Home

I baked two loaves of bread today. They're not perfect--they're a bit lopsided, neither of them grew very big. I used only whole wheat flour and had them already in the pan and rising by the time I googled why you shouldn't do that. But they're dense, and crusty, and perfect for a sardine sandwich, which I happily ate as a reward, on my new wooden desk that looks exactly like my old wooden desk, as Strauss drifted gently from the radio in our sunny Leslieville apartment. 

It's been 2017 for 13 days; I turn 28 in two weeks. We settled into a life in Toronto faster and smoother than I think either of us thought we would. We passed the holidays, went for dim sum. We found an apartment in record time, moved in on a cold day in late December without a hitch. Now our living room is our living room again, with our old familiar furniture and art on the walls.

If I really concentrate, I can see what Toronto looked like to us as we descended in the plane. I didn't cry leaving Hong Kong, but I cried when we landed: I saw a landscape so straight, it could have served as a ruler; bare trees dotting the horizon holding up a giant, heavy white sky. Unobstructed fields below us laid out in perfect squares, lined by wide highways. It was early winter in Ontario looking like early winter in Ontario, and I was coming home. My mom picked me up and as we drove to her condo, I couldn't help marveling at how sparsely populated the wide sidewalks were, how weird and soulless the glass-balconied buildings surrounding Yonge St. looked, how nobody smoked or walked staring on their phones, just kept their hands in their pockets but walked with wider, leisurely strides, relishing their ample personal space. When we returned, a lot of people asked us if we felt any culture shock, but neither of us did, really. If we lived in Hong Kong longer, maybe we would have. But at the time it felt like we were pulled back, as if magnetically, into our rightful place and everything just seemed kind of normal, in a way that we hadn't experienced in a year and therefore were grateful for, but otherwise mostly unremarkably so. 

I'm not generally a patient person. I pulled the bread out of the oven too early, I think. I shop with haste, blurt out thoughts partly-formed, begin to worry when I haven't heard a response from someone in an hour. I guess this is something I'm working on, by will and by circumstance. Moving back to Toronto, with its frequent subway interruptions and "relaxed," often gratingly slow customer service style, is trying but manageable. After all, when you don't spend your day packed in crowds, you can take your time. But adjusting to the pace of every day life is sometimes hard. I think about where else to fly off to next, other cities I'd like to live in, fantasy planning trips and visits to my friends in far-off lands. I think, "Well I did it once, I could easily do it again." And with any hope, I will, in a few short years. But at this point in my life, it's harder to sit still than to get up and move. And for many reasons, I need to learn how to sit still right now. 

I've been asked whether or not I will keep blogging. In Hong Kong, our weekends were filled with ferry trips to new islands, hikes and astonishingly new views, evening walks amidst the chaos of Kowloon, new foods at every turn. This blog was a way to keep in contact with my friends back home and give them a glimpse of our life over there. But these days, life looks a lot like me reading a book while I wait for bread to finish baking. It's sitting down to dinner with my family or hanging out with Maddie or Hiroki here in our living room. It's a comforting existence, filled with quiet self-exploration and ambitious meals and the small joys of putting that one great thing up in the home we can truly call our own; all of these things that I couldn't quite manage in Hong Kong. So I'm not really sure if I have a purpose for the blog anymore. Maybe I'll update occasionally but not post to Facebook. Maybe I'll do this as TinyLetter, which would have been a better medium for this anyway. Or maybe I'll just leave this here as a temporary send-off and hope that when I pick it up again, it will be with photos of distant lands and awkward anecdotes about what not to do in a Japanese pachinko parlour or whatever. In the meantime, I wish you all good health, and many small victories. I hope 2017 surprises you in only positive ways, and that we all learn to become better humans together on this earth. 

On Leaving

In less than 40 hours, I will be sitting on the folded out futon in my grandmother's guest room, feeling, probably, not unlike Dorothy waking up in Auntie Em's house. It feels like a dream as I write this: this whole year, the flash of neon and the gentle passing of mountains, every day, 11 months. The apartment is a mess, all of the things we've accumulated are spilled out on the floor in front of me, some packed in luggage and others strewn haphazardly, waiting to be scooped up or trashed. 

Yesterday was a perfect day in the way only Hong Kong can provide. We hiked to the Cape D'Aguilar Marine Reserve near Shek O, copped a few last breathtaking views of Stanley stretched before us, with its coastline and great green mountains studded with bright white and pink apartment buildings, and stood in rocky caves as the waves came crashed into the mouth of the tunnels; we stopped for cold tofu dessert in some backlot shack, basking in the sun and cool breeze.

 Adam, Deva, Coastline, Water

Adam, Deva, Coastline, Water

Yesterday I ate everything I wanted to eat: char siu baos in the morning, Chinese pears and salty chips on the trail, tofu fa, sa yung sugar puffs in Central, clay pot rice in Mongkok; lamb skewers, durian mochi (thank you, Xavier, for embarking on that journey with me), cold noodles from a bag, two kinds of gai daan jai (Russian Borscht and Pandan!). We spent the evening in the heart of Mongkok. We passed crowds circling artists and dancers and musicians and watched middle aged couples step into the circles, laughing and twirling. Yesterday, we were ending our time with Hong Kong the same way we began it: with a road beer and a stroll down the chaos of Mongkok, spurred on by each new scent and sight, until I was giggly and delirious with excitement. 

 Xavier and Apple eating noodles from a bag

Xavier and Apple eating noodles from a bag

I moved to Hong Kong for a variety of reasons: I wanted to reconnect with my family's culture, improve my Cantonese, get more journalistic experience in a market I knew was relatively easy to tap into, and to live more adventurously than I had been. I moved here because I knew I wasn't happy anymore in Montreal but couldn't bear the thought of following all the young professionals to Toronto quite yet. Culturally, living here has made me confront a lot of things head on, in sometimes painful ways. For the first time, I melted completely into the background while watching my white boyfriend continue attract glances from nearly everyone he passed in our neighborhood. In the first few months I spoke loudly in English, clutching Adam's arm whenever I felt intimidated, which was often. I clung to my western upbringing and accent-less English because it was easier to do so, and found out that many others, even some Hong Kongers, did the same because you get better service that way. A lot of my personal anxiety carried over tenfold here: I was really lonely those early and middle months, out of self-imposed guilt over my language limitations, cultural isolation, and skepticism over the behaviors of some of the expats around me, who would say certain things to me under the assumption that I wasn't local enough to take offense but Chinese enough to use me as their cultural ambassador. I missed my friends, felt myself changing under the influence of some of the people I was around, found myself in uncomfortable social situations, got overwhelmed by constant small talk.

And then, slowly, I settled in. I got better at my job. Somehow, stressing over my cultural identity seemed trivial and old, like a silly hindrance to the enjoyment of the abundant pleasantness around me. I breathed, and relaxed. I sweated through the summer. I made friends, really good friends, and traveled to Japan, Seoul, Bangkok. I hiked, and took a lot of photos of vistas, and ate a lot of carbs, and got really good at ordering congee, and got comfortable speaking more Cantonese, and became, as one does, a ruthless seat-snatcher on the MTR. I found a regular bar, and regular restaurants, and learned the names of all my favorite foods, and ordered them repeatedly. Days were getting more perfect. I'm leaving for a lot of reasons but mostly because we are finally ready to (temporarily!) settle down. But it is not without the sadness of knowing that I am just another person who leaves, in a city where people are always leaving. 

I will miss these mountain ranges and the drama of the city skyline, and the comfort that no matter where you walk, if you go far enough you'll hit ocean. I'll miss the friends I've met here. I'll miss the food so, so much. But Hong Kong is coming with me too: in my cultural security, these new and old favorite foods and a comfort in the language that I will continue to improve with my family. And I'll come back, and keep coming back. But until then, there's TVB with my grandmother, dim sum with my family, a Chinatown to get friendly with, some new coastlines to explore. Adam tells me there's good hiking in Toronto. He's excited to show me the city that he spent more of his youth in. I can't wait to see it with him. 

