“Love Actually” is a terrible movie. There. I said it. (This person here said it much better.) It is, however, undeniably quotable. Its opening scene is the best part – “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere.”
Last Thursday, I got to chaperone and then emcee (quite by accident) for our school choir as they performed Christmas songs at international arrivals at Hong Kong airport. The hand motions weren’t perfect. There were no harmonies and even the true melody was hard to identify at some points. We forgot to make them tuck in their shirts or brush their hair. But 60 kids from about 30 different countries belting out “Hands United in Peace” and wheezing through “O Come All Ye Faithful” on the recorder absolutely brought me to tears (good tears – not the normal tears associated with hearing the recorder).
People of all ages and nationalities stopped and filmed, leaned over railings, smiled and hummed along to our little chorus. In between each set, a child from a different country would introduce themselves and our school and welcome the people to the airport in their native tongue and in English. It was one of the most precious things I’d ever seen.
And something I really needed to motivate me to fight through the last week before Christmas break. The last year has been full of challenges on the emotional and spiritual spectra. It’s just that kind of year.
There have been a million funny moments, and the rare easy moment since I first stepped off that plane in July and began a new life in Hong Kong. There are days where I think that if one more freaking person touches me I will start swinging my arms and screaming, not caring what happens next. Or if one more person burps in my face or if I step in urine again I will vomit. Some nights I look up to the sky and think I might cry because I can’t see stars. And I am the creator of my own series of unfortunate events sometimes.
For example – truly a day for the books on the Sunday before I left for the States, my last free day – I walked up to the apartment (six floors, no elevator), reached for the keys with one hand on the knob, and suddenly realized I had locked myself out. Even more exciting because I’d been out on a walk in the park, had nothing on me but an iPod classic and my roommate was in Vietnam for the weekend. And I reeeeeally had to pee. And the 40 people who occupy the two bedroom apartment next door were throwing a party punctuated by a crying toddler getting spanked every 30 minutes and the 2nd grader playing “Old McDonald Had a Farm” on a loop on the harmonica and the spanked toddler keeps wandering out to the foyer to tearfully sing me “Happy Birthday” in English after every spanking. Which was helpful.
A few hours and 500 dollars later, a very nice locksmith with a well-manicured rattail, displaying his buttcrack while he squatted in front of my door, then revealing his unzipped fly when he stood up, had let me into my apartment. “I hope I never see you again,” he said, as he pocketed my money and walked away. Had a sense of humor, that guy. Or maybe that was serious, as I did look a right crying mess.
I decided to make up for the hours lost (in which I missed church and the chance to do laundry) by going to the store, getting some yummy stuff to meal prep for the week. Came back and the kitchen lights were out. Which makes it pitch black in there and our camping kerosene stove top is already sketchy when I have light to see that I’m about to burn off my eyebrows.
So I decided real food was for the birds, cracked open some wine, and started in on my gingerbread house. I was too cheap to pay for the actual gingerbread house kit, so had to settle for “A Cabin in the Woods,” which is like the poor man’s knockoff and is pretty plain. I also had to make my own frosting, which required powdered sugar, which I could find nowhere, so I just put regular sugar in the blender, thinking that might work. It does not. I also forgot to put the top on the blender the first time around. That was fun to clean up.
I also thought I was above measuring the ingredients as indicated on the box’s instructions. I also just kept eating the frosting because did you know that warm butter and sugar and food coloring is freaking magical?!
Things did not go as planned.
Anyway, I completed a lot of levels on Candy Crush that night as I spent most of it awake in the bathroom, feeling sick to my stomach after giving myself some neon green diabetes.
Another fun event that weekend was leaving my cellphone in an Uber while traveling to our staff Christmas party in a completely unfamiliar location about an hour away. Upon calling the Uber, I discovered the driver only spoke Cantonese and was not inclined to believe I had ever even been in his car. Luckily some awesome people from work stood on a street corner for hours into the night with me until he came back and I could get my phone. There’s also been the $1500 camera I bought as a Merry Christmas to me that doesn’t work. The blue screen of death on my work computer. My favorite black dress that went missing at the laundromat. First world problems.
When I first decided to move to Hong Kong eight months ago, it was kind of a flippant decision. Two of my best friends were there, I needed money after going into debt in Rio, and I’d never been to Asia. And maybe this is weird, but as more and more of my friends settle down, part of me wants to keep not settling down, as if I have something to prove to I don’t know who. Or because I just want to never own a car again – I want to travel more and meet everyone I can in this world and their dogs. Or maybe I want to have an excuse for why I’m not married yet (as everyone always feels so inclined to wonder about out loud).
