by Nancy Bach
If you’ve traveled many miles from home to Hong Kong, your world may be turned upside down, literally. So how do you deal with all the changes you meet in this foreign country? Some withdraw and try to wait it out, wallowing in homesickness. Some act as tourists, experiencing everything on the New York Times’ “36 Hours in Hong Kong” itinerary, and then wondering “What’s next?”
Our path was to make Hong Kong our home, embracing our surroundings and creating routines that gave us comfort in our new setting. Everyone in our family had a special interest. Liz was a nine-year-old taking dance lessons. That was easy to address. First she took lessons in our apartment complex at Hong Kong Parkview, later in Repulse Bay, at the Hong Kong Football Club, in midlevels…all over Hong Kong, without missing a beat. She even danced in the Hong Kong ballet corps’ production of Cinderella at the Cultural Arts Center.Chris, our seven-year-old, had just started playing ice hockey before leaving New York. We thought his career was over, but we discovered ice hockey in tropical Hong Kong! To our amazement and amusement, his first rink was in the Aberdeen Marina Club parking lot and featured a heavily padded weight-bearing pole off-center in the rink near one of the blue lines. No problem—the kids just skated around it, occasionally using it as an extra blocking player. Perhaps it helped them build creative strategic thinking skills! Chris later skated at City Plaza, in Sham Shui Po, and in Kwun Tong, traveling independently with ease on HK’s public transportation systems. His team even went to a tournament in Beijing where they played against poorly funded, but highly skilled Mongolians. They lost the tournament but became part of the world of global athletics.
Patrick, the youngest at only four years old, was still a relative newbie to the world, so Hong Kong quickly became the only home he knew. We visited Big Wave Bay Beach, not remembering our bathing suits, and he stripped off his clothes and romped in the waves. We wandered the markets of Wan Chai and he marveled at the live fish and other delicacies—not that he would eat any of this since he was still living on a diet of peanut butter and white bread. In fact, our pre-relocation orientation included a lesson on using chopsticks, teaching the kids to put peanut butter on the working ends. They could pick up anything!
My husband and I were runners and hikers. Our home at the top of Wong Nai Chung Gap Road offered us trails down the mountain in all directions. We frequently made a race of Michael running down to the kids’ schools at Repulse Bay or Tai Tam and the rest of us in a car navigating the winding roads along the South China Sea to meet him there; he usually beat us. Every year we entered Standard Charter’s Hong Kong 10K race. We were the first to run across the Tsing Ma Bridge to the new airport on Lantau Island and the next year ran a zero-elevation-change 10K race on the tarmac before the airport was opened for flights. Michael loved to golf; I didn’t. But the public course on Kau Sai Chau Island in Sai Kung was beautiful enough to draw me out for a round of lost balls and amazing views, followed by a fresh seafood meal in Sai Kung.
I could pursue my homebody interest of sewing, finding great fabrics in Western district and Kowloon side, with whole streets of notions. The Mongkok Flower Market was a weekly stop; we loved the smell of fragrant white ginger. And cooking was a dream with all the Asian fruits and vegetables available fresh daily in Wan Chai. When my brother visited for a week we had a breakfast tray of five different fruits each day and never ran out of new items. Of course our amah, Gilda, did much of the cooking. What a luxury to suggest a recipe in the morning and come home to the smells and tastes of her gourmet meal served complete with cookbook presentation.
So we made Hong Kong our home by continuing, relatively unfazed, in our normal interests. And then we expanded our concept of home by embracing new things. Of course we visited the festivals, from Bun Festival on Cheung Chau to Lantern Festival in Victoria Park, Moon Festival in Repulse Bay (with mooncakes), and Chinese New Year with money-filled red packets. At first we simply enjoyed the novelty of it, but then we learned the cultural and spiritual meaning for the local Chinese and appreciated the solemnity.
We found out what was going on in the territory and joined in. We scoured our local paper, the South China Morning Post, for upcoming events. Our kids participated in a triathlon in Sha Tin, with Chris placing for a medal. Liz did an Outward Bound school trip and sailed through Hong Kong Harbor atop the mast of a tall ship (waving, with no tether. Yikes!) We read about Falun Gong protesters and went to the Xinhua News office to see how the prostrate protesters were being treated. Every April we joined 40,000 others in Victoria Park in annual memorials of the Tian An Men incident. We cheered at Rugby Sevens. We welcomed men and women of the US Navy into our homes every Thanksgiving and Christmas when the fleet came into port.
One day we saw a competition, sponsored by the Hong Kong Tourist Association, to create a promotion for their “Hong Kong, Our Home” competition. We entered, competing with a campaign of “See it. Hear it. Taste it. Feel it. Smell it. Sense it.” Liz, at age 12, gave a competent presentation before Chinese judges. We won 3000HKD as finalists, the only non-Chinese participants. For many years “Sense it. Discover it.” were banner words on HKTA’s website. Hong Kong WAS our home. We lived it.