How the Light Gets In

Leonard Cohen died this week, continuing a brutally tragic year in fine fashion. We've been playing his music all day, we watched the old NFB documentary "Ladies and Gentlemen... Mr. Leonard Cohen," and I listened to his last interview on the New Yorker Radio Hour while Adam Skyped his brother. We both cried--I have been often crying over the last few days, but this time it felt good to cry over a beautiful soul and not the impending end of the world. In a way, Leonard Cohen passing has been a gift: Rather than the usual scroll through endless doomsday posts, we got a wave of people from all over the world sharing their favourite songs and poetry. Momentarily, I forgot that I was so far from home here in Hong Kong and was transported to the streets of Westmount, where Cohen was born and raised, and where Adam and I made frequent walks. I imagined the rows of victorian houses that get bigger the higher up you walk, and the greenhouse, with its lovely refined white frames and dusty windows and holding, sweetly, the fresh greenness therein. 

I was not a lifelong lover of Leonard Cohen like Adam, who chose him to emulate as a teenager, as young boys do, and parted his hair on the side and followed him to McGill University and walked past his house hoping for a chance encounter. Instead, my associations with him live in memories and images in my head, all rooted in Montreal: An early broken-hearted morning in a sun-dusted apartment in Little Italy where I put on "Songs of Leonard Cohen" on the record player and cried on my roommate's shoulder; lying on a picnic blanket in Parc Jarry in the summer, reading "The Favourite Game," imagining two kids running up wintery Westmount slopes so concretely as I have before, walking over the Van Horne overpass in autumn as the old factories and churches of Mile End, bathed in gold, lay before me, listening to "Bird on a Wire" on my iPod.   

The first time I left Montreal, for an internship in Toronto, I was miserable and homesick for months. I hated to leave, and I hated more being away, filling my head with the gilded images of the city in all its splendor until the day I moved back. It's been about a year since I've been gone now, and I hardly think of Montreal, but when I do, it's with fondness and no regrets. This, I guess, is what happens when you leave at exactly the right moment, maybe even a little later for safety's sake. But I miss it today. Sitting in my living room as "Love Itself" plays softly from my laptop speakers, I yearn for the warmth of a heated apartment in the winter, the rich tones of spinning vinyl, the elegant moldings and dark wood floor panelling of a second-floor walk-up; the quality of silence in the middle of the night on Rue St-Denis, with its snow-caked spiral staircases and colorful rooftop rafters; the perfectly passable coffee, formica tabletops and the hearty joual of a St-Henri casse-croûte. It's these images that I cling to when I am in crisis, and I had all but forgotten about them until Leonard put me back in my place of peace. 

In "Ladies and Gentlemen... Mr. Leonard Cohen," there's a clip of him on a CBC panel show. The interviewer asked him if he cared about the issues, as a poet, wasn't it his job to care?  

"When I get up in the morning, my real concern is to discover whether or not I am in a state of grace." he responded. "I make that investigation, and if I am not in a state of grace, I try to go back to bed." 

"What does that mean, a state of grace?" The interviewer asked. 

"A state of grace is that kind of balance with which you ride the chaos that you find around you." 

Today, I am in a state of grace, unwilling to give into the panicked outrage that has subsumed over the world with an ominous grey pallor. Instead, this great man's art and his grace has caught me, it now follows me through the chaos.

Thank you, Mr. Leonard Cohen, for what you have given, and what you continue to give. 

Then I came back from where I'd been
My room, it looked the same
But there was nothing left between
The nameless and the name

All busy in the sunlight
The flecks did float and dance
And I was tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance

I'll try to say a little more
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door
Then love itself
Love itself was gone

Countdown

I've taken on less work these days, and when I am working, I'm sneaking glances to Padmapper to look up apartments in Toronto* and fantasy-planning my next chapter. Tonight, we do our first test-pack, to see if all of our possessions can fit into two suitcases and a duffel bag (probably not). It's coming: we leave in a month. It feels like we've been here for a really long time, but also how are we already leaving? But the fact is, I'm really excited. I'm excited to reunite with my winter coat, especially after this endless summer (better as a title for a playlist than a description of reality for an irascible sweat-monster like me). I'm excited to rediscover Toronto, a city I emotionally checked out of during the Ford administration, which now seems to have culturally transformed itself into food and music capital. I'm excited to get back to crafting and baking. I desperately miss my family, friends, and cheap and accessible baguettes and cheese. In a month, I'll be able to sit in my mom's bed and watch the new Gilmore Girls with her, and it's worth the flight home just for that. 

Of course, that doesn't mean that I don't think, a teensy bit, about staying longer. The weather is finally nice again, and every week I get a new email for job opportunities that most Canadian lifestyle writers would jump at, which is apparently something that happens when the magazine which once employed you dissolves into a pile of bylineless articles on the SCMP parent site. And, as part of the wind-down, we've been checking off bucket list items before we go, which is not a bad way to pass a month.

 Stilt houses in Tai O 

Stilt houses in Tai O 

I had been to Tai O before for a short afternoon tour, but this time, we stayed almost a full day and really took the time to take in this gorgeous fishing village. We wandered between stilt houses, filled our lungs with fresh sea air, went from stall to stall in the main village picking up snacks, each one more delicious than last: giant curry fish balls, sweet silken tofu, egg waffles cooked over charcoal, peanut butter and condensed milk waffles, sugary fluffy donuts, wife cakes.... I could go on.

 Giver of joy, master of fire, the Gai Dan Jai Sifu

Giver of joy, master of fire, the Gai Dan Jai Sifu

We got on an absurdly cheap tour boat and at one point, the skipper tapped us on the shoulder and shouted excitedly, "Dolphin! Dolphin!" Sure enough, popping up over the placid waters were the sleek rose-grey humps of the great, endangered Chinese White Dolphin (population only 60!!!!!). A few minutes later, we saw another, and then another. We drifted around, each glimpse inspired cries of pure joy and excitement from everyone in the boat, even those too slow to catch them; there was a contagious ecstasy of simply knowing they were there with us. From then on, we were walking around in a post-dolphin-sighting high. The scent of lime peels and drying fish hung in the air as we ate more snacks, and walked deeper into the collection of stilted houses. I tasted homemade XO sauce and bought way too much shrimp paste (as if there is even such thing as too much). After stopping for beer and peanuts on a terrace overlooking the bay, we were too stuffed to attempt a meal at one of the nearby seafood restaurants, and we all got back onto the bus and watched the mountains emerge and recede.

 Sundown over Tai O.  

Sundown over Tai O.  

There's so much more on our bucket list, the stuff we want to do a few more times before we leave (like dinner at Chung King Mansions), and the stuff we haven't gotten around to doing when the weather was obscenely hot. I want to try cart noodles, and do a crazy happy hour with freeflow food with your $120 cocktail because that exists here, and go for karaoke, and hike the infinite mountains around Hong Kong. Yesterday, we and a group of friends hiked the Dragon's Back in Shek O, an 8 kilometre stretch along a ridged mountain that ends at Big Wave Bay. I was nervous, as this was my first hike of the season and carbs have since turned my once fit-ish midsection into a mushy paunch, but the views were stunning and there was a brisk wind to meet us every time we hit another peak. We finished off with a dip at the beach and a meal at a Thai restaurant, and going home, sore and happy, I briefly wondered what else I would miss by leaving so soon. 

 View from the Dragon's Back. 

View from the Dragon's Back. 

But ultimately, mine is a life of pea coats and family dinners, and the Gilmore's are calling my name. In the meantime, the rest of Hong Kong awaits. 

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*TORONTO FRIENDS: Adam and I are looking for, ideally, a two bedroom apartment in the East Side, near that axis of Leslieville/the Danforth/Little India/East Chinatown. Please HMU if you have any leads for January!!!! 

