The past year or so has gone by ridiculously fast. I pinch myself and wonder, how are we in November and are about to plow into December?
Did you know that August was my third Hong Kong anniversary? I can’t believe it myself. Sometimes it feels like we have been here for three months, other days it feels like we have been here for 30 years! What was a one or two year plan, has blossomed into a three, maybe four or five year plan. At this point, I have given up on trusting in any plan.
Living here is a great experience, but the longer I am here, the more I miss home for as the old saying goes “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.
For the most part, I think that this is due to our life circumstances changing this year and I have begun to crave the familiarity of Australia. Time is also a significant factor.
By the Yarra River, Southbank, the City of Melbourne.
So, what are some of the things that I miss about my home country? Very glad you asked!
1. The fresh air.
I must confess, I didn’t appreciate how good the air was until I left Australia. I also did not realise how smoggy and humid it gets in Hong Kong until I lived here for more than two weeks at a time and had to maintain an apartment.
During one of our last trips back, Panda and I wearily walked out of the sliding doors at the Melbourne International Airport upon our arrival. Pushing our luggage onto Australian soil for the first time in a year, we both simultaneously and unconsciously, inhaled the fresh, crisp, morning air with a big, deep breath. It was like our lungs had been liberated and had taken their first real breath in a year.
It was made even better by the intoxicating scent of the native plants nearby, leaving us feeling as refreshed as we could feel after nine hours in the air and zero sleep over night.
Once we realised what we had both done, we roared with laugher, amused by the synchronicity but mostly happy to be home!
The pesky tight chest and cough I had suffered for two months before going back to Australia (the one that Panda was convinced was a terminal illness but the one I was sure was the result of the constant pollution and humidity in H.K.) disappeared instantly, only to reappear when I got back to Hong Kong. Coincidence? I think not!
To be fair, the air in Melbourne isn’t perfect either. We too have peak hour traffic pollution. During summer you can sometimes smell smoke in the atmosphere as it’s bush fire season. During spring (and other random times), pollen can invade the air and while bees love pollen, it can be toxic to people and invoke things like hay-fever allergies and even worse, asthma. But the clear skies and blissful breezes seem to be more the norm than the exception, depending on what season you are in.
At the end of the day, there is nothing like sitting outside in the evening and taking in a deep, refreshing breath to inhale the calm of the evening and exhale the stress of the day.
Just chilling by the water, enjoying the sea breeze- Williamstown, Victoria.
2. The shopping.
When I tell people in Australia that I am visiting from Hong Kong, one thing people often comment on is how lucky I am to live in a place where I can do all this amazing shopping. I struggle to keep a straight face as while yes, there is some great shopping to be done if you know where to go and how to bargain, I find that most practical things of interest to me are either not in Hong Kong or are more expensive, which means I do a lot more shopping in Australia than Hong Kong!
I’m embarrassed to admit that the most exciting moment of any visit home is my first trip to my local Coles or Woolies supermarket. Maybe it’s my brain being overstimulated by the bright lights or the
annoying upbeat music being played in the store but the exhilaration as I enter is overwhelming. For most part, it’s the plotting of what foods I will splurge on for the next few weeks, before I have to go back to a place where the same items are either unavailable or double the price.
I will try new things, but as a koala of habit and one who has certain dietary issues, my shopping list is quite consistent. Moving to a new place where my eating habits don’t exactly align with the general population took some getting used to.
I am much better now but you can be sure that when I hop onto the plane back to Hong Kong that I will be carrying at least ten kilograms of food.
This might seem odd to some, and as Panda once said to me “you realise there’s food in Hong Kong right?!”
The funny thing about this situation; a few years before I moved to Asia, we had travelled back from Hong Kong after a holiday and I was standing at the luggage carousel at the airport. While waiting for my case, a young man caught my attention as he struggled to pull a large box off the carousel which appeared to be instant noodles. I watched in amusement as I thought to myself “that’s a long way to bring your favourite snack!”
Five years on however, I have become the noodle guy. To my disgust, you cannot get Maggi’s Oriental flavoured Two Minute Noodles in Hong Kong!
I hate clothes shopping. Unfortunately I like wearing clothes so alas clothes shopping one must go. While you could get a cute and inexpensive wardrobe in Hong Kong, this is very much on the condition of what size you are, what you like and what styles suit you.
