Triggered.

Greetings Koala clan!

I hope that this finds you well. Right now Australia is making its way through another winter, and if the chill and shorter days weren’t enough, my state has recently completed it’s fourth Covid lockdown. Thankfully this was a quick one, only running for two weeks. Being a koala, I like to spend my days sleeping anyway, so I won’t complain about not being able to leave the gum tree. I will also note that I have never felt more grateful for a safe and warm shelter.

Thank you to those who took the time to read my last post “What I miss about the “other” land”. If you missed it, please feel free to go back and have a peruse.

It took a long time to write that post as there are many things I love about Hong Kong and as an indecisive koala, it was painful deciding what to include, or more so, what to exclude.

Fun fact; the post you are reading now was originally a part of that post. As I embarked on writing about what I missed in Hong Kong, the process got me thinking about the moments of what I like to call “home away from homesickness”. While these feelings are unplanned, their presence can be predictable; certain triggers would bring my mind back to the fragrant harbour in a split second. Completely involuntarily. Every single time.

I’ve always thought of myself as a sensitive koala, but I can say that I have never been so aware of my senses since repatriation. As I go about my day rather innocently, my senses plot against me to trigger that moment of “ugh!”

Reactions vary from the feelings of longing or craving, to the gentle flutter of butterflies and wistful thoughts of “Today I feel like visiting (insert random name of a place in Hong Kong)”

Thoughts can creep up in the form of comparison, pondering how I preferred certain aspects of living in the Fragrant Harbour.

At worst, it has been the sensation of receiving a sickening punch to the stomach. This is generally after the realisation that this much loved place is now unreachable- For me any way, not for the seven and a half million people currently living there.

And consequently there’s the odd moment of “what about me? It isn’t fair!” sung karaoke style, in an act of self pity because frankly, life is just not fair at times.

Thankfully these experiences are becoming less of an occurrence. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, apparently. Or maybe you just grow accustomed to what is an changeable situation and adapt?

So with all that said, what are some things that may act as triggers?

Eye spy with my little eye!

Undoubtedly the most common trigger for me has been visual, frequently involving social media and television.

Hong Kong featured in a lot of news reports in the months after I left. With every report televised, I saw the streets I used to walk during my day to day life. Places that felt familiar, places that still felt like “home”, despite it no longer being where I reside and never will again.

Once a day on Facebook, memories appear depicting moments spent in Hong Kong spanning 13 years of my life – a tourist trip here, a walk there, a lunch date or dinner with this person or that group. Being a koala who is more flight than fight, I retreated off Facebook temporarily to avoid such triggers but ultimately found my way back.

Yes, I know, I could delete or filter the posts and that could be one method of “moving on”. I could attempt to rewrite history for mine or other interested parties. But I did ask myself, would it be dishonouring to the place if I wiped the slate clean, as if it never had any influence on me? Should I really devalue the people I spent my days with, pretending I didn’t spend time with them? Is my life and time so worthless that I should attempt to erase evidence of it? And most importantly, could I be missing out on some important insight, insight that I may look back at in a different light one day?

Ok, I think that’s deep enough!

Retreat! Retreat!

Useless fact; Little green army men always remind me of the afternoon parades at Disneyland Hong Kong, (Disney HK, a.k.a my happy place!)
I could really do with some Disney therapy right now

For now, I pick my battles. Instead, I’ve taken to unliking business pages, partly to simplify my clogged news feed. I like staying connected to Hong Kong but realistically I don’t need to know about my favourite shopping centres latest promotions or want to be reminded that I’m missing out on x,y,z at the cafes and restaurants I used to enjoy visiting.

Meanwhile photos and posts stay and with each year, it will be a little less jarring to see. That’s the theory anyway!

Do you hear what I hear?

I keep in touch with people currently based in Hong Kong and since we chat as they go about their busy schedules, I see and hear them while they’re commuting on trains, buses and ferries, as well as hitting the pavement. You know, normal every day stuff, the stuff that I used to do. It’s funny how the mundane sounds of a city, something I never thought about while I was there, morphed into a thing of significance once I had moved on.

Things like the lady making announcements in the M.T.R (Metro Transit Railway) stations as the train departs “please stand back from the platform doors” and the energetic do do do do do do that follows.

The sound of the signals at the pedestrian crossing.

The distinctive ding ding of the trams racing up and down Hong Kong Island.

Even the Cantonese language brings on flashbacks. I’m not dismissing Cantonese as just a sound or a noise; It’s a wonderful dialect in a world of languages, one that has a rich history and is ever evolving. However, I find that while watching Hong Kong cinema (English subtitles on, thanks SBS channel Australia!), i’m taken back to the place where I was surrounded by the language, every single day.

What I’m currently watching. Can you name this film?!

Having said that, I love music and I’d much rather go about my day with the radio on rather than the television blaring in the background. I mostly listen to Australian channels but like to mix it up with some international radio stations. Listening to another countries channels gives a little variety to what I’m listening to and pulls me out of the uninspiring bubble I’m currently stuck in. It’s like a holiday escape at home, or at least it’s the closest thing I’m going to get for a long while. Ha!

As Last week I dared to listen to a Hong Kong station and without warning came the wash of feelings. I don’t know what it is about listening to the radio, but suddenly I was in the back of a red Hong Kong taxi, looking out at the window, admiring the scenic harbour views and gazing up at the sky scrapers.

Bam! Take that stomach!

