Monthly Archives: December 2009

Feeling Conflicted

I’m about halfway through my break before being back in Hong Kong again for part two (of I don’t know how many parts).  Three weeks in NY, two weeks in India — a significant break before heading back to HK, where classes will begin right away, and I will be in my new sublet in the Mid-levels.

While in NY, I’ve had many dinners/lunches/beverages as I catch up with friends from here and there all asking me, “So how was it?!”  It got tiring to answer, and to be honest, I’ve started questioning what I’ve been doing in HK and even wondering if I should even be going back!

Seems weird, even manic, as upon leaving HK, I felt I was being prematurely torn away from so much I was in the middle of doing, disrupted.  Not all that long ago, I also was so sure that I could not leave Asia by the end of April, when my second semester at CUHK ends.  Further, during my time in NY, I decided to seriously reconsider completing the Advanced Diploma in Putonghua at CUHK, so why the sudden change?

During my break, I’ve had a chance to review, reflect and reconsider.  And so I started to freak out.

As this blog intimates, I am not entirely sure what I’m doing all the time.  I know I left NY because NY wasn’t working for me anymore.  I’ll never forget that summer morning I awoke, just a day or two since returning from Rio, that I had gotten very very lost.  I remembered feeling completely empty and unmotivated.  Numb.

In HK, I’ve forced change upon myself, took away all that was familiar, created new challenges, and began to feel again — and as much as this includes the good (the euphoria of new curiosity and learning), it also included the bad (extreme loneliness and a heightened grieving for my mother).   So not so numb.

But what gives?  Fear.  I just feel like I whirled myself into this new world, far away from anyone or anything familiar, where I am constantly grabbing for something, anything to provide myself with stability.  And having come back to NY, where everyone and everything was familiar, I felt the extreme contrast, and started to become afraid to go back to all the uncertainty…. alone.

As I write this, I see how little sense I’m making — I’m having the hardest time getting my feelings out on “paper.”  I just can’t quell this anxiety, which, while not entirely dormant in HK, was constantly being pushed aside as I dash about doing what I needed to be doing.  After the initial two weeks of constantly rushing about in NY, I got to slow down, and just worry.

It has gone back and forth in the past few days — either I’m filled with anxiety and fear, dreading the thought of being back in HK, alone in a dark apartment, isolated, or I’m excited to get back to HK, get back to work on finding myself new vocation, learn Chinese, stop being on “vacation,” and just do do do.

I suppose either way, I just need to keep forging ahead and going forward.


NY vs. HK (I): Am I Becoming Chinese?

I’ve been back in NYC for about 5 days now, and I begin to notice the changes as I step right back into my old home, my old lover, old New York.

I didn’t really feel anxious to come back.  In fact, I felt a little disrupted to jump straight out of what was a whirlwind of the past few weeks in HK straight into NY so quickly, but when I came home, it was like nothing had changed.  Rather than feeling emotional or impassioned, liked in the movies with people running with tears streaming into the arms of loved ones after a long trip, I just felt contented and happy.   It was all very natural.

It snowed my first day back, and while it took me a day or two to acclimate to cold weather again, and to dig out a more appropriate wardrobe, it felt right to feel the cold briskly caressing my cheeks as I walked outside.  It’s December for goodness sakes, and in spite of the holiday music playing in the MTR stations in HK, I don’t feel Christmas is anywhere near without some cold.

So overall, a natural transition back home, and yet, there were a few things I noticed already that I found distasteful after living in Asia for the past three months.

Water.  I already was in awe as I saw myself preferring warm/hot water over cold water while in HK.  I’d always known about this practice, as my grandma cannot drink tap or cold water, but I never thought I’d actually prefer it myself! The Chinese think it’s better because your body is already a certain temperature, and the cold water just disrupts it too much.  It was not til I came back home to NY did I start to realize that now not only do I like the warm water, but I can’t handle cold water.  I just refused to touch the ice cold water at my dinner on Sunday — it looked frighteningly cold with condensation beading all around the glass!

