The last time my feet touched Hong Kong soil.

Greetings from Melbourne, where we are currently enjoying (or should I say, enduring) six weeks of a much needed lock down!

Despite staying in my gum tree in isolation, nothing has really changed for this koala- my days are still busy, but thankfully I have still managed to write in my spare moments.

A confession- I was actually writing another post but then this nugget came up in my Facebook feed recently as a memory from last year and it got me thinking, or some might say, over thinking!

It certainly was not something I was thinking about when I got up that morning, though I was vaguely aware that the day was fast approaching – the one year anniversary of my repatriation.

This photo was taken looking out from the Hong Kong International Airport. At the time, I was waiting to see whether I was even getting a flight out since I was on a standby list, and wasn’t even 100 percent sure if I’d end up leaving that day. Because doing an international move wasn’t going to be stressful enough, let’s add a standby flight into the mix. 🤦🏻‍♀️ Never again. Ha!

Seeing this photo, I was taken back in an instant. All the feelings and memories of that moment flooded back as if it was yesterday.

I remember looking out across to the mountains, knowing that it could be the last time ever. As I stood there, I intentionally tried to soak up the scenery while I was still able to, since I knew that tomorrow this place would be unreachable. I had grown to love the mountains and hillsides in Hong Kong, so I was grateful for that fleeting moment to look and reflect one last time. It was as if I were saying my goodbyes to a place I felt truly invested in, having regularly visited for the last 13 years of my life and having lived there for almost 4. Perhaps 13 really is an unlucky number?!

I certainly had a soft spot for this airport. I had been here many times before, often as an excited holiday maker, or a tired traveller returning home. Never before had I had such a full on personal experience at this airport however. Kindly, the weather seemed to commiserate with me as it was overcast and moody outside, somewhat reflecting my inner turmoil, which in some ways I found strangely comforting.

Meanwhile, a sense of dread and foreboding started to seep down into my bones. Knowing that these were the cards that I had been dealt, I had to just grit my teeth and walk that unchosen path, knowing that my feelings were of absolutely no consequence to the outcome at this point.

I’m not one to cry on a regular basis and especially not in public. Unless I’m exceptionally tired, frustrated, hungry or watching a sad dog movie. I’m human after all, embarrassingly enough, which sometimes means I might drop a tear before I straighten my crown 👸🏻 Unfortunately that day there were a few ugly tears as I walked into customs, brought on partly by a sense of despair, but mostly by the feeling of shock of living through a moment I had feared- the moment where my life in Hong Kong had officially ended forever.

I’m sure I looked like a crazy person. Some people who don’t know me might even accuse me of being one. Ha! Either way, no one cared about my distress, each going about their day. Then again why would they care I guess, who am I to them? I was just some chick awkwardly lugging my suitcases (and a plus one) through customs, rushing up, down and all around the airport terminal towards my gate, which seemed to be the farthest gate from where I was. 😂

As I look back now, I ponder my leaving and how some elements of that day unexpectedly mirrored my move to Hong Kong. I mean I wouldn’t even make it up, let alone predict it! The day I flew out of Australia to take up my destiny as a koala girl living in a panda world, I dragged my cases through Melbourne airport sniffling away (but in a much more dignified manner), as I made my way through the airport with no one but me, myself and I. While I’m ok with my own company, travelling by myself that day meant that I was just focused on getting everything done on my own, while in a heavily sleep deprived state. With this came no feelings of excitement or anything to act as a distraction from the big and life changing event taking place, an international relocation.

I remember that I felt like I had weights in my shoes and I had to drag my feet onto that plane. As much as I knew I’d love living in Hong Kong, the feelings of fear and missing out on everything at home (like my friends, family, my pets, home and a job I loved) all became overwhelming in that moment and I started to feel the weight of my decision to leave and all the sacrifices it entailed.

Fast forward to almost four years later; all I can say is never have I ever felt more alone as I did that day walking through to customs. The icing on the cake, a flight that did not run smoothly for me at all, which was salt in the wounds and only went on to emphasise and aggravate the bad vibes and tension I was already holding from experiencing that soul crushing day.

Fortunately, the flight arrived back safely and while it has taken me a minute, I can file that period of time in “the experiences I never want to relive” folder, though I realise it could have been so much worse. I remind myself that if I got through that day and the subsequent rough ones, that I’m tougher (or more stubborn) than I or any one else gives me credit for.

Thankfully with time, some of those feels have faded but they have not been forgotten. I can say that experience has made me stronger, not weaker. After all, a piece of coal cannot become a diamond without a little bit of pressure.

Having had that moment recently to reflect on my move back, one thing I have been thinking about is how many other expatriates are now relocating back to their home countries due to the turmoil and unprecedented times around the world. Some have lost their jobs, others might be returning in response to uncertain political or financial situations, returning home to support their family or are simply going back because they feel “it’s time ”.

Some may be mentally ready to return, and others may not be. As I have learnt, life doesn’t always wait for a written invitation before it pushes you out into another pond. You need to “just keep swimming” as a very wise fish once said – that’s Dory, for those of you who aren’t Disney nerds and/or those who don’t have young kids!

I think of those who are trying to return home but now have to do so with quarantines, lockdowns and disruptions in air travel, given there are now less flights coming in and out, depending on where they are.

Whilst during the last year, I have thought of my return as premature, I can at least be grateful for the timing as I was able to come back without such strict (but necessary) precautions. On top of the normal period of adjustment that a person returning from a lengthy stay overseas could experience, this would be an even more intense ending to a life overseas, given the extra logistics involved. I think of how socialising and reestablishing a new routine which is so important, would also be seriously hindered for returnees.

Of course those are just my thoughts, I’m sure many people would take these things in their stride a lot better than me.

I really feel for expats who are separated from their families right now and for those attempting to repatriate. I send out lots of positive thoughts, during this challenging period of time, as meaningless and cliched as that may sound.

And with that, I wish everyone well. Please stay home (if you can) and most importantly, stay healthy.

Until next time,

Koala Girl 🐨