She stays home so she won't waste money

She stays home so she won't waste money
GRATEFUL: Mr Edward Goh is happy to have mother Mary Seow home after four long years.
PHOTO: The New Paper

Life has not been kind to McRefugee Mary Seow, the homeless Singaporean who was found staying at a McDonald's outlet in Hong Kong in last month.

When she was only a few months old, she was abandoned at the gates of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church at Kampong Kapor Road in Little India.

Then, as an adult, she was unable to claim her adoptive parents' money because she did not have formal adoption papers.

The single mum was also apparently cheated of her money, went to China and ended up estranged from her only child. Now, she is back in Singapore and slowly getting back on her feet.

Ms Seow made the news in November when she was found sleeping at a McDonald's outlet in Hong Kong.

The New Paper helped reunite her with her son Edward Goh, 28, an invoice processor in the oil and gas industry, and visited them in a Yishun flat, where Mr Goh had rented a room.

Ms Seow, 60, said of her childhood: "I was told by my adoptive aunt that I was crying loudly when she and my adoptive grandmother passed by the church in a trishaw."

She was given to her adoptive parents, Mr Seow Hwee Meng and his wife, Madam Goh Ah Toh, who did not have any children after years of marriage.

"Although there were no official adoption papers, that was how I became Mary Seow," she said.

When asked about her lack of official documents, which did not stop her from attending school, all she could offer was: "It's like that."

She said she used her Medisave to pay both adoptive parents' medical expenses while working as a clerk.


"But when I tried to claim my adoptive parents' savings from the bank after their deaths, I was told to prove my kinship and to produce my adoption papers," she said.

And that was what Ms Seow had been doing since returning to Singapore on Nov 21, after having disappeared for four years.

Life was not easy during those years.

Ms Seow was persuaded by a friend to marry her friend's uncle, a Chinese national who later disappeared.

She also sold the four-room family flat she had shared with her only child. Ms Seow invested the proceeds from the sale of the flat, plus about $20,000 of her savings, into the woman's brother's company in China. It was a scam.

Ashamed, Ms Seow stayed away until TNP saw her huddled in the corner of a 24-hour McDonald's outlet among other McRefugees. These are typically homeless people seeking overnight shelter in 24-hour McDonald's outlets in Hong Kong.

"Life's like that," she said.

Now home, Ms Seow said she wants to seek help from the Legal Aid Bureau to retrieve any form of proof that she is the adopted daughter of the late Mr and Mrs Seow.

"This way, I can have access to the savings so I'll be able to get a flat with my son," she said.

He is the only bright spark in the life of the single mum, who did not wish to speak of his father.

Grinning widely when the TNP team visited, he said: "I'm just happy I found her. I've applied to HDB for a subsidised rental flat for both of us. I'm waiting for the reply."

Ms Seow stays home most of the time, watching TV.

She said: "I don't go out. It's a waste of money. I leave only when necessary, like going to HDB office or to Legal Aid Bureau."

She wants her son to have a better life, one that is different from hers. And he is "making sure she is happy living with me".

People have rallied to help the family. One of Ms Seow's old friends helped pay for Mr Goh's airfare to Hong Kong.

A Singaporean working in Hong Kong met Mr Goh at the airport and paid for a room at an inn for mother and son, giving Ms Seow her first night in a proper bed in Hong Kong.

Australian airline Jetstar offered both free flights back to Singapore.

Mr Goh said: "I want to say thank you to readers of TNP and the generous corporations for getting my mother home."

Timeline of events

Mid-2000s: The time Ms Mary Seow's troubles began. She met and befriended a female Chinese national at Paya Lebar Methodist Church. The woman convinced Ms Seow to marry a fellow Chinese national, whom she claimed was her uncle.

2008: Ms Seow married the Chinese national. Marriage records checked by TNP listed his name as Mr Li Shiren. Less than six months later, he disappeared. The friend from church then pressured her into selling her flat and investing in a company in China.

2010: Ms Seow made trips to China, presumably to do business with her friend.

February 2011: She told her son Edward Goh she was making another trip. It was the last time he saw her.

June 2011: Her son filed a missing persons report. Several months later, she called to say she had lost all her money.

Nov 12, 2015: An Associated Press report on Hong Kong's homeless quoted Ms Seow and said she was a McRefugee.

Nov 16: TNP published a report with the Foreign Ministry's confirmation that Ms Seow had been located. That night, reader Roland Seow contacted TNP, asking for help to put Ms Seow in touch with her family.

Nov 18: TNP tracked down Ms Seow in Hong Kong and reunited her with her son via a video call.

Nov 20: Ms Seow's son, who she had not seen in the last four years, flew to Hong Kong to surprise her.

Nov 21: Ms Seow arrived in Singapore on Jetstar Asia, which sponsored her ticket.

This article was first published on December 21, 2015.
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