Presenting Cards with Courtesy.  In HK, when someone gives you his or her business card, it is presented with two hands a slight bow as a sign of deference and respect.  You similarly receive it with two outstretched hands.  People do this with more than just business cards.  Cashiers may hand receipts this way, you should accept handouts from your teacher this way, it essentially applies to any situation where you are being handed something, or handing something to someone and want to show respect.  I was at a meeting with my sister, and the person we were meeting with, who was standing, very casually whipped out one card and extended it to my sister, then flung the second card over the long desk towards me.  I was incredibly shocked.

I remembered thinking the two handed card exchange very odd, and never thought I’d really practice it, but eventually, as I continued to immerse myself further and further into the local culture, began to do it regularly too.  So while I know no disrespect was intended by the fellow who flung his card at me, but I just couldn’t help feeling it! Amazing.

So with these two anecdotes, I see myself …becoming Chinese?

Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving – An Update

Wow, has it been that long since I’ve posted!?  What have I been up to?  Well, it’s been an incredibly busy last month, as I’ve had so much to sort out before I leave for New York come December 5th.  Now here we are, staring down the last few days of my initial foray into HK – and with American Thanksgiving having just recently transpired (I promise I started this entry pre-Thanksgiving), it’s a good time to review what I’ve been up to and how the past 3 months have changed my life.

My serviced apartment lease term was quickly coming to an end (I only signed on for a term from September 10-December 9), and as much as I’ve enjoyed my stay at my hotel-plus, (1) I had no need for it for an entire month between my departure for NY and my return from India (more on that later) in January, and (2) I could probably stand to find something with a bit more space (if possible) and for less money (if possible).  So in mid-November I began to look into other serviced apartments I’d learned about in the neighborhood (particularly interesting is the list composed by the South China Morning Post, for any of you still looking about, which offers just a bit more information different from the usual asia expat and hk expat sites).   I did find some new spots that would afford me more space for less money, but none of them could or would really negotiate any terms with me a month in advance.  I guess in HK, everything is pretty much last-minute as everyone is trying to get the most bang for their buck at any given time.  Landlords want to hold out for tenants who will pay more, tenants want to hold out to negotiate better terms.

I was pretty much consigned to changing up the game plan to looking  for storage for the 2 or so suitcases of stuff I have (fortunately I really haven’t amassed much more over the past three months), and just coping with homelessness again come January in order to position myself to negotiate with the new serviced apartments I’d targeted in Wan Chai.  Two of my new HK friends offered to house me for what would have probably been no more than a week to sort out new housing, and although it would have been more instability to be homeless again, at least it was a kind of instability I was already well-familiar with.

Then things suddenly turned around in a matter of days — my friend Vicky (the original friend who suggested I move to HK way back when) got her long-requested rotation at the Beijing office of her law firm, and given she could start it whenever she wanted, she coordinated it with me so that I can sublet her apartment exactly when she would be leaving for Beijing.  Vicky lives up in the famed Mid-levels, where I originally stayed with Avinash my first week in HK.  It’s a neighborhood popular with the ex-pats, and things, like produce and meat, beauty services, restaurants, are not terribly cheap there.  People often describe the neighborhood as being convenient, but really that depends on what you value — if you value being close to Western-style bars/restaurants where most other ex-pats are at any given moment, easily meeting up with friends and generally being within minutes/running into people you know constantly, then yeah, it’s incredibly convenient.  However, if you are more like me, and value being minutes to the subway, having access to cheap goods and services, a wet market two blocks away, and speaking as much Cantonese as possible, then it’s not exactly all that convenient.

In any case, in a matter of a few short days I organized with Vicky, and will 1) ironically be saving over 3,000 HKD per month by moving to the Mid-levels, and 2) will have a real apartment, complete with a real kitchen with two gas burners, a full-sized fridge, an actual bedroom (albeit quite teeny, where a “HK-sized” full-sized bed is jammed in), and a common space furnished with a dining table for four!  I can cook dinner for friends, and there’s an air mattress for my future guests (so for those of you contemplating visiting, please contemplate more seriously!).  With the money I will be saving I plan to join a gym – another major aspect of my life that has been missing for way too long (and that I find increasingly necessary with all the tasty Canto treats I can’t resist plus the pollution I try to avoid when exercising outside), and will really help to make me feel a lot more at home here.  I am so excited about this no matter the ex-patty ‘hood and the additional 15 minutes attributable to the escalators ascent/descent.  And it won’t be so bad to run into friends on a regular basis – I’ll just have to really test my own personal resilience!