What Kind of Day Has it Been

The wind-down has begun, I'm afraid, and it has not come with the subtle scent and the few stray leaves of Autumn (which, sadly, doesn't exist here anyway) but a windfall of drama, travel, personal milestones, touristy attractions, and, of course, everyone I know asking me when I'm leaving, a question I refuse to answer. I always knew Hong Kong was an extreme city, but I didn't realize that would translate into my personal life. 

I'll start with HK Magazine, my employer for the last six months. I held the title of Staff Writer, but my job consisted of putting together the weekly round-up of events, the Culture page, the Film page, and looking for their weekly 852 cover, a Hong Kong-centric full-page spread. Retrospectively, it was an incredible and challenging experience, better than I could have possibly imagined for my first job in Hong Kong: Every day I got to work with friendly people who were deeply passionate about the inner workings of the city and unafraid to poke fun at my terrible accent in Cantonese. Every week, I interviewed a different artist, director, or musician and picked their brain about their favourite topics. I reviewed movies, tried new restaurants, and went to the symphony more than a few times. Cocktails; I've tasted a few, not to mention the endless flow of champagne on a Veuve-Clicquot-hosted press event aboard the Aqualuna (a junket I can truly get behind). I got firsthand experience into the daily grind of a weekly magazine, an opportunity sadly out of reach from many of my peers back home and new crops of young journalists in future years. Most important, I met friends who I will cherish for years to come.

My decision to leave was out of an itch to write, ambitiously, the stories I wanted to write, and because I knew I wanted to cram in as much travel as I could without having to worry about leave. So my last day at the magazine was Tuesday, September 27. On the morning of Wednesday September 28 as I was packing for a flight to Seoul, I received a text from Xavier, my buddy and colleague at the magazine, which read "So I guess this may also be our last day at HK Mag as well." By the time I got to the airport, it had been announced: Due to dire market conditions (though some other theories have been suggested), the next issue would be HK Magazine would be its last. 

Seoul came and went in a flurry of k-bbq, kpop-and-hip-hop, k-araoke, and k-osmetics hauls. I was with Maddie on her visit from Canada. Together, we ate an insane amount of delicious and spicy foods, hiked the fortress wall, danced in our seats at a hip hop concert, simmered in a mugwort pool until our fingers pruned and got our dead, grey epidermis sloughed off our bodies by middle-aged Korean women in lacy underwear at a traditional jimjilbang. 

As I write this, the trip doesn't feel like it was last week, though my skin is still baby's bottom soft and I am still sniffling from catching cold in the air conditioning of that hip hop show. It feels like it was last year. Upon landing back in Hong Kong I was sent straight back into a state of mourning over HK Magazine. We attended the farewell party, met the other members of the family and had my one last beer on them. On the train home, I checked my phone and received an "It's Live" notice from an editor at GQ, telling me my first freelance piece for them was finally published. The timing of this seems like a joke that could only be dealt by the fates, but there it is, under the red and blue banner that still looms over my writerly dreams. That's my name. 

Since then (which was Friday, by the way), I've indulged the wine lunch tasting menu at the two Michelin-starred restaurant Amber followed by a four hour nap at Redbar above the IFC Mall, followed by, bizarrely, a Platters concert. I went to Ocean Park yesterday with Xavier. It's been a weird week, partially because I'm playing tour guide, partially because my friends have suddenly found themselves with all the time in the world on their hands, and mostly because it's Hong Kong. And Hong Kong is reality through a hyperlapse filter; it does not allow you to just sit at home and type away the day. 

The day is coming, and it's coming fast. Eventually, I'll have to get up from the dai pai dong dinner table, get on a bus and board that plane home. But until then, I still have year's worth of adventures to cram into these next few months. 

The Big One

Time for a monthly update, even though it feels like I last checked two weeks ago. Time is moving quicker now. It doesn't seem like much has changed, except that everything is changing all the time: we've stopped collecting acquaintances and have started forming real friendships. The people at the marvelous bao shop around the corner now greet us with signs of recognition. We have a regular dai pai dong around the corner. I've scaled back my work hours at the magazine and have dipped a toe back into freelancing; I'm relishing the freedom and embracing the terror. We're going to Japan next week. 

I look, physically, different: I cut my hair, got my eyebrows embroidered. I've gained weight, though I don't know how much. Enough to make me feel extremely uncomfortable a lot of the time. My pants don't fit like they used to, but who wears black jeans in August in Hong Kong anyway? I was hoping to actually lose weight after moving here, what with the heat and all, but I forgot that I can't think or move in temperatures over 30 degrees. We've started eating meat again, and my carb intake has gone way up in the form of rice and baos. I used to walk everywhere in Montreal, and eat the same salad every day for lunch; here I MTR to my office and sit for 8 hours, getting up only to get a heaping tray of chow mein from the canteen. I've stopped smoking, that's a plus. Everything I eat is deliciousanother plus. This is reality: I've gained weight, and I am largely okay with it because You Only Live In Hong Kong Once (#YOLIHKO!). But when anxiety hits, as it has been a lot lately, my body image problems are the first and easiest targets. 

It's hard to talk about, but it's important for me to try. I grew up in a fairly typical Chinese household with the constant pressure to be thin looming over my early adolescence and teenage years like a spectre. Weight and food are hallmarks of Chinese smalltalk"You've lost weight" is another way of saying Hello. "Have you eaten yet?" means "How are you?" It's also a point of gossip. In my family, at church, and around other Asian girls at school I felt as if my body was the most accessible measure of comparison. It was an easy anchor for name-calling and light bullying. Retrospectively, I don't think it was because I was even that overweight, it was just that classmates could tell this was the thing that I felt most insecure about. 

In Hong Kong, impossibly thin girls with dewy, flawless skin are plastered everywhere: on billboards, along MTR station walls, propped up in newsstands, hawking the latest watches, skincare innovations, omega 3 fish oil pills. There's a section in Mannings (the Hong Kong version of Pharmaprix) devoted to weight loss tea, a method that was disproven so long ago it feels anachronistic just to even mention it. People, out of nowhere, refer to girls passing by as "Pretty girl" and it's not a catcall. There's a real obsession with thinness and beauty here, and it seems to me that it's because Asian girls have always just been expected to be naturally small-boned and delicate. On one hand, I have loved seeing media campaigns and ads that are not crowded with white people; on the other, it presents a more immediate crushing distance between myself and these touched up bodies. I recognize these features, their perfect hair is the same texture as mine, but I will never look like that. If this is beauty, I am not it. 

Adversely, the reaction to fat, is something I can't quite grasp. The word fat, for example, is considered pretty insensitive in the West, and has been for as long as I can remember, but here it's thrown around so much that nobody reacts to it. "Fat" can be an endearing thing: There was an iconic actress and comedian affectionately known as "Fatty" (肥肥). Characters in TVB shows and Cantonese movies are literally named "Fat" when they are overweightand nobody is just overweight in media here, they are comically overweight. They don't get episode-long interior explorations, nobody asks them how they feel. They're just fat: often the villains, or sidekicks whose fatness is a physical indicator that they are dumb, non-threatening and well-meaning. 

Growing up among the thin, virtuous girls at my childhood Chinese church, I have often felt like the dumb, non-threatening and well-meaning sidekick, gracelessly barreling down the hallways. I talked too loudly, and too much. I was emotional and temperamental. I felt like the butt of a larger joke that was my life, and I overcompensated for it by talking more loudly, becoming more emotional. And then I hit a wall in my teenage years and just kind of.... receded. I started hanging with white people in high school, mostly boys, to whom I couldn't be compared. My Cantonese suffered. I wore a lot of black clothes, and stopped going to church. I did not talk much to my parents, out of anger, and because I was pretty sure I knew how they saw me: Always bigger than the rest of the girls, my size as an indicator of gracelessness and unintelligence. 

I don't think about these things often, because doing so begins a pile-up of my perceived deepest insecurities, and one thing seems to link to another in a way that seems like self-pitying excuses: I was an overweight child PLUS a part of the culture I was born into puts extra pressure on overweight bodies EQUALS I cut myself off from my culture THEREFORE I do not speak Cantonese fluently despite having had every advantage to do so AND MAYBE AS A RESULT my parents are a little bit more disappointed in me. Oof.  

