Sing Me a Lullaby

Spanning 14 years and two continents, a daughter searches for her mother's birth parents in Taiwan, unraveling complex tensions between love and sacrifice.

AIRED: January 11, 2021 | 0:29:10


(Traffic whooses)

- Whoa...

- Oh my goodness. They have upgraded.

I came here for grade 1, 2, 3, I think.

- Wow.

- This is surreal. It's uh...

Well, mind you, so much has changed.

I'm trying to look for the...

the very essence of it.

that reminds me of what it was like.

(Bird calls)

(Children shout playfully in the distance)

- So you haven't been back here in like a million years.

- 43.

Oh, I was, was gone for 43 years.


- (Laughs)

- (Laughs)

(Soft piano music)

- I sometimes forget that my mom was once a child too

with dreams of living in a castle

and eating nothing but ice cream and cake for dinner.

Growing up, I didn't understand why my Mom rarely hugged

or kissed me as a kid,

and why "I love you" was not in her vocabulary.

As I got older, I realized that there was a reason

for why I felt like a piece of her was missing.

My mom was born in Taiwan on March 4th, 1960.

She has very little memory of her childhood.

She couldn't tell me what her favourite bedtime stories were

or if her parents ever sang her a lullaby.

(Someone sings along softly to piano music)

All she remembers is that, when she was five years old.

she was suddenly separated from her family.

never to see them again.

and she never understood why.

(Someone sings along softly to piano music)



- All right, you know what?

For one reason, when I, when I have dinner,

number one, I hate people who don't have enough food to eat.

Number two, yes, I would always love to have more people

to... to be here,

and yes, indeed, I would love...

- You wanna make sure everybody is taken care of, that's all.

- Ask my mom.

- Finish that thought.

- Mommy!

- Yes, I love to have my family here.

- Oh god, look waht alcohol and bad conversation does

to everybody. - * * * Christ.

- I hipe this isn't recording the volume.

- Tiffany! Just stop it.

- What is wrong? - (Crying)

- Mommy...

It's okay.

- That's true.

Tiff, stop it. (Crying)

- When my mom first told me that my grandmother, Popo,

was not her biological mother,

I finally got a glimpse

of what might have been missing from her life.

My mom never asked Popo about her birth family.

She couldn't bear the guilt of possibly offending

the only person who raised her all these years.

But how can my mom live without knowing the truth

about such an important part of her past?

I knew I needed to do something.

- (Speaking Chinese)

- If we get-if we are so lucky to find

either your mom, your dad, even your sister,

what would be your number one, like, questioning

that would you like to know?

- I guess answering some questions that I've always had.

- Like what? - Like...

why... why didn't they...

keep us, you know?

Why was I sent away?

- So, Mom... - Yes?

- Okay, I know you don't think I'm gonna find them

and stuff like that, because you're being pessimistic.

- No, no, no, no. - 'Kay, that's fine--

- No, it's not that. You-- First of all, Tiff,

you're gonna have... first of all, the...

the foremost... difficultty,

which is a language barrier.

- But I'm trying, no?

I'm gonna start by going to city hall.

- Mm-hmm. You think they really care?

- Look, I'm determined to find them.

Minding your own business

is a habit of traditional Chinese families

that was always so frustrating to me.

It was stifling to watch my mom hold back

on saying what was really on her mind

and keep silent for the sake of not causing trouble.

This made me promise myself

that I would never be like that.


It's totally overwhelming. Like this is the place that I-

where my mom grew up

and I am here, the next generation of her.

It's riding a bus to go and...

seek her parents and trying to make this work.


So, in case I do meet her parents

which, that's my goal,

it starts with that.

Then this is her when she first came into Canada.

And then this is us a little bit older,

all three kids.


My mom was not optimistic about my search.

No one was.

This was the furthest I've ever been away from home

and all I had with me were two names on a napkin

that I couldn't read.

and a pocket translator that didn't work.

But I was stubborn,

and determined to prove everyone wrong.


Mom, it's Tiff.

Um, I'm trying to call you.

It's like seven in the morning in Taiwan.

I just wanna tell you everything is okay,

and that the city is nuts here.

It's completely like... I don't know.

I'm learning how to speak Chinese though.

You'd be so proud.

(Conversing in Chinese)

Hi there. I have, I just have their names.

and I know they're from Taipei.

I love how everyone knows now, eh?

(Conversing in Chinese)

(Phones ring, indistinct hum of chatter)

- You have been so lucky.

(Speaking Chinese)

- Really? - Yeah.


- (Crying) I found your mom and your dad's address.

I know where they live exactly.

I know-and I got the exact same address and--

No, I'm not in the hospital.

Mom, I'm trying to... I got your (sniffs)

No, I got your mom and your dad's address.

and I'm gonna go see them tomorrow. Yeah.

(Rain patters)





I can see that we're slowly coming...

to her place

I can't breathe.

Just breathe, just breathe, just breathe.

