No Regrets

I’m essentially at the 1.5 year mark since leaving Hong Kong, and the more I get into New York life, the less I blog.  But I felt inclined to write this note after a close friend of mine from law school asked if I had any regrets leaving Hong Kong, given the extremely positive professional experience I had there.

I noted how two colleagues of mine had made partner this year at my firm in HK, and I do believe that I would have eventually walked that path at some point too.  I had an incredibly supportive senior partner behind me, wonderful work, positive relationships with clients, etc. etc.  Most importantly, there was also a logical promotion process in place in my office.  Why shouldn’t I have believed that I would get that holy grail eventually?

So do I regret leaving that behind for New York, where my firm is your typical  NYC BigLaw hot mess? In a word – no.

Though I may now lament my current professional situation out loud frequently, I don’t regret leaving Hong Kong to come to New York.  I’m home now. Being near family and friends has indeed filled my heart to the point that I’m able to forget many of the other every day woes.  It’s worth it.

I’ve gotten to visit/be visited by some of my further away friends a number of times as well, and that means a lot to me too.  I don’t feel rushed to do things at home, and yet I can cherish time with family all the same.  It’s amazing and it fills my heart.

When I contrast to time in HK, so often I just felt inexplicably lonesome, no matter how fulfilling my work was, how incredible my HK-based friends were, or how much fun I was having in my travels or experiences.  Something about my family is just so integral to my whole existence, I had to leave – no matter what I was leaving behind.

I guess I want to say – find what fills your heart.  It will never be just one thing, but there are some things that do it better than others.  Be near the people and things that make you feel full, and then you don’t need to worry about ever being hungry.

Happy holidays everyone!

Is It Over? Reflections After One+ Years Back

Has it been more than half a year since my last post? I guess I’ve let NY life take over, and stopped reminiscing about my old life in HK…. and yet I have just returned from my THIRD trip back since I repatriated.  However, this third time was actually really required for work (unlike my quasi-“work” trips, where I honestly made up excuses to go and was just merely working from HK as if I were working from anyplace, like home or a coffee shop).

This time I went for just under 2 weeks.  I was cautious not to spend too much time in HK.  Every day in HK meant a day outside of NY, and after my last visit, I realized I had to commit to being home if I was going to be home.

Sadly my best mate and my beloved boss would not be in HK for the bulk of my stay.  I came a few days early just to spend time with my bestie, and only got to catch up with the Boss at the tail end. I actually had a legitimate work reason to come to HK – flew business and the whole shebang (though I still chose to stay in my good friend’s guest room in Sheung Wan, as I much prefer homes to hotels).

Hong Kong did its best to seduce me.  Though the visit started with daily rain, those rains did its thing and cleared up the pollution and lowered the humidity, yielding incredibly blue skies – which no doubt look AMAZING with the cityscape of highrises, mountains, and sea in HK.

I got to see many friends and with a long shopping list from friends and family from home, I had too much to do to feel lonely in the big city, a terrible bad habit I frequently had while I lived in HK.

All the amazing things that are unique to HK happened while I was there this time:

  •  A dinner that was meant to be a one-on-one catch-up, ended up being a larger gathering among rich and wealthy, at one of HK’s premier classic Chinese restaurants, where a 1996 Dom Perignon was cracked open.
  • I begrudgingly attended a birthday junk (boat party) where I only knew one person, but quickly got reacquainted with someone I had met early days years ago and met some amazing new fun friends.
  • Am treated to another catch-up lunch at the city’s hottest new Chinese restaurant since my dining partner’s husband was a shareholder.
  • And just before flying back to NY, am given a luxury gift so extravagant, I have no idea what to say.

Such is Hong Kong.  You have amazing food, rub elbows with the rich and quasi-famous easily, and am surrounded by luxury – all the while sharing the same streets with hunched over elderly men and women, pushing carts of cardboard to recycle for a small fee, domestic workers who will never be treated anything better than third class, and loads of HK inhabitants just getting by on HK’s recently instated minimum wage of HK$30 (less than US$4).

Everywhere I went I was asked if I was coming back.  I would never say never now.  But no – for now, I am happy re-establishing myself in my hometown of New York, where a day without blue skies is the anomaly, and unbreathable humidity is also a rare feature.  While we also have very rich and poor, NYC is still big enough such that we all can remain a bit anonymous.  I don’t see Lambos and Porsches on a regular basis, and at least there are talks of raising the minimum wage to double digit dollars.

Letting Go

I’ve been writing quite a lot about reasons why I left Hong Kong (here and here), and I do this because I really need to reinforce my thought process behind this big decision, and more importantly, I need to let go.

Since moving back, I’ve already gone back to HK twice — TWICE! It’s not even been a year! I was clinging onto so much of my HK life, it was just not healthy.

It was in my last trip to HK that I realized at last how much I needed to let go – and so I have been doing that and working harder on reconnecting with everything that has to do with me and my life in NY.

Today I took yet another big step – I deleted my kayak flight alert to HK.  I had months ago created a flight alert to tell me whenever flights from NY to HK were under $900…. just in case I really needed to get a touch of HK THAT badly. That’s kind of ridiculous, but I did that.

