Son surprises Singaporean McRefugee mum with visit in Hong Kong
She turned the corner and stopped in her tracks.
Ms Mary Seow, 60, could not believe her eyes.
Her only son, whom she had last seen in person more than four years ago, was sitting on a bench just metres away.
The single mum had abruptly sold the flat she shared with her son, Mr Edward Goh, some five years ago.
She then became uncontactable shortly after leaving for China for business in 2011.
Mr Goh filed a missing person's report later that year. He found out only last week through news reports that his mother was living in Hong Kong as a McRefugee - a homeless individual seeking overnight shelter at 24-hour McDonald's outlets.
He planned a surprise visit to Hong Kong with the help of several kind readers of The New Paper, which reported on Ms Seow's struggles as a McRefugee and the challenges Mr Goh, a 28-year-old invoice processor earning $2,000 a month, faced in trying to get her back to Singapore. (See report at right.)
Unlike their video call on Tuesday, when they saw each other and spoke for the first time in more than four years, there were no tears at their reunion yesterday.
A stunned Ms Seow took a moment to process the first sight of her son in person, then rolled up a piece of paper in her hand and swung it at him, as a beating for making the unexpected appearance.
Mr Goh played along, yelping and trying to dodge the blows, as smiles flashed across both their faces.
He had been worrying that his mother would refuse to meet him if she knew he was travelling to Hong Kong.
"I was shocked, not angry," said Ms Seow afterwards.
"How can I be angry, he is doing this for my good. I'm definitely happy to see him even though if I had known, I probably would not have wanted to go meet him.
"But I understand why he did this. If I were him, I would have done the same."
Over their first meal together since their long separation, a lunch at a fast-food cha can teng (Hong Kong-style tea restaurant), Mr Goh got glimpses into his mother's life in Hong Kong.
Ms Seow spoke of the hasty showers she has taken in public toilets, how she scrimped over her meals for fear of running out of money and the nights she spent at McDonald's, sleeping among diners.
"It's not that I was not paiseh (Hokkien for embarrassed), but when you think about surviving, embarrassment is not important," she said.
"I've been in Hong Kong for so many months but never had a proper meal on my own. How to afford?"
But yesterday, there was reason to splurge HK$120 (S$22) on claypot rice and egg waffles for lunch - luxuries in Ms Seow's McRefugee life.
The lunch became an occasion to celebrate for Mr Goh after he managed to coax his mother to leave her tough life in Hong Kong behind and follow him back to Singapore.
He said: "It's not easy to hear all these things from her, how she spent all this time to save, to survive.
"She had to go through all these hardships. It makes me feel that more could have been done for her if we had known.
"What I had gone through over the past few years pales in comparison to what she has gone through.
"People say I'm strong but at the end of the day, she's the one who's the strongest."
I've been in Hong Kong for so many months but never had a proper meal on my own. How to afford?
- Ms Mary Seow, who was homeless and spent her nights at McDonald's
Strangers help son reunite with mum
Five days after The New Paper first reported on the plight of Singaporean McRefugee Mary Seow, the calls and e-mails continue to stream in.
Dozens of inquiries came from Singaporean individuals and companies at home and abroad, all wanting to know the same thing: How can they help the family?
The outpouring of support and offers of aid paved the way for Ms Seow's son, Mr Edward Goh, to travel to Hong Kong in a bid to bring his mother home to Singapore.
One of her old friends helped Mr Goh pay for his airfare to Hong Kong.
A Singaporean working in Hong Kong then took the earliest train to meet Mr Goh at the airport. He also paid for a room in an inn for the mother and son, giving Ms Seow her first night in a proper bed in Hong Kong.
Australian airline Jetstar offered free flights for both of them to return to Singapore.
Many others, including the Singapore Association Hong Kong, have offered assistance should Ms Seow need it.
"We definitely did not expect this overwhelming response," said Mr Goh.
"People have been very kind, generous and sincere in helping me and my mum even though most of them have not met us."
"I'd like to say a big thank you to them and also to TNP," added Mr Goh.
"I'm really thankful and grateful that people have gone out of their way to help and make this reunion possible.
"The only way I can show my gratitude is to take good care of my mum and for us to move on to better times with all this support."