Monthly Archives: August 2014

More Confused

I told myself I would give New York a full year evaluation in the same way I had promised when I came to Hong Kong.  That is, I need to see New York (as I did with Hong Kong beginning back in September 2009) in every season before I knew what I thought of it. I am nearing the first quarter of this evaluation (it started June 1st for me despite having returned in late April, since I travelled much of May), and I am frankly more confused than ever. My transition back into a New Yorker started out pretty well, actually.  After my London visit, where I pre-panicked about my return, things actually turned out better than expected: After toying around with my morning commute, I quickly discovered that the 45 minute bus-train combo was far more predictable and easy than I thought (and ditched the less predictable US$6 express bus into midtown).

  • I discovered I could borrow e-books from the New York Public Library, which I began reading on a US$20 tablet that I got on promotion at a local shop in my neighborhood (score!).  This has made my commute amazing and I have been reading loads (something I’ve come to love as an adult).
  • Very critically, I also found the perfect gym for me –  one that had workouts as brutal as the awesome boot camp I had only joined in my last weeks in HK, with just as awesome a group of trainers and gym goers that suited my location and schedule. Ding! Those who know me know that without the right fitness routine, I just can’t cope with anything.
  • Work was exciting – it would never be like my job in HK, but I was receiving a lot of support around me to develop my cross-border HK-US practice.  AND I brought in my very first client (!!) — Americans who were dissatisfied with local counsel in HK, handling a regulatory investigation and related litigation.
  • Home life was going smoother than I thought it would, and I was making good progress in finding high quality and AFFORDABLE home renovations!
  • PLUS dating was surprisingly EASY! I just joined a website called Coffee Meets Bagel that essentially was perfect for someone who was lazy about dating (you get just one match a day, and if you mutually “Like” someone, you get an opportunity to communicate anonymously, and potentially set up a date).  I learned something from the bad dates, and was pleasantly surprised by a good date.

So what happened? I suddenly decided to come back to Hong Kong for a visit just three months after leaving.   I was allowed to work from the HK office, back at my old desk, even working on one of my old cases.  Plus, the new matter I’d brought in needed some TLC from HK that I could not do properly from NY.  And finally, I had personal reasons that contributes to my present confusion.

Coming back to HK, I felt like I was coming home again.  It was my home for almost 5 years after all.  It was super familiar, especially as I was staying in my old neighborhood of Sheung Wan (something I’ll always do on future trips, since I just know it so well and love the feeling of familiarity, plus being right next door to some of my best friends in HK).

It was bloody hot and humid, but something I craved since NY’s summer has been extremely Fall-like. I got to try loads of new restaurants that opened just when I left – some hits (Mott 32, Ho Lee Fook, Ding Dim), some misses (Man Mo Café), in addition to many old favorites (the congee on Queens Road Central, the always tasty Chachawan).  As much as I might complain about the abysmal Western food, Hong Kong’s Asian cuisine definitely reigns supreme in creativity and quality.  I enjoyed some of the “extreme” fun that expats tend to enjoy in HK (just living life to its fullest), and could go to a beautiful beach within 20 minutes at a moment’s notice.

But besides the personal/private thing, working in HK just turned me around and upside down. Whereas I was mainly doing business development in NY, I was billing a load of substantive hours from HK suddenly.  It was a drastic contrast to what I’d been doing in NY, and I missed working with my boss terribly (he might read this (embarrassingly, he’s discovered this blog and deduced my identity some time ago), so I won’t indulge his ego too much, though he knows well how much I adore him).  Worse, one of the US based projects I was working on remotely, was not very well managed when it came to me, and I felt frustrated and worried that I was letting down the client and making a terrible impression on my new US colleagues.

The HK office was buzzing with interesting activity, and I miss that extra step of excitement and crazy that my HK cases tend to take on.  During one of my client meetings, as my client was describing some recent events involving wire taps and listening devices, I just thought to myself how much this real case that I was handling seemed like a legal thriller, and thought, “I hope I don’t get killed!”

Then just a week after coming back to NY, I saw one of my boss’ cases made front page news again. I miss my work and my colleagues in HK.  It just excited me in a way that my work in NY never did, and after my recent trip, I am confused more than ever, wondering if that’s where I need to be.

But no – I’m committed to the one year evaluation plan.  I need to be here.  Besides, there’s lots going on that I must attend to and accomplish here. And if I really can pull off the cross-border practice, then who knows, maybe I actually can “have it all” (even if I stopped believing in that phrase a number of years now).  Let’s see… (almost) one quarter, three to go.

HK Solicitors Stood Up

After organizing a legal sector march, solicitors went ahead and organized an extraordinary general meeting (“EGM”) to urge Law Society president Ambrose Lam step down for his very pro-Beijing/anti-Hong Kong comments in support of the recent controversial white paper.

In response, Mr. Lam has resigned as Law Society president, and it seems there are people in Hong Kong ready to fight back against actions that impact its steps towards democracy.

And yet, my outlook on Hong Kong remains pessimistic and fearful. I left HK about 4 months ago, and as much as I still love HK, and as enticing as so many things about HK still is for me (more on that later),  I just can’t see my long term future there.  I still see something dark and scary looming ahead.

I’ve recently read (and nearly at the end of the second novel) a two-novel historical fiction, “Shanghai Girls” and “Dreams of Joy”, by Lisa See, about WWII and post-war China, and the Chinese American immigrant experience.  I did not expect much from the novels.  I just picked up the first novel at random at a thrift shop, looking for something interesting to read.

I related quite a lot to the first book, which focused on the immigration of two sisters from Shanghai, escaping Japanese terrorism, their experiences at Angel Island, and the difficulties faced in LA’s Chinatown.  I had heard a lot about these experiences from my family, and studied a lot about the Chinese American experience in college.

The second novel, has more to do with the Great Leap Forward in China, and Mao’s scare tactics and methods to weaken and frighten the masses to achieve his goals — something I’m unfortunately not as familiar with.  For some scary reason, I did not think Communist China has changed very much since these days, except that millions are no longer starving to death in the way they once did, and that capitalism has made its own way into Red China. Today you still have a large population of people who feel no trust in the media and what news they hear, and feel an urgent need to always compete for resources and goods. 

I digress on these novels because the contents have really gotten me thinking about the future of Hong Kong, as it enters into its next stage.  I even wonder if I really want to keep up my cross-border practice, and fear what that means for me. Though my “Asia practice” is primarily about Hong Kong, what will happen to Hong Kong law in 2047? In 2027?

And what about Big Brother China? Modern China is becoming something even scarier, I’m afraid.  The memory and fear of death by starvation is still strong in most older Chinese, yet the young have no clue about earning your keep, being the completely spoiled “little emperors” they are. There is still a fairly heavy restriction on Western goods, but Chinese are now allowed finally to travel and go buy those goods (in huge quantities) outside.  Corruption is still high among the upper classes, and yet there is a fast growing middle class that just want more than ever. 

While these recent actions, especially the solidarity of HK solicitors, warms my heart, I am still afraid for HK.

I hope my fellow solicitors don’t stop fighting, and don’t look the other way. There are huge challenges ahead.