Life in Hong Kong, 11-Month Update

~1,800 words to follow…

It’s been about 4 months since the last update. Between then and now, I’ve tried to write some more substantial posts, but other than a couple of entries on Adventure 2012 and some photos here and there, I haven’t been able to churn out anything meaty in the past few months. I’ll try to explain why, and perhaps change the trend, with this update.

At the time of the last update, it seemed like our lives were finally settling down and stabilizing. Although I didn’t know what was coming next, I did know that one of the things I had to do first was to get my sleeping schedule back to normal. The other thing I wanted to do was to finish posting about Adventure 2012; I had been in a race with myself to see if I could finish posting about each destination before its one-year anniversary, and I was winning that race, writing about our visit to the Glenfiddich Distillery with more than a couple of weeks to go. In the middle of writing that post, the unexpected happened.

September 30, 2013

It was a Monday afternoon in Hong Kong, and Sunday night in San Francisco. I had just finished some contract work for an ex-colleague of mine so I thought I’d WhatsApp with my family for a bit to unwind. It was then that I found out that my other cousin, the sister of the one who had passed away in 2012, had only a short time left to live.

Although I wasn’t as close to NLG as I was to her brother, we still all lived together in the same house when my family first moved to the U.S. It was my family, my cousins NLG and NVG, and my Aunt J. We were all pretty close during my adolescent years, even after my family moved into our own place, spending weekends, holidays, and birthdays together. As I’ve mentioned before, they taught me a lot about growing up in America. For some reason or another, once I went to college things changed and we didn’t spend much time together anymore.

Back in the Day
Back in the day… yes, I was a fat kid

Aunt J was diagnosed with and died from cancer while I was in college. I never went to see her, partly because I was busy at school, but mainly because I was afraid to see my once-strong aunt withering away. My family would go see her and relay to me her condition, and one time they told me that she understood my reasons for not seeing her. Still, if I had to do it over again, I would have gone and seen Aunt J at least once before she died.

For both Aunt J’s and NVG’s passings I was absent, and now, the last connection between these two families from opposite sides of the world that had somehow found themselves living together way back when was fading, and I was once again not present.

I wanted to be around my family and to see my cousin one last time, but the chance of her surviving the night was slim and last-minute plane tickets were not going to be cheap. We looked at our usual websites for tickets, and the ones which were available were going for ridiculous amounts like $10,000. I wondered if it was destiny that I should live with the fact that I had not said goodbye to any of them.

Back After 7 Months

Back in San Francisco after 7 months, I noted to JC while riding our cab home how strange it was that everything seemed so, normal. Returning from much shorter trips in the past, there was always a period of readjustment, of getting used to cars being on a different side of the road, getting used to seeing people of different ethnic groups. But not this time. It was as if we had never left. I sat quietly and looked out the window as the cab sped up 101.

We went upstairs and my family welcomed us home. I wanted to know whether we had made it back in time. Sadly, the answer was no. She had passed away just as we were boarding our flight. Like my father, her mother, and her brother, she left before her time. I was shocked when I was reminded of her age, because I had always thought of her as a lot older than I was; she didn’t make 40.

Despite not being able to see my cousin one final time, it was good to simply be present and be around my family for moral support. Over the next couple of weeks, we spent a lot of time with our families, cherishing the opportunity, maximizing the short time that we were there. We did the things that we had missed doing while being in Hong Kong, such as eating VH, pho, and Mexican food, going to Costco, and barbecuing. I did a lot of walking around the city, flashing back to the times when I was growing up there, noticing little differences between SF and HK like how the sidewalks were paved, how the sewer grates were shaped, how life is basically the same, yet different. At one point, I would have been content to just abandon everything in Hong Kong and stay in San Francisco.

Life Goes On
The former Army St., now known as Cesar Chavez St. Life goes on…

Of course, life goes on and on the anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake, we boarded a flight back to Hong Kong. It was Saturday morning when we arrived, and everything was familiar, from the process of deboarding and going through immigration, to riding the Airport Express, to the taxi ride home. We felt none of the excitement or newness that we used to feel as visitors to Hong Kong. We don’t know when it actually happened, but we realized for the first time that we were bona fide Hong Kongers.