On the nose:

During the start of the COVID 19 lockdowns last year, I had trouble getting my normal cleaning products due to shoppers panic buying. This meant that I started trying products I normally would not have. I had some cleaners delivered, one of which was a multi purpose cleaning liquid. The first thing I do whenever I receive any new cleaning product is to give it the sniff test to determine whether it; A: Smells nice (very important!). B. Triggers any allergies within my fragile sinuses (also important!). Unexpectedly, as I inhaled the floral scents of Ajax, I was suddenly felt that swift gut punch and I was transported back in time to Hong Kong. Why? Because there was a variety store in Hong Kong near my apartment. Every time I’d walk into the store, the same floral scent would flood the senses. Whether they used this (or a similar product) for cleaning or it was sitting on their shelves, I don’t know, but the scent was unmistakable!

And what smells better than Ajax? The one thing that has the ability to connect our hearts to cultures in a meaningful and nostalgic way; food!

One afternoon as I strolling down a local alleyway, I was hit with a familiar scent. The glorious combination of rice, oil and garlic filled the air. One of the local Chinese restaurants had started preparations for their dinner service, and as the universe would have it, I was in the area.

Instantly I had a ravenous desire for Chinese cooking. This may sound like a very basic human response to smelling food, but given that I’d actively avoided any Chinese or Hong Kong cuisine for months, it felt like a moment of significance.

A feeling of nostalgia overtook my senses as I recalled the evenings that I would stroll down Tsat Tsz Mui Road in North Point. During the dinner rush, the aroma of freshly cooked meals enveloped the sidewalk for the pedestrians to inhale.

Gorging on Australian food in the months after any trip back was normal, I was merely eating everything I’d missed while in Asia. But this food avoidance upon my return was different; It was like I had had a fight with Hong Kong and didn’t want to interact with it. Food for me was an interaction with the place, an interaction laced with experiences and recollections of another life.

While my life may have been bleak particularly during the last months, the metropolis itself had not caused it, at least not directly.

While experiencing a repatriation that I did not choose, things I held close to my heart in Hong Kong culture (such as it’s local food) was too much of a reminder for me to partake and enjoy. Food which used to offer comfort now had a very different affect, strange as that (or I) may sound.

So, long story short, I told myself in that moment that this was it, my personal embargo was ending then; I would go to that restaurant and buy my dinner!

Well, that was the plan, but there was a sign stating the restaurant would not open until 5:00 PM, a full 30 minutes away. My parking spot was expiring and I didn’t want my fried rice coming with a complimentary serve of parking infringement. I mean think of all the noodles I could buy with that money!

That may sound anticlimactic, however since that day, I’ve been eating (and cooking) Cantonese styled cuisine again- all it took was the whiff of temptation from my local Chinese place.

Who knew that the nose had such strong ties with the heart?!

Feeling touchy:

While this doesn’t relate strictly to my most recent return, we have been talking about the senses and how responses can trigger Hong Kong centric thoughts (or in this case, fail to trigger) so I’ll allow it!

After returning from weeks away in Hong Kong as a tourist, I was strolling up a busy street in Brunswick. Still jet lagged, I made my way down the wide, spacious road, determined to get a double shot cappuccino in an attempt to make it through the afternoon. The day appeared to be bright and sunny, just a typical summers day in Melbourne. To be fair however, there is no such thing as a typical day in Melbourne as it’s known to be a place that can experience 4 seasons in one day!

I started to notice a sprinkling sensation on my face. Initially I wasn’t alarmed, until I realised it was getting heavier as it was the start of a sun shower and I was about to get a bit wet.

I had to laugh as it dawned on me that I had become so desensitised to random liquids descending from the heavens in Hong Kong that I hadn’t registered that it was spitting rain. It was like part of my brain had felt it but another part had interpreted it and decided “nah, she’ll be right mate!”

And why was that?

Let’s answer that story with another story (indirect, I know. Sorry!)

One afternoon during my first trip to Hong Kong I was walking along Kings Road with a local. Kings Road is a very long road on Hong Kong island and this particular section was built up, mostly with businesses at street level and apartments above. Due to the number of air conditioning units towering overhead, you frequently get rogue droplets hitting the ground below.

At the point of contact, I stopped and looked around feeling confused. Was it starting to rain? I checked the sky for clouds and saw none.

The local, sensing my confusion, asked what was wrong, to which I asked him if it was beginning to rain. The confusion spread to his face then disappeared as he laughed at me dismissively, explaining that I had probably been in the wrong place at the wrong time and got dripped on by a leaky air con.

Whoops. Rookie mistake Koala Girl!

Despite my attempts to avoid these things, I found them impossible to avoid at all times. I consequently learnt to block out when I had an involuntary christening. This surely explains my lack of response when I was rained on in a place that is far, far away from those drippy droppy air conditioning units!

Final wonderings.

Having documented some of my experiences coming back, I find it fascinating that our senses in collaboration with our mind, can absorb things we may not even be aware of on a conscious level and form a reaction. How amazing is the body?

In sharing these, I’m sure that there may be some who may relate to these observations and it may be a revelation that they are not alone in experiencing these thoughts, feelings or flashbacks.

On the other hand, I am sure that some may just think that it’s much to do about nothing. I just went back home to my home and my culture. And how lucky am I even to be back considering people are stranded around the world and can’t even get back into their home countries? And honestly I can see validity in all these thoughts, I get them myself.

I can counter all the arguments positively and negatively, rationally and empathetically, but I haven’t been able to eliminate the reactions that for most part appear subconsciously.

Conspiracy theory- Maybe these are the minds ways to force itself to sort through the stuff we stash it away in the “I’d rather not deal with it” basket!

Yes. I’ll go with that. At least it gives the “ugh” moments some sort of “purpose” and it’s not just I’m an overthinking marsupial.

What ever the case, life is about evolving and we all will be in a different place in another twelve months time, thanks to the experiences we have had. Hopefully its an even better place; A happy place. A healthy place. A blessed and fulfilled place. A place of purpose!

With all that said, until next time,

Best wishes,

Koala Girl.