What follows is an account of most of the things that have gone wrong or I have done wrong here in HK so far. It’s long because. I’m me. But also funny. Bc me.
So picture this – it’s 6am, which is not an hour I make sentences at. Mouthguard in, hair in pigtail braids, eyes peering through glasses too big to make sense, wearing “this girl runs on cupcakes and Jesus” nightshirt, and tip-toeing my way down the hall to the kitchen. I pass the living room couch, where for the 9th night in a row, a shirtless lumberjack (probably not real profession) from London is sleeping. I still don’t know his name – he’s a friend of my roommate’s. The dog starts barking it’s senile bark, my coffee machine beeps as I plug it in, and I feel kind of bad for the noise, so I forgo turning on the light as I step into the kitchen and pull out my already prepped salad lunch.
In a fit of whimsy I will forever regret, I decide to make a little salad dressing combo. Now my kitchen is about three rectangle feet, with a few shelves that comprise the “pantry.” There is a condiment section with about 15 different bottles on it. I reach for the balsamic and instantly feel something wiggle under my hand.
!@#!$#% I scream silently, transferring glass bottle to other hand to shake offending creature into air. But where does it land?
I turn and try to swat at it, but it’s too dark so I scream one good mouthguard lisping swear word and do the only thing I know to do and take off my shirt and throw it at the dog.
So now I am standing barefoot, topless, covering in specks of balsamic vinegar, wondering where the bugger truly is. I cover my bits and bobs and peer into my tupperware, because I really could not handle my lunch being compromised.
My helper Ella shuffles sleepily into the kitchen, scratching at her belly. “Roach? Rachellleee…..is so early!!!” I nod and she flicks on the light. We stare at each other, bleary eyed in the pre-dawn. “You need light in here! Then they go, the roaches they go,” she gently scolds me. We look around and find the creature belly up by the dog bowls. She tosses him into the trash and reminds me to wash my hands. I am still shirtless. She goes back to bed. I shake my fist at the sky, and go about beginning my day.
It is now 6:15am.
I can’t decide if that incident was better or worse than last week when a roach jumped from the cabinet to my boob and then scuttled down my body when I reached for the coffee mug it had been resting on.
There’s a quote I’ve always loved that says “if you can’t be a good example then you’ll have to be a horrible warning.” I feel called out by that quote but also like, released into being the person I was created to be which is a mostly fearless somewhat reckless hot mess. But now with a purpose and funny stories that make you feel better about your life choices and circumstances.
Deciding to move to Hong Kong and take this new job happened pretty quickly. Something that smells like denial (and my puppies) led me to do very little research or logical preparation for moving here. I was spoiled when I moved to Brazil – I had been recruited by one of my best friends (who incidentally was my boss and housemate) so any question I had about packing or visas or life in general was answered quickly, thoroughly, and without judgment. Once I settled in, I had a built in tour guide and translator until I was comfortable enough on my own.
Something about how warm and welcoming and relaxed Rio was seemed comfortable and familiar to me. Maybe I was naturally designed for the Carioca lifestyle. I settled in well and quickly called it home. I made best friends, picked up Portuguese, ate and drank and soaked up the sun like a local. It was a beautiful thing.
But Hong Kong? Well. So far, seems like Hong Kong kind of wants me to quit. Things keep happening and then happening some more but you know what? Mama didn’t raise no quitter. Also I only bought a one way ticket and still haven’t been paid so like . . . um . . .
To some degree, I think it’s also a reminder that I have decided to live here. I have always forgotten important things and run late to important things and said and done all the wrong things. So this is just me operating at normal me, in a new place where my sense of “how am I going to mess this up today” is heightened and more entertaining.
This is a place I am making a home. I am not on an extended vacation – as my 11 hour workdays of late have been reminding me. I buy groceries and walk in a park and commute with thousands of other tired people staring at their phones (and can someone please take it away from me and delete Candy Crush? Why have I let myself descend into that rabbit hole again). (Also I’ve passed like 50 levels in the last week and am super proud of myself.)
God gives me a great support network wherever I go, and charming characters to talk to, and popular instagram posts about noods and odd market finds, which make it all somehow seem worthwhile. Every time I update someone on the latest run in with bureaucracy or typhoon season or cockroaches, my cheerleaders remind
me that it will all make a great story one day and I’ve decided that the day can be everyday if I let it. And a good friend reminded me to write everything down as I’m living it, even if it doesn’t make sense, even if it’s the bad stuff, because soon it will just be my normal and I’ll forget the wide-eyed wonder with which I first stumbled through these crowded streets.
So here are some observations and stories for your reading pleasure:
After the jetlag recovery, the general arrival and transition of myself to Hong Kong was okay. We boil our water, so I haven’t experienced the same crippling intestinal issues I faced my first few months in Brazil, which is helpful. My feet and calves have finally adjusted to all the pavement and stairs. A reflexology massage helped that along and I think I might need to make that a regular reward.
There have been a few interesting bus rides – the first Monday I missed my stop for work because the buzzer for my seat didn’t function, and I was too embarrassed to call out for a stop, ending up a mile away from work, in the rain, with only the idea that I needed to go “that way” (vague pointing). I finally hailed a cab with an old man who got frustrated with my lack of Mandarin and left me under an overpass in the pouring rain. I eventually made it.
One day after school, when it was a casual 100 degrees, I wandered into an organic shop (which was stocked with Braggs products! From Santa Barbara! So I had to explain that I knew that crazy old lady) and was SO excited to finally find kombucha. So excited I drank it all. And then
after chatting up the guy for a while and grabbing some cookies, went to pay and realized….I did not have my wallet. Assuming I’d find some spare change, I joked “guess you’ll have to arrest me!” Then I emptied my entire backpack, offered to wash dishes in the back, texted a friend to see if they were close enough to come pay for me, almost cried. In the end he insisted it was fine, and come back whenever I wanted and pay if I wanted. I left him a card with my number and place of work to hunt me down if necessary. As I write this, I recall I have walked by that place about ten times since then….I’m a terrible human being. Food and drink. Always getting me into trouble.
The umbrella I purchased from the 7-11 leaks, especially since it’s typhoon season. So the theme of my life is “I looked pretty cute when I left the house, but now I am a drowned rat.” Everything is hyper air conditioned, so then you start shivering. Once you dry off, you become wet again, this time with sweat that forms in places you didn’t know you could sweat. The other cool thing that sweat does is make the color of my clothes stain my skin. Here’s hoping fuzzy floral-print armpits come into season?
I’ve lost my Metro card twice, and also flung a tampon across the train trying to find headphones. I’ve yet to master a good poker face for all the forms of BO I encounter on a crowded ride home.
I had my backpack stolen from a bar and then left at another bar, where it was luckily recovered since it contained both phones, all my identification, visa paperwork, credit cards, prescription sunglasses, and Birkenstocks.
Our apartment was randomly chosen by the government for inspection, which means that without warning, I came home to my room full of construction workers standing on my bed, my underthings and loose cash strewn about the room, dust covering the entire apartment, the helper and the dogs in an uproar.
On the third day of inservice training, I was pulled aside during worship service and gently informed that I would not be doing the job I thought I was, but instead I would be teaching year ⅚ split until the appointed teacher arrived at an undisclosed time. I’ve never taught a closed class and don’t have a lot of experience with kids that young, or with the IPC curriculum, or in Hong Kong, or a split class, or with the various needs the kids have. So needless to say that was a few deep breaths to get through.
It ended up being a lot of fun, of course, although I’m not sure the kids learned anything. I told them their real teacher was swimming up from New Zealand by narwhal and they ask about it every five minutes or so.
They draw me comics and tell me I’m beautiful and ask if I’m pregnant and point out my grey hairs and tell me I’m the funniest teacher ever and this is the best class ever and fart in the open and pick their nose with wild abandon and acted like it was the end of the world when I announced their real teacher was here and I was leaving.
I’ve determined I’m allergic to Chinese government. Anyone who has ever lived overseas knows the struggle and pain of getting your paperwork together to get a visa, the million hoops you have to somehow intuitively and politely jump through, navigating cultural norms you are unaware of. In Brazil they seemed to want everything from your mom’s birth certificate to your 8th grade report card to get you a Blockbuster rental card. And then they change the forms and the times of collection and the price, etc. etc.
Here in Hong Kong, now that my paperwork is gathered, at least everything seems very British and orderly. The websites are in English and the directions are mostly clear, but I have had to do it all on my own, told “google it” when asking for instructions on validating visas and registering for ID, so inevitably I have messed everything up and end up in tears in a government office every few days or so.
Last week after traveling an hour by public transport in 100% humidity to a place I’d never been, I was denied my ID because I didn’t have my work visa. Which someone should have told me I’d need before an ID. I was so distraught that I openly sobbed in the waiting room, lost my umbrella, sat down on a urine-soaked toilet, and then bought a beer and wandered through a flea market.
Backpack with visa paperwork recovered, I had to take a trip in and out of the country to activate said work visa. I really don’t understand how that works, but it’s what you gotta do. So I thought I would treat myself – I was excited because Macau was a Portuguese colony, so I was like “awwww yesssss I’m gonna falar some português and maybe they will have some pão de queijo!!!” because I dream grande.
So I got dressed kinda cute and headed down to the ferry terminal, theme song to “Mary Tyler Moore” blasting in my ears, smiling at everyone I passed on the MTR. I arrive and it’s just a sea of people. Turns out EVERYONE goes to Macau on Sundays. Okay. So I spend about 30 minutes figuring out the boat I needed and the line to be in. I picked the wrong one, of course, the one full of people arguing for their own special I-don’t-know-what. And by the time I get to the counter, the next available ticket is for a 2:45pm boat. It is 10:30am.
I’m no stranger to entertaining myself with people watching so I buy the ticket and proceed to wander the ferry terminal. It’s a real feel of 114 degrees F outside, so I stuck to air con and finally made my way to Mark & Spencers – a pricey British grocer I wish I’d never found. I conveniently forgot about the water and banana I’d packed in my bag and purchased salt and vinegar chips and a can of Gin & Tonic to get the wifi code on the receipt, because life is short.
I sat and wound down my phone battery and then finally embarked, nodded off to sleep smushed in with all kinds of old people going to gamble in Macau. Once there, I went through immigration, ate some McDonalds, tried to get on five of the wrong boats and then finally the right one with seconds to spare, and headed back to HK. I went through immigration, and felt joy – pure, unadulterated joy that I finally had my work visa. I posted about it on instagram. I was so confident!
But ah, pride cometh beforeth the falleth.
My appointment for a HK ID, which would allow me to get a bank account and then like, you know, get PAID, was last week. This was my second one. I marched in so bravely and confidently and was so excited, just sure that this time I had it figured out. But then upon approaching the counter, was informed that somehow the immigration desk at Macau had marked my visa incorrectly, and it wasn’t activated, and so I couldn’t get my ID. So I did what any mature, well-traveled, Christ-like educator does and not so quietly lost my shite. They handed me a huge stack of papers and I tried to fill them out, but I ended up just looking around the room as if the answers were somewhere on the walls, tears running freely down my cheeks, doing that kind of cry that little kids do where they suck their lower lip in and out really fast and lose control of their arms and swing them back and forth, letting them hit their body.
Yeah. I was emotionally there. A kind woman behind the desk with a light blue mohawk waved me over, asked me to not cry because I was too pretty to cry, took my papers and passport out of my hand, and said to give her 30 minutes to fix it. And she did. She was my angel that day.
So today is my THIRD appointment to try and get an ID, which I need for everything. But guess what? We have a severe typhoon warning. So I can’t go. I can’t go anywhere, really, because it’s Level 10, high as it can get, highest it’s been since 1984, all school and work and business is canceled, stay indoors, batten down the hatches, stock up on dry goods the night before typhoon warning. We’re all anxiously watching the weather radar crawl across the screen and wondering at our fate.
I thought I’d be worried about charging all devices and stocking up on water, like I would have in Brazil, but someone pointed out that everything was built underground, so you don’t have to worry about it. My laptop can hover at 4%, as it does now, and I need not panic. I will have running water without fail. YAAAAAY.
Oh, and I’m kinda homeless.
The situation I moved into isn’t working out in a number of ways, and so I need to move out. Which is exactly what I need to deal with right now. But God is good…I have a good lead on a place and my work is going to help put me in a hotel to get me out of here ASAP because it now feels like a hostile living environment and with everything swirling around me already, I need more a sanctuary feel to the place I call home, you know? So.
It’s Wednesday, 1pm, I am still in my reclaimed “this girl runs on cupcakes and Jesus” night shirt, lighting candles, and starting the really fun thing that I do too often which is packing and moving. During what feels like a very anticlimactic typhoon, since my building is so close to all the others around me that all the weather I see is condensation on my window from my air con.
Anyway. If you haven’t heard it today and need to, I’d wait out a typhoon with you. We’d play Scrabble as long as I was winning.