“One Last Look Around The House Before We Go…”
I looked around the cabin on my half-empty flight from Beijing to Manchester, seeing what about each stranger I could discern from their fidgeting, their tics. How people act when in transit with other strangers is interesting in that it’s largely incredibly guarded. We usually do our best to take our place, face forward and wish we were already at the destination, while annoying no one. I would later see two (seemingly very different) men at Baggage Reclaim shaking hands and wishing each other good luck. I imagine they used their time together to engage and make the journey less strenuous. I had no one beside me and that suited my long legs and I just fine. I didn’t want to have to explain to anyone else, whether stranger or friend, that I was leaving Hong Kong and heading back to Edinburgh, nor dive into why. As we came in to land in the UK, I recalled the woman who I sat beside on my arrival in Hong Kong in January 2016. We made small talk only at the end. She was British but had lived around China for years and told me I’d love Hong Kong from the sounds of it (I don’t recall what I told her about myself). I wonder what she did then, and is doing now. I never asked. I often regret that I don’t ask people enough about themselves, or perhaps the right questions, before the moment floats away with them as they depart.
2016 was a formative year for me in almost every way imaginable. I arrived ready and open, but still scared, wrapped in attachments to those I left. I remember hoping beyond hope that 2016 would be a ‘successful’ year for me, personally. I didn’t think much about what ‘success’ would look like, to me, at the time.
As a relatively small-town person, the sight of the glittering Hong Kong skyline took my breath away to the very end, leaning over the IFC balcony to watch Tsim Sha Tsui light up the night one last time. I’ve seen the city from the world’s tallest building, I’ve seen it from verdant peaks, I’ve seen it from dances on the rooftops of friends. The buildings shooting up into the sky, brutal in their beauty, housing satisfaction and struggle in equal measure, never failed to stun me. The lives unfolding in each small, assigned space so different to each other yet likely more similar than anyone knows. I could have stared at that skyline forever.
The friends I made in the past year I take with me going forward. Nothing could lessen the impact they all had on me and my experience in HK. Laughing, crying, dancing, living with them all was a privilege and a gift. It was too soon to say goodbye. But is there ever an appropriate time? Goodbyes are only devastating if you believe it’s truly the end. And it’s not. Here’s to the people who were there for me and who hopefully felt I was there for them. People from all over the world, with backgrounds and stories both familiar and new to me, who took a chance on me as being someone worth investing a bit of their time in. To call Hong Kong the friendliest place I’d ever lived is not hyperbole; I was making connections and people I’d want to pursue friendship with until my very last night. Sure, you had to be a social person, but it’s a city that naturally allows those that arrive alone to make connections in an instant — if you let it. Thank you for being a friend, y’all.
Here’s to the men I met. Inspiring, funny, clever, penniless, wealthy, influential, students, movers and the moved. A place as transient as Hong Kong is perhaps not a city in which to seek structured relationships or solidity, but the power of transience is what make the place inherently intense. It could last for a night, two months, or two years. “How long have you been in Hong Kong? How long are you staying?” It doesn’t matter.
I don’t feel like I’ve left. Not yet. It seems too simple, like someone’s pulled the rug out from underneath me. But that person is me. Maybe I’ll come to my senses.
I’m learning so I’m leaving
And even though I’m grieving
I’m searching for the meaning
Letting loss reveal it
Whatever Hong Kong is, isn’t, was, will be…it taught me, in a trial by fire, to not be afraid. I went out there vowing to try everything, to eat every plate of food put in front of me, to embrace every new person, opportunity, invitation. And I did. I’d say that’s successful.