(To set the mood, play “Piano Man” by Billy Joel and wear sweatpants while reading this, because that’s where I was when writing this.) (also eat goldfish crackers. It adds a special something.)
After three delightful whirlwind weeks in the States, I’m a week back into the swing of things of “normal” life here in Hong Kong. Although life’s been doing a lot to remind me that there really isn’t a “normal” anything at all. And that’s okay.
Like, is it normal that I saw a couple dozen riot police on my way home? Or that I had to explain what a “backyard” and “mowing the lawn” was to my students? Or that I saw hundreds of Filipino women who are basically working in institutionalized slavery enjoying their one day off by doing street karaoke and giving each other pedicures on cardboard pieces stretched across the streets? Or that my neighbors potty train their child in the stairwell and poop in my shoes? Or that I almost wiped out on fish guts on my walk home through the wet market?
Or that I just destroyed an entire pack of goldfish crackers meant to serve eight people and am going to call it ‘dinner’?
Nah. But. Here we are!
The weeks before coming home for Christmas were full of fun. We had a class party where I got way too competitive about tug-o-war against the other fourth grade class. I wore ugly sweaters and headbands to my heart’s delight. My students learned that EVERY Christmas song is my FAVORITE song. Work threw a staff party and I got super lucky because I drew my best friend for Secret Santa. I led Christmas carols for a couple hundred people at school, and got roasted by a stand-up comedian at my friend’s birthday party (huge yikes).
Then I worked a full day on a full moon on Friday the 13th (I kid you not) before getting on a red eye flight home, where I apparently was so tired I missed all drink and food service and barely finished my movie in between napping sessions. (“Rocketman,” which was lovely, if a bit strange. Man, that kid can act.)
The flight from Hong Kong is 13 hours, and it’s a 15-16 hour time difference, which is very difficult to adjust to. They say you need one day for every hour difference in order to feel “normal,” and it helps to have a set routine, and abstain from alcohol and exercise daily in order to overcome the jetlag, so I am always behind before I’ve even started.
My grandma, cousin, sister, and three dogs picked me up from SFO, which is just what I wanted. We ordered Los Panchos and watched sports on TV and turned on the fireplace in my mom’s fully decked out Christmasness house, and I just loved it. Of course, after everyone had trooped off to bed, I was wide awake, so stayed up literally all night watching TV until Jenna found me at about 8am starting my annual Harry Potter marathon.
The next few days included some good bestie time, taco night, bubble baths, Target runs, and so much nothing until I red-eyed to Chicago to visit my bestie and her new baby.
It’s a strange and awe-inspiring thing to watch someone you’ve known since you were both 18 year olds studying political science, wearing bikinis under clothes to class, waiting tables, eating Easy Mac, snuggling in on Saturdays to watch “Friends” reruns, making tragic errors in dating, suddenly become a mom. I say “suddenly” because the way our lives are now, with so many of us moved all around the world, my experience of her pregnancy was a phone call last Christmas when I was in Cambodia and she was in New York to discuss the pregnancy test, and then pictures and FaceTime, and now a 14 week old actual human being that she and her partner have made. And he’s small and snuffly and perfect and going to grow into a person. Mind blowing.
On my Chicago visit I also got to meet up with my sixth grade crush from CORE with Mrs. Denay at Valley View Middle School. Ah, Eric. His mom was my fourth grade teacher and we’ve been close friends since we were 11. There are some people in your life, because of your friendship, and because they are so rad, that you can call up after a decade and say “lets meet up at your local watering hole” and be absolutely unconcerned about how the conversation will go. It’s so fun to me to catch up with people I haven’t seen in nearly 10 years by our count, and find out all the cool as things people end up doing. I am really proud of my friends.
Having spent last Christmas in Angkor Wat, I was really happy to be smushed in with too much family for our annual White Elephant exchange on Christmas Eve, and then to open stockings and presents full of things I’d requested on Amazon the next morning, with our traditional cinnamon rolls and mimosas and 1000 piece impossible puzzle and then football and tacos for dinner.
Days like that betray you when you are someone who lives away from “home.” Suddenly you are plagued with thoughts about how it would always be like this if you just quit buying plane tickets and chasing the sunsets and came back, settled in, swiped right on all the Bay Area bros until one seemed decent enough to call it a life together. You could let your grandma take you to lunch and fuss over you and let mom fill your stocking with socks and hair ties and trashy magazines like she has for the last thirty years and wouldn’t it all be so easy.
It wouldn’t. Of course it wouldn’t, but at this time in my life, it’s only natural to wonder if I’m doing it “right,” or if I’m missing the point, missing out on something by making the choices I’m making, whatever that means.
I have NO idea if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, but I am doing it with all my heart and as hard as I can. As far as the rest of life goes, well, at the moment, the plan is to finish out this contract in Hong Kong and then . . . I keep hoping Mr Darcy or Jamie Fraser or Mulder or Han Solo or any of the other fictional characters I’ve let rent a lot of space in my head will materialize and we can get started on that kombucha bar slash apiary slash baby goat rescue foundation I’ve been imagining all these years.
Saying goodbye at the airport was the hardest I’ve cried in all the years I’ve lived away. Maybe it’s getting older and seeing how my family gets older and changes, too (cue “Landslide”). Maybe it’s the returning to an uneasy political and social climate in Hong Kong. And the lack of decent Mexican food here. Maybe it’s seeing everyone else my age do the “normal” that is get engaged, get married, have kids, coach soccer, take weekends in Tahoe, get chubby in a cute way.
Maybe it’s telling that the hardest I cried during Little Women was when my childhood heroine Jo March said this – ‘Women have minds and souls as well as hearts, ambition and talent as well as beauty, and I’m sick of being told that love is all a woman is fit for. But … I am so lonely.’
Well. Maybe I am, too. But here we are. We get on, don’t we?
Here’s to 2020 vision. May it be clear.
Media: Recently I’ve enjoyed “The Morning Show,” “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” “Late Night,” “Little Women,” “Hustlers,” and all the memes about Meghan and Harry making a Megxit. I’m churning through Michelle Obama’s autobiography and just got a few new books for Christmas! Eeee.
Quote of the Week: During Bible this week, I talked to my kids about Jesus getting baptized, sharing the story of my own baptism in Mexico on a mission trip, which was fun. I showed a few cartoons of Jesus getting baptized, and from the back of the room, one of my favorite kids goes “Aw, I wish I could have been there for that.”
Missing the most: The dogs. It will always be the dogs. But second to the dogs? I miss the fireplace.
Best Conversation I’ve had lately: Hands down – smashing my little brother in the now annual Christmas joke battle.
Looking forward to: Swimming with whale sharks in two weeks in Cebu during a Chinese New Year break.
January 16, 2020 at 10:17 am
Rachel, as always, your adventures are something to behold! Working overseas for 10+ years in the Middle East & Africa,I only made it home for Christmas twice – I feel your tears! Blessings as you continue working so far away from home… (and as a singleton, too!) :) Virginia
March 16, 2020 at 6:37 am
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March 16, 2020 at 8:37 am