The pictures confirmed the image I was forming of just how much smaller and more compact my life was going to be living in Hong Kong. They showed a tiny furnished bedroom, and a living room you could juuuust about turn a circle in without hitting anything.
Three girls plus one live-in helper (many thoughts to think on that), 732 square feet, the 9th floor, a 10 month contract, 11 minute public transport commute to work, next to Victoria Park and the Harbor…..four ladies sharing ONE bathroom….
but when she Whatsapped me the pictures of the three-legged dog named Waffle who gets jealous of the other dog whose name means “Bravery” in Chinese because he was hit by a car and needs a wheelchair for his back two legs I was like “I NEED NO OTHER INFORMATION I HAVE SEEN THE DOGS.”
Committing to live in a foreign country for two years is big. I have 30 days until I leave the States for a new life in Hong Kong. The gravity of the situation is creeping up on me.
Being “home” has been a blessing – to see more family and friends than I have in the last four years, to snuggle up with the pups, to relearn how relaxing it can be to watch tv, and all the million other things I’ve discovered I was taking for granted with the clarity only three years abroad in a difficult country could have granted me.
Now I start thinking about the things I am going to learn when I live in Hong Kong. Already it has been a process – some of you have anxiety just reading that I sent an international wire transfer to a complete stranger that I found on a website to secure a room in an apartment I haven’t visited. Oh, and I haven’t signed a contract.
I’ve started puzzling out some of the cultural differences in how HR communicates needs to me as we process the work visa, Hong Kong ID, Hong Kong Teacher Registration, and Hong Kong Qualifications Assessment. The learning curve is steep, and I haven’t even landed. Or taken off, for that matter.
I bought a one way ticket. I have never done that before in my life, but that’s what I get reimbursed for, so I did it. It’s 15 hours nonstop from SFO to HK. I’ve started queuing my Netflix ‘to download’ list, because that seems easier than facing the reality of a new job in a new place with a new language and culture, living with strangers, in a time zone so different that I’ll actually be time traveling as I fly across the Pacific to my new home.
People have been asking – Why Hong Kong? Are you really living with strangers? After what happened at your last school, are you ready to try Christian education again? Are you sure you don’t want to stay home?
And they’re all good questions, and ones I’ve asked myself and need to keep asking to make sure I’m doing the right thing. I’ll try to answer.
Why Hong Kong?
I made best friends, life mates, really, with an Aussie couple my first year in Rio. The male was someone who challenged my thinking. We’d stay up til the wee hours of the morning debating politics and solving the problems of the world. He’s one of the only people I’ve ever met who is nearly as competitive as me. The female part is the sweetest and secretly most sarcastic person you’ve ever met; a human version of a koala, but with an inner core of hot sauce for when she gets sassy. She’s someone you can speak soul to soul with. They had a baby and had to leave Rio in order to afford a family life. So they’ve been in Hong Kong, and I know we’re life mates because I’ve never been interested in Skype dates until they moved. When everything started turning to backwash at my last school, I started looking around, but really felt that I couldn’t go abroad again unless I would have solid friends already there. Nathan and Esther and my surrogate niece Elsie are like family to me, so that fits the bill.
But I also know I’m not done traveling. I’m restless; my mind is almost as mushy as this American-fed tummy is getting, I can’t stay still, I need to keep going in a way that’s hard for people to understand unless they’re also doing it.
I don’t have a husband or kids or even a plant, and I know I have more things to see, more people to meet, more stories to learn how to tell. And the other harsh reality is that living like a rock star while on missionary wages in Rio left me in some pretty crushing debt I like to ignore. I sold my car, and that helped a bit, but I really need to teach abroad in a position that affords a bit of savings before I return to the States. But I refuse to regret a moment of the adventure and good times I experienced in Brasil. Memories are priceless.
And yeah, I’m living with strangers. The thing is, I’ve always lived with randoms. I have easily had over 100 roommates in my life, found on the internet or through work or word of mouth. There have been some comically horrific experiences and there have been knock down drag out fights.
For example, one weekend in college while I was away, my roommates broke down my door to get into my room, drank the birthday whiskey I’d been gifted and was saving, did coke on my desk, broke the drawers, had sex in my bed and trailed mud footprints on my carpet. There was no apology.
