Subtle life changes

In September 2021, my fiancée and I went to Hong Kong. What was supposed to be a six month visit turned into nearly sixteen months. We really liked it there. 

Sometimes, when I caught up with friends back in North America or Europe, they’d inevitably ask, “What’s it like?”

When I lived on Hong Kong Island, in the early mornings, I’d lift up the laptop to show them the street full of red taxis, double decker buses, and people energetically buzzing around. They would sometimes shake their heads in awe, witnessing a city wake up 12 hours into the future.

Or, maybe I’d tell a story, like accidentally riding a roller coaster in Disneyland during a once-in-a-lifetime quiet tourism period, finally working out with a personal trainer, or launching my book while I was across the world from most of my readers. 

To me, these moments always felt inadequate to describe the experience. They felt half-baked, like describing a plot, without much emotion and understanding. I never made enough time to connect the dots, or to reminisce and soak it in.

The story was very precious to me, and I found it difficult to bring myself to type the words to convey the experience. 

Part of my experience has been this: In the most subtle ways, people in Hong Kong express themselves. They’re constantly trying to show you that they’re doing their best, or that you’ve said something that irritated them, or that they agree with you and want to be friends.

They’ll also rarely do something until they feel adequately prepared. In my case, I never felt prepared; I wasn’t really born in Hong Kong—what right did I have to write about it?

It occurred to me, only while I was writing this: while I only lived in Hong Kong for 16 months (“Are you sure it wasn’t 15?!”), I was raised by parents from Hong Kong, so in many ways I grew up in a Hong Kong household for 18 years of my life. 

Living in Hong Kong changed my life, in the most subtle ways: 

  • My spoken Cantonese got much better, and I felt much more confident (the first time I visited, I experienced great discomfort giving a destination to a taxi driver!).
  • I got a better sense of what my life could have been like if my parents hadn’t immigrated to Canada, for better or worse.
  • I stumbled across Lau Koon Tan’s photography exhibit, I saw the environment and moments that my parents grew up in. I grew to understand their childhood much better, and some of the beliefs that I also developed from their experiences. It jogged many memories that they told me about when I was a child.

This post is an initiation into unpacking that, and more of my travels from the past—and, if I’m so lucky, into the future.

P.S., I filmed this recording for Ness Labs while I was in Hong Kong—check out the palm trees outside the window!

P.P.S., This is the first post in a new category, Around the World, named after the Red Hot Chili Peppers song. I hope to update this with a new, less generic, name at some point.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *