I have an app that feeds into a quirky obsession of mine – knowing exactly how many days it has been since my definition of major life events have occurred and how many days until the next one. This makes it possible for me to say normal things like “Trace did you know it’s 131 days since we went camping at Donner Lake?” And “it has been 365 days since I was traumatized by the election.” (pours a glass of chardonnay, wanders through the woods of my own mind, prays for humanity).
So the day has slowly ticked and tocked away, getting filed under other dates I inputted until I realized – it’s been 100 days since I moved to Hong Kong. To which I say – wait, what? Really? I’m not a math teacher but…that number seems both too high and too low because time has flown by but I’ve also scrolled twitter through a thousand news cycles since moving here.
It’s a mind trip to move. No matter how many times you’ve moved, you are always surprised by how much stuff you have. You vow to stop accumulating things and to live some minimalist dream, but there is still always stuff. Then there are the exhausting logistics of relocation; the work visa, bank account, credit card, phone, new flat, the demographics and gastronomical geography of your new hood, public transportation. Weather. Culture. Oh, the culture. Culture of time, of relationships, personal space, government, customer service. Language.
Once you can exit survival mode, you have to figure out your job. That’s a whole other culture, a hundred new names to learn, gossip to navigate gracefully, if you can. Every job is messy, but I’ve met more than a few people worth knowing, and I adore the kids I get to teach, so I’ve become more emotionally invested in my job than I ever meant to be. Which is probably a good thing.
Relationships-wise, I am full of too much personal information and lack an internal monologue but living abroad has only amplified my habit for sharing absolutely everything at all times. And it’s a pretty common ex-pat or TCK frame of mind. When everything you own that might define you fits into a few suitcases and every experience is new and challenging and you’re several time zones away from anything familiar you just go there. We are altogether bewildered all together. Which is unsettling, especially as teacher, because I’m used to knowing all the things. Instead I know nothing.
But I have made a few treasured friends – people where you think “aw, I don’t even remember life before you were here.” Making new besties at 33 means you’ve so much to share and learn about each other. The conversations after hours are deep and meaningful and life-giving.
Despite all the misery that was my first month in HK in that wretched apartment, I’m grateful that it eventually led me to my current roomie, who is FREAKING AWESOME. In addition to our instant click, knowing Suz has led me to a ton of new amigos and into volunteering for YoungLife at our school. This has been a soul-filling thing for me, as getting back into a church community and letting that part of my heart be open again is still an ongoing process.
And I posted this photo on my facebook a few days ago, but the church I’m currently attending is actually the same that a former student of mine from California goes to. I haven’t seen her since she was 11 years old, but there we were, sitting next to each other at the morning service. It made the world feel deliciously small and meaningful for a few hours.
A daily routine has emerged. The six flights of stairs I climb to get up to the apartment are getting easier. I’ve received four pieces of mail – two cell phone bills, a cheque book I never wanted, and a card from my dear friend Seghers, who has sent me mail to every place I have ever lived, which is better than any bill or bank. Everyone should have a Seghers. And I have a gym membership and a favorite cranky old lady I buy my veggies from at the open market. I know my way around well enough that I’m on autopilot for most of my day-to-day existence. Except for the moments everyday where I am sure I am going to get hit by a car because I still never look the right direction before crossing the street.
I went to Japan a few weeks ago, and at the end of nine nonstop days, I was ready to stop traveling. When I got on that plane, however, I wasn’t sure where I wanted it to land.
I wasn’t exactly wanting to come back here. But maybe if I stopped hoarding my money from necessary purchases to make my life more comfortable instead of compulsively buying things like off-brand Mickey Mouse sweatshirts from street markets and new-age Poloraid cameras and a kombucha home-brewing kit I could actually afford a decent mattress and a set of new sheets which might really improve the mood.
I do love my new job and the parts that are different and challenge me. I’m so used to being able to translate a word for a kid, since the ESL ones I taught before usually spoke Spanish or Portuguese, so to be helping Japanese, Korean, and Chinese kids is stretching me. And I really like doing Admissions, as overwhelming as it is to “assess” three year olds for their chances at entering our school at Year 1, or being approached by pregnant women with ultrasound pics wanting to secure a place in a primary school for a child that doesn’t have a name yet. (This is not an exaggeration – Hong Kong is actually that crazy about education.)
Truthfully, I haven’t felt much myself since moving here. But I also don’t know the last time I felt truly myself and content and at peace. Life has been full on unpredictable for about four years now. But something about this feels quite different. Is it being in a completely unfamiliar culture? The language barrier? The physical difference and time zone from home? The crushing pain I’ve felt since last year’s election?
I was talking about this with a friend – it’s difficult to be vulnerable and put out your struggles under any circumstance. But being away from home, I don’t want to spill guts with people at home who would worry, and I’m not yet close enough with people here to be completely honest about my emotional state. And there is a heavy amount of shame in admitting life might not be as jolly or all-together as your daily demeanor or interaction with kids or social media might suggest. Which explains the decline in my posting of any kind because I don’t like to lie.
But of course there are moments of greatness and gratefulness. In some seasons they might just be harder to see and then verbalize or write about it. Which is the only way I can understand anything.
I’m in one of those moments of gratefulness now. Ryann, who has been my best friend since we were 18, is here on a work trip to Hong Kong. It’s worth mentioning how we met. Through mutual friends, she came to my dorm room, where I was hosting a margarita party (thanks, Gma, for the blender….which I may have told you I’d make smoothies with). At some point, Ry and I were chatting over my attempts at bartending genius, and connecting over financial woes. Neither of us remember most of that conversation, but we both really remember me saying “you know what? As long as you’re having fun, it doesn’t really matter what anything costs.”
We’ve been best friends ever since. And now I get to share with her a new country and a new space in my life. And have someone who has known me and loved me through everything give some needed perspective.
Usually when I write these blogs I have an ending in mind – some pithy statement or moral lesson I can pretend a higher power was obviously guiding us along to all the time. But in this case, I can’t. I know nothing. I know nothing. I know nothing. There are some religions and cultures that say when you say something three times, you make it true.
So that last statement is so true. But also:
I am willing. I am willing. I am willing.