“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
As an expat, my arrival in any country (these days) brings with it, the steely eyes of a super sleuth. The minute I step off the plane, I’m giving my holiday destination the once over! Judging, comparing, making rapid assumptions from the cleanliness of airport toilets, I’m sizing up the place for its ‘liveability.’
You see, living the expat life, almost every city has the potential to be your future home, which makes any foreign locality fair game. Who knows when or even IF, but as an hotelier’s wife, there’s ALWAYS a chance this unfamiliar neighbourhood will arrive on your radar at some point in time.We jumped on a plane and went for a mini-break to Thailand last weekend, a short two hour 40 minute flight from Hong Kong. It wasn’t my first time in the Land of Smiles, but I was a virgin in the big city of Bangkok. I was excited to see what the so-called City of Angels had to offer. Stepping out from the airport, raising my sunglasses, I peered out at this populous city of 8-million that stretched before me.
I’d barely scratched the surface of this vibrant metropolis but I was already shaking my head. “It’s not Hong Kong,” I said under my breath. “Give it a chance” my inner voice retorted, sternly.
When you’re looking through expat lenses, it’s hard to keep that raw, open mindedness a first-time traveler might feel in a new, unexplored and exotic environment. The butterflies give way to an anxious knot in the pit of your stomach.
As we crawled through the chaotic Friday night traffic – I watched with mild alarm as the ubiquitous Tuk Tuks and motorbikes carrying not one but several passengers (not to mention those brave people on foot pushing carts) competed for a spot on the roads amongst the fast cars and oversized coaches.
While there’s no move to this chosen holiday destination on the horizon, even remotely – you know there’s always a chance. So without even realizing, you begin to picture yourself living in the city, amongst the madness. I try to imagine myself driving here, this place where traffic lanes are merely for decoration, there are no road rules and it seems, no order. Scouring the frenzied streets, I find myself looking for comforting signs of life, my life. Passing a Boots chemist, McDonalds and a Starbucks, my shoulders do a little jig (even if Mint Mocha isn’t on the menu).
Looking out at foreign signs that really do mean nothing to me, I acknowledge that Hong Kong is littered with the very same indecipherable billboards, yet somehow, even though I still can’t read a word of Chinese, those characters and symbols fill me with familiarity and comfort.
As we pass giant shopping centres, flouting those globally recognizable brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada and Gucci my confidence lifts. It’s not about the goods (that I clearly can’t afford), its what they symbolize, reassurance. Mostly that I’m somewhere the world recognizes. Maybe it’s not so foreign after all.
By now, my love affair with Hong Kong has become everlasting. This slick, sophisticated and savvy city with its heaving skyscrapers, lush green mountains and sparkling harbour has wooed me and caught me in its clutches. But, there’s a but, I haven’t forgotten where we started. It definitely wasn’t love at first sight. Hong Kong was scary, intimidating, overwhelming and yes, totally alien.
In fact, in most cities when you first make eye contact, glance awkwardly at each other, you really could be anywhere in the world.
Concrete buildings sprawl across an unknown land that’s dotted with green trees; rivers roll through, connected by iron clad bridges; trains chug underground, over-ground and everywhere in between – all under one big moonlit sky.
We know our time to leave the Fragrant Harbour is coming…. eventually, we’ll be saying goodbye to a well-rehearsed routine, great friends, local conveniences, unexpected loves and lifelong lessons. We don’t know when or where, but if anything, as first-time expats we’ve learned, ultimately it’s not about which country you’re in, what language is spoken or mode of transport is used, it’s about finding familiarity, in whatever form that may be.
Once you have that, then you have a home.
by Mint Mocha Musings blogger Nicole Webb.
Nicole was a Journalist and News Reader with Sky News Australia for a decade before making the life changing move to Hong Kong with her hotelier husband.
Mum to hyped up blondie Ava, Nicole has swapped the news desk and microphone for a change table and nappy bag but is still enjoying the best of both worlds, freelancing as a Journalist, Presenter, Master of Ceremonies and Media Trainer. Her expat journey to date has been filled with plenty of intriguing and humorous tales. Check out her blog Mint Mocha Musings and on Twitter @nicoledwebb
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