While Hong Kong is my favourite place to buy shoes, I struggle to fit into the fashion sizes here being the jelly-belly koala that I am. I do fit some clothing at international stores like Marks and Spencer but apart from the expense of shopping there, there are certain essential items that I can never find in my size since Hong Kong stores do not stock the full U.K. range.
To add insult to injury, none of my favourite Aussie clothing retailers ship to Hong kong. Why oh why? I am willing to pay the exorbitant postage fees, please take my money!
These things have changed my mentality in two ways;
I now love shopping for clothes in Australia. It is so exciting to walk into a store and know that they have the styles I like, in my size, all at a reasonable price.
It is so depressing to see the many cute clothing stores in Asia and to not even dare to walk into them as you know that they are not for you. Because of this, coming back to shop at my favourite stores in Australia, I feel “normal” again, not like some odd alien who can look but not touch.
Consequently, despite having less room than ever to store clothes, I now have more than ever as I have become a hoarder of clothes! As I buy my garments in bulk a year at a time, If any thing doesn’t fit any more or gets torn, I am terrified to donate it or throw it out as If I need that size again I may not be able to find it here.
The department stores.
Oh Kmart, Big W and Target, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!
I love that I can spend an entire afternoon browsing through these stores on the hunt for clothing, cheap books, craft supplies, well priced homewares and my favourite thing at the moment, Christmas decorations!
One thing’s for sure, I am not the only one who loves these shops; there are Facebook groups devoted to these retailers and fellow department store groupies flood my Facebook feed daily with photos of their bargain buys.
At least twice a day, I find myself in a state of envy because I too want a shiny, gold, decorative pineapple for my living room coffee table and a shaggy, pink blanket to drape glamorously over my bed.
Oh how I dream of the day I can move back to Australia and redecorate my home with such bargain buys!
3. The space.
Wide open spaces- The Twelve Apostles, along the famous Great Ocean Road in Victoria. I can almost smell the sea salt.
In Australia, we have a lot of space. How much space you have ultimately depends on where you live, but if you live in the suburbs like me, you may have some room to move.
Walking down a residential street and being able to see grass, trees and a sky sprinkled with stars in the evening, is so very refreshing. Walking the dog without being run over by hoards of people, even better!
On the days we want to escape the “confines” of suburbia, we hop into our affordable car and hit the wide open roads. Whether it be beach or forrest sceneries that we are craving, there are plenty of options near or far, depending on where we want to go.
Baywalk bollards @ Eastern Beach, Geelong, Victoria.
One sad thing is that every time I go home, I hear locals complain about how crowded the area has become with new housing estates invading the area and all of the lengthy periods of roadworks that go with it. Panda and I have had those discussions ourselves given we have witnessed many changes there over the past decade and the fact that the area feels less recognisable every time we go back. Despite the feeling of having ones territory being encroached upon by residential and business developments, our area will never be anywhere near as crowded as it is where we live on Hong Kong Island. I will just need to remind myself how good we have it when we face these challenges in the future upon our return.
4. My house, a.k.a. our castle.
Most certainly, our favourite space of all in Australia and what I crave the most is my house. We were lucky enough to buy our own home and while technically the bank will own it for at least the next 20 years, it’s still nice to know that as long as we can maintain our mortgage repayments that we have our own “castle” as Panda likes to call it.
At the moment we are renters in Hong Kong, not being able to afford to buy into the super expensive housing market. We have been lucky to get good landlords, especially important since in Hong Kong we deal exclusively with the landlord once the real estate agent has helped us to sign all the contracts.
While our house in Melbourne is not any thing exceptional by Oz standards, by Hong Kong standards it’s a mansion! And despite the drastic differences in the size of the properties, we are paying three times the money for our small apartment in Hong Kong than what we charge to rent out our house in Australia.
Speaking of houses, living in a home that is a seperate dwelling from ones neighbours is something I miss dearly.
In Melbourne, I would open my front door and the scent of flowers would waft through. This is compared to the strong smell of incense that overwhelms my small and badly ventilated flat twice a day from neighbouring properties.
Panda misses our living room that comfortably housed his big television and the comfiest sofa ever, a blue recliner named Sheridan. (Yes, our couch has a name!)
