Monthly Archives: October 2009

A Progress Report: Early Life Crisis

It’s been long enough since I last posted, and while I have a ton of great topics I can write on swirling around in my head, I think the thing I’ve been thinking most has to do with where I am in this whole game of life — yes, I’m having an early life crisis, which I guess was intimated in my last birthday post.

So here I am, nearly 2 months in now.  I’m 30… in Hong Kong… and I’m freaking out a bit.  Last weekend was just tough on me.  It was a long weekend (Monday was a holiday for 9/9, a/k/a 重陽節) so I made plans to go to Macau — I had wanted to join my sister at Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan, but plans got too complicated, and so I figured, why not an “easy” trip to Macau? It’s just one hour away from HK on the high-speed ferry, and the place is different enough that it would be a real change of scenery.  I booked a last minute hotel on booking.com (best price of all the sites I checked, including hotel.info, priceline, hotwire, expedia, etc.) for under $200 USD at a nice hotel (although not truly a 5 star hotel as advertised), where I had free in-room internet and gym-use (which is a treat now that I’m too fearful to run in the heavy pollution of HK).

I was determined to take a break.  I had been worrying about the whole job search the week before, as I just began to scout around for positions and submitted a few resumes.  The first day I spent sight-seeing, and being all alone, spent a lot of time in my own head — too much time! I thought about this and that, reminisced about things, got hopeful, got sad… it was a bit much.

I lost my camera that evening, so that was kind of a downer; and although I managed to get myself out to dinner and check out the Wynn, I was in no mood to smile, as I loathe losing things.  Next day I checked out and headed to the Cotai Strip to see what all the fuss was about at the Venetian Macau (which is apparently 3x bigger than the one in Vegas).   I got tickets to see Andre Agassi vs. Pete Sampras, which was fun but excruciatingly long (there was also a juniors match, doubles match, a Michael Jackson impersonator, “Streetmosphere” performers, and a Cirque du Soleil interlude.  They really stretch that stuff out.  Oh, and I saw Aaron Kwok do a coin toss!

The trip back felt as if it took forever and a day, but once back, I felt that “home again” feeling I’d described earlier from when I came back from Taiwan.

Next day I prepared to do pay respects to my great-grandmother at the Tseun Wan Permanent Cemetery, something folks like to do for 9/9 holiday.  I bought some roasted pork, chicken, oranges, paper money, and flowers, and headed up and up and up.  The Chinese like to be buried in proper feng shui — up in the mountains, overlooking the sea.  Because of this heavily trafficked holiday, I would not be able to take a cab all the way up the mountain, but instead hiked up on foot.  After asking a very very kind employee to help me locate the grave, I spent some time sitting in the tombstone area thinking out loud.

What on earth am I doing?! I’ve given up everything and everyone I know and love to come to a completely foreign land on the other side of the world.  Why would someone do that? What will I achieve? And there really is no turning back either.

I felt an unbearable palpable loneliness sinking in my chest, and then hot tears.  I wanted it to stop, but it felt right to just cry for a little bit. After a few minutes I stopped.  This was stupid, Why was I crying?

On my way down the mountain, the sun was beating down strong.  I was glad to have been wearing my dark sunglasses, because the tears came back.  I just felt so lonely.

Although I’ve met so many nice people in HK, it’s the depth that is lacking.  Others have made this complaint to me about friendships in HK.  This is in part due to the fact that HK is an extremely transient town, and while people are easy to meet, getting to really know them and trust them is far more difficult.  And while I go through some tough decisions and challenges concerning my career and immediate future, I start to notice just how much energy I used to derive from the love of my friends and family back home and the lack of it here in HK.

It was middle of the night in New York, so I called a few friends in HK out of desperation for someone to talk to, but with it being a long weekend, many were away, or otherwise busy.  No one picked up.  I was alone! I have no friends!!!!

I made my way home, and started to chat with a friend from the past who now lives in Finland and was awake (was just morning in her time zone).  It was helpful.  Dana had similarly upped and left for someplace foreign and new, and related with my struggle.  Then one of the HK friends I’d called earlier called me… and another texted me…. so I do have friends!!

Realizing I’d just spent too much time alone, I forced myself to go out to the local Pacific Place (an Asian version of Starbucks, basically) to study around other people.