(Footsteps thud)


(Elevator hums)

(Elevator dings)

(Softly) Sorry.

(Nervously) 'Kay... 'Kay, all right.

How do I look?

Do I look good?

Button up a little bit, yeah?

I should have took my piercing out

this * * freaks people out.

No, I can't 'cause my hands are too...

(Conversing in Chinese)


(Indistinct chatter)

(Singing Karaoke piece)


My mother's never seen a picture of herself as a baby

in her whole entire life.

This is her... this is, this is her.

Never seen a picture of her as child.

Here's a family photo.

(Music plays loudly, low hum of chatter)

The moment I found my mother's birth mother,

there was an instant familiarity.

Suddenly, I was no longer in a foreign place.

I'd found another home with this woman I just met.

(Leaves rustle)

One afternoon, she tells me that it has been difficult

for her to sleep since meeting me,

because she keeps thinking about the past.

I couldn't help but feel

like I had just opened up a Pandora's Box.

(Airport announcements blare, indistinct chatter)

(Bus rumbles by)

So, mom, you're back in Taipei.

How does it feel?

- Surreal. I can't believe it.

I uh... (Sighs)

(Conversing in Chinese)

Oh my god, that's my sister.

Did you know that? - Yes.

(Traffic rumbles nearby)

(Footsteps thud)

(Conversing in Chinese)


(indistinct conversation in Chinese)

- How was it, seeing your mom for the first time?

- Oh... I don't know.

Actually, it was funny when I finally...

held her, like she was hugging me and...

she hugged me so hard and I hugged her right back.

The embrace, it was something that I had...


had been longing for,

for so... so many years.

Especially when I was...

whenever I was depressed,

whenever I was upset,

I would always wish

that my mother would be there...


as someone who could be there to comfort me

(Someone sings along softly to piano music)



(Indistinct hum of chatter)

(Someone sings along softly to piano music)



- As her mother revealed the reason for their separation,

I watched my mom transform back to her 5-year-old self.

In 1965, my mom's parents were already divorced.

Her father was a gambler.

He had taken all, the kids and threatened to kill them,

if their mother didn't give him money.

So she called the police,

which resulted in him being locked in a jail cell.

But my mom and her siblings were in there too.

Once they were released,

her father sold the kids, one by one

to pay off his gambling debt.

For months,

my grandmother searched everywhere for her kids,

and was able to buy all her children back

except for one.

My mom.




I didn't ask my mom

if would've been better to not know this truth,

because deep down inside I knew the answer.


(Plane engine roars)

(Indistinct hum of prayers)

(Bell rings)

After reuniting my mom with her mother,

they had a few more visits,

always thinking that there would be more time.

(Conversing in Chinese)

(Conversing in Chinese)

Before my grandmother's stroke,

my mom finally asked her,

"Why was I the only one you didn't buy back?"

Because of martial law.

1960s Taiwan was not an easy time for women.

Fewer jobs were available,

especially for those who didn't have any education.

My grandmother borrowed and sold

whatever she had of value

to purchase her children back.

And after months of searching, she did find my mom.

She watched my mom walk to school with Popo,

neatly dressed in a school uniform

with shiny black shoes on her feet.

She realized that Popo could provide a better life

for my mom.

For the next few years,

she would just silently watch my mom grow up

through the playground fence.

- I can't imagine if I had to do that.

I just close my eyes and try to imagine if I was to,

to send any one of you away, (sniffling)

and not being able to , to be with you, to see you,

or even have to go through what she had to do.

Like sneak up, you know, somewhere, hiding -

schoolyard and...

peeking through fences.

It must be heartbreaking, just like...

But whatever little comfort she could get out of seeing me,

I guess it helped. (sniffling)

It's unfotunate whatever happen now.

- My grandmother's sacrifice was not in vain.

Popo was able to provide for my mom.

She was a widow with two grown children

that had already left home.

Popo and my mom didn't have a maternal relationship.

but they had each other

And when my mom had children of her own

we had a grandmother that fussed over trivial things,

like us not wearing enough clothes in the winter

or eating enough at dinner.

The unspoken stuff that meant "you matter to me."

(Sings along softly to piano music)


(Humming softly)



- Happy New Year!

(Conversing in Chinese)

- (Whimpering)


- (Grunting)

(Cups clinking)

(Video of karaoke and dancing plays)


- She has the same eyebrow raise as you do.

(Singing in Chinese)

(Singing and humming along with Karaoke piece)

- (Groaning)

- (Groaning)

- (Sniffling) - (Groaning)

- (singing softly)

- (Groaning)

- (singing softly)

(Singing karaoke)



I know you guys always ask

how come I don't hug or kiss you guys as much.

How do you do that

when you never experienced that yourself?

But you do know that I love you guys very much.

(Singing karaoke)

- 'Kay, go on. Hurry up!

(Carnival gun fires repeatedly)

- I know. - (Laughing)


I may have started out looking for my grandmother,

but in the end,

I also found my mom.



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