Another 3 months have gone by. In the previous update we had just completed 3 months of staying at home and were on our way to Hong Kong. I asked myself a few questions then: will we survive? Will we thrive? How will we adjust? After spending our first 3 months in Hong Kong, let’s see how we’ve done.
Have we survived?
I suppose this is a silly question because one might be inclined to answer “of course.” We’re alive, we’re not starving, and we have a place to live. Hong Kong is a modern city, and it’s not difficult to survive in a place like this as long as you have the means. That sort of leads us to the next question, because survival can be defined in many ways, and one can survive without necessarily thriving (in Hong Kong, I see plenty of people who survive but do not thrive).
Have we thrived?
Depending on how you look at it, we’ve definitely thrived. We have creature comforts that we’re used to such as our flat-screen TV, PS3, microwave oven, and new comforts such as air conditioning, a dehumidifier, and even a bread maker. We eat pretty well, I haven’t really cut back too much on Scotch and beer, and there are good restaurants all around us. I’m exercising much more than I had been. Lastly, and this is the biggest one: we don’t work (notice how I didn’t say we don’t have to work).
Another way to look at it is that no, we’re not thriving, because we’re living on borrowed time. Many of the things I described above cost money, and money runs out. Because we have no income, we have to be careful how we spend. That specter is always hovering over us. We think twice or even three times before buying something as trivial as a newspaper. At this point, we know we can’t keep doing what we’re doing or else we’ll use up our savings. It is unsustainable. I wouldn’t call living an unsustainable lifestyle “thriving.”
So, two perspectives. It’s good to be positive and look at things from the former, but one must also be realistic and look at them from the latter. We’d probably be fooling ourselves if we said that we were currently thriving, but to be fair the answer to the question actually remains to be seen, because our life now is not how we envisioned living in Hong Kong to be (retirement maybe, but not living). The process is incomplete, we’re not there yet, so we can’t judge whether or not we’re thriving. That leads us to the next question.
How have we adjusted?
It would seem that we have adjusted to everything other than work, which at the end of the day means we have actually adjusted to very little. Work takes up most people’s waking hours and affects a large part of their daily lives. Until we have landed full time jobs and become acclimated to those jobs, our lives will still be in a transitional state, and we won’t be able to say we’ve completely adjusted to life in Hong Kong.
For me, it has been difficult trying to take the first step into complete adjustment (JC’s done much better, having already landed two jobs, but more on that later). I suppose this isn’t just a Hong Kong thing because I would have had to make the adjustment anywhere, but Hong Kong’s reputation for long work hours and work-centric lifestyles definitely makes it more difficult for me to transition from the carefree life of the past year to having to start making a living again. I am reluctant to give up my time, my freedom. I am afraid that once I get a job (especially here in Hong Kong), I will no longer have time to do the things that I truly want to do.
Today I was walking to the basketball courts during the evening rush hour to get in a few games, something I truly want to do. On the way, I saw rows and rows of double-decker buses all packed with commuters. I wondered if I would be joining them soon. It was 86 degrees Fahrenheit and I was sweating profusely despite wearing only shorts and a t-shirt. I imagined what it would be like to wear work clothes in this kind of weather, and cringed. Will I really have to?
Well, I really will have to because a major part of the experience of living in Hong Kong is running the rat race. It was my choice to move here, and if I really want to know what it’s like to live in Hong Kong as an adult and whether I can handle it, then running the rat race is what I’ll have to go through, just like everybody else. I would feel dishonest if I spent the next 9 months in my little bubble and then returned to the United States and told people that I “lived” in Hong Kong for a year.
Once again, the conflict between what I think I should do versus what I want to do rears its head. Why would I feel dishonest telling people I lived a carefree life in Hong Kong? Is there an entry in the dictionary under “moving to Hong Kong” that says I have to do it a certain way? After doing so many “out of character” things this past year and a half, I thought I had opened myself up to new ways of thinking about and living life. I quit my 6-figure job. I spent a lot of money traveling to places I wanted to see. I moved halfway across the world without a job lined up. I dared to follow my dreams, to stop doing things I thought I “should” do, to break the mold. And yet, the mold is not completely broken and at times I still default back to my original programming. This is the more negative part of me that tells me to say no to so many things. When I could no longer accept staying at my job, it told me to fall in line and not stir the pot. When I wake up at noon, it criticizes me for waking up so late. It chides me for not having a job now.
There are so many days when I wake up and I feel like crap for no reason. It’s the original programming. I open my eyes and look at the clock, it’s noon, and I start feeling sorry for myself. But, there is nothing inherently wrong with waking up at noon. If you’re living in your mom’s basement and can’t even pay for your own food, then maybe you deserve to feel this way. But what did I do? I worked my ass off for the money that I’m using now to live in our own place in Hong Kong. I am a burden to no one. If I really wanted to, I really could live the next 9 months in my little bubble and enjoy life. The original programming tells me that I’d be throwing away my life and my money.
