What I miss about the “other” land.

Greetings koala Clan. I hope you are well. Can you believe it’s a new year? I can’t, but 2020 was a strange one, even for me!

For now, take a walk with me, away from this world of isolation, hand sanitiser and face masks. A stroll back to November 2018, which is when I wrote “What I miss about the mother land”, a post that discussed what I longed for in Australia as an expatriate in Hong Kong.

In the months before I wrote this, I had had a big, life altering experience. Before I could catch my breath, another challenge unexpectedly arose. And this one, was a plot twist.

At the point of writing this post, I was feeling homesick; my spidey senses knew that something in the universe was not right, though the nature of what that was hadn’t been revealed yet.

Whenever you feel alone or uncertain, what do you crave? For me, it was the familiarity and comfort of a peaceful environment. Perhaps it was the illusion of a less complicated life in Australia? With this in mind, I set to work doing my therapy, blog.

Since then, I have come full circle in returning to Australia, which means it’s time to do the reverse reflection on what I miss about my beloved muse and “other” land, Hong Kong.

The diverse scenery.

Variety is the spice of life and Hong Kong has that in spades.

During the 13 years I was associated with the fragrant harbour, the majority of my time was spent on Hong Kong Island. Here were the iconic neon lights and skyscrapers, making it a vibrant city scape. A short walk away was a harbour view, then closer to my apartment, a lush, green hillside.

Miss this view!

My first flat had a large balcony. At night, I’d step out to feel the breeze on my face and watch the quiet streets below, the same streets that were buzzing frantically earlier in the day.

It was during these peaceful moments, gazing upon lights and watching Ding Ding (the local trams) whizzing up the road, it would dawn on me that I was living in a very different country.

While there were times I found the busyness of inner city life overwhelming, the energy was also contagious and strangely addictive.

I felt so blessed to be there and cherished the experience.

Harbouring feelings.

Victoria Harbour, you beauty!

I could spend hours by the water. I loved seeing the junk boats cruise by, especially those with the bright red sails. Watching them go past always gave me goosebumps and this surreal feeling of “wow! I’m really in Hong Kong!”

While she drew me in at all times, night walks by the harbour were the best. The sea breeze was always welcome, particularly on warm nights. Admiring the sparkly lights that adorned the sky scrapers on the Kowloon side added to how lovely it was and acted as the perfect distraction for a huffy and puffy koala as she exercised.

The hills were alive with the sound of music?

Wrong! They were filled with the whining of a koala who felt the hill was much tougher than she was!

Eventually I, the said koala, realised that if life was already smashing me, what could a hill do? And why spend money on a gym when you have natures StairMaster next door? I mean, every day was leg day on Braemer Hill!

Even now on stressful days, I wish I could hike up that hill again to escape and refocus for a few hours.

The best part was I’d climb up a very ordinary looking staircase next to my cramped, concrete, city apartment and be transported to a serene habitat.

Walks were further made beautiful by streams, vibrant butterflies, dragon flies and fuzzy little caterpillars.

Sublime!

Park it.

While not all parks in Hong Kong were created equal, there’s some consistent perks to living near a park in Hong Kong.

Apart from being little oasis’s in the city, parks were well planned and maintained. I have never seen vandalised property or feared Stepping on a used syringe or broken glass.

On a daily basis, you would see children enjoying the playgrounds, older residents performing group dances, practicing tai chi, playing mahjong and exercising.

Cute couples would stroll through and friends would chat on park benches.

Though I’m aware things are different since I left (thanks to Covid-19, amongst other issues) but while I was there, many festive activities, such as the Lunar New Year flower markets and Mid Autumn lantern Festivals, were held annually in the larger parks.

I’ve had many special moments in Victoria Park, spanning 13 years as both a resident and a tourist, and for that, this park will always be the Queen of my heart!

Queen Victoria overseeing her park.

The Hong Kong central library.

Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Victoria Park is the Hong Kong Central library.

The day I truly started to feel like a resident was the day I held a Hong Kong library card in my hand.

The library had 12 floors containing of all sorts of learning and reference materials in both English and Chinese. There was even an entire floor dedicated to children’s resources including a toy library.

