Heart-warming reunion for long lost siblings


A grand photo of the re-united siblings and their families.

MATERNAL instincts run deep and no mothers will willingly part with their newborn babies.

But sometimes mothers are forced by extenuating circumstances to make heart-breaking sacrifices as had happened to the late Madam Sim Lai Kiew.

She had to make the hardest decision of her life – giving up her girls for adoption in order to let them survive and perhaps have a brighter future.

It was during the Japanese Occupation and Madam Sim and her husband, the late Kho Peng Khoon, had 10 children – two sons and eight daughters.

Food was scarce and finding it hard to make ends meet, the couple gave away five of their girls – the second, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth daughters.

First to be adopted was the second daughter, Choo Lian, at barely a month old in 1941.

The late Madam Sim (seated) with three of her children.

Three years later (1944), Madam Sim gave birth to a third daughter (Sai Eng) whom she kept.

In 1947 and 1949, the fourth and fifth daughters – Gueh Hoon and Halimah Ali respectively – were born. Both were given away.

The births of three more daughters were to follow – Sai Geok (sixth), Geok Hong (seventh) and Marianee Abdul Rahman (eighth).

The eldest daughter, Sai Hong, remained with her parents. She was 12-years-old when her mother wanted to give away the sixth daughter, Sai Geok, and but gave up the idea after Sai Hong objected strongly.

“We were a from a poor family and my late mother’s best option then was to give away my sisters. During the first few times, I was too young to know any better. But at 12, I couldn’t bear to lose anymore siblings.

“So when my sister Sai Geok was to be given away, I objected. So she (and my third sister Sai Eng) remained with us but not my other sisters,” Sai Hong recalled.

Madam Sim kept her two sons – Sai Soon and Sai Leong.

The late Madam Sim.

This means of the 10 children, five girls were given away – when they were young as two days old.

Madam Sim had to bring up her young family all by herself as her husband passed away at a very young age. She worked very hard as a laundry washer to put food on the table.

A few years ago, Madam Sim told Sai Hong the whereabouts of her sisters who had been adopted and this prompted the latter to embark on odyssey to reunite all of them.

“My mother also told me two of my sisters – (Halimah – fifth daughter and Marianee Abdul Rahman – eighth daughter) were given to two Malay families. She kept in touch with the families who were her friends,” Sai Hong said.

She added that it was the wish of her siblings in Kuching – whom she had contacted through her niece Penny Sim – to reunite all the family members.

“So my daughter (who declined to be named) and two nieces – Ngui Siew Chin (daughter of Choo Lian, Madam Sim’s second daughter) and Penny Sim (daughter of Gueh Hong, the fourth daughter) got together and made the dream come true.”

It did not take the three girls long to get down to compiling the names of all the siblings, their addresses and ages into a list.

The girls learned the family of their grandmother (Madam Sim) was quite large – 10 siblings altogether – eight girls and two boys.

They made many phone calls and managed to track down all the siblings. Their aunty Lee Geok Hong (Madam Sim’s seventh daughter) was the last to be located in Miri.

Hari Raya gathering at the house of Halimah (seated right).

“We went to Miri on Sept 4 to look for aunty Lee (now 61 years old) to get her to come to Kuching. After thinking over for a week, she agreed to come and meet all her sisters and brothers.

“She told us she could come on Sept 17 – that’s why we decided to hold the reunion on Sept 20,” Penny said.

She added that their hardwork paid off when they managed to get everyone to clear their calendar and come for a grand reunion at Four Points by Sheraton on Sept 20. Some of them travelled to Kuching from Brunei and Sarikei.

“This reunion means more to us than any Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner – or any celebration for the matter. Yes, we had met up during Chinese New Year or Hari Raya but not everybody at once,” Penny noted.

“We are very excited about the reunion – it’s the grandest for us. Aunty Lee has not seen most of us before. It has been 61 years,” Siew Chin said.

For Geok Hong (aunty Lee), the reunion was a very happy occasion as she finally got to meet all her siblings in one sitting.

It was at the age of 10 that she knew she was adopted when one of her sisters visited her.

“I had met my biological mum before because she was friends with my adoptive mother. Only two or was it three days ago that I found out there are 10 of us,” she said.

Geok Hong was the only child in her adoptive family and to find out she has nine other biological siblings really “made my day.”

Previously, Geok Hong did not try to locate her siblings as her adoptive mother feared she would leave her for her biological family.

Geok Hong also just found out two of her sisters had been adopted by Malay families.

“I’m very appreciative of my nieces’ efforts to locate me and organise this reunion. I never imagined I would finally meet everyone after 61 years,” she said.

On the day of the reunion, the family hired a photographer to take as many pictures as possible so that the younger generation will know who is related to them.

Penny (standing third left) during a visit to her aunt Kho Sai Geok (the sixth daughter) and family in Brunei.

There were photos taken of just the siblings, the siblings with their children and all the family members. The gathering was attended by 46 family members.

One aunty who lives in Brunei, Kho Sai Geok (the sixth daughter) could not make it to the reunion as she is bed-ridden.

It was a bi-racial meeting for the Chinese and Malay siblings and there were many rounds of introduction for everyone to get re-acquainted

There were smiles and great happiness in the air. What began under an unfortunate circumstance became the most beautiful and heart-warming reunion. It shows no matter how far apart families are, they can come together and be reunited.

There was also a lot of guessing on the identities of the children and laughter rang out when a wrong guess was made. One thing was certain though. Familial relations could be determined with a glance – through facial resemblance.

The fifth daughter, Halimah Ali, 65, said the first time she met her eighth sister, Marianee Abdul Rahman, 60, was purely by chance.

They first lived at Ban Hock Road, Kuching, near their biological mother’s house, then Halimah moved to Kampung Pinang Jawa. Not long after, Marianee and her family also moved to the same kampung.

It was a chance meeting – the facial resemblance led Halimah to ask her adoptive mother if Marianee was by any chance related to her (Halimah).

“My adoptive mum asked around and confirmed it with my biological mother. Our mothers were friends and they kept in touch after the adoption,” Halimah said.

“To me, this reunion beats TV3’s Jejak Kasih hands down as the five of us given up for adoption got to meet the rest of the family,” she beamed.

Jejak Kasih was a show of people getting reunited with their families after losing contact or due to adoption. It was popular years ago but has since been discontinued.

Halimah said when she got married, she invited her biological mother to the wedding but the latter could not make it as she had hurt her leg in a fall.

However, her eldest sister and her family were present.

After the wedding, Halimah visited Madam Sim to introduce her husband.

Halimah and Marianee see each other less these days as both have moved from Kampung Pinang Jawa to Semariang and Matang respectively.

It is a family tradition for Halimah’s biological siblings to visit during Hari Raya but they never all come at the same time. The reunion of the 10 siblings and their families was thus a special occasion for her.

“Actually, I didn’t know there are 10 of us until Penny told me – that we are spread all over Sarawak – and Brunei. Penny did a good job getting everyone here for this memorable and joyous reunion,” Halimah added.

Sim Wee Hua, 43, son of the fourth daughter (Gueh Hoon), was delighted at the gathering and asked for everyone’s contact number.

“I feel very happy I can meet everyone today. Yes, we do meet during Chinese New Year and Hari Raya but today is the best of them all. If there is another gathering in the future, I will drop all appointments to attend. After all, family is important. Whether we are Chinese or Malay, we are connected through blood,” he said.

Wee Hua said the date of the gathering was “very auspicious” and the family will remember it.

“I’m sure everyone is excited about meeting each other and will exchange contact numbers.

I know I will,” he enthused.