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.