But today I logged into kayak.com and deleted that alert.  No no, I won’t be making any spur of the moment trips to HK just because I have to have me some wonton noodles.  I will just wait til a trip is really needed, and then search for tickets like normal people.

America the Beautiful

Last night I attended the AABANY Annual Dinner, where three incredible Asian American lawyers were recognized with awards –

  • Jenny R. Yang, Chair, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission;
  • An-Ping Hsieh, Vice President, General Counsel, Hubbell Incorporated; and
  • Preet Bharara, United States Attorney, Southern District of New York.

Each of these outstanding lawyers referenced their parents, all of whom were raised and inspired by immigrant parents. And from very humble roots, each of these individuals were able to achieve amazing things.

I was really impressed by Preet Bharara’s speech.  First, he was a lot funnier than expected, and it’s nice to see that someone who has to be so serious so often can have a chuckle.  Second, he very eloquently reminded us all why America is so great.  He talked about the naturalization of his Indian parents almost 3 decades ago.  Back then, these two immigrants from Punjab could never imagine their two young sons would become as successful as they are today – one, being the first Asian American US Attorney for the SDNY, the other, now a millionaire after selling his company to Amazon for half a billion dollars.  Of course a joke ensued of how one brother was obviously a lot more jealous of the other.

He spoke about how much he loved this country and why he did.  Only in America could you find immigrants from 30-odd countries in a room anxiously awaiting to be welcomed into a country where all sorts of possibility can really still happen.

I may lament that such possibility has decreased to a certain degree in the US, but I very much still agree with Preet (can I be on a first-name basis with this amazing lawyer just because he let me take a legal groupie photo with him last night?).

In discussing one of the big reasons why I left Hong Kong, I often complained how Hong Kong has limited opportunity.  It’s true that I have gone very far in HK, and I can probably go back to find just about any job I want now, but the opportunities I found are really not available to everyone.  I came to HK with an excellent educational pedigree, good work experience, and a fighter’s attitude.  It was this background that gave me a huge leg-up and got me where I did in HK.  I may not have gotten any of these if not for having been born and bred in the US to my hard working immigrant mother.

In Hong Kong, not every college-aged student can find a seat at a local university, and thus, has no choice but to go to an expensive school abroad.  Obviously, most international students don’t get financial aid.  In contrast, in the US, there are just so many opportunities for everyone to get higher education, this would never be an issue here in America.

Access to education is simply so fundamental, and it really is appalling how limited this access is in such an advanced place as HK.  Sadly, for all those folks who still manage to seek out great education, their parents have paid a substantial penny for it.  And for all those who could not, they are the ones who become invisible in HK, completely neglected by their country.

This is a big reason why the students of Hong Kong protested for so long in the Umbrella Revolution, and why there continues to be signs of unrest. There simply is no real future for these young people.

And so yes, I do feel strongly about being back here in the golden land of opportunity, the US, where my future offspring, should I have any, WILL have a (pretty) fair shot at just about anything.  I still believe this deep in my heart and hope that as a 1st generation American, I can do even more than my immigrant mother could do for me. And I am so grateful that I was lucky enough to be born here and am so happy to be back.

As Preet said, only in America do we have the explicit right to the pursuit of happiness.

Stillness – A Meditation

One of my best friends in Hong Kong sent me the following Ted Talk by writer Pico Iyer on “Where is Home” – and of course the man of “multiple origins” speaks of a new age of finding your Home, where you are not bound by the constraints of our “grandparents’ age,” as he puts it.  Plus, unlike most immigrants of prior generations, many of us move out of choice – not necessity.

I’d hoped to hear some revelation about what it means to be at Home. I’ve been struggling lately with this as I have frequently found myself yearning for Hong Kong again, but then finding it doesn’t suit me, and yet discovering that New York is not coming as easily as I thought it would. Am I just being fickle?

Why wasn’t I happy in Hong Kong? Why did I have to leave? I had the best job of my life, ample opportunities to travel and explore, and to top it all, just as I was leaving Hong Kong, I experienced an immensely beautiful human connection — something I hadn’t felt in a long while.  And then I just upped and left.

Pico Iyer states it neatly when he says that living in someplace foreign is like being in love, and that you must awaken all your senses, since you have nothing to fall back on that you know. That was exactly what HK was like for me – and it was absolutely necessary in getting me out of what I self-diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). But then it faded, and I felt that instead of being in love, I felt like I was in a rush – feeling as though I constantly needed to be somewhere, do something, see someone in order to make my life “complete.”

I left because I needed to rest.  Iyer mentions “standing still.” He explains how this is as important, or more important, than going someplace new, and how much more we can gain from just taking that moment and NOT going anywhere.

