It’s now been two weeks since I reluctantly left Hong Kong and one impossible week of me being back in the UK, trying to slot back into everyday life here.
Why do I have to get on a £16 train and not a HK$2 tram? Where are the BBQ pork buns? Why do I still keep trying to say things in Cantonese? Why is everywhere so flat and quiet?! Sadly things just aren’t quite the same.
So providing I get on top of things, expect to see a steady stream of Hong Kong posts over the next few days/week. Boy did I get to do, see and learn a lot in two weeks.
Perhaps I should start all this off by saying why Hong Kong feels like a ‘home’ to me. Many people are puzzled I feel that way about a very distant foreign city, particularly one I never actually lived in.
When I was a teenager, my Dad worked out there for a couple of years so that was his base and we would go out and visit him. We also bought an apartment out there and at some point hypothetically spoke about the idea of moving out there as a family. Unfortunately, the Hong Kong airline my Dad worked for went bust not long after we started flirting with moving out there so it was not to be and he came back to the UK. Still, we have our HK apartment (which we’ve been renting to a lovely French chef for the last 6 years), we have some family who have lived in Hong Kong since 1994 and I also have a couple of friends from Hong Kong. All the ingredients for somewhere to feel homey!
So I had many happy times out in Hong Kong as a young teenager with lots of wonderful and familiar people around me in a city where I started to learn so much about a beautiful culture. I couldn’t even comprehend all the amazing and different sights, sounds, smells and customs I was constantly coming across. By age 14, I was hooked big time.
For somewhere that always felt so homey, I was definitely not in ANY way prepared for the wave of culture shock that hit me when I arrived back in Hong Kong this year. My ears instantly picked up the familiar sing-song sound of Cantonese in the airport and with the MTR map forever ingrained in my brain, I navigated from airport to accommodation like a pro but at the same time I just couldn’t quite click into place for the first day or two. I just felt so… foreign. In a place that I regarded as a second home. I wasn’t prepared for that feeling.
I think part of it was the realization when I got off the plane that ‘I am 6,000 miles away from home completely by myself in a city which is definitely not like London’. It was my first solo trip abroad after all. Not to mention I’m quite a petite person who doesn’t look old enough to be alone in a foreign country, plus I’m blonde (at least to them) so cue the staring, bizarre compliments and selfie requests from Chinese strangers! That took a little bit of getting used to again. I certainly stood out in a crowd.
Last week, I read a really thought-provoking blog post by ‘I Was an Expat Wife’ about her return to Singapore, after six years away, having previously lived there for three years. Granted, her situation was certainly different from mine and we’re certainly not at the same points in our lives but I found it interesting to read how she too felt returning to a city that once felt so homey. (Or in her case, actually was home for a while).
I instantly related to her feelings of nerves and anticipation before arrival. As she said, talking about Singapore “Will I still feel the same, or has the spark between us died?”. Ditto Hong Kong and me. I’d travelled 6,000 miles to risk finding this out! However, for ‘I Was an Expat Wife’, Singapore was a chapter in her life that she could now comfortably close. Standing outside of the house she once lived in she said: “I was shocked to discover I felt no emotional attachment whatsoever. It was just a place where I once lived, nothing more.” “Yesterday I finally understood that while you can revisit a place, there’s no revisiting a time — those days are gone forever. So although I will cherish till my dying day the time I spent here, Singapore no longer has a hold on me. I’m just a tourist now.”
I could relate to that to a certain extent. Just because I myself went back to Hong Kong, it didn’t mean it was going to bring my all family back with me or the life that we could have shared out there. That chapter was long over and I would treasure those moments for years to come but now it was time to create some new memories. I think this confusion and conflict was what added to my feeling of initial culture shock!
However, after reacquainting myself with the city and visiting some old favourite spots, it was like I’d never been away. Especially after meeting up with my Hong Kong family for dinner! It was the first time I’d seen them in five years so walking across the lobby towards them was definitely one of those great slow-mo movie moments that I wish I could have recorded and played over and over again. With big grins, kisses and a round of hugs, it was like the last five years had just melted away. I was definitely home again. And we had so much to catch-up on!
From then on, I was on a mission. I had always felt a connection to Hong Kong and truly loved the city like no other but I was conflicted. Was this somewhere purely where I had wonderful childhood memories and impressionable experiences or was it somewhere that I now wanted to continue to feel connected to but by building a new independent adult life for myself in? Or was I now merely demoted to a tourist and Hong Kong was only a place I could come for a brief holiday…? But how could that be for somewhere where I’d gotten so far beneath the surface of?
It was time to find out. I’d so far come full-circle, from my first trip to Hong Kong aged 13 to to my most recent trip aged 21! How similar and homey things felt but at the same time, there were some very big differences. Lots more to come in future posts.
What place in the world feels like a second home to you? What led you to call it a ‘home’? What do you love most about it? Tell me in the comments below!