The good thing about being jetlagged is that it gives me a longer time overlap with which to WeChat my friends back in Asia, which is what I’ve been doing this morning. I got back to America (for good) less than a week ago – and it’s been such a whirlwind that I’ve barely had time to process it all.
Sanette asked me yesterday how I was feeling, whether I missed Asia, and I told her honestly: no, I haven’t really had time to even think about it. But if I’m being really, truly, deeply honest, it’s also because I’ve tried to force myself not to think about it. I’ve thought about it in fleeting moments, of course: hearing Cantonese-speaking girls in the security line behind me at O’Hare made me feel a pang of sad nostalgia for the familiar Cantonese ramble of my coworkers discussing God-knows-what in the Hong Kong office.
Even though I categorize the past two years together as “Asia,” living in Hong Kong was actually significantly different from my experience in Shanghai. Shanghai was so easy, too easy: I loved it from the moment I arrived and loved it every minute til the moment I left. But with Hong Kong, it was different: I had a lot of doubt those first few months about why I was there. I didn’t know if I had made the right decision in being apart from Chase for yet another nine months. I wasn’t comfortable with the language barrier and I struggled with whether to speak English (which some shopkeepers didn’t understand) or Mandarin (which could potentially result in discrimination). I felt useless at work as I began the process of learning a new market, new procedures, new programs. I longed for deeper, more meaningful friendships with new people I met, which was much harder to do than it had been for me in Shanghai. I hated the hot muggy August weather and the ceaseless crowdedness. I didn’t even like the food in the beginning, and that’s saying a lot: Hong Kong is known to have some of the best food in Asia.
But life has been SO good to me and blessed me with incredible friends and family from all chapters of life. It was visits from these friends during my time in Hong Kong that kept me going through the initial challenge. Chase came to visit in October, followed by my best friend, Sanette, both of them for a much needed two weeks. Over the months that followed, I was lucky to have friends from college, from NY and from Shanghai come to not only visit but to stay with me. And my entire family visited over Christmas break. It was in hosting my loved ones – showing them around Hong Kong, exploring new places, revisiting my personal favorite spots, eating famous HK food – that I grew to love Hong Kong itself.
Work also got a lot less lonely for me after moving to the new office in the Cowhead Corner, despite the longer commute and decreased lunch options. I was finally sitting with my teammates, and even if they still spoke in Cantonese which I couldn’t understand, I started to spend more time with them in the form of sharing insane sashimi lunches and hot pot dinners. It grew to the point where I knew, when I was leaving Hong Kong, that one of the things I would miss most was that guys on my team, who not only generously helped me all the time but also went out of their way to take me to eat really freaking good food. I will never forget the Friday morning when Leo, Vincent and Joe literally commuted AWAY from the office before work to take me to a famous congee shop at 7:30AM.
When I look back on my time in Hong Kong, I see a time of personal growth in many ways: I think I grew in maturity, I grew in perseverance, and I certainly grew in weight (LOL). And like I said before on Facebook, it was so hard to leave Hong Kong – a complete 180 from those first few months, when I had even considered ending my assignment early. I’d grown to love so many things about it: the seas and the hiking, the food and the convenience, the public transport, and its accessibility to the rest of Asia, which had allowed me to visit 10 different countries in the course of my 9 months. And despite my struggle to make new meaningful friendships in Hong Kong, I realized how lucky I was to have Athena (from Shanghai) and Natalie (from college), along with a renewed friendship with Alice (from childhood) – these relationships were steady reminders to me that I wasn’t alone, that I did have friends to lean on in Hong Kong.
Dwelling on the past for too long probably isn’t good, and as Fred told me repeatedly on my last day, I need to “look forward, don’t look back.” So I’ll wrap up this post now with some stats similar to the one at the end of my Shanghai reflection.
- Cities visited (in China – thanks ten-year visa, you’re my new best friend): Shanghai (of course), Shenzhen, Dongguan, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Lijiang
- Countries visited: Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, China (obvi), Macao, Thailand, Vietnam
- Fave food: Satay hot pot at Fong Wing Kee in Kowloon City
- Fave place in Hong Kong: many of the places outside the city – the hiking trails, being out on the water in Sai Kung, lazing around Cheung Chau
- Fave landmark: As touristy as it is, there is nothing like the view from the Peak.
- Fave activity: Eating alone at a local Cha Can Teng, preferably instant noodles or some other simple food. I used to wonder why you would pay to eat ramen at a restaurant when you could make it for like 10 cents at home, but I can’t really explain it either. And seriously, I went from hating eating alone to enjoying it.
- Fave trip: The Surin Project, by far. Unbelievable.
- Fave song: Fight Song by Rachel Platt, for getting me through the rough beginning!
- Fave random: Meeting the a-yi in the bathroom at work who was from Schaumburg, even though Matthew is convinced she’s a ghost.
You guys, thank you so much for following me on this journey. I couldn’t have done it alone. Thank you so much to Athena, to Nat, to my coworkers, and all else who turned Hong Kong into yet another incredible Asia experience for me. My happiness is thanks to you – Mm goi sai x a billion.