On September 1, 2009 I got on a plane in New York’s JFK Airport to arrive in Hong Kong 15 hours (not including time spent in the airport for the usual niceties) later, September 2, 2009. As the story goes – I had nothing but my 2 suitcases (and 2 carry-ons), and I didn’t know anyone or anything. I had no family, no friends, no partner, no job. I had no idea what to expect, but knew just that I needed a change.
In Hong Kong there was so much newness, so much to learn and figure out. I began experiencing feelings I hadn’t in a long time — wonder and curiosity, exercising a new sort of problem-solving, forcing myself to be social as well as getting to know how to be alone a whole lot more.
I gained a lot in coming to HK. As Teresa, who has known me for nearly 2 decades, observed, I was finally able to just focus on myself here. It was the first time I’d ever lived alone, and every day was about me and what I needed to do or wanted to do.
I enjoyed my two semesters at the CUHK, studying Mandarin. It was quite a feeling when I realized I could also experience emotion and awe reading Chinese fiction just as I do in English. It was fascinating getting to know a foreign student through a third language (my native language would be English, hers Japanese or Korean, but it was through Chinese that we communicated). It was amazing fun getting to know Pan Laoshi’s sense of humor, even though he spoke the least English of all our teachers. And there was such a feeling of satisfaction whenever I could get through a more complex sentence that better reflected my much higher level of expression in English.
I love getting to know Hong Kong, which plays a big part of my family roots on both my mom’s and dad’s sides. I lived in Wan Chai my first three months here, where, I found out later, my dad grew up in the 50s. I visited my great grandmother’s grave in Tseun Wan during a gravesweeping holiday last September. And I met my mom’s old high school friend twice while she was still in her HK home (she lives here half time).
I feel such warmth when I observe old Chinese grannies or small children (especially baby hairs! and especially at my favorite Hollywood Road Park); I love listening to the many slangs and colloquialisms of Cantonese (although could do with less of that heavy HK accent and some of the curses!); and I’ve learned a lot of little cultural things here and there – from the way people pray, eat, and shop.
I’ve gotten to know lots of new people, meeting more international folks than ever. In fact, I’m typically the “token” American, or one of very few.
I made bulgogi for the first time at my first dinner party in HK and have gotten requests to make it again!
I saw my first play in Cantonese here, watched a HK movie in HK, have become woefully addicted to fresh warm egg tarts (why can’t they make them like that in the States??).
I’ve been blessed to visit 9 countries, including HK, during this year abroad, some of them more than once (Thailand, China and Macau).
I learned to count to 20 in Hindi (mostly — I tend to need help in the teens), bought my first piece of “permanent” jewelry – my jade bracelet, and got a still more permanent tattoo.
I helped raise funds to end cancer in the Beat the Banana Man Charity Run (even though I was massively disappointed that beating the banana man did not mean pummeling him), and enjoyed volunteer time with local kids at the Changing Young Lives Community Center.
I’ve had 8 guests, including 2 of my 3 sisters, come visit and stay with me. Two others who visited stayed in outside accommodations.
Although I still haven’t learned to swim, I did get my Level 1 rock climbing certification, in spite of a very real fear of heights, and just barely sorted out the lock ‘n’ twist climbing technique.
I finished reading 8 books in this year, including a massive 1200 page novel. I have 3 that I’ve started and have yet to finish. Oops.
Professionally, I was fortunate enough to get a lot of good networking done in my first year – meeting some of HK’s most famous solicitors and observing my first legal case at the Court of Final Appeal, meeting my “mentor” who always checks in on me and introduces me to all sorts of influential people, and even landing my (first) job in HK through an informational interview that I had back in October ’09.
I’m studying HK law now, getting to know it from a whole new angle, as I prepare to be locally admitted. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d bother with another qualification — I always insisted I’d never bother with California, it being so far away, and now look? I’m getting a third qualification in a foreign country!
Indeed, there is so much else that awaits me as I embark on my SECOND year here! Gosh, who’d’ve thought I’d get this far?
I have my reservations, indeed, but for this day, I’d like to focus on the positive. I am blessed to have had the financial means, independence, and opportunity to do this, making this year one I will never forget all my life.
Thank you to my friends and family back home. I know you miss me and I miss you all so terribly much too, especially Granny. I plan to be back in February 2011, when I’ll hopefully get to meet the p-babies!! Thank you the Internet for making communications with all those back in the States cheap and easy. Thank you to all the new friends I’ve made in HK, whether we met for just a few hours, or have been hanging out since my very first weekend in HK (Michelle! Zeyar!), and of course a special shout-out to Vineet, my first friend in HK (although you weren’t here when I first arrived quite!). Thank you to the wonderful teachers at the CUHK CLC, who challenged and encouraged me as I attempted to get a better handle on what must be the hardest language ever (or top 5 hands down!). Thank you to Steve, my HK “mentor”, whom, as I said, always checked in on me and introduced me to many wonderful people. Thank you to my alumni networks, which I did tap into to meeting lots of great people. Thank you to Varun, my famous two-week boyfriend, who gave me and continues to give me sincerity in what can be such a superficial world at times. Thank you Pure Fitness – you are indeed my “happy place,” and I don’t know what my fatass self would do without you. Thank you Project X Team for organizing great events with great people, and getting me out and about all around Hong Kong for wall climbing. Thank you Brownstone Management, the team that keeps the family business in order back in NY, so that I don’t have to worry about it anymore. There’s so much else to thank in this world, but I just noticed my word count exceeding 1200 — so I’ll just end this with a general thank you Earth, Life and Love. It’s amazing what the human spirit is capable of, and I hope that as I embark on this second year in HK, I can give back even half of what I’ve received.