It can't be that simple, but that's the connection my mind makes. Isn't it terrifying? My stomach dropped when I wrote that sentence. 

Most of the time I know that I am always improving, as a person. I recognize my strengths. I have a strong support network, and I'm closer to my family than ever before. I am healthy, and getting healthier. I am able to see myself as pretty, I own my curves. But at my very worst, I am desperately obsessed with weight, repulsed by my reflection, and manage to attribute all of my personally perceived shortcomings as a person to a fatness that is only exaggerated in my mind. Which I realize is insane. 

A few weeks ago, I was at a cocktail tasting and, in the middle of fairly innocuous small talk about her year in Taiwan, the PR sighed and said, "I ate so much and gained so much weight. I was hoping to lose it here, but I haven't been able to." Maybe she wanted me to say something, a non-thin body commiserating with another non-thin body. I shrugged and smiled and said something really throw-away, like "Oh no, you don't look it at all!" But what could I say? "I know exactly how you feel, body images issues are indeed crippling. I know the only satisfaction you can truly have is that fleeting sense of self-satisfaction but I honestly think you're beautiful, and do I have to finish this organic-gin-beetroot-and-chia-seed terrarium cocktail"? I wish I had said that. It was not a good drink.  

When we had just landed in Hong Kong, we had dinner with some uncle and auntie and the first thing they said to me was, "You've lost weight!" I felt a sick sense of satisfaction and anger that this took precedence over "Welcome back," or "Wow, you moved your whole life here!". But I can't be mad at them. They were just saying the thing that people say. But wouldn't it be great if, instead of thoughtlessly making comments about other peoples' weight, people could be as direct about recognizing that individuals have nuanced relationships with their own bodies? 

OK, fine, so that's never going to happen. In the meantime, I'll keep eating baos without regret. I will find solutions for my anxieties, even if it means occasionally crawling back inside of myself to whisper to Childhood Jessica and Teenage Jessica that Adult Jessica is getting better, and doing better. Above all, I will remember: #YOLIHKO. 

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An open message: If you're reading this, and if you have feelings to express but not necessarily in a comment section, or just want to talk to someone who is shameless about sharing feelings, please don't hesitate to email me at jessica.wei@gmail.com. 

Six Months

We touched down exactly six months ago, when Hong Kong was alternating between freezing and raining, and moved into a dirty subdivided flat in a six floor walk-up with an incredible rooftop surrounded by pastel-coloured cement buildings. They were cloaked in mesh and supported by bamboo scaffolding that I was always certain would collapse over the crowds that seemed, endlessly, to gush out on the sidewalks. I don't think I blinked in those first few weeks, just trying to take it all in: the chaos, the smells, the crowds that would bowl us right over; groups of men in sleeveless shirts smoking on plastic stools outside of congee restaurants, women with domestic helpers trailing them as they go from wet market to street stalls, packs of uniformed kids with matching yellow backpacks bounding down the packed sidewalks. Two months after that, Adam turned to me on one of our walks and asked, "Are you used to these streets now?" and it felt strange to say yes, because somehow, I was. 

And now that I'm used to the streets, the crowds, and the pace, there are things that make sense to me that didn't six months ago.

I used to wonder why there were malls everywhere: In our village, to get to our closest MTR station, we have to walk through two malls, connected by an overpass. When we go grocery shopping, we go to the Wellcome in a mini-mall, then take an overpass over to the wet market for fresh produce, and then we take another exit from the wet market through another overpass, and through another mall to the 759 for wine and "international items". There are no one-stop shops in Hong Kong: a single grocery run might have you going to three or four places to get enough for the week. That outingbetween the distances, the traffic, and the heatcould get exceptionally annoying without air conditioned malls and pedestrian-only overpasses.   

 Sweet, sweet air conditioning. (Look at that sucker outside.) 

Sweet, sweet air conditioning. (Look at that sucker outside.) 

Another. In our magazine there are frequent mentions of "staycations": Win a staycation; how to make the most of your next staycation; we even had a Staycations issue where we each went to different hotels in the city and reported back (it's a tough job, somebody's gotta do it, yadayada). I thought it was just a cheeky way to get free hotel stays until a colleague told me that people actually go on staycations here. I explained to him that back home, a staycation is when you take your annual leave to stay home and bingewatch Netflix for a week, or you tell your friends you're going camping and just end up camping out in your room. He said, "That's because you all have huge houses, why would you ever want to pay money to stay in a hotel for a night?" And then I remembered: We had a staycation our first month here. We went to Macao when it was freezing cold and our apartment had no central heating or hot running water. We went to Macao to stay in a hotel, to take a hot bath in a real bathtub. Young people staycation when they live with their parents (as many do) and want to have a romantic night with their significant others; they staycation when they want to get their friends together for a board game night; people staycation when they just want a warm bath in a bathtub, because, why wouldn't they? 

 "On assignment" at the Bay Bridge Hotel. I'm starting to like this staycation thing. 

"On assignment" at the Bay Bridge Hotel. I'm starting to like this staycation thing. 

In a lot of ways, living in Hong Kong is physically harder than in Canada, despite the above photo. The weather is almost unbearable, so it's hard to be outside of long stretches of time. There are mosquitos; they are relentless. There are so many people that politeness isn't always going to cut it, like when you're waiting for people to get off the MTR before you can enter but there's a line of people standing right in front of the doors, blocking their way. (I often say to Adam that when we move back to Canada, people in the metro will think I'm such an asshole, because I'm no longer against shoving people with backpacks in crowded MTRs, or cutting into the mass of people crowding the foot of the escalator.) Everything we took for granted in Canada is prohibitively expensive here: Bread, cheese, drinks in bars, rent.

But now that I'm closer to understanding the root of these perceived inconveniences, I've really started to embrace the natural solution to things: who needs baguettes, for example, when you can get fresh baos from the corner bakery? The bars charge $60+ HKD for a beer, so we might as well load up at the 7/11 and take a seat by the piers. If you're a young person living with their parents and saving up to buy an apartment, then it makes sense check into a hotel room once in a while. If it's 32 degrees outside and humid, I'm going to bring my motorized handheld fan with me and count the minutes until we get to the nearest mall. With this in mind, a culture of the every day has begun to unfold. I feel, finally, that I'm no longer just used to my surroundings; I've embraced them. 

 Adam very casually enjoying an evening tram ride. 

Adam very casually enjoying an evening tram ride. 

We've been here for six months and we're sure we're going back. A few months ago, I was miserable here, stressed out and homesick. Some of the people I've talked to have said they went through same thing, that transitioning here was hard. One said they were compelled not to move back until they were having a good time and by that point, they were having too much fun to go and now it's been ten years. A friend of mine has sworn never to live in any city for less than two years; it's just too hard to pack up and start all over again. Another said that her friend moved here, hated it, moved back home within a year, and at the time, I nodded, said, yeah, I totally get that, and I do still, but less. But now it's been six months and the worst of it seems to have passed. I could live here for two years, I think, but if I did, I might just as easily stay ten. But I'm pretty sure I would be less happier than if I had just gone home in the first place.  

It's an expat problem, I guess, and a first-world problem, certainly: People move all the time here. This city is a revolving door of people privileged enough to move as they wish, rent be damned, and everyone else is tired of hearing about it. No city is perfect, and this one is pretty amazing. But I'm constantly having to remind myself to live moment by moment, and not to worry too much about where I'll be in the next six months. In the meantime, I have a lot more day-to-day culture to take in. 

 Whew! I was going let my dog poop eeeeeeverywhere. 

Whew! I was going let my dog poop eeeeeeverywhere. 

Coming Back

Yesterday, we went to Central, and for the first time, I didn't feel like a tourist on Hong Kong Island, even though, we were there to do kind of touristy things, which was to have a drink and an appetizer (in my case, a Brandy Alexander and a Lobster bisque, on a whim; both seemed fitting, but ultimately, disappointing and too rich) at Jimmy's Kitchen, one of the oldest restaurants in Hong Kong. For dinner, we headed to Mak's Noodle House, a much blogged-about place for *the* bowl of wonton noodles, which were delicious. 