The study spaces were clean, bright and brilliantly organised. Thanks to the staff patrolling the library, they were also quiet. (don’t even think of forgetting to switch your phone onto silent mode!)

What a blessing it was to have had access to such an amazing resource!

Food, glorious food!

Some would say I’m a picky eater and by some standards, I am. I wish that I was one of those expats who dived in with the locals and ate everything with gusto. Unfortunately, I was that expat who struggled with stinky tofu and chicken feet (I did at least try them!) Regardless, it feels shameful to admit that, as it feels like I failed at being a “good” expatriate, despite my best intentions.

While I live in a multicultural city, there are some things that are hard to get or cannot be adequately duplicated since Hong Kong created such a high benchmark for my tastebuds!

One dish I also grew to love were the baked pork chops from Cafe De Coral, (a.k.a. C.D.C), one of Hong Kong’s biggest fast food restaurants. Who ever thought of baking a pork chop in a rich tomato sauce, on a bed of rice will for ever have my respect. It was a tasty meal in a box! Of course, there were many local restaurants who also served this dish which I also enjoyed, but this was my once a week, go to guilty pleasure.

And what drink is the perfect accompaniment with any meal? A refreshing iced lemon tea! I’m not talking the chemical concoctions you get here in bottles that are mostly sugar and weird artificial flavourings. I’m talking actual brewed tea with sliced lemon, perfect for hot and humid days. I ordered these so regularly I could order it in Cantonese, a modest accomplishment but I’ll take it! 🤣

While waffling on, I have to mention my favourite street food. It was always a difficult choice between the fluffy, yet crunchy egg puff waffles or the standard Waffle, smothered in peanut butter and condensed milk? (That’s right, condensed milk- pure genius!) Such a comforting food, especially during the cooler months.

Egg tarts from the Violet Bakery in Tin with their buttery pastry, sweet and creamy egg custard. Oh, how I miss that warm feeling in my belly (and my heart) from nibbling on those delights!

And of course, the coconut tarts from Maria’s Bakery. I have written a blog post on these already, so I won’t go on, and really, pictures speak louder than words!

There’s so many other things I could add to this list; Hong Kong styled French toast, beef brisket noodle soups, peanut butter and dark chocolate rice balls from Auntie Sweet in Tin Hau (oh yum!), yum cha from Tim Ho Wan, but we would be here even longer!

Shop til you drop.

I’m on record lamenting how I missed shopping in Australia. Hong Kong has some great shopping if you are looking for certain items, but I’m a no frills koala. Significantly, clothes shopping was not easy for me and we all need clothes. It felt like most girls there have lovely petite figures, while I have the figure of a lumpy, chunky, char siu bao. Generalisation yes, but the number of stores I couldn’t shop in as they didn’t carry my size contributed to this view! 🤣

Having said this, there are still some shopping experiences I miss.

Mall rat! 🐀

I loved my local shopping centre and have memories of these spanning my entire Hong Kong journey. Starting as a tourist shopping for souvenirs, to an excited expat buying for her new apartment, through to the koala trying to process and prepare for an imminent repatriation.

In the last months, City Plaza especially became a refuge, the place I’d wander around, where I didn’t want to be around any one but a place where I didn’t have to be on my own.

As a side note, I’m pretty sure that Starbucks blueberry cheesecake sales increased substantially in my last months there!

Other then the fact that these places were a part of my every day life experiences, Hong Kong is a very festive place and so were their shopping centres. Whether it be Christmas or Chinese New Year, decorations were often bigger, better, sparklier and more over the top then what I see here. Movie promotions, art installations, exhibitions and displays, there was always something interesting to check out, the experience was not just about giving the Visa card a workout.

Gaga for Sasa!

Sasa has been a guilty pleasure for over a decade. I sometimes found it a challenge to get products that suit my pale face, given the general population of Hong Kong are lucky to have warm complexions, but with Sasa it was about the little things. Like those little shopping baskets that you fill with pretty stuff. Then there were the little sample sized bottles of perfume, wrapped in cellophane and ribbon, like an aromatic bonbon. The little tester bottles of skin care products I wanted to try but could never justify paying that much for. Last but not least, the little bottles of Sasa nail polish, given my love for glittery, sparkly nails. Their nail polishes were as good quality as some of the branded ones and were a great price.