My Stolen Credit Card
Just shortly before Halloween my credit card went missing.  My memory of its last usage is actually quite clear.  I’d walked over to the Park ‘N’ Shop, a local supermarket chain, to get my usual essentials (wine, chocolate, milk), and instead of placing my credit card back in its proper place in my wallet, I just held onto it in my hand, together with the receipts from that evening.  The walk was brief, and I was just feeling a bit lazy while hauling a heavy bag of groceries over my shoulder.  I was sure I’d tossed the receipts and card on my desk, and then carried on with HK life as usual.  I noticed it’d gone missing the next night when I reached for it to pay for something.  Remembering my laziness from the night before, I just put aside any worry, and figured it’d be fine once I took the time to clean up a bit.

The bank website was down for checking my credit card balance, but having recalled being a bum about putting the card away nights before, I wasn’t worried a bit.  After still being at a loss for the card over the weekend, I strolled into the branch to order a new card.  It was then that I’d discovered someone had gained access to the card and actually managed to charge well over $1,200 US on it!! Its first charge was nearly $300 US at a hot-pot joint in Jordan!! Now, if you know HK restaurants, you would know that one would have to invite nearly the whole extended family and order some major specials to spend that much at such a restaurant.  Although I was assured by the bank that I would not be responsible for any of the charges, I just felt so violated and injured — particularly since there is a big chance that the maid from my serviced apartment may have taken it!

I can’t verify whether or not the card actually ever made it home – but I do still have the receipts from Park ‘N’ Shop, complete with creases from being folded around my credit card, on my desk…

A Holiday
With about an entire month off before I am back at school, I figured I couldn’t just stay in NYC the whole time, but to plan some travels.  Having wanted to go to India for a long time, I figured why not make this at least my first trip (yes, I’d like to go more than once), and just booked a tour with GAP Adventures, a travel group company I’ve used twice before (China and Brazil).  They offer relatively inexpensive trips that do a decent job of introducing you to a foreign place, giving you independent time to yourself, and I’ve made some really great friends during my last trip with them (not so much for the one in China 2006).  The only dates that worked for me began Dec. 26, and so I went off to look for flights (which also was terribly difficult), and now I leave on Christmas Day for Delhi, via Zurich.

It’s a bit sad, but since Mom died, Christmas has become a horrible holiday.  Although Thanksgiving is definitely my favorite American holiday, I would guess Christmas was Mom’s.  We had this fake tree we bought when we first moved into our house in Queens, and would amass all sorts of pretty decorations at the Macy’s After-Christmas sales every year.  Mom loved that sale, and even though she always painstakingly unwrapped gifts in order to save the gift wrap, she loved buying pretty gift wrap at 75% off.  On Christmas Day, Mom would cook the second turkey she’d earn through Waldbaum’s or Pathmark supermarket points (she’d always spend enough to get one for T-day and one for Christmas too), while we’d all go off with our uncle to see a movie.  This was of course after opening presents, and Mom was always so cute for Christmas morning.  She really had a child-like spirit when it came to opening gifts, even though she knew exactly what she had gotten for herself.  She loved that — having an opportunity to buy something for herself and really enjoy it.  My uncle would take photos of every gift being opened by everyone, and our grandma always got to go first.  Just thinking about those smiles now makes me so sad.  It’s awful how such beautiful warm memories can become so painful.

Anyway…. my younger sister always becomes a huge grinch since Mom died, and declares every year, “I hate Christmas.”  This year she has arranged to go visit my youngest sister in Taiwan, and without my two kid-sisters, I just went ahead with making plans for India.  It’s not fair to abandon my uncle, older sis, or grandma, but I promise to spend some good quality time with them during the 20 days or so that I will have back in New York pre-Christmas.