 I ate this. 

I ate this. 

But it was so familiar. We swiftly passed Exit D, wound up around Pedder Street, weaved our way past the tourists and cell phone amblers, barely glanced around at the winding roads and glass buildings that surrounded us. It was hot, we were hungry; just two people, cutting across Queen's Rd. Central, going up Wyndham. 

I've heard people say that it's hard to truly know a place until you've lived there; I can't say yet that I truly know Hong Kong or ever will, but I do live here. We have a page of shiny stamps from a grocery chain that gives us a fairly accurate idea of how much money we've spent there (a lot); we've moved twice, and the scents and flavours I once found comforting in a nostalgic way--Tiger Balm; pineapple on pizza--are now daily occurrence, a future sensorial anchor to the time spent abroad. 

As someone who has spent a lot of time and words trying to describe a certain first-generation Chinese-Canadian experience, I've surprisingly, and happily, slipped into a state of forgetting my identity. I physically look like almost everyone around me. On the MTR on my way home, everyone's face has a distinct sheen from the heat, humidity and naturally occurring sebum, a sheen that I used to combat every day in the office washroom with powders and oil-absorbing sheets back home. Hairdressers know how to cut my hair. When I meet a new person and they find out that I'm from Canada, they'll say something like, "Ah, so what made you come back?" Often, they'll tell me about their own move from the US, or Britain, or Australia. I've never lived here before, but, like them, I've come back. 

In North America, the effects of diaspora are everywhere, and it starts at an early age: immigrants seek out other immigrants, either in church communities or in neighbourhood pockets; immigrant kids seek out other immigrant kids, because they're lumped together or just find comfort in shared experience. I love my community back home, and I've long accepted that one of the truest forms of a Canadian Identity was, as much as that hockey-stick wielding, beer-swilling, toque-wearing winter warrior, also a hyphenated second-or-first generation or mixed ethnic minority: wrapped in an Aritzia hoodie, bubble tea in hand. It's a frequent theme in almost every form of popular Canadian art, from Wayson Choy to Kim's Convenience: the immigrant struggle, the first-generation isolation.

But I had always thought the diaspora only happened to us; I never thought that living in Hong Kong, I would be able to see that signs of the diaspora from the other side. And yet, most of the people I've met have relatives or family friends who have moved to North America. I've traded stories with a HK-born-and-raised colleague about our experiences working in shitty Chinese fast food joints, serving up chicken balls and red sauce--him for a summer in Florida, my first job at the Ex. I once met a cab driver who spends half the year in Vancouver with his kids, and the other half driving a cab in Hong Kong. I have friends who moved away for a few years in childhood and came back. There are countless other instances, through all the different waves of immigrations out. And the waves of us who would later come back, not to the home we know, but to the land we have tenuous claim to because at one point, years or generations ago, someone had to leave in order for us to return.

If I am to imagine a series of concentric circles around myself and what I would label as my ethnic identity, ranging from HUMAN, ASIAN, CHINESE, CANADIAN, CHINESE-CANADIAN/NORTH AMERICAN, and so forth, I've never felt a snugger bubble. It makes me feel connected in a way I can forget. 

That, and the fact that I no longer have to be ashamed of having coarse hair and a shiny face. And if that's still not enough, at least I can get around Central without looking like a wide-eyed idiot (most of the time). 

 Not too shiny here! 

Not too shiny here! 

A Week in Kyoto is a Second in Hong Kong

It's been an unforgivable amount of time since I've posted. A month! A month, when you've just moved abroad feels like an eternity. We've officially lived here for three. A full third of all my experiences living in Hong Kong thus far have continued on undocumented on this blog. And, man, what a month it has been.

 From Kyoto station.

From Kyoto station.

Exactly 30 days ago I literally cried of happiness in Kyoto. These tears were spurred on, no doubt, by exhaustion mixed with the sight of the sakura buds hanging low over the sprawling Kamo River, and the taste of okonomiyaki off a fresh teppanyaki grill in a tiny neighbourhood restaurant. We landed at 1 AM at Kansai International Airport and entered the city on the first train, had a coffee, and walked. We walked to a nearby temple, as we waited to be checked into our hostel, and found a garden nook where a tree was blooming ahead of schedule - the wind blew slightly and showered blossoms all over me, and in that moment I felt my soul soar in ecstasy, beyond my body and my tiredness. 

 A coffee shop by Rengeo-In Temple, run by people who are as delightful as the shop looks. 

A coffee shop by Rengeo-In Temple, run by people who are as delightful as the shop looks. 

We walked to a department store and amused ourselves with the quaint Japanese appliances, like a toaster oven for one single slice of toast and tiny kitchen grills. We kept walking, checked in, took a nap, had dinner, walked some more, slept, and then got up the next morning to go to Arashiyama, home to the bamboo forest. We walked for five days, marveling at all the different and wonderful sights and tastes of Kyoto, stopping on occasion to send a prayer of thanks to the spirits inhabiting the beauty that surrounded us.

There was so much to love on our walks: quiet residential streets stacked with Japanese houses, trees lining the sidewalks, tiny shrines on street corners; ramen shops and Kyoto cookies, onigiri and matcha lattes; stationary stores and fashion boutiques with clean, sleek lines and delicate textures. One night, we found ourselves at the Stardust Club, chosen for its name -- our song -- and sat with a demi-bottle of wine, in the smoke and chatter of three older gentlemen and the bartender. They discussed Chet Baker and Hank Williams, while we nodded, grinning from ear to ear. 

I left Adam at the train station in Kyoto, he was going onto Tokyo for the next two weeks. Immediately after landing in Hong Kong, Hong Kong hit me: the towering, decaying buildings and bamboo scaffolding of Sham Shui Po, garbage and wooden skewers strewn across the closing market street, rows of roasting ducks staring lifelessly out from their rotisserie windows, electric neon signs and unceasing traffic din, crowds of oblivious people seemingly surgically attached to their mobiles as they amble around each other. 

 Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

I slept poorly that night, kept awake by the sounds of the street. And the next morning, I reported for duty as a staff writer at HK Magazine. 

I won't say much about my work, except that I'm happy with it. I'm learning a lot and meeting interesting people, and have had lots opportunities to check out the food and culture scene in Hong Kong. My life is slowly being sorted out here, much quicker than I thought it would. There's a sign in our office that says, "A New York Minute is a Hong Kong Second", and it hasn't been proven wrong. But in the meantime, I'll be eking out some calm moments on my own by dreaming of Kyoto. 

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Updates: 
- For some more peaceful photos of Japan, check out Adam's photo blog at m-u-m-u.tumblr.com
- I'll occasionally post some of my HK Mag articles, reviews and interviews on this blog. Here's a recent review of the movie "Life", starring Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson. 

Suburban Summers, les jours du rock, And When I Wasn't In The Berkshires

Recently, my hard drive crashed. One morning, I booted up my computer, and rather than being greeted by welcome whirring and a startup sound, a cold grey screen appeared. Disk Utility gave me one option: Reformat without backup. Do not ask me how. My computer works again - better, actually - but my files are gone. It’s fine. The movies I never watched which were collecting dust in my Downloads folder, I still do not watch. Thanks to Google Drive, most of my important documents are on the web. My iTunes library was pulled from the Cloud, a collection of the 15 albums I’ve purchased from Apple over the past few years, mostly lesser known Canadian and indy-ish bands, about a 10th of the quantity of music I used to hoard on my hard drive. For the most part, I don’t miss the rest. What’s left is a surprisingly concise curation of some of my most strongest sonic experiences, short and intense dalliances, feelings I’d forgotten about.

I’ve been playing them back carefully, slowly letting myself get transported back time without dissolving the capsules of memory held in each song.

