McRefugee Singaporean mum homeless in HK after losing savings
Man realises S'porean McRefugee is estranged mum, wants to bring her back
For years, her son had feared the worst. Had his missing mother been kidnapped? Murdered?
Ms Mary Seow had disappeared more than four years ago, abandoning her only child, Mr Edward Goh, then aged 24.
She had suddenly sold their home, a four-room flat in Boon Keng.
But after years of silence and a missing person's police report, a surprise: Ms Seow has been living on the streets of Hong Kong as a "McRefugee", Mr Goh learnt from news reports over the weekend.
A McRefugee is a term used to describe homeless individuals who seek overnight shelter at 24-hour McDonald's outlets in Hong Kong.
An Associated Press report had mentioned the 60-year-old Ms Seow in a feature on McRefugees that appeared online on Friday.
The New Paper followed up with a confirmation by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Ms Seow had been located.
An emotional Mr Goh said over the phone yesterday: "I was like, okay, this is real, this is my mother - the age, the situation, the name, they fit what I know.
"I was relieved that she is alive but sad at the same time because of her situation."
"I didn't expect her to be homeless... You can abandon your family but make sure you abandon them for a better life, make sure you are living well."
His mother was a single parent, and the two of them had lived with his maternal grandparents in the Boon Keng flat.
Ms Seow's troubles began a decade ago, after she met a female Chinese national at Paya Lebar Methodist Church.
Mr Goh, who is now 28 and works as an invoice processor in the oil and gas industry, said the woman convinced his mother to marry a fellow Chinese national, whom she claimed to be her uncle.
Marriage records checked by TNP listed his name as Mr Li Shiren. The sudden union occurred in 2008.
Mr Goh said he found out about the relationship only when his mother brought the man home to live with them.
"I didn't even know his name. I was quite upset.
"My grandmother was most upset because in the first place, she didn't trust any of them," said Mr Goh, referring to the two Chinese nationals.
"To me, it was like he was invading our home. But I bottled up everything. I adopted a heck-care attitude."
The man took off less than six months later and was never seen again.
Ms Seow's uncle, Mr Roland Seow, 59, told TNP on Monday: "This was when her church friend pressured her to sell her HDB flat, threatening her that if she kept the flat, the man, as her husband, would have a right of share to the flat."
Mr Seow, a property agent, said his niece told him later that she had been tricked by her church friend and that the marriage had been a sham.
It was never consummated, she told him.
The woman convinced Ms Seow to use the cash proceeds from the sale of the flat and her Central Provident Fund savings to invest in a transportation company in China, added Mr Seow.
His niece then began making trips to China alone.
In February 2011, she told Mr Goh over dinner that she would be leaving for another visit, this time for a month.
That was the last time Mr Goh saw his mother.
After multiple attempts to reach her, he filed a missing person's report with the police. A few months later, she called him out of the blue from China.
"She told me that she was sorry... that the money was gone, she was cheated out of it," he said.
"My mother ended the call by telling me she loved me. I couldn't think of what to say to her and she just cut off the line. That was the last time I spoke to her."
Since then, both of Mr Goh's grandparents have died, leaving him to live on his own in a rented room, which costs $600 from his monthly $2,000 salary.
His granduncle, Mr Seow, provided emotional and financial support. But it wasn't enough to stop Mr Goh from fearing the worst.
"We hear stories of syndicates in China that kidnap people and sell their organs; there was always this fear," said Mr Goh.
"Eventually, over the years, I became mentally prepared that she was not coming back but at the same time, I also wished I was wrong."
Now, with news that his mother has been found, all Mr Goh wants is to bring her home.
He plans to fly to Hong Kong when he has saved up enough money for the trip.
"I know she is scared to lose face (from) the guilt of the things that happened. I feel she really doesn't want to share that with people," he said.
"The top priority is to bring her back. It is going to be very weird and awkward for both of us, there is no denying that.
"But I don't want her to be sorry to anyone, or for anything she has done. The past is the past, just forget about it, anything can be solved - that is what I wish to tell her."
She told me that she was sorry... that the money was gone, she was cheated out of it.
- Mr Edward Goh
FROM S'PORE TO CHINA
Mid-2000: Ms Mary Seow befriends a female Chinese national at church. She persuades Ms Seow to marry her uncle, also a Chinese national.
2008: Ms Seow marries a Li Shiren. He moves in with her family but takes off less than six months later, never to be seen again.
Ms Seow's friend later pressures her into selling her four-room Boon Keng flat and to use the cash proceeds and her CPF savings to invest in a transportation company in China.
2010: Ms Seow begins making trips to China, presumably to do business with her friend.
Feb 2011: She has dinner with her son, announcing that she would be making another trip, lasting about a month. It is the last time her son sees her.
June 2011: Her son files a missing person's report with the police after multiple attempts to contact her.
A few months later, he receives a call from her. She says she has lost all the money.
That is the last he hears from her.
Nov 12, 2015: An AP report on Hong Kong's homeless quotes Ms Seow describing how she was cheated by her friend and how she is now a McRefugee.
Nov 16: TNP publishes a report with MFA's confirmation that Ms Seow has been located.
That same night, TNP reader Roland Seow contacts TNP, asking for help to put Ms Seow in touch with her family.
THE NEW PAPER, NOV 16