One time we voted a roommate out, and in retaliation, she hid a piece of frozen salmon under the fridge, which attracted countless flies and creatures and a smell from hell for weeks until we discovered the source.
Once I lived with a French exchange student who spent 30 minutes telling me how to flush the toilet better. She trimmed her pubic hair in the shower every day after the beach. Every day it clogged with sand, leaving a rim of curlies around the tub after it slowly drained. Every. Day.
But I’ve also made incredible friendships by living with randoms waiting to become my friends. The easiest way to explore without a ticket is to live with someone new. I’ve never met a stranger, really. And I made a conscious choice to look to live with people I didn’t work with. For the first time since 2009. I think it will be awesome to have new communities through these new people to become new friends and to stretch my conversation skills beyond student discipline and the latest email gaffe.
The thought of living in an apartment smaller than my parents’ living room is daunting. Sharing one bathroom between four women sounds like fights waiting to happen. But when I lived in Guatemala (and a few very confusing times in Santa Barbara) I peed in a trash can every night, so, I can get through it. Dry shampoo is a thing.
Having a live-in helper is a cultural element of surprise I am talking myself into accepting. And I’ve never lived in a tall building, or even a city. So. Lots to nervously giggle about there.
As for the next question…this will be my third Christian school. I’ve never expected any place of employment to be perfect. I do think that anyone publicly doing anything in the name of God should do a really good job in all aspects of it. Should excel in transparency, accountability, reliability, and spiritual maturity of leadership; in the quality of academics and of spiritual life; partnering with parents; in discipline. Should be amazing in the arts, in sports, in encouraging the whole growth of every child, in the finances, in everything – in a way that draws other people in, makes staff and students feel safe, accepted, loved, and like they can trust the people in charge.
My first school did a pretty good job, and I was blessed by the friendships I made there. Blessed by how I was allowed to grow as a person and then become a teacher. They hired me to teach Latin without any teaching experience. And I didn’t even know Latin.
My second school experience made me spiritually nauseous and disillusioned, distrustful, and resentful for the last seven months I was there. There was much screaming into the void. I know that just about everyone I worked with lived and walked a Christian life and had the best intentions. But. Well. I don’t want to type anything I could get sued for. (Yes, that is how guano crazy my last situation was. Take me out to coffee to hear more, right, Sabrina?! :) )
But one thing I have learned is that God allows us chances – so many chances to get it right. So I’ll keep believing in Him, keep believing in that promise that love never fails, and see where it takes me.
The last question asks if I’m sure I don’t want to stay home . . .
Well, who can say no to “home.”
But for me, the notion of ‘home’ has become this big, grand, far-fetched notion that ‘home’ is being with people that inspire me, that love and challenge me. I’ve found that version of home in a hundred places at least. the more I travel, the more i find it. And there is something powerful about being many people’s impression of America today.
I think I make a good one, I’m invested in being a good one, and I want to keep on doing that.
Of course it scares me to move. I spend a day away from the dogs and I get emotional watching the videos my mom sends of them. Sometimes I could cry thinking of sour cream, or ice cubes, or understanding people around me, or just sitting on a couch passively-aggressively arguing over what to watch on the tv with my sisters.
It scares me to think that I’m 33 and more excited about living abroad than I am about finding a husband when it seems almost everyone my age is married or nearly so. It scares me to think about all the planes I will be on, the time zones I will travel, and how difficult it will be to keep in touch. It scares me to think about not having retirement and living without health insurance. It scares me to think about how much “normal life” I’m missing out on with my family and friends. I can’t keep up with it all and I don’t think they expect me to but it still blows my mind.
It also scares me to open cans of cinnamon rolls. Birds scare me. Squirrels paralyze me. So. Fear is relative.
I’m not sure we’re ever sure of any decision we make. But I know that I’m going. And I know it’s going to be good and bad and exhilarating and disappointing. I know I’ll be challenged, I’ll be scared, I’ll be lonely.
But I do know that I will not have to regret not going. Because I am going.
Here I go.
I’ll figure the rest out on the way.
And if you haven’t’ heard it today, and you need to, you will figure it out, too.