For example, if I ever want to remember the dusty summer days and lonely nights I spent house sitting my cousin’s house in Pointe-Claire, which I’ve written about, I put on Cold Specks’ I Predict A Graceful Explosion and let a wave of sensory echoes from that era crest over me. I close my eyes and remember padding across the bearskin rug in the basement, running my fingers along the spines of my uncle’s old books and picking up dust, the hushed silence of their overgrown backyard where I sat alone with a beer in the darkness of midnight in the suburbs. 

I’ve never been to the Berkshires, but I used to work as a blogger for a travel site whose headquarters were about ten minutes from my apartment in Little Italy. I was into the band HIGHS then, and listened to their six-song EP compulsively and repeatedly while I wrote travel guide after travel guide on towns in Massachusetts; event highlights on Tanglewood, spotlights on quaint historic inns and hiking routes that take you to the heart of small rural villages in the mountains. With my headphones plugged into the light harmonies of their two lead singers and simple, ringing guitar, I can navigate the Berkshires of my imagination, more idyllic than reality can offer, of full autumn foliage on undulating mountains, and quaint bed and breakfasts along country roads. 

Each album has a place in memory for me: I remember a club in Brixton, south London, as the room swelled and pulsated with the ethereal sounds of Karkwa, on tour from Montreal, hot after winning the Polaris Prize that year. We had dinner with them and they remarked, how refreshing it is to meet other Montrealers so far from home; we later drank mini-fridge Heinekens and ate their tiny Mars bars on the tour bus as the lead singer stood by the entrance, holding court outside. For the rest of the trip, and once again now, they are in my head, gently crooning,

Dans les jours de rock,

dans l'épais brouillard

J'allume ton visage,

un phare dans la nuit

There are other songs. Not many, but enough to bring me a small amount of comfort from semi-forgotten memories when I least expect it. What’s more, they’re accumulating. I sing along shamelessly to Lianne La Havas as I putter around my Hong Kong kitchen. On my way home, I feel the weight of my footsteps as I move past throngs of people under awnings, between buildings slicked with rain and flickering with neon, each step reverberating with the snare beats of One by Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, swept up in a surreal aural frenzy. Right now, as I write this, I am producing a small grain of memory, one which will be shaped into a fully grown sensory immersion, and wrapping it up in a song.

I can’t wait to find out what it’ll sound like later.

Eat, Pray, Eat Some More

The sad anecdote that we tell whenever a conversation with a stranger turns (as it often does) to the insanely high cost of living in Hong Kong is that we paid the equivalent of $1000HKD less to live in a spacious two-bedroom house on an idyllic street back in Montreal (two balconies! Self-watering flower boxes! Elegant crown molding!) than we do now, for an 83 square foot bedroom in a flatshare with four other people, no hot running water, in a six floor walk-up in an area that can best be described as "[deliberate pause] Local."

No, friends, it's not glamourous living, unless you consider a very specific kind of anti-glamour glamourous, as people often do about, say, their lost years in Paris, or the peeling wallpaper in the Chelsea Hotel. And for the most part, living here is fine. My butt, for example, has never been tighter after having to climb all those stairs every day. The toilet-in-the-shower situation is not so bad when you actually try it (the shower, mercifully, runs on an electric water heater). No hot water? We'll just rinse dishes with boiling water from the kettle. The kitchen.... well, the kitchen is the kitchen. 

From what I understand, most kitchens in Hong Kong look like this, unless you live out in the New Territories or outlying islands or collect m@d $tack$$$$ from your IPO. I feel blessed to even have a toaster oven. And, as one writer has written in the WSJ, a tiny kitchen can present both challenges and opportunities for inspiration. Often, Adam has to chop in our bedroom because the kitchen counter can't accommodate more than one bowl perched precariously over the ledge of the sink. We can't plan meals beyond the next few days because the mini fridge is shared between five roommates. If you come over for dinner, don't bother asking if you can help with the cooking, there just isn't space. On the other hand, everything I need is within a short reach, and I have learned how to clean as I go (dishes stacked up in the sink is a mild inconvenience for most households; for ours, it's just impossible to keep cooking). 

 Don't ask if you can help with the cooking. 

Don't ask if you can help with the cooking. 

While the space is small, another challenge we've encountered is the difference in produce and ingredients offered in local grocery stores. Here is a list of items we can no longer afford: 

  • Cheese of any kind (insert devastated crying emoji, forever)
  • Bell peppers
  • Bagged salad 
  • Bread that isn't plain white sliced loaves à la Wonderbread (here, it's called Life Bread)
  • Plain or Greek yogurt

This list doesn't include ingredients that we simply can't find, like dried beans or chickpeas, quinoa, etc. As a result, we eat a lot of rice, Chinese greens, kimchi soups, a ton of cabbage, and tofu. We reach for ramen more than we used to, and breakfast is toast with peanut butter or the custard buns from down the street. I have really upped my Clay pot rice (臘味飯) game, because it's a one pot wonder and unbelievably delicious, mixed with bok choy, preserved Chinese sausage (臘腸), garlic and ginger. When we go out during the day, we'll often stop into a 茶餐廳, a typical Hong Kong "tea restaurant" which serves Hong Kong-style Western foods, for a late afternoon curry chicken rice (Adam ordered a "Canadian-style pizza" the other day, and it came topped with ketchup, corn, ham, and pineapple), and return home to have a light dinner later. 

 Last night's dinner: Kimchi Soup, with potato, white radish, shiitake mushrooms, tofu, and cabbage

Last night's dinner: Kimchi Soup, with potato, white radish, shiitake mushrooms, tofu, and cabbage

I get the feeling that most people eat out a lot more here. Small restaurants and Hong Kong-style bakeries line our street and they're always busy, many offer take-out or street food. Outside of our subway exit every day around 6 o'clock, crowds of people gather around a corner take-out spot - the restaurant sets up two folding tables out front and load them with several rice cookers and huge plates of sautéed greens, stir-fried beef, curry chicken, barbecued pork and other goodies, along with styrofoam boxes so customers can take dinner home to their families. After all, apartments are tiny, people work hard and long hours, and local foods are relatively cheap. 

But for me, cooking is a comfort, and I've still got time to enjoy it (although this may not be the case soon....stay tuned!). It's also a welcome challenge, and an opportunity to taste and try cooking with new ingredients. Besides, our kitchen may be tiny, but our open-concept living and dining room isn't too shabby. 

 The six flights of stairs = worth it. 

The six flights of stairs = worth it. 

I plan to post some recipes from my modest culinary journey on this blog in the coming few months. In the meantime, I welcome any links, tiny kitchen hacks, or recipes for your own one pot creations. Or even just recommendations on where a sister can get a bag of dried lentils or some camembert that won't bankrupt me. 

Taking A Longer View

We have been here for just under a month now, and I am, a little bit more every day, having to figure out where I stand between "visitor" and "resident". It isn't always easy, but it's pretty much all in my head. I worry about not having found a job yet, and I have to remind myself that it hasn't been that long since I started looking. It's a Saturday morning, is it okay that we're holed up in the apartment working today? Shouldn't we go out and explore the city or something? Just five days ago we took a tour through Chungking Mansions with our flatmate who studies Pakistani migration, but it feels like forever ago. He moved out yesterday. My diet is slowly returning to what it was, before we started eating out almost every day (like the first two weeks we were here), or carbo-loading off 80% buns and rice (last week and prior). We're already using Akram's room as an office/living room/yoga studio. 

I felt the first pangs of homesickness last week over Chinese New Year, which was unexpected, since I don't think I've celebrated CNY with my family since I moved to Montreal in 2007. But as a single girl in Montreal, the lunar new year isn't really a Thing, but it is at home, and it definitely is in Hong Kong, where, it seems, people spend the 15 days of it visiting family, eating things, watching fireworks. I am always amazed by Skype, Facetime and WeChat - you pick up your phone, dial home, and suddenly you're in your parents' living room. Everyone's wearing sweaters and the sunlight pours into the living room as you've seen every morning growing up, but through some sort of rift in the time and space continuum (or, timezones, I guess), you're actually in bed, about to turn in for another night. I'm not sure if it helps or hinders the homesickness, but last night was Carlee's morning, it was -25 outside her window and +25 outside of ours. Her face was right in front of my face. 