Overall, while there are some serious questions to be answered in my early life yet, I have to have some perspective here — it’s not yet two months, and I’d only applied to 3 jobs at that point.  I have to remain consistent, keep doing what I’ve been doing, and not let my own fears drain myself.

The takeaway?  Moving to a completely foreign place is going to be hard, and will mean moments of isolation and desperation, but this is a natural part of the challenge, and there is only one direction to go!

First Birthday in Hong Kong

Last week I celebrated my first birthday in Hong Kong, as one of my recent friends termed it in what was also my very first birthday text here.  It immediately struck me — does this mean it won’t be my last birthday here?

It’s been six weeks now.  A few friends here have remarked how it seems that I must have been here much longer, as I seemed to have quickly acclimated myself to the lifestyle, made many new friends (my birthday drinks e-mail had over 2 dozen friends copied), and  am just generally much more “in the know” than others at this stage (although still so far to go).  I’ve made the determination that I should look for a full-time job here, which is a much bigger deal for me being that I stopped full-time work over a year ago as of September 2008.

I was so lucky to be surrounded by kindness, friendship, and joy this week.  The eve of my birthday, I was meeting with a recently made friend and a recruiter to discuss work possibilities.  Drinks turned into dinner, and of course late conversation.  There were several toasts to my birthday.  Then on my actual birthday, at least HK time, I received that lovely first bithday text message at 10:30am, followed by another a few hours later.  I also got several e-mails from friends back home that remembered the 12-hour time difference.  In class, I got my first birthday present.  Two of my classmates gave me these paper fans from Korea, and on one of them, had written birthday wishes.  It was really touching.

That evening, I texted my first HK friend, who was actually introduced to me while he was visiting in NYC over the summer.  Although he hadn’t planned on being out, he said that he’d make the time for whatever I wished.  I treated myself to a birthday acupressure massage, and then met up with said first friend with a bunch of other friends who were gathering for drinks and eats in Lan Kwai Fong.  I received a so-called obligatory birthday shot, and was surrounded by people again.

Next day the e-mails/facebook messages continued to flow, and that night, I’d have my first social gathering completely initiated by me! I felt like a debutante, and I wasn’t sure who of the more than 2 dozen people I’d emailed would show.  I arrived at the planned location on time in my best dress, and waited a while by myself.  I wondered if I’d timed the event right, or had even picked a suitable venue, but then eventually one classmate from school showed and I received my first birthday card in HK.  After a while, an unexpected guest arrived with two friends, then more and more filtered in.  I felt so lucky!

Eventually it became a real party with about a dozen folks joining in.  We then went from the pub to a club, and then another in traditional HK style (you can never just go to one or even two places in one night), danced heartily, then got myself in a cab to be home around 3am (I stopped for obligatory post-party noodles) — early for HK, but I’d been invited to another junk boat party next day and would have to be at Central Ferry Pier by 10:30am.

The weather was perfect for the two-boat junk and I had lots of fun meeting yet more new people.  Three other birthdays were being celebrated, and it was just such a pleasure to constantly be in the company of  happy souls.

For well over 72 hours, I was blessed to know I had friends both here and there. I was not alone, and yet, once it was all over, and I had time to myself back in the ol’ serviced apartment (I just needed to stop and did not join in on the after-junk land party), I started to feel a bit down, actually.  It’s no secret to you readers following who are friends, but for those who are not (and I am learning that you exist via the comments posted), I turned 30 this year!

Yes, that first “scary” birthday for many of us, as it seems to be the age for becoming what ought to be an “adult.”  I thought this birthday would be faced with the utmost security especially considering that my 29th birthday was rather difficult.  The way I saw it a year ago, 30 was just within sight’s distance, and I was wondering, as I sat alone in my favorite pub in the East Village, where on Earth was my life headed.  Last year this time, I’d very recently made the decision to stop full-time work, had little to my name in terms of home ownership or a significant other, what always seemd to me to be two very “grown-up” matters, and felt very much far from being the adult I’d always envisioned I’d become.

And here at 30 — where am I?  Well, let’s sit down here and assess a bit.  I’ve completely uprooted myself from my long-time home to come halfway around the world, where I had nothing — no friends, no family, no job, not even a home!  And why?  Well, the whole stated purpose of this blog was to try to ascertain that, and I wonder if I know more than when I started?

