OLQE Update

And it’s official – the 2015 OLQE will now include a sixth head on the Basic Law (i.e., Hong Kong constitutional law).  So if you were hoping to get away with not having to study for this, then I’m sorry!

 

6 Months In

Christmas Eve – I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown by! I’m actually sitting in the (New York) office, unable to focus on the massive last minute work I have to get to, so instead I will take a time to reflect.

I’ve now been back in the U.S. for more than 6 months (that’s counting the overseas travel too) and so far my repatriation process has really been a series of ups and downs.  Certainly from the start, I had a feeling of panic – “what have I done!?!” and could not wait to go back to Hong Kong the moment I could.

That desire to go back was so strong, that instead of waiting wistfully for an excuse, I just made up my mind to head over there “just because.”  So within 3 months of exiting Hong Kong immigration for the last time as a proper resident, I was back.

The trip was like wrapping myself in a blanket of comfort and familiarity, but it probably took me a step back in my repatriation process, since I was meant to be forcing myself into this transition of going back into what should be (and will again be) familiar, by first stepping through several layers of unfamiliarity.

But I’m stubborn.  Plus, I admit I was just being a bit of a romantic in going back. I was following a feeling – something that led me to Hong Kong and all the necessary life growth that came with it in the first place.  It’s at once crazy, perhaps brave, and definitely impetuous – but I suppose that’s who I’ve become — quite a 180 from the conservative, play-it-by-the-book, always wanting to please nerd-type I was when growing up.

When I came back from my first return trip to HK (I say first, because a second one is coming up very quickly actually), I felt worse.  Work was extremely slow in NY (it was August though), and I kept longing for the South China Morning Post headline cases I knew my boss was working on in Hong Kong without me.  I had said dating had picked up in NY, but the person I met before my HK hiatus didn’t exactly want to wait for me (NY goes by a totally different watch, and if you are not present for just a week, well you can consider yourself gone), and in the meantime a piece of my heart had been left behind in HK.

But then I filled up my longing with travels across the US, spanning from the Northeast to the Southwest, visiting some of my very best friends, catching up with babies who are now toddlers, attending a pair of weddings, making new work connections, and even patching up one frayed friendship.  It was a pretty productive time in that sense, and of course I was loving the regular contact with my family.

While my progress professionally has been slow, it’s getting there.  In addition to adding more matters for my first client, I was part of a successful pitch to a big client in China, and had been given a shot to prove myself to one of the firm’s more prominent regulatory partners.  I still don’t see myself as a traditional “BigLaw” lawyer, but I’m happily looking to finding my way.

And with all this US momentum finally gathering again, of course I have a trip to Hong Kong scheduled in about ten days’ time! Of course!

And the strange thing is that this time I’m not as anxious to roll back into Victoria Harbour. I feel a little regret in making these plans – it’s a bit of a dent to the things I’ve been working on in NY (I’ll be in the midst of a filing deadline for a Missouri based case from the other side of the world, and once again gambling on whether or not another nice person I’d just met will wait for me); and in all (expected) actuality – life is moving on in Hong Kong WITHOUT ME! I just found out that I won’t be sitting at my old desk as I did before, and won’t even be able to sit in my own team since we are adding a “new hire”!

When I heard about this “new hire” I was just gutted. I knew I was wrong to feel upset, but given how rare and selective my team is about hiring laterals, I thought there was no way I could be “replaced”! Of course, that would be unfair thinking – I did leave and life must go on. I was being a bit immature – much like the person who breaks up with you and then cannot tolerate there being someone new in your life either.

Fortunately, I got over that sore feeling – especially when I heard the “new hire” was a secondee from the London office, who was not staying permanently.  Instead of there being a new “significant other” it was more like a cousin moving in temporarily.  That I could handle.

In other news, another of my greatest friends of Hong Kong has finally made concrete plans to also repatriate, and by the third time I come round to Hong Kong (I get a feeling there will be more visits) this friend, who had become a rock for me in HK, won’t be there.  She was the kind of friend you could call on randomly for an impromptu visit that would end up spanning the day, taking you to random places, ingesting and imbibing an assortment of goodies, and making exquisite purchases you’d never make on your own.  That’s the kind of friend that’s surely always with you no matter where in the world you are, but still, I will miss having her in my second home of Hong Kong.

