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.