A koala or a bookworm?

You probably have already realised that this koala is also a bookworm.

I love biographies, books about travel, culture, languages and destinations – anything I can live through vicariously.

Bonus points for Illustrations or photo’s because I like a splash of colour.

Extra bonus points if these books featured Hong Kong as I have found that by surrounding myself in images and other people’s stories, it helped me to grasp a culture I loved, one in which I was not raised or linguistically fluent in.

Bookazine ticked all of these boxes. They had so many items showcasing Hong Kong; whether it be books, cards, calendars or stationery featuring elements of the fragrant harbour, it was always exciting to peruse their shelves.

Special mention to the Commercial Press bookstores for their high quality stationary, English and Chinese books and resources. I’m going to miss purchasing my 2021 diary from there. 🥲 You won’t see this koala toting designer bags or shoes, but I have probably spent as much on pens, felt tips and stationery. Ha! I have never seen stationery as stunning and/or cute as those found in Asia.

One other blooming lovely place to be…

Flower Market Road, a.k.a the Flower Markets.

The pavements were always awash in bright blooms and enticing fresh fruit and vegetables.

All year round the markets were cheerful, but it roared during Chinese Lunar New Year and Christmas.

My favourite store was the florist/ gift store Brighten Floriculture. The displays around Christmas and Chinese New Year were sparkly, vibrant and cheerful. I collected many Christmas decorations and special trinkets from Brighten, all of which serve as a reminder of a life once lived in Hong Kong.

Birds of a feather, flock together.

Last, but not least, the thing I miss most about Hong Kong is its people.

As one wise person once said;

Friends come and go, like the waves of the ocean, but the true ones stay, like an octopus on your face.

Ha!

Sadly, life was not all smooth sailing while I was in Hong Kong. It was not necessarily a reflection of the city itself but unfortunately some negative experiences have become enmeshed into the recollections of my time in Hong Kong, purely by association.

With this in mind, there are times I have asked myself, would I have relocated to Hong Kong for the reasons I did, knowing the sacrifices I made to be there, whilst knowing where I sit today?

Tough question to ponder. Tougher question to answer.

Thankfully, my saving grace is knowing that there are people that I met in Hong Kong, who I would not have met otherwise. People who I consider an extended family, who have proven to be genuine, loyal, honest, kind and understanding.

Another perk to a life in Hong Kong was that I was able to spend more time getting to know people that I already had friendships with. From living in the same place, I developed a better understanding of the wonderful aspects of life as a Hong Kong resident, as well as the challenges and how this affects the lives of its residents.

With this in mind, It feels wrong, or at least complexed, to regret life in Hong Kong. A part from wishing away the once in a lifetime experiences I had, I see it as undervaluing these new friendships. And one lesson I have had reaffirmed in the past few years is the importance of valuing those who value you.

Some last thoughts 💭

I have been back in Australia for some time. You might think that I should have built a bridge and got over it by now.

How could you miss a place that was not “yours” to begin with?

Others might scratch their heads as Australia is a great place to live and I could be perceived as being ungrateful, especially given the current climate when so many of citizens are desperately trying to get back into their own country.

I may be dismissed as a drama koala and accused of clamouring for sympathy or attention.

None of which is true.

Life is complicated and every ones journey has its own unique challenges. I am grateful and aware, but at the same time I’m currently rewriting the place of Hong Kong in my life story. 13 years is a long time to be associated with a place or an idea, to just disconnect with it in a swift, meaningless, manner. I am a marsupial with a heart afterall, not a robot.

And with all of this in mind, I wish this dreary feeling of longing away, but have come to realise, If home is where the heart is, then mine was split into two places a long time ago.

I see this as a complication of having lived a life in another country and being immersed in another culture for half of my life!

Surely I’m not that special, I cannot be the only person to have experienced this?

With all this said, time waits for no one. Life has moved on. While Hong Kong still functions tremendously well without me, I treasure the memories and experiences, while simultaneously learning to live with a Hong Kong shaped hole in my heart. ♥️

Until next time, take care and stay safe.

Koala Girl 🐨