There was also a large helping of “well I don’t know what the heck else to do just now so….lets just go for it, shall we?” What can be so challenging and yet so great about living abroad is that everything gets amplified. Mountains and valleys. Mountains and valleys. I am walking and stumbling and napping and wandering and crying and hugging my way through them.
Then I went ‘home’ for Christmas. Which means going to the place my family lives. It’s comfortable and easy and familiar like a drug. Like if I stayed longer than a few weeks, I might adjust so quickly that I’d forget I’d ever left. Forget what life is like outside of the complete bubble that is the US.
Back in California, I felt like I was back in a place where I understand, but not where I’m completely understood. Besides the usual culture shock that comes with returning “home” (ie me freaking out in grocery stores and being over-stimulated by how much I understand around me therefore inadvertently eavesdropping on conversations and being terrified to drive) there is the well-meaning and obligatory “What’s it like in Hong Kong” people ask, but how can you even answer in a way that makes sense and is the same length as a polite attention span, which might not be much longer than the word ‘fine.’
My dad, stepmom, and brothers flew out from Virginia and we were able to spend some Christmas with them for the first time in I don’t know how many years. I went to my first Warriors game, we trekked all over San Francisco, and I ate everything that crossed my path. My bestie Traci came out for a few days and we cuddled up in front of the fire to watch silly Christmas movies only the two of us seem to love. The puppies wore matching sweaters and I went to Target eight times. And ate so much Mexican food.
How nice it was to stretch out on a bed and not hit any walls. To be in the same time zone as 99% of the people I know and love. To walk on trails with no one but me and all the squirrels to yell at. To spend days doing a lot or doing nothing with family. To spend my last few hours with my mom and grandma frantically trying to finish a 1000 piece puzzle of Nancy Drew books, eating Zachary’s pizza and drinking some beer called Unicorn Buzz my grandma bought just for me.
My whimsy and I still don’t know about Hong Kong. I don’t love it. I don’t think I get it. I’m not sure I ever will. For so many years I had good friends telling me that I had to try living in a city, convincing me I was missing out on a quintessential experience. I actually felt quite low about it for a long time, like I was unsophisticated or uncultured somehow because it just didn’t appeal to me very much. But now I’ve tried it and guess what? I wasn’t missing anything at all. I’m managing and having fun still, of course, but oh do I miss open spaces and sky and taking a deep breath. I miss walking on dirt and being alone. I miss actual silence and trees and I miss the sun.
I think I’ve been a wee bit low lately because I just don’t know much about or understand Asian culture. I miss the warmth of Brazil and South America, where I’ve done most of my time abroad. I miss hugs.
And the kids in Asia always ask me if I’m pregnant because I’m not the same size as the female population here. I’ve actually walked into stores and been told to leave because they didn’t have my sizes. Heck – I couldn’t even get slippers in the men’s section last week. And I know it’s silly, but it does hurt my feelings and I don’t feel pretty here. It was so refreshing to go back to the States and feel normal-sized.
Plus, the holidays can bring up all kinds of feelings for single people, no matter how happy and secure I actually am. Scrolling through all my friends’ family photos on facebook and realizing all my pics are with my mom or sisters or brothers . . . not of me getting engaged or on some romantic getaway . . . not of my precious kids in their matching pjs . . . or some cute story about some sweet thing my toddler or husband said . . .
I guess I just start to wonder if I’m doing all what I’m supposed to be doing, if there is more ahead, if there is something wrong with me. Am i missing something? Am I doing it right? Listening to the new Sam Smith album on loop as I try to process these questions is probably not helping.
We do walk through parts of life that aren’t 100% awesome or that we’re unsure about. Which is fine, because we’re always learning something about something. Usually ourselves. And who knows? God is big enough to surprise the heck out of me and maybe I will fall in love with someone here or with this place. Or maybe I won’t. But I do know that I won’t regret the decision to come to HK and I’m not allowed to sit and feel sorry for myself and no one should feel sorry for me. Who can say if I were somewhere else if I wouldn’t be feeling just as anxious and depressed as I am here sometimes? Things feel tough, and somehow you can feel completely alone in a city of 8 million people, but life’s still good.
God has given me friends and a roomie and an apartment that I lovelovelove in HK. I’ve seen incredible things. I have an income for the first time in four years! I figured out my health insurance! It only took three months to get a bank account! I’ve already had visitors! And have been to Japan and am going to the Philippines and as hard as things may have seemed, as the philosopher Kelly Clarkson once said, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
just in cases – if you haven’t heard it yet today and you need to – if you’re ever going through a hard time, too – I’m here for you. I want to listen and help if I can. AND – i’ve got a big big house, with lots and lots of room. a big big table, with lots and lots of food. a big big yard, where we can play football. a big big house. its my hong kong house.* and ps youre invited.
*90s church kids will get rekt to this song.