercise to somehow unravel the puzzle of his birth mother. David turns 24 today. He was born in the year of SA’s democracy, to a woman who signed her name Jia Keng and settled on the English name “Byron” for her boy. His birth mom, he’s told, arrived in SA from Shanghai, China, in the early 1990s. When she fell pregnant out of wedlock she couldn’t go back to China without a husband and chose to give him up for adoption through Johannesburg Child Welfare.
Joburg couple Gail and Douglas Lai were on the adoption waiting list when that got the call that a sixweek-old Chinese baby was up for adoption. It was an impossible coincidence; it was their miracle, who they christened David Sean Lai.
Along with the letter, Jia Keng left two photos and two pieces of gold jewellery that feature a motif of a dog for the Chinese zodiac year of David’s birth. There was also a teddy bear and a list written in Chinese — 14 points of love through gentle instruction: “Check temperature of bath water with elbow”, “don’t give random medicine” …
“I wish I could find her and know what her life is like. Does she have another family? Do I have brothers and sisters?” says David.
“I have different emotions. Some days I’m grateful she was selfless to give me up for a better life, some days I’m curious, and some days I’m angry and frustrated,” he says. ● LS