I know this — I’ve gained a lot of new knowledge about the world I live in and where I come from (culturally and geographically).  I’ve also started to feel feelings again — particularly of curiosity and excitement.  As I said, I actually want to be gainfully employed again, which is quite a big deal for me.  I find myself exploring so many big questions, too — like, what does it mean to feel “at home,” or to connect with someone, and how to just truly be by myself. I’ve challenged myself and delighted myself with all that I’ve accomplished so far.

The thing is, though, no matter how many new wonderful friends I’ve made in the past 6 weeks, it’s still a solitary existence as I try to work through many more big questions — like what will I be doing in 6 months, will I find a job, will it be the right job for me, will I find people I can really feel close to, someone to love and love me?  I don’t think I’d be over-pressuring myself to consider these, and it’s reasonable for me to not ignore at this time.

And so, after all the celebrating, I suddenly felt very alone.  Fortunately, a local friend of mine I’ve confided much of my anxiety to (hopefully that’s not a mistake!), called and listened… and listened.  I told him I was worried, and just not sure of myself anymore.  I finally applied to some jobs last week, and not only was I afraid of rejection, but I was afraid I might end up choosing incorrectly out of fear, should a job offer arise.

I wondered aloud if my decision to try to stay here more permanently was a mistake.  Will I find satisfaction in my professional and personal life here? Am I running towards something or away from something? I guess that continues to be the big question for me, and I am continually seeking affirmation that it is the former than the latter.

Hong Kong versus Taiwan: Who’s Chinese?

At last, a post about my recent visit to Taiwan!  I considered doing another post about some job anxiety I’ve been having as I submitted my first resumes this week, but perhaps we can just let that simmer a bit.

Oddly enough, I decided to take advantage of the National Day holiday to, what else, leave China!  Although it would be a huge celebration, being China’s 60th anniversary, I was already advised Hong Kong wouldn’t be all that exciting with regard to the holiday anyway (now if I were in Beijing, I would have done otherwise), so I figured I’d take advantage of the day off and make a long weekend for myself (the holiday fell on a Thursday, and we had off from school, so I’d skip Friday’s business Chinese class).  Further, that Saturday also happened to be Mid-Autumn Festival, and it would be nice to go to Taiwan to be with family where my youngest sister has been living in Yilan since August.

So from the SAR (Special Administrative Region) of Hong Kong, I fled from the PRC (People’s Republic of China) to head to the ROC (Republic of China), or Taiwan!  Confused yet? Well, I think you should be — because here I started to see the lines blur in terms of what it means to be Chinese.

Taipei is easily a very different city from Hong Kong — with about 2 million inhabitants spread out over 271.3 square kilometers versus Hong Kong’s immensely dense 7 million crammed into what is actually way less than the 1,100 square kilometers it measures out to be, since something like only 40% is livable (I know I’ve heard this number but had trouble finding some web resource to cite to just now), Taipei feels almost suburban to me.  There aren’t too many skyscrapers, or much of a famous skyline, and while Taipei 101 is easily an icon of Taipei, it stands alone, making for one striking skyline.

Like Hong Kong, the Taiwanese prefer traditional Chinese, and as I look around at the signage free of the simplied stuff I quite loathe, Ifeel familiar, as if I were in HK or even NYC’s Chinatown.  While everyone speaks Putonghua, Taiwanese is far more prevalent than I expected.  I initially thought my Mandarin must have been really bad, as I couldn’t seem to understand any of the conversations within earshot or would feel completely puzzled when vendors would reply to me in Taiwanese even though I initiated discussions in Mandarin!  All the subway stops are translated in Taiwanese, Mandarin, and English, and unlike my Taiwanese-American friends who barely know a lick of the language, and whose parents also barely know it, it seems there has been quite a resurgence in Taiwanese.

This all seems to be a part of the Taiwanese nationalism, and the Taiwanese are very proud of their history, where the pride is evident wherever you go.  There is apparently a Zhong Shan (another name for Sun Yat-Sen) road in every city, and I even found an 愛國 (literally “love country”) road in Taipei.  I visited both the Sun Yat-Sen and Chiang Kai-Shek memorials, and quickly learned where much of this Taiwanese pride came from.  Both men’s histories are closely guarded by the Taiwanese, and their efforts and accomplishments are celebrated at their memorials, both of which are quite grand and surrounded by peaceful parks, complete with koi ponds.