The Last 3 Months

That brings us to the last 3 months and why I haven’t posted much. When I was in America, I focused on being with family. Our first week back, it was trying to recover from jet lag. Our second week back, I sprained my ankle badly while trying to show up an asshat on the basketball court (talk about adding injury to insult). Then, the week after that was the 17th anniversary of my father’s death. All these things combined to put me into a state where all I wanted to do was play video games and stay up late, and that’s all I did for the first few weeks of November.

In the last week of November, I started a 2-week contract job that turned out to be an adventure in mismanagement. The first few days I showed up on time and ready to work, only to sit around and do nothing. Eventually, I realized there was a disconnect between the project manager who was based in a different country and the actual staff here in Hong Kong, and that nothing was going to happen in my remaining time there. I got myself out as soon as I could. Later, I found out from the other guy who was there that he ended up sitting around for the rest of the 2 weeks.

With the holidays and family visiting in December and early January, my time was filled with holiday shopping, gatherings, and eating. Once the Christmas holiday was over, JC resumed her new job that she started in December and I’ve become a stay-at-home husband, taking care of household cleaning, preparing meals, and performing other domestic tasks. In between, I’ve tried to play more basketball in order to work off all that holiday food (and alcohol) and to rehab my ankle. Overall, my days have been full and time has flown by (for example, I started this post on Monday, and now it’s almost Friday).

Typing on the Court
Typing this post on the basketball court…

The Future

Life in Hong Kong has opened my eyes to a lot of things. When I’m doing my chores or going through my workout routine on the basketball court, my mind is filled with observations and questions about life. Is this all there is to life? What’s the point of living? In Hong Kong, I have observed that for a lot of people, it’s all about the pursuit of dollars, and ultimately home ownership. Work hours are long but the (financial) rewards are there if you are hungry enough. My issue is that I don’t feel hungry at all.

Admittedly, our move to Hong Kong is not what I originally thought it would be. Back when I first thought about moving here, I was deep into the self-important role that I had at my previous job. I was the IT guy, making sure everything was running smoothly. I was starting a transition into operations. I knew the ins and outs of how things worked at my workplace. Yeah, I thought I was pretty important, and I thought that if I moved to Hong Kong, I would simply pick up where I left off. That was my original premise for moving to Hong Kong. I would kick ass here just like I kicked ass back home.

When we finally and actually did move to Hong Kong, things were a little different. It had been over a year since I’d had the original thought. I had spent 6 months winding down my position at work. I had done Adventure 2012. I had moved back home for a few months. I had experienced life other than work. The thing I remember most about being at work is coming home at the end of the day being dead-tired and not having the energy to do anything else. It was actually me whose ass was being kicked. By the time I moved to Hong Kong, I didn’t want to do it anymore.

I had kept a list of all the things I wanted to do when work was over. For the past year and 8 months, I’ve been doing those things. I mean, just look at the uptick in posts here beginning May 2012. I finally finished StarCraft. I’ve exercised and gotten into great shape. I have time to read books and magazines. I started seriously looking at learning languages. I don’t want to give up these things, but my money is running out.

Speaking of money, the ironic thing is that if I hadn’t done all that shit that I’m loathe to do now, I wouldn’t be able to afford to live the way I do now. That’s another thing I’ve observed in Hong Kong: pragmatism. At the end of the day, you have to eat, and nobody is going to hand you any food if you’re just sitting around reading magazines. If you have no money (which I will, soon), you have to go work and make money. Idealism, naiveté, and savings will only take you so far, and sooner or later, you’ll have to get a job like everyone else. Although I don’t want to jump back into the fray, that contract job back in November showed me that I’ve still got it. As I’ve said before, I won’t starve, but is there a way to find food other than the old 9-to-5-plus-OT? I guess we’ll find out…