Another thing about waking up from Tourist mode, where you're just kind of walking around on autopilot, in the dumb sponge mode of absorbing the world around you, free of the responsibility of inhabiting a space: I was once an environmentalist. I'm ashamed to say that it's something that I have to remind myself of. Recycling, for example, is something that I've just forgotten about, because it doesn't exist in my neighbourhood (I've heard that it "gets taken care of" on the street, whatever that means). I didn't really eat meat for more than half a year leading up to moving here, and I've somehow totally forgotten about this important personal priority. And not even in a, Oh, somebody's grandmother made this so I have to eat it, kind of way. More like: We're making pizza tonight, so should we get the cured ham or the bacon? Will one package be enough? Like: Unconsciously reaching for a hot dog bun. I tried really hard last year to become healthier, more environmentally responsible and conscientious, and moving abroad seems like some subconscious excuse to completely unravel my efforts.

Part of this is because the assumption is that we won't live here for longer than a year or two. I admitted to Adam a few days ago that my castle in the sky was a semi-detached house in Roncesvailles: our art's on the walls, the record player is spinning, Maddie, Hiroki and Domenica are on their way over and I am baking banana bread, marinating tofu. Life looks like what it did a year ago, only much more settled. But I have to stop thinking this way, because it will only hold me back, and it's unfair to where I am right now. 

I have to keep readjusting my scope of this city to a long-term, sustainable view. I'm surrounded by gorgeous and diverse landscapes, a totally unique culture, incredible food from a tradition centuries in the making. It's right outside my door. I need to walk to the pace of the life on the streets and not just wander around with my eyes wide and my mouth agape. I need to explore, reach out to, and foster a relationship with the places I want to be on a Saturday afternoon. I need to support the future of this city, anyway that I can. I should probably quit my hot dog bun habit. 

And that won't happen until I start really living here. 

Baby, It's Cold Outside

And inside, too, for that matter. 

We'd heard a few warnings about the damp chill in Hong Kong before leaving, but like the stubborn Canadian patriots we are, we had brushed them off. After all, we figured, ten degrees in Hong Kong can't be worse than -10 degrees in Toronto. To us, it sounded like a moderate spring day.

Boy, were we wrong.

10 degrees in Hong Kong, where there's no central heating, no insulation on the windows, and where the moisture in the air seeps into your skin and clings to your bones, is much worse than -10 degrees back home. We've found ourselves shivering most nights in our room, dreading stepping out into the space outside of our duvet. I work in bed under a blanket. And then last weekend, Hong Kong saw the coldest day it has experienced in the last 60 years, with temperatures plummeting down to 3 degrees. We even saw snow, just a few flakes swirling around, from the 15th floor of the hotel my dad was staying at. This never happens in Hong Kong. As in, people go their whole lives here and then visit Canada or some place and are amazed by the sight of snow, because it literally never happens in Hong Kong, but somehow, a week after moving here, we've managed to spot a glimpse of it. 

So instead of going back to our walk-in fridge of an apartment, we took a ferry to Macao, to stay at a warm hotel room along the Cotai Strip. And let me tell you, I love Macao. Macao is amazing, surreal and weird, stacked with huge hotel-casino complexes each brilliantly themed with totally distinct atmospheres. In the Venetian Hotel, for example, there's a long shopping atrium that's set up to look like a Venice street-scape, with a long, murky-green canal running between the shops and gondolas floating under footbridges. Studio City's "Times Square" mall looks like a studio lot made to look like fake New York City. And more.

 The Venetian

The Venetian

 Adam crawling up the MTA in Studio City 

Adam crawling up the MTA in Studio City 

 They've started construction on the Eiffel Tower

They've started construction on the Eiffel Tower

We spent most of the night just wandering around casinos and malls in Cotai, and then the next day, we headed to the historic centre of Macao to check out the Portuguese landmarks and architecture. 

My dad took us to the Mandarin's House, which is an old Guangdong-style settlement built in the late 1800s, where his grandparents and parents grew up. Since the early 2000s, the local Macanese government has turned it into a heritage landmark and has slowly restored it to its former glory. He shared stories about visits there to see his grandparents as a kid, when families still lived there, about 20 crammed in tiny rooms around a large stone courtyard; how his parents grew up in the house together. It was amazing to see that such an integral piece of his immediate family history has not just survived through the ages, but is also celebrated and cherished by the community. 

 The entrance of the Mandarin's House. 

The entrance of the Mandarin's House. 

 Courtyard of the Mandarin's House

Courtyard of the Mandarin's House

We're back in the city now, and thankfully, the weather is milder now, though there's more rain. I passed my 27th birthday on the 27th, and celebrated with dinner and drinks, just like any other year. But of course, this time, I got to enjoy a cocktail under the bright neon sign of Tai Lung Fung in a small alleyway off of Wanchai, and then we headed straight to our rooftop in Sham Shui Po, where the din of traffic was six floors muted beneath us. We chatted with our roommate and watched the lights flicker on and off (as lights in the 'Po do) from surrounding old buildings.

For now more than ever, I'm content to stay put in our chilly little apartment in anticipation for when the sun deigns to meet us again. 

 From the Sheraton Macau. My kingdom for this pool in sunny weather

From the Sheraton Macau. My kingdom for this pool in sunny weather

Reminders--- 

Adam is documenting his own view of Hong Kong and Macau on his two wonderful photoblogs. Find the cats of Sham Shui Po (and beyond!) at theCatCatalogue; and desolate, beautiful street scenes at m-u-m-u

One Week in Hong Kong

Perhaps the most surprising thing that this first week has revealed to both of us is how quickly we can respond and adapt to such stunningly different scenery and circumstance. We landed in Hong Kong the morning of the 16th, wiped our bleary eyes, exited a cab, and were knocked out by the landscape in front of us. I have been knocked out repeatedly throughout these days, but I'm beginning to find some comfort and familiarity in Sham Shui Po.

I am getting used to, for example, waking up to the impolite din of a jackhammer from the construction site across the street every morning at 6 AM. I have resigned myself to having my hair just being slightly cold and damp all the time. The toilet shares precious square feet with the shower, there are spots of what looks like black mould between the tiles, and the hot water runs out after about five minutes. Coffee is either powdered with too much milk and sugar, or insanely expensive. I am always overly aware of the fact that if I forget my metro pass in the apartment, no magic fairy is going to soar up the six flights of stairs and fiddle endlessly with the locks and keys to retrieve the card from my room for me. But then the hallways are scented with musky incense, and when we emerge from the dark, cracked-tiled entrance we are immediately hit with this: 

 Pei Ho Street

Pei Ho Street

All the streets in the neighbourhood are like that, pastel-coloured buildings stacked against each other with wide awnings over narrow sidewalks. Every corner you turn, there's another uniquely delicious smell (I am hungry all the time here because of this!), and people flood around each other on the sidewalks at all hours. We've been eating custard buns almost every morning, with the exception of yesterday, when we decided to pop into a local cha-chaan-teng where I was able to muster up the courage to order, in my exceedingly flimsy Cantonese, two bowls of century egg-and-pork congee and two yao tew

Jet lag has been kind to us - we wake up at 6:30 or 7, and work individually until noon or later, at which point we exit the apartment and just wander different areas and neighbourhoods across Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and beyond. The day before yesterday, we got lost in the crowds of Mong Kok, ending up in the Fa Yuen flower market as the sun was going down. Yesterday we took a ferry to the fishing village in Lamma Island, and hiked past the peacefully desolate beach, dewy gardens, soaking up stunning vistas of the mountains layered by fog. 

 The beach in Lamma Island

The beach in Lamma Island

It's strange to think about how much time we have here, which is indefinite. Hong Kong has the capacity for daily adventures and endlessly new experiences. But I supposed I'm also looking forward to the grind, of having a place to go every day, familiar people who I can talk easily with, and to be able to shrink into the folds of the city. But, I'm happy to say, it's only been a week! Who knows where we'll be later. With any luck, we'll be lounging on that beach in the hazy Hong Kong summer. 