But the truth is – life is always in flux, and I need to accept that I’ve left Hong Kong. I do and I don’t. On the one hand I’m getting back into practicing US law, and yet  I carry on with a cross-border practice, with a focus on business development aimed at providing HK advice to US-based clients; I’m reconnecting and meeting people in NY, and yet I find it so hard to let go of special emotions I have associated with HK.

The best advice I’ve heard so far as to how to deal with this – just go with the flow.  Right now the flow goes every which way, even up against itself.  So all I can do is just tolerate the turbulence for now.

The End of Occupy… For Now

Having written a few posts on the Occupy Hong Kong protests, I thought it responsible to round it out and mention the uneventful end of the movement, 75 days later.  The whole thing just seemed to lose direction, focus, and steam.

  • The three main leaders of the movement apparently turned themselves in (but were not detained).
  • Public sentiment was not supportive of the movement, as businesses lost money.
  • Joshua Wong, the main face of the student movement, went on hunger strike, but had to quit after 4.5 days at his doctor’s insistence.
  • The government continued to do basically nothing.

Did something come out of all this? We can all still wonder.  There had been international attention – but not enough to really do anything. Even China turning away British politicians attempting to visit HK to investigate the protest situation sadly resulted in nothing.

And I admit, I also lost enthusiasm in following the current events.

75 days in, HK Police finally cleared out the protest camps, but signs were left saying the movement would be back.  Will they?

In the days since the clear-out, new signs (like the first banner that lasted on Lion Rock for just a short while) of an ongoing flame carry on, but who knows now what will be.  And commentary continues to be published in Hong Kong and elsewhere about how the public’s discontent in other areas, such as housing, must be addressed.

I head to HK in a few weeks again, actually, and am sorry to have missed the protest sites and the improved air pollution situation.  But perhaps there will be another chance to see a democracy movement in HK, since I doubt 200 square foot flats (at exorbitant prices no less) can cure the burning desire for “true universal suffrage.”

Last Travels of the Year…Scouting Out a New Move?

October has been a busy month of travels for me.  I’ve visited friends and family in DC, Virginia, Boston, Tucson and now LA.  Luckily for me, I have been able to combine a significant amount of that travel with work, as my multi-office firm has locations (sometimes more than one) in a whole lot of cities across the US and I also have had the flexibility to work from anywhere I please.

America is an amazing country, and I know there is still so much for me to see.  Up in Boston I enjoyed revisiting my old college campus, noting how nerds never change, and admiring the gorgeous colors of the Autumn leaves that you never see in a sub-tropical place like Hong Kong.  In DC I loved the preppiness of all the wannabe politicos working in our great capitol.  In Tucson I was in complete awe of the incredible flora of the Southwest and definitely plan to revisit in the not too distant future.

And now I am in LA, and really surprised by just how much I like it! I mean traditionally New Yorkers hate Los Angeles, and vice versa, but c’mon, I’ve lived in Hong Kong for the past 5 years, of course I am going to completely fall in love with any city with warmer temperatures, the mountains and the sea within reach, and loads of Asian people.  And even better – there’s no humidity and relatively less pollution (I know it’s still one of the worst in the US, but sorry, LA pollution  ain’t got nothing on just about any Chinese city).

I’ve barely gone out to check out normal life here, but there is something about sunshine that seems to make life that much more bearable.  So far as I can tell, there is just this lightness at the office that makes me take notice of the weightiness of NY corporate life and understand why everyone keeps saying California is that much more chilled out.  And as I already mentioned, I just love that as I walk down the hall I keep seeing Asian surname after Asian surname.  Plus, if you really can’t deal with the traffic, the empty offices suggest no one will force you to deal with it either!

Is it crazy that I could totally see myself living here? I suppose once you’ve picked up and moved one time, you are a lot more susceptible or open to doing it again.  So far as I can tell I’ve got everything I could need here – amazing weather, nature within reach, delicious and healthy food, and loads of Asians, BUT, and it’s a big one, horrific nearly non-existent public transport.

