Suddenly Hong Kong Feels Like HOME and America Does Not — What Happened?

Hong Kong is where I'm supposed to wrestle with life right now. And I couldn't be happier.
Publish date:
June 13, 2016
home, living abroad, anxiety, America, Chinese American, Hong Kong

An unwitting tourist recently bore the brunt of my renewed “I LOVE HONG KONG” enthusiasm.

Walking through the Central district, on a busy Saturday afternoon, a pair of American-sounding tourists stopped me to ask for directions to a temple. I assume they overheard me yammering on to Mr. Louise about how amazing Vegetable Cat II (my favorite wet market cat who lives on a veggie cart near a breakfast joint we frequent) is.

Getting stopped by English-speaking tourists is a fairly common thing for me. While I’m not really a loud-talker, I tend to gesticulate like a Muppet, and people notice. Then they hear the English, and then they approach.

While I’m usually pretty reserved with strangers, these tourists had the luck/misfortune of catching me while still riding the wave of my “I’m Back in Hong Kong Isn’t Life Flippin’ Fantastic?” euphoria.

It was like I flew up out of my body, I COULDN’T STOP TALKING:

“Just keep going this way down Queen’s Road. You’ll pass this great ‘noodle and hot dog place’ on the right that you should definitely check out if you’re hungry. You’ll pass a bunch of Chinese medicine shops that are really worth, at the very least, pausing to look in the windows. Such a great part of this area! I walk down this road almost everyday! I love it! Anyway, you keep winding down Queen’s Road for a bit, and when you hit the McDonald’s by the shop with little crabs in bundles by the sidewalk — that shop is so very Hong Kong, you should definitely look at the sponges, and fruit treats, if you get a chance, it’s always so exciting to see what they have in stock! — there will be a long, tall set of stone steps on your left. There’s a closed up tea shop near the base of the steps. Go all the way up those steps, and you’ll run right into the temple. You’ll smell the incense. The temple is so special, I love that you’re visiting it. Have SO MUCH FUN!”

Wave-wave-wave-smile! I’ve been told I wave like Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, in case you need a visual (fingers spread, left to right, like it’s my job).

The couple, whose eyes were wide like horses spooked by a fire, thanked me, smiled, and toddled down Queen’s Road.

I know I have the ability to overwhelm people sometimes, but looking at my husband’s face, his raised eyebrows and mouth frozen in a tiny, little “o” shape, I realized that I had fully unleashed my joie de vivre on those two tourists. Maybe they liked it? Maybe I enhanced their vacation experience? Maybe I gave them a story to tell their friends?

WHATEVER! Who’s happy to be home? THIS GAL!

And yes I did say HOME. And I mean it.

Landing in Hong Kong after a month in America, my husband and I shared one of those moments that is crystallized in my memory. Walking out of the airplane, getting hit by the heat, humidity, and that distinctly Hong Kong smell of earth, sweat and city, my husband and I turned to each other and smiled. “We’re home,” I said.

Though a part of me mourned for the holiday we’d left behind us, there was a peace to being back in our adopted city. My roots burrowed a little bit deeper into the concrete that day. There’s going back to the place you live, and there’s going home.

But being back in Hong Kong, skipping around the city on rainbows and egg tarts, the realization that Hong Kong feels like home is slightly shadowed by the fact that America no longer does. Well, not quite.

Don’t get me wrong. America will always be my country, its trials and tribulations nearest and dearest to my heart. And while I will most likely end up living there again someday, at this point in my life, in the way that I approach people, the world, and my priorities, America feels foreign.

I thought I would slide back into my completely American Self while I was on my holiday, but for the entirety of my four weeks in the US, I felt as if I was just-a-little-bit self correcting all the time.

Fitting in, feeling like I was part of the group consciousness, wasn’t so easy. It was an effort at times. Beyond language, beyond common experience, something in me had changed.

I can’t quite nail down what that change is yet. Maybe some of you who have lived away from your home country for longer can help me put words to it?

Whatever it is, it hurt a little bit. While I don’t think I’ve lost a part of myself, a part of myself is certainly hibernating; maybe napping in a little cocoon undergoing some mid-30s metamorphosis.

I did not find ease until I came back to Hong Kong.

Many of you may remember that this peace I now experience in Hong Kong has been hard won. While Hong Kong has pulled at my guts and at my deepest memories from the moment I set foot here during a trip last year, the transition to actually living here was not easy. My first months here were riddled with anxiety, self-doubt, and fear.

This year so far has had the highest highs, and lowest lows. Living in Hong Kong gave me purpose, gave me professional goals to work toward, helped me find the courage to admit formerly frightening truths about myself like, "Yes, I am talented. Yes, I am good at what I do.” I finally think I can clearly see who I am at this point in time, without having to push aside the overgrowth of Imposter Syndrome that used to plague me.

But also, my anxiety spiked higher and harder than it has since I learned that “anxiety” was actually “a thing”. My heart was broken in two by the death of my darling cat, my companion, Brandy. I put my identity as a Chinese American through the wringer (an experience I didn't know I was craving).

I’ve cried more fiercely for reasons and no reasons than I’ve ever cried before.

But I don’t regret a single moment. My life here has been watered by tears of joy and sorrow. Maybe that makes for the most fertile soil in which to grow a life?

Looking back, it’s always the places that cut me the deepest that became the dearest to me.

So here I am. This time, when I came back to Hong Kong, I feel like I got the “homecoming” I’ve always dreamed of from this place.

The first time I came “home” to Hong Kong, I felt over my head, I felt afraid. I can say that now.

But this time, while this city still frightens me a little (all of my favorite cities do), it’s a healthy fear I enjoy walking hand-in-hand with. I’m supposed to be here right now. This where I’m happy to wrestle with life.

This is where I’m home.