After fifteen years of mountain trails and double-decker bus rides, my family’s time in Hong Kong has almost come to an end. In a few days, my parents will board a one-way flight to Seoul with our cat as a carry-on, and in a short week or so I’ll follow.
The news was unexpected, but unsurprising. There was always going to be a journey back. And what better time is there than now, after I’ve spent an entire year marvelling over the way many Bahians are so sure of their cultural and social identity?
I’ve never known a ‘home’ in the way others have. I’m Korean, but I couldn’t tell you about my ancestors’ pasts. I couldn’t tell you about the music and the art and the dance that make my culture what it is. Heck, I couldn’t explain half of it in the language to begin with!
What I could tell you, however, is how much I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to completely and unconditionally identify with a place and all of its historical joys and sorrows. To live in a place where I can interact with everyone in their mother tongue, with the added knowledge that we share a common heritage that brings us closer somehow.
To a certain extent, I regret not having been able to do this with Hong Kong. Sure, I’m not from the city, but I often wonder what my experience would’ve been like if I’d spoken Cantonese and spent more time with local people— like the way I did in Brazil. I regret the complacency I feel after fifteen years of living in a bubble, and I regret how difficult it is to come out of complacency once I am within it.
So, even though I’m technically moving to the US in the fall, I’m hoping this summer will be my chance to finally know something I’ve wanted to know my whole life.
For now, I live in uncertainty. The only certainty lies in the piles of boxes that grow taller by the day, and the evenings my parents and I spend in a living room that becomes emptier and emptier, eating the same meals with ingredients that need to be finished before we leave.
I find it to be a great lesson in patience. Without the silence of my own space, I learn to share spaces with others. I learn to prioritize the process instead of focusing on the end goal. Sure, I can’t wait until I’m back in a room of my own, decorated with the photographs and the colors I envision for myself. But for now, what matters are the morning promenade walks with my mom when she wants to take a break, the afternoon hikes with my dad when he wants a break, and the time I carve out for myself to write when I need a break. And from this process of taking care of oneself and others, I realize that ‘waiting around’ isn’t the redundant ‘in-between’ I often deem it to be. As cheesy as it sounds, this ‘waiting around’ is also known as ‘growth’, if you let it be.
And of course, waiting around also comes with its fair share of precious moments.
The other day, I took all my books down from my bookshelf and decided to categorize them in various piles. There’s a belief that you can tell who a person is by looking at her bookshelf. In my case, the tallest stack consisted of fiction, whilst the second — surprisingly — were books in Spanish.
After coming home from Brazil, I’ve admittedly grown a little lax about my Spanish; without a doubt, it partially stems from my newfound love (and somewhat obsession) for Portuguese. But seeing the pile of Spanish books was a humbling reminder that Spanish has meant a lot to me before, and — I realize now — still does. After all, it was Spanish that built the bridge between myself and the beautiful sing-song nature of Brazilian Portuguese, and it was Spanish that got me hooked to the art of learning language.
Coming across old photographs, journals and Christmas letters has also been a treat. The other day I came across my first travel journal, which I wrote when my family visited Paris and London in 2008. Once upon a time, my favourite kind of hat in the world was the beret, and I thought my Legoland-issued drivers’ license was the best thing in the world.
Even today, the process continues. Outside, it rains and the city feels quiet. In moments like these, I wish I could write an ode for Hong Kong, yet my current self cannot muster the energy to produce something fantastic.
It is important that I remind myself that things of beauty take their time to grow… and that, perhaps, their expression isn’t always intentional. If I could collate the individual moments that most characterize my years here — from the playground days of primary to late-night, post-graduation tram rides — I’m sure that the resultant collage would create something I never intended to be wonderful, but in the end has turned out to be the best goodbye I could give.
And so, these memories and conversations and lights and energies are what I’ll take with me, and what I’ll speak of in conversations as the years go on. And at college, when I face the inevitable question Where are you from?
I’ll obviously respond: Korea.
But after that, there’ll always be a spotlight on Hong Kong.
I’ve written about not having a ‘home’ in a previous post, which is entitled ‘The One Thing I Want (But I’ll Never Have)’. This post was also semi-inspired by my original ‘Meditations on Moving’, which I wrote when I moved in to the house we’re about to leave.