I miss my kitchen which has plenty of bench and storage space and the best thing of all, a full sized gas oven. I had to say goodbye to my baking habit when we moved here as not one of the three apartments we have lived in has had an oven, though maybe that is a good thing since all the people I used to bake for are now 7,427 kilometers away!
Probably what I miss most however is our backyard where we would regularly barbecue and eat during the warmer months. Also a nice place for a cup of coffee in the morning, I could get my daily dose of vitamin d without having to leave my property, a brilliant solution for a lazy and antisocial koala like me!
5. The volume.
I feel like whenever we are in Hong Kong that the volume is turned all the way up and once we go back home, it is turned back down again!
The noise levels are so definitively different that whenever we go back to Oz, the first night back I cannot sleep, because to quote Bjork, “it’s oh so quiet, It’s oh so still”.
A part from a few dogs barking, a random cat fight at 3:00 AM and the enchanting choir of crickets that call our yard home, the night air is still and at times eerily quiet compared to the constant buzz of the Hong Kong streets that surrounds our little nest.
There are of course tranquil areas in Hong Kong but I have yet to have the pleasure of living in one of those.
I have to say with the exception of inconsiderate drivers who blast their horns in residential areas at 3:00 A.M, I have adapted to the noise levels in Hong Kong somewhat. Despite this, it is only when we return to my natural habitat that my brain feels like it can relax again as I can hear my own thoughts when they are not fighting the constant sounds of people and traffic.
6. The food.
A Pizza Land Combo from Pizza Land in Geelong. (Yes that is corn on the pizza & no, most places don’t put corn on their pizzas- but they should! )
I feel pretty fortunate growing up in Melbourne. It is a multicultural city and consequently this gives the city a diverse range of foods available.
Growing up, I acquired a taste for English, Australian, Chinese (Cantonese & Shanghainese), Indian, Japanese, American, Mexican, Greek, Vietnamese, Turkish, Thai and Italian cuisines, and ate a diverse range of foods and flavours regularly.
By far my favourite time to go out to eat however is for brunch because ultimately I like to sleep in and I will find any excuse for a coffee.
Melbourne has a fantastic cafe culture so the general standard of coffee is pretty good which is a blessing while I am home, but a curse while I am away as it has given me a very high benchmark!
And while people in Australia debate over the prices of my favourite brunch order, the smashed avocado (basically mooshed up avocado on toast or if it’s a fancy place, turkish bread or foccacia), knowing that it is at least half the price of what you could find in Hong Kong (if you could actually find one) is a great incentive to eat my weight in avos!
To be fair, there some great cafes in Hong Kong, but I am still waiting for the day when I can order an iced coffee that is served with good quality coffee beans, ice cubes, a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream, lashings of whipped cream and to top it all off, a couple of coffee beans sprinkled on top for presentation .
Maybe it’s time to start my own Australian styled cafe in Hong Kong? I like to eat and I am Australian, surely this gives me the “koala-fications!”
*inserts eye roll!*
The first thing Panda ate on his last trip back- a Big Breakfast, for a big panda!
7. Last but not least- the people!
I have met some pretty awesome folks in Hong Kong and have gotten to know other friends better since I have moved here.
Despite this, I have come to realise that you can meet the most wonderful people but still miss individuals at home. People simply cannot be replaced. Out of sight, out of mind doesn’t really work for me. This has been particularly evident in the last year or so but is more noticeable at different times of the year.
We have had five Christmases in Hong Kong and for me, each Christmas feels worse than the last. I used to think it was the Christmas traditions I missed and for some part it is, but it dawned on me one day that if you don’t have certain people to celebrate with, it’s just not the same any way. I mean, while I may get an hour of excitement over finding my favourite Paul’s Christmas custard and egg nog at the international supermarket, it’s a bit lonely if you are slurping it up on your own!
While we thankfully live in a connected era where we have video chat and instant messaging, it can never replace the joy of sitting in someones kitchen having a cup of tea and a biscuit together. It’s funny how such simple moments can be missed when you can’t experience them any more.
No doubt in a couple of years time if we return, I will be missing my Hong Kong crew as much as my Australian friends and I will be lamenting the lack of their presence.
What do you miss about your home when you are away?