I’d never paid all that much attention to Chinese history when I was young.  In spite of having the luxury of attending some of the best schools in the U.S., I really wasted a lot of it, just studying to get by, and not really comprehending.  Sun, Chiang, Mao, Deng – all a bunch of names that didn’t make any sense to me at the end of the day, but by the end of my first visit to Taiwan, I absorbed far more about Dr. Sun and Generalissimo Chiang in those few days than what must have been weeks of study throughout high school and college.

Over the summer, having run into a mysterious Dr. Sun memorial park in Maui, I made the effort to check out his wiki page, and also read a historical fiction about him and his wife Song Qingling, who is allegedly a relative of mine on my father’s side.  While I didn’t quite grasp all the historical details, I felt remorse for Dr. Sun.  He had some very good intentions that he was simply never going to be capable of executing, being far too academic and lacking financial or physical backing.  I learned in Taiwan that Dr. Sun eventually sought the military talents of Gen. Chiang, who  was incredibly charismatic and accomplished many amazing feats of persuasion.  Although the KMT got pretty far, it seemed a number of problematic incidents would finally thwart their efforts (Dr. Sun’s ailing liver and the Japanese kidnapping of Gen. Chiang).

I learned a lot at the memorials, particularly about Gen. Chiang’s incredible diplomacy, even decades after his presidency.  He was tireless with his efforts to continue Dr. Sun’s Three Principles of the People, and was awarded a great array of medals and awards from countries around the world.  I also noticed that in both memorials, both Taiwanese heroes always appeared incredibly warm and friendly, with smiles on their faces in nearly all their icons, photographs, portraits, etc.  For someone also known as a murderer and dictator, Chiang Kai-shek seemed incredibly sweet and friendly!

But looking at just these glimpses of Chinese history, it led me to wonder, who is Chinese?!

When my sister and I finally met up over the weekend (she worked in Yilan while I did all this cultural touring in Taipei), she further explained to me some of the difficulties of Taiwan’s national identity.  Basically the fall-out of the whole KMT – Communist Party fight resulted in two distinct groups claiming its right to be China.  For some reason, I’ve been incredibly ignorant about this matter.  The U.S. has not recognized Taiwan as a nation since 1979, and Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations.

This makes trade and relations with Taiwan particularly tricky, as it is proclaims to be the ROC.  Anyone who collaborates with Taiwan is under the constant threat of offending China, and since few want to do that, I guess this would be the reason why I barely hear much about Taiwan back in the U.S.

This trip has led me to become much more fascinated by Chinese (which includes Taiwanese) history than ever.  The nationalism in Taiwan is ever-present, and I see a huge contrast to Hong Kong in that sense.  In HK, there are no memorials, and having been under British rule for so long, it has lost a lot of self-identity.  HK wants to be Chinese, yet it doesn’t want to be PRC.

At least in Taiwan, in spite of this identity mix-up, it seems to grasp very clearly who they are.  Unlike HK, there are several old historical sights (HK is good at tearing down the old and building plenty of new — case in point, the Lantau Buddha), art is revered and treasured at the National Palace Museum, there is a great variety of distinctively Taiwanese foods that I barely had space in my stomach to try all of which, and pride in MIT (no, not my alma mater — but Made In Taiwan) goods is overwhelmingly ever-present wherever you shop.  All this is completely devoid and lacking in Hong Kong, and that is quite sad to me.  Yet the problem with Taiwan is, while they know who they clearly are, do they know who they will be or who they want to be?

It seems they want to be China, but many don’t want to identify with PRC, whereas others, including Taiwan’s current president, are making a move to seeing a future in a united PRC-ROC.  And in the meantime, HK has yet to figure out who it really is.

So will the real China please stand up?

Home

No, I’m not back in New York, but I am here – at home in Hong Kong.  My first month has gone by quickly, and there’s only two more months before I set foot  again in New York,  but while traveling in Taiwan (and I promise to post on that experience soon), I found myself calling Hong Kong “home”!

I felt odd when it first came out of my lips, and I’d even take an immediate pause, feeling the guilt of a cheating lover, but I had to face it – Hong Kong is now my home.  New York, you will always be my first, and I promise, the love I have for you is serious, but right now, it’s Hong Kong.

Having let go my beloved Chelsea Duplex, I really don’t have my own space in NYC anymore.  I was talking about what I had and who I was when I was in NY to a new friend here, and he sagely told me to not be so hung up over that past — because it doesn’t define who I am, and I am most certainly no less of a person having let it all go.  Point is – I’ve let it go!

