Have you ever packed up your life to move to a new part of the world?
I just did.
I’ve finally started to evaluate this decision. One of the first questions I asked myself was: shouldn’t I have seen this place, at the very least, before moving here?
On the plane, the girl beside me is an aspiring interaction designer from Washington and we holler across the row for two hours. We discuss work, and she wants to show me around her hometown in China.
The flight attendants keep feeding me fruit, and after the first round of mouldy wet grapes, I inspect each object before stabbing into my mouth. If I have to puke because someone didn’t wash their hands, it will be for swallowing an exotic pastry from the Hong Kong street market, not a grape from California.
Stepping off the plane to Hong Kong with this girl, the first thing I notice is the Chinese written on the signs, then the music playing in the elevator. I want to say it’s Chinese muzak with Chinese lyrics, but I don’t remember exactly.
It feels different, that’s all.
I do learn this in my first 10 minutes arriving to Hong Kong: everything is a freaking hike. You are either hiking up or across buildings and you are always going the wrong way.
There’s only one kind of milk at the supermarket (and soy, which I don’t believe counts). The thirty tofus in the fridge are extra value or slimming or celebrity endorsed, like every other product in Asia.
I pick high calcium milk and granola for breakfast. “You can’t drink milk cold here,” my aunt says.
My water bottle is perpetually empty but she doesn’t let me order water at the restaurant. When we see each other in the first days, I am forbidden to eat sushi or talk to Chinese strangers as my organs could be ripped out in both scenarios.
The thinnest layer of grime settles on my arms each time I go out and my skin gets angrier each day. I start listening to my chill rock playlist on the metro, skipping the Chopin because it’s never loud enough, just like I did back home. Stolen Dance (guitar sheet music) is my favourite these days; Spotify tries to slip in some Cantonese pop in my playlist but I don’t want Hong Kong culture in my safe space.
On Day 3, I decide that I’m done. If I have to live in a city where drops from the sky could be mucus from air conditioners and I have to speak a language where I can’t be sarcastic, I get to keep the pieces of me that I’m comfortable with.
I buy a bowl for my milk and cereal.
As someone who rebels against negativity, I am thrilled that the latest trending movie I’ve yet to see is about not giving a crap about what others say: Theory of Everything, based on a memoir by Stephen Hawking’s wife. You should see it because I loved it.
There are so many things in Stephen Hawking’s life that depend on luck and circumstance. Like, after Hawking fell ill, what if his nurse treated him poorly and his condition deteriorated? I’ve seen that happen. Or, what if the piano teacher began abusing the children out of jealousy? But he is so kind. Everyone is flawed in the most perfect way and events unfold as if Hawking’s life were pre-written.
Hong Kong is so different– there is no other word for it, from someone from Canada. What if I’d moved to London instead? I’m not sure Hong Kong is a place made for Grace.
There are a million what ifs and it kills me. What if I didn’t find a home? Hiking up that steep hill to my new home for the second time, I wanted to stomp on my keys. But I chose this story of mine to continue in Hong Kong.
We are more powerful than we think.
What if you played jazz music? Then you probably couldn’t play classical as fluently. The little choices add up to steer your story in this direction that you have to trust is the right one, which may not seem ideal, but it will turn out to be the best one for you at this moment. You will look back and events will unfold naturally, like Hawking’s story did.
Your choices affect the loved ones around you, and this power is also a responsibility.
You can’t live a story that you’re 100% happy with, but your story is probably one that someone else would die to live.
My editor named this article for me and I love it. We are all living hollywood-worthy lives. Thanks, Amy.
Read More on Travelling in Asia:
Curing culture shock
Because I can almost guarantee that your first time in Asia will result in culture shock.
Traveller’s guide to recording music
My favourite recording hacks.
Practicing music when you’re on the road
Sneaky ways to practice music, so you don’t lose all music ability when you return home.
Survive the ER and avoid traveller’s loneliness
I went to the ER. Even the strongest people get lonely. Here’s how to avoid this.