This one time, in Hong Kong….
It’s the sentence I dread slipping out. I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about my time spent living in Hong Kong but having moved back after three years away, I’m conscious of sounding like one of those friends who lived abroad and ‘found themselves’. But as I approach the three month mark of being back home, Hong Kong is slipping away and I’m not entirely convinced that I’ve taken time to think about what that means.
I’ve written and read a lot of blog posts about starting new adventures, rating Thailand beaches, exploring side streets of Tokyo, forgetting nights out in the Philippines, but the process of moving home isn’t something as commonly written about. My friend (who is currently about to leave Hong Kong too) sent me a link to this blog post the other day and it inspired me to write my own. It’s a moving piece and speaks a lot of truths but I found it quite negative compared to my personal experience.
I had no intentions of ever moving back to the UK. I was set up to stay in Hong Kong for the foreseeable future. I moved there as a timid, unsure, young adult, who was terrified of being alone and was stuck in an unloving relationship. After a messy breakup, meeting an amazing group of friends and getting a brand new chance at life, I felt on top of the world. In November last year I took my biggest leap so far and travelled to Japan on my own. I was a little nervous (mostly due to bad organisation and an even worse hangover) but I did it and I spent a week on my own and had the time of my life. When I got back to Hong Kong I realised I was done. Achievement unlocked. I hadn’t gone there wanting to ‘find anything’ or even thought that I needed to change myself but I did. Hong Kong had served its purpose and I was ready to leave.
All of a sudden, the next big chapter and adventure in my life was coming home and returning to the familiar and, believe me, that’s far more terrifying than moving abroad. Would everyone see that I’ve changed? Would they think I act different? Would I fit in? Was the normality I was craving going to be a huge let down? Would I feel trapped? Would I regret it?
No matter how much character building, soul searching, life sorting I felt that I had done in my three years away, I still came back feeling a bit like I was three years behind everyone else. People are high up in their jobs, engaged, buying houses, having babies. And it’s not like they’re not still travelling, they’re all having amazing holidays, fairly frequently, so I don’t even really have that as my Trump card.
I was worried no one would see how much I’ve changed or how I have had to deal with real life situations a long way from home. The ‘teaching’, the beaches, the boat parties and the hideous hangovers all look easy – they are the only things that make an appearance on social media. You don’t see the nights I was checking into a windowless guest house because I’d left my boyfriend of 8 years, or the times I tried to negotiate with colleagues in our minimal understanding of each other’s languages. You don’t see the times my boss tried to chat me up or the 6 day weeks which consumed all of my sunlight hours Monday to Saturday. Life in Hong Kong is far from doom and gloom but it’s not always the magical picture that you see on Instagram.
But, as it turns out, we’re all fumbling through ours 20s in our own way. My friends back home are all dealing with their own stuff, they’re too busy to be comparing. They think it’s great that I’ve travelled and lived abroad, they think it’s even better that I’ve come back. Life goes on. As long as you’re happy, that’s all you and anybody else cares about.
I’m luckier than some. Here in the UK I have friends and family who are from Hong Kong or well travelled, who understand the itchy feet syndrome and don’t see it as a ‘phase’. I think the fact that I stayed in one place for three years helped. It’s longer than I’ve ever lived in one city before and people have realised that it wasn’t just a gap yahhh, it was my home, my everything for a third of my adult life.
Settling back in is pretty easy. You run around trying to see everyone in the first few weeks and then there’s a bit of a lull. I made a start on my new job while I was still in Hong Kong so within three days of arriving in the UK I was back to work. I’m currently writing this from my new flat back in Sheffield where the majority of my friends still are. Through some careful planning, it all fell into place quite nicely. It’s mostly weird because it’s not actually weird at all.
I miss my Hong Kong friends and I miss the hum of that city. I miss seeing that incredible sky line every day and getting lost in the maze of the street markets. I miss the kids that I taught and my amazing colleagues. I miss Iced Lemon Tea full of sugar and eating everything with chopsticks. I miss one handed number counting and attempting to barter with the vegetable lady in broken Cantonese. I miss gin on the harbour front and climbing above the smog in the countryside. I’ve said it before but there really is nowhere else in the world like Hong Kong.
I have no regrets moving back. Everything that I wanted from being back in England is here and waiting. It’s okay that I don’t quite have it 100% figured out – who ever does? Living abroad has given me a new frame of mind that doesn’t see any opportunity as impossible or scary. I know now that I can take on anything. I don’t feel trapped moving home, there has been no let down and I fit in just fine. I’ve realised that the only thing that can stop me from doing something is me. I never want to stop adventuring, big or small, and moving back home isn’t going to change that.