And even though I live very spartanly in a serviced apartment in Wan Chai, free of any of my own furnishings or personal touches,  fearful of gathering more belongings than I can carry, it’s still mine.  My base is here; whatever I now own is here (save a few boxes at my family’s home in Queens); when I need to get away to rest, this is where I lay down; and when I got off the less than 2-hour plane ride from Taipei, I was anxious to get here.  Once I stepped foot in my glorified hotel room, took off my sandals, threw my bags on the bed that overwhelms nearly the entire 370 square feet, I felt at ease.

In the past month, I’ve experienced a kind of excitement that I really have lacked for a long long time.    I am constantly learning – and not just Chinese (but insofar as Mandarin classes have been going – I find myself being far more studious than I thought I could be!).  I am learning from all the people I meet, whether they be locals or other wanderers who found themselves here; I am learning about what it means to be Chinese, Cantonese, American; I am figuring out where I am, literally and figuratively.

I have spent the last few weeks really digging in with networking to try and figure out where I fit in professionally here in HK, especially having a litigator’s background.  I’ve learned a lot rather quickly.  While job postings are not as transparent as they are in NY, you can find out a lot of good information once you get yourself out there and start meeting people.  Most people, particularly the ex-pats, are very open about welcoming you into their world, and making new friends.  If someone can help, they typically will, and I can only guess that it is expected that you do the same when a bright starry-eyed newbie finds you in the near future.

I am anxious to get my resume out there, and I’ve already gotten a good number of leads as it is.  I’m cautiously optimistic of finding a job before my proposed 6 months’ stay expires, and I want to.  As I was telling my new friend Jaime (from Panama via NY, and now a 4th year HKer), who recently showed me the running path along Bowen Road, I am keen to be a part of the working world here — not just to experience what that life has to offer me here, but to fund my continued stay.  I’m not entirely as concerned about what job I take and what it might mean for my “career,” but rather, I’m interested in providing myself the means to obtain a visa, fund my living expenses, and also flights back to NY to see family.

Being here has made me feel like I’m living again, not just going through motions.  I’m always trying to find things out, figure things out, get places.  I am anxious, I am excited and excitable, I have a direction, goals, desires.  What happened that led me so far from all this while I was in New York?  Did I really have to come all the way out here to revitalize myself?

While I still can’t believe it completely myself, I am building a home for me here in Hong Kong.

Let’s Talk About The Weather

Weather is beyond serious business here.  When I wrote about Typhoon Koppu not long ago, I had little appreciation for the destructive forces brought on by natural disasters here in Asia, even though Taiwan had just recently been ravaged by Morakot in August, not long after my sister moved over there too!  Perhaps the fact that she was ok, in spite of what I saw in the news, subconsciously led me to ignore the great powers of Mother Nature.  Then after experiencing ye olde typhoon signals in HK myself, was not incredibly impressed either, and fortunately Koppu wreaked relatively little havoc.

Last weekend, however, was a completely different story for much of Southeast Asia.  First Typhoon Ketsana drenched the Philippines with a month’s worth of rain in one night, killing hundreds and stranding hundreds of thousands!  Ketsana went on to hit Vietnam and Cambodia, killing about a hundred more people, and devastating further. 

But that’s not all!  A sub-ocean earthquake spawned a tsunami that killed some people in Samoa and yet another earthquake hit Sumatra and Indonesia just two days later.

All this and now Typhoon Parma is looming, threatening to slap the Philippines with more, and threaten my weekend plans here in Taiwan, and possibly my return flight on Sunday!  (More on Taiwan to come).

I was in complete  awe with what nature could do, and realized how ignorant I have been all my life, as this is what life is like for Asians all the time.  In fact, typhoons are going to continue to thwart and threaten through November (for some reason, I thought it was only a summer occurrence). 

I wondered if my friends back home knew of these incredible natural disasters, and shockingly few did.  I did see the news make the New York Times headlines, but who knows for how long it remained front and center with the ever-changing webpages.  Nevertheless, only one of my friends had any clue and he is currently researching Asia to move there himself.

It made me realize just how little we ever hear about Asia, or are familiar with Asian issues.  At the same time, it makes no sense to be so closed-minded!  I really appreciate having this opportunity to live on this side of the Earth, and to get a fuller experience of just how huge and varied our environment is.  I am very lucky to have this opportunity.