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.