I feel like a butterfly that still has its cocoon attached. I’ve had a taste of flight and looked at the world from a new perspective, but that damn husk is still pulling me back to caterpillar-land. Will I be able to break free?
Although I haven’t had a single interview yet, I have worked vicariously through JC, who has already had two jobs here. 6-day work weeks. 9-hour days. 10-minute lunches. Unclear job descriptions. Maneuvering and politicking. Illegal contracts. Unpaid wages. All together, JC has worked about a month in Hong Kong, and she’s experienced all of the above. Despite all this, she’s had a pretty good attitude about everything, and continues to seek new work, and has another interview coming up next week. For her, it’s definitely been an adjustment, especially coming from America, where employees are generally treated better. It is an adjustment that she has handled impressively. I only wish I could be as naturally positive, calm, and collected as she is.
Before moving over here, a friend forwarded me an article about culture shock. One of the symptoms was clinging to your home culture, thinking it is superior. For a few years now, I’ve stopped listening to rap music because I felt like I grew out of it (listened to a lot in high school and college and, to be honest, a lot of rap is juvenile). Now that I’m in Hong Kong, I’ve listened to more rap music in 3 months than I have in 3 years. Why is that? I guess I’m having difficulty acclimating to the local culture so I cling to what’s familiar. Rap has a lot of anger, us versus them, I’m better than you, you diss me and I’ll have to show you what’s up type of stuff, which is perfect for how I’ve felt since moving here.
When we first moved into our apartment, I bumped into our next door neighbor and introduced myself. “Hi, we’re the Youngs, we just moved in.” I was expecting a welcome and an introduction, but all I got was the Cantonese equivalent of “OK” and a door-slam. I’ve been greeted with a few looks of horror when trying to start conversations with strangers. I have observed that a lot of people here prefer to keep to themselves. There is this fear that divulging too much information about yourself will harm you in some way, as if you might get scammed or something. Actually, if I think about my own upbringing here, I’ll recall being told this as a child. Hong Kong can be a very distrusting society.
Speaking of things I was told as a child, I find myself increasingly resentful of how Chinese people deal with relationships. Guilt-tripping, passive-aggressive behavior, emotional blackmail, negativity, absence of direct communication, these were things that I was exposed to a lot growing up, and even now as an adult. When you turn on the television during the nightly dramas, you see it in so many of the shows. Just yesterday I saw a scene where a young girl was pleading to her love-interest to not leave her alone. She threatened to jump off a cliff. Like seriously, what the fuck is that shit?!? I know it’s TV, but it happens in real life far more often than you think. In another show, a 40-something man has to conceal his relationship with the love of his life from his controlling mother. Not only is her behavior not considered unacceptable on the show, it’s considered filial piety to “protect” the mother and encourage her manipulative behavior. Again, I ask: what the fuck is this shit?
My experience with Chinese culture is (obviously?) first-hand and not just from TV. The original programming I was talking about earlier includes a lot of these anti-social behaviors. When I was in college, I lent a CD to my roommate. Later, I found out that he had trashed it, and in a fit of rage I grabbed his entire stack of CDs and smashed them against the wall. He came home to a pile of broken CDs before I acknowledged (as opposed to confessed) later on that I had done it. We never really spoke again after that.
It took a few years, but I finally realized that what I did was wrong. I didn’t deal with the problem directly with him, face to face, instead opting to go the coward’s passive-aggressive route and break his things while he wasn’t home. And, that doesn’t even cover the overreaction of trashing an entire collection over a single CD. I hold ultimate responsibility for my actions, but one cannot deny the effect of upbringing, of culture. Although it’s taken me 30+ years to realize it, I am fortunate to have learned to recognize these destructive behaviors and to consciously try and avoid them (and the people who practice them) if I can.
Culture shock, new and old. Just gotta keep pushing…
Adjusting to the weather has been a task. I have to remember that Hong Kong has a sub-tropical climate, and that old habits from San Francisco don’t work here. Case in point: opening the windows. After having the air conditioner on for an extended period, I sometimes want to open the windows to get some fresh air into the house. The problem is, the climate here is ideal for various forms of exotic insect life, so if I open the windows, different kinds of insects will find their way into our home. I have to remember to keep the windows closed. Another interesting thing is that window screens are not commonly used here. I remember when we first moved to America how bothered I was with screens. I couldn’t get a clear view outside with the screens blocking my way. I guess that’s why screens never caught on in Hong Kong, despite the insect problem.
The other thing about the weather is that I have to be strategic when moving around town. Unless I want to be drenched in sweat, I have to make sure I walk slowly, and walk indoors as much as possible. Before heading out, I blast the A/C to the point that I’m freezing, so that when I walk out into the heat I’ll have enough time to get to the next air-conditioned destination without sweating like a pig. It sounds wasteful, but apparently many businesses agree with me, because you do have to bring a jacket or shirt with you indoors lest you catch a cold.
See You in 3
Just like that, three months have gone by. We’re surviving. You might be able to argue that we’re thriving. We’re most definitely adjusting. The adventure continues…