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Reminders: 

- I wrote a love letter/mini history of Montreal's casse-croûte culture over at Saveur magazine and it was published this week. Check it out here. 

- To see more photos from Hong Kong between these posts, click on the Gallery section and follow me on Instagram

A Look Back And A Look Forward

It's been a few years since I've assigned any symbolic meaning to New Years'. Most of the time, it feels like an occasion of obligatory partying; four glasses of wine and one of champagne while cheering, a harrowing and very annoying metro ride back home. This year's NYE, I had dinner with Adam's family, stopped in on his brother's party for an hour, then left, arm clutching a borrowed copy of Inherent Vice for the ride home. By 11, I was in my mom's bed with a mug of tea, both of us watching There's No Business Like Show Business, passing into the new year together for the first time in, probably, a decade. It felt more special to be able to spend a quietly auspicious night with this person whom I love the most. But given where I am, having left Montreal, the city that nurtured me into adulthood, and two weeks from boarding a plane which will take me to a new home across the world, it seems like a wasted opportunity not to look back on 2015 and honour it, in a small way. 

2015 gave me the privilege of time, and dared me to do with it what I wanted. I surprised myself, aiming and landing much higher than I could ever expect to: I started doing yoga, first weekly, then daily. I got over my fear of pitching. I contemplated the nuances of a second-generation Asian identity for some of my dream websites. I learned, doing a story for the Guardian (biggest byline to date), that I really love going well out of my way to unearth quirky stories about undervalued people, and am capable of typing in a car for six hours and turning a story around in a day. I was down, and up. In the month of May, I went from washing dishes at a diner in NDG to becoming a full-time working freelance journalist with anchor clients. I stopped eating meat, 85% of the time (exceptions: dim sum with my family, anything a loved one has spent seasoning and basting for hours, my Poh Poh's chicken soup), and generally started taking control of my diet in a proactive way. I met new friends, reunited with old friends, spent exceptional nights hanging out on the balcony and the living room of the du Couvent apartment, and watched them continue to grow into happy, caring, creatively and professionally successful people. 

I'm not sure what I want to do or who I want to be in 2016, but I have an idea of how I would like to better myself. I want to work, harder than I have before. Freelancing gave me a lot of time to do the kind of stuff I wanted to do, but I want to find a full-time job, put in the Hong Kong OT, keep my nose to the grindstone. I want to disconnect a little more on my off-hours, because I'm learning that the Internet is something that placates my urges towards productivity and triggers my anxiety. I am committed to becoming totally fluent in Cantonese, which people tell me should come naturally in Hong Kong, but still terrifies the shit out of me. I would like to be nicer to myself, and stop beating myself up over trivial moments of slight embarrassment which nobody else remembers (just once, maybe, I can go to a party and not have to go over all awkward moments the next day in my head like an awful never-ending sports highlights reel). I want to talk less, listen more, and be more perceptive to when my friends and family need support but don't explicitly express it.

Mostly, though, this year I'm going to try really hard to focus less on me, and more on the stuff going on around me. 

So here's to another goddamn new year. May we all be stronger, and happier, find love and acceptance with where we are in our lives, or at least get a firmer idea of how to get where we need to be. Isn't that all we can ask for in this world? 

Why Hong Kong?

My kitchen looks at once smaller and larger than it did two weeks ago, before a nice couple with a terrified little girl came on a rainy night to examine and cart away our dining set. Sitting here now, with my laptop sitting on a somewhat unstable TV tray table, looking out into our mostly bare living room, I feel as if I could just fold the apartment into something the size of a cocktail napkin, rooms and all, and take it with me. I can see my apartment as blueprint, a flat layout unimaginable only weeks ago when it was full of furniture, little tchotchkes in the cabinet. Homes change, and there's something alluring and terrifying about living in a space where items disappear, one by one until we do. 

Many people who know me know that Adam and I are moving to Hong Kong in January, after spending a month in Toronto with our folks. Last weekend we had a small get-together with some of my closest friends here at the apartment to say our goodbyes, and I kept hearing the word Adventure, as in: "This is such an exciting adventure for you!" and "You guys are really adventurous to do this," and "When are you coming back from this adventure?" To me, it doesn't feel like an adventure (even though it plainly is, for obvious reasons). It's a reasonable step forward, a practical career move, a promotion I'm giving myself at certain risk, a long vacation. But one question kept popping up. 

Why Hong Kong? 

In May 2014, I took a trip through Shanghai, Shenzhen, Beijing and Hong Kong with my parents and my uncle and aunt. I was 25 at the time. Around the mainland, I found myself reaching for my mom's hand everywhere we went, relying on my parents for translation in Mandarin, eating huge meals in restaurants of items I had never seen before but flavours that seemed oddly familiar. I felt like a child again: petulant, completely dependant, wide eyed and awestruck at the mundane things everyone experiences in China on a daily basis. After two weeks exploring the cities and the countrysides of China, we landed in Hong Kong and suddenly I felt awash by a wave of relief and independence: I could take the subway on my own, I had people my age to hang out with, I stayed with some relatives across the city from my parents' hotel room. I heard voices of the strangers on the street and I knew the sounds, the tones, the general meaning, if not all the vocabulary. The city itself was intoxicating: skyscrapers reached up impossibly to the sky, neon signs hung low over traffic; there matched a restrained British politesse with the throngs of people on every street corner. I could turn the corner from the concrete and glass of Central into a sloped, stone slabbed Pottinger Street, bustling with street venders selling costume items, souvenirs and clothing. This all sounds like tourism copy, owing to a short time in a new city, but I felt like I was present, in my body, with all my senses in full process. I was hyper-present. But I also just felt comfortable, surrounded by people who looked like me, listening into conversations in a language I hadn't been so immersed in since childhood, enjoying dim sum with old relatives who hadn't seen me in decades. I ate noodles in a dai pai dong, drank beer on a pier overlooking the Victoria Harbour. Hong Kong presented me with these kinds of comforts of home, and utterly captivating excitement, that Montreal couldn't.

I think that's why it doesn't feel quite as adventurous as it seems to other people: that, in a small way, it feels like I'm just going home - only it's home that I've never known. (And similarly, going to a home that wasn't really mine is, I should mention, is how I found myself in Montreal in the first place, but that's another blog post or not). I left the city convinced I would live there. 

I went home and talked about it with Adam, who understood immediately that it was something that I needed to do, and we agreed on a date: January 2016. A move like this is not entirely new for Adam, as he lived in Japan with a host family when he was in high school, and is deeply interested in Japanese-English translation. Plus, we had always talked of wanting to live in different cities before settling down in Toronto. Plus, he loves me, and I feel privileged, worthy yet grateful, and extremely reciprocal of this love. We look out for each other. 

Of course, this was June 2014, still, and usually, when I have utterly arbitrary and grand ideas, he says "Yes" and nods along with me until I eventually forget about them - after three months of dating, I had proposed that we move to Europe and hop cities every month and become "digital nomads" and he agreed; I wanted to breed silkworms and talked about it for weeks and he supported this endeavour. Neither happened. It seemed, easily, like this was another grand idea, but we just kept talking about it and watching Cantonese dramas and Googling Hong Kong-related searches. We realized that Hong Kong is a way better city to find work as an English language journalist than Montreal (there are seemingly hundreds of luxury magazines and almost every international media agency has a bureau in Hong Kong). I learned that I was eligible for a non-permanent Hong Kong ID. A year passed, and we decided to take up Mandarin lessons. In this time, neither of us had forgotten about this crazy idea. So we booked flights. 

Now it's December 2015, and I'm staring into the unobstructed hardwood that panels our living room, wondering if there's some magic dust I can sprinkle over this place to get it to fold up and fit in my suitcase. But no matter how small this home gets, it's still too big for us to take to Hong Kong.