We asked our readers to send in their stories about any aspect of expat life in Hong Kong. Here, Sandy Hodges shares her experience and insights on life as an expat.
We met Murray-the-Corgie and his human, Sarah, in a vet’s waiting room in Sai Ying Pun. He was embarrassed about the cone, but my dog Luna was too discombobulated from our recent international move to notice. Murray and Sarah, we found out, are those comfortable long-term expats who exude happiness about living abroad, and who love to show others how exciting their adopted home is. For that reason and others, Sarah quickly became (and remains) my favourite person here.
On the move
That was two and a half years ago. My family’s assignments are usually three years in length. Sometimes they are four (okay, that only happened twice) and sometimes they are just one (and when that happens, they are actually only 10 months). But who’s counting? Sounds like I have started to. My husband is with the US foreign service, and with him I have moved across an ocean nine times in 17 years (and in a few months it will be ten times in 20 years). You’re thinking that I am one of those expats. Old and tired and cranky. Well, so is Luna.
But hang on. This is my dream gig, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Imagine having the opportunity to re-invent yourself every few years! Whether I want to or not, I decide on a new me in each posting. The challenge of sorting out our lives has become a specialty of mine. There’s a journey from comfort in one existence to blindness in the next, to a somewhat settled feeling, and to the perception of home. I know the arc and I pace myself. Yay, me! But hang on. I recently saw an ad for a webinar on “Expat Fatigue”. I’d never heard of such a thing. The ad conjured up images of bitter frustration in a new foreign place, rather than wide-eyed enthusiasm. Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe I have had this. Maybe I will get this problem-slash-conditionslash-disorder-slash-danger? But is this the sign of a hypochondriac? If I hear about a thing, then research the symptoms, might I start exhibiting them? Obviously, I looked it up right away.
A glass half-full
A phrase by a cross-cultural specialist caught my eye. It went something like this: Prepare to leave, say painful goodbyes, pack, leave, arrive, unpack, meet new people, adjust, find a routine – rinse and repeat. Ouch. That hurts! But the more I read, I found myself skimming quickly over depressing examples of how fatigue might manifest itself. Instead, I was drawn to the advice. That’s the positive stuff. One obvious suggestion is that we learn more about the local culture and practices, and increase our general understanding of the place.
That’s where Sarah and Murray come in. They are the glass-half-full folks who introduced us to walks in country parks, pet-friendly ferries to Cheung Chau, warm egg waffles, and the best matcha crêpe cakes. And I will keep them with me long into my next lives. They are the lasting gifts that are offered in return for the upheavals of expat life. We choose to keep taking on these challenging moves knowing how sweet the rewards are.
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This article first appeared in the June/July 2019 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.