Anyway — I’m psyched for this trip to India.  I go from Delhi, through Agra, Mumbai, then Goa.  I also get to take a train!! How I love to travel by train. Also, I hope to catch up on much writing (in my journal, at least).  I don’t think I’ll be blogging much from Christmas til my return in HK (I am planning to get a new netbook while in HK, so that has to wait, but one never knows!).  Also, I need to do a bit of thinking…

Visas, Passports, and Visas
So with travel to India, of course I’d need a visa. Unfortunately, I’ve utterly failed to do that here in HK, even though it would actually save me about $11 US to do it here! Bummer.  I was just too slow, particularly as I was distracted with a visitor (see below).  Oh well, I’l just have to deal in the US — where I must make sure I get pages added to my passport (tomorrow at the US Consulate of HK), if not a new passport (as it expires come Feb. anyway).  At least I just BARELY got my student visa extension — it’s being issued this Friday — my last full day here in HK (for now, of course)!  What a pain — remind me to not bum around about this stuff again! And fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong over the next two days!

My First Visitor!!
Katia, one of my very best mates (as those of British origin like to say) came to visit me over the Thanksgiving week!  I had no idea how much there would be to do until my first visitor came!  We definitely had to skip over a lot of things planned or things we wanted to do, but had a tremendous week no less.  We went to Lama Island, Macau, got a suit custom-made, saw monkeys, got various beauty regimens done for cheap, plenty of clubbing, a night junk, night market madness…  It meant a lot to me that she was so quick to take the vacation time and book flights so quickly.  I picked her up from the airport — my first time waiting for someone to walk out of customs at the airport.  It was such a heart-warming moment, and it felt nice to see someone I have talked to for most of every week over the past… oh gosh, 7 years???

Our goodbyes, fortunately, were not too bad as I am going back to NYC only a week later, but I have to admit, as soon as she left, the apartment (hotel room plus) seemed extra empty and lonesome.  What will I ever do?!  Fortunately, I’ve been insanely busy this week…

Time To Give Thanks
Thank you – Katia, for being my first friend from back home to visit me.  It was special and I am looking forward to others soon.

Thank you – Zeyar, Michelle, Christy, Mark for being my regular dancing/drinking buddies here in HK.  You guys keep me entertained and I always look forward to Fridays because of you.

Thank you – Evert, Bianca, Jin En Ying, all my teachers at the CUHK CLC, Director of the Program Wang HB, my language exchange partners, and everyone else I’ve met at the Chinese program.  I am grateful for the learning and the friendship.

Thank you – Vineet , my first friend in HK, for always looking out after me, being there for me like a true friend even though we just met a few weeks before I joined you in HK.

Thank you – Jaime, Celine, Jonn, Justine, Joyce for being especially supportive and friendly to me here in HK.  Thanks to everyone else I’ve met here, your kindness encourages me to stay awhile and hopefully find more of you and get to know you all more.

Thank you – Avinash for giving me a roof over my head my first week.  You are the foundation to it all, being the one who gave me a comfortable place to come home to in a very unfamiliar place.

Thank you – family. I know it isn’t easy to have me and our other sister so far away, but I can’t do this without your love.

Thank you – Oliver, Susan, Jeremy, Susanna, Anna for keeping in touch with me while I’ve been away; it’s like nothing has changed at all, and I am psyched to see you all again in the Northern Hemisphere.

Thank you – circumstance.  A lot of things had to just perfectly align themselves to lead me here, and I am grateful for this opportunity.

Thank you – Mom.  I think about you every day still and miss you so much.  Thanks for giving me life and love.

I’m sure there are a lot more people to thank, but I’ll leave it at this… I have to get back to studying, and this break has been a lot longer than planned!  So come January 2010, I will be back in Hong Kong for another semester at the CUHK, moving into my first semi-real apartment, and continuing to look for a more permanent situation here.