Could I really go from max efficiency (HK) to the walking city of NY to this?! I don’t know… but if the trade-up is beautiful weather, a laid back working environment, and being within reach of incredible beaches and mountains… well, let’s just say my mind is open.

Day 6 of Occupy Hong Kong, and the Heat is On

Of course I’ve been following the events as they unfold in Hong Kong carefully – it’s similar to the time of the Boston Marathon bombings, and I felt equally as gripped and insistent on knowing everything first hand.  Instead of twitter, I turn to reddit for up-to-date news this time.

Facebook also continues to be where I turn to first thing to see what’s being posted, and I am proud to say many of my friends have been involved first-hand.  One friend sadly experienced the tear gas that incited the greater turn-outs on Oct 1st, and today I feel myself tearing up as I see footage of the violence that is finally unleashing – not by the peaceful students of Scholarism or HKFS, or even the Occupy Central group, but by those against them – now sporting blue ribbons in solidarity.

The violence is so extreme, and yet the police don’t seem to be reacting to them – there’s no tear gas or pepper spray here, where actual assaults are occurring, often targeting young students.  It is outrageous and frightening.

Change is painful – no matter what that change is for, it is never easy; so while I feel bad that the Hang Seng continues to drop, and local businesses are losing millions over these past few days, that transport is rerouted, and basic services and needs like hospitalization and emergency services may also suffer – this moment in time is special, and HK has it in her to endure it and come out stronger.

I am a pessimist when it comes to China – I’ve often spoken here and elsewhere of my negative outlook; and I can’t imagine what Xi Jinping can do now without tripping all of China up – but I am hoping.

To my one-time home (with hopes of it being a two-time home certainly dwindling), I am doing all I can from New York to support you – I’m wearing my yellow ribbon (without fear of being attacked, as many are in HK); I’ve attended a rally in support of your cause in Times Square, and I’m sharing as many posts on social media as I can to spread the news.  Stay true Hong Kong!

It’s On

Talks of the Occupy Central movement have been going on for quite some time, and there was speculation that the main movement would not happen until this October 1st – National Day.  But university students across HK, including some secondary students, have begun their own protests – a 5-day boycott from attending class, and sit-ins that moved from university campuses to government offices.

Then last night the protests started to come to a serious head – tear gas was launched, in addition to more pepper spray, rubber bullets, baton beatings, and word of tanks too.  I’m certain tomorrow I will once again be glued to the SCMP Live Feed on the events, and wondering what’s going on, feeling a tinge emotional about a country that really isn’t mine.

Personally, I don’t believe anyone in Hong Kong will get Beijing to change its position as stated in its ridiculous White Paper, which severely limits the promised 2017 universal suffrage; but if only someone OUTSIDE Hong Kong would take notice – then we might have something happen.  Of course, Beijing has already warned that it would not tolerate any outside “interference,” and yet this is the only real threat to China that can be made.

Hong Kong is where it is because it’s the only real “safe” entrée to China.  There you have rule of law, a high degree of transparency, a regulatory framework (even if I’m not too keen about it), and other plusses – like (supposed) free speech and media.  It’s why people dare to go to China.  Without HK, a lot fewer businesses would dare take the chances of working in a place which really lacks all of the above.  Yes, China is big business – it’s billions of people, i.e., billions of consumers, and hence, billions of big bucks – but will it be worth it without law or transparency?

These protests will either start changing foreign views on this secure vantage point and cause many to reduce their operations in HK and China, or it will cause these foreigners to also speak up, seeing their dollars at great risk.  And as they say, it’s money that talks.

The outside world needs to know what is going on and speak up for HK.  Don’t let China fool you! I was just shared an image of Chinese media on the recent protests – whose headline read, “tens of thousands come out to celebrate National Day, supporting the legal interpretation of universal suffrage policy.”

If you won’t speak up for HK for the sake of its people, abandoned by the Brits, as many feel, then speak up for your Chinese investments and mega-bucks. One way or the other, these protests, which are ongoing now, shows us loud and clear that the iron fist of Beijing is really on in Hong Kong.

I’ll be following this carefully and thinking of the poor students, and now the other occupiers.

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.