Incidentally I’ve decided to commit to 40 days of meditation – which I started about a week ago, just shortly after I got back to the US after my second trip back since leaving HK. I started with just 10 minutes in the mornings, while I was still getting back into the routine of things in the US.  This was easier since I began my transition back to the US again with a career conference in (warm) Florida and did not have my usual early morning routines.  Then my first week back in NY, I was still not doing my usual gym class in the morning (being still rather ill), so able to continue my morning meditations, which I expanded to 15 minutes, before my commute.  Today I headed back to my gym (how I missed it!) and plan to take on my 15 minutes before bed, with a view of making t up to 20 minutes a day by the end of the experiment.

And this stillness has been a treat – not at all the way my first meditation experience was like back in 2008 or so, when a friend brought me to a meditation center in Chelsea to try it out one time. Back then, meditation made my legs fall asleep, and I could not stand one more minute than oh… one minute.  I could not relax and got irritated with my every thought. They say if that’s how you feel, then you are exactly the person who should be meditating!

Today, the ten minutes easily slip by quickly, and I yearn for more.  So I’ve upped it to 10:30, then 11:00, then 12:00, now 15:00.  It isn’t hard, it’s wonderful.  Have I felt any special benefit? Not sure yet, but I enjoy it.

My meditation sessions are by no means perfect – I notice myself thinking all the time, but I also get in a few nice breaths of air, free of any thought.  And when I do think – which is just about all the time, I just tell myself to let that thought move along and focus on my breath – which I try to enjoy deeply, listening to it roll like a wave, feeling my belly inflate, and looking to notice any tension in my face or chest or back.  When I get to each breath, I feel myself just letting go of any thought and control, and just being in that moment, as they say.

Has meditating done anything? I think it has calmed my mind, the chitta vritti, monkey mind.  But I most certainly still obsess over things that I shouldn’t, I still get angry with some of my own thoughts, I still feel troubling emotions – but I think not as much, or that I’m able to acknowledge those feelings and just move on.

And so while I’m not sure what to expect as I continue to transition back to NY, I know I just need to take these moments to just be.

Coelho Again!

I’ve just come home from a second trip to Hong Kong since my great departure last Spring, and this time I come home with some better understanding of what has caused me so much struggle through my transition Home. (But more on that in another post.)  Importantly, I remembered and re-experienced the feelings that led me to finally leave Hong Kong and come back to the US – and that was simply put, loneliness.

Paulo Coelho continues to influence me at interesting times in my life — the first time was when I read Veronika Decides to Die, my first Coelho novel (to date I’ve now read 4).  It was 2008 or 2009, during a time I was facing so much turmoil.  When I read it, I just realized we all feel like we are crazy some of the time.

Then in 2012, my last book read to meet my reading goal for the year, was Aleph – which helped me realize how it is that I came to coming to HK – that it was not as random or unguided as I initially thought.  Rather, my coming to HK was a necessary part of my life, and that my “decision” to come had been whispered into my ear all along.

Now in 2015, after thinking again that I won’t read Coelho anymore, I pick up Adultery: A novel.  I’m not finished, but there was a passage in it that just resonated on why I left Hong Kong:

It’s loneliness. Even though I’m surrounded by loved ones who care about me and want only the best, it’s possible they try to help only because they feel the same thing—loneliness—and why, in a gesture of solidarity, you’ll find the phrase “I am useful, even if alone” carved in stone. Though the brain says all is well, the soul is lost, confused, doesn’t know why life is being unfair to it. But we still wake up in the morning and take care of our children, our husband, our lover, our boss, our employees, our students, those dozens of people who make an ordinary day come to life. And we often have a smile on our face and a word of encouragement, because no one can explain their loneliness to others, especially when we are always in good company. But this loneliness exists and eats away at the best parts of us because we must use all our energy to appear happy, even though we will never be able to deceive ourselves. But we insist, every morning, on showing only the rose that blooms, and keep the thorny stem that hurts us and makes us bleed hidden within.

In Hong Kong, I thought I was happier than ever — I had the best job of my career to date, enjoyed my daily living, and even just started to make some really incredible friends by the end of my stay.  I was travelling, feeling fit, and free to enjoy the world.  But I was not.  I was lonely.

I surrounded myself with events, parties, new places, great work, amazing people – but it was not enough.  I still woke up Sundays, feeling anxious and antsy, unable to relax in my cell-like tiny flat, trying to find something to do – when really I needed nothing more than just to relax.  Yet I couldn’t.

In Hong Kong, you’ve always got to be Type A and go somewhere, do something.  If you’re not travelling someplace exotic, you’re hiking, or dragon-boating, or volunteering – something. You’re always doing or going – never still.  And why?

It’s because you’re lonely.

I can’t say that’s the case for everyone.  Obviously there are loads of folks who find their way to HK and lead completely fulfilling lives, plus all those who have the luck to be born there (or misfortune). But that was my problem.

And so I left.

Hong Kong Solicitors By the Numbers

Taken from the November 2014 issue of Hong Kong Lawyer (the official journal of the Law Society):

  • Total members of the HK Law Society (not barristers): 9.261
  • Members with practising certificates: 8,111
  • Trainees: 837 (shows a growth in HK lawyers of around 10%)
  • Registered foreign lawyers: 1,340 (less than 10%)
  • Hong Kong law firms: 829
  • Registered foreign law firms: 79 (again, less than 10%)