This begins, as all good stories do, with a love affair.
October 2018 marked our 10th anniversary. The longest relationship of my life. I love her today, not in the twinkly haze that marked our first months together, but in stronger ways. She has become the marrow of my bones. Things have changed, yes, but her smell, her energy, her complexity – they have remained the same. This bond has transformed me, saved me, built me. She and I have a silent, unthreatened loyalty. When others speak of her, she is called Hong Kong. But I have a softer name, one that tugs at my heart whenever we are apart. It is the first and most potent of our four-letter words… H.O.M.E.
Hong Kong has been generous over the years, offering up friends, businesses and, most spectacularly, babies. Two of them. Bright shiny bundles of blond hair and blue eyes. They arrived, and I set about building them a secure nest. One they can fly away from, safe in the knowledge that it is firmly rooted in a land that belongs to them. Green mountains, sandy beaches and the vast South China Sea awaiting their return.
I grew up in three cities, two continents and eight different schools – I have no frame of reference for this thing called Home. I have read story books and watched after-school TV to try to understand. I’ve often asked my friends, and they repeat words like warm, safe, uncomplicated. I write these down and try to figure out how to replicate that world for my children. I make traditions, tell them old stories, put lots of pictures on the walls. They grow up with special holidays, parties and noisy celebrations.
But there is a niggle, and I become increasingly aware that I am not enough for them on my own, and this is the crux of my challenge. In all the books I read and experts I follow, there is one common thread between them. They are unanimous on the foundation of wellbeing. Human connection. This is the source of joy. Human connection keeps people alive while their lonely neighbours die. Connection is why we are here, why we laugh and why we cry. I can see from my children that connection starts with language, and language is therefore life. I must give them the chance to connect with the city of their birth, all of it.
Bilingualism, the creation of unique neural pathways, the obvious future opportunities; these factors are not the reason I chose to immerse my children into one of the world’s most difficult languages. No, the choice of local Cantonese medium school for them was driven by the second of our four-letter words… L.O.V.E.
I watch my children speak to all the people around them, at the bus stop, the dai pai dong, the guards at the building, their wonderful teachers and friends. We have been struggling for many years, fighting an uphill battle. It has taken a steady strength, but it is becoming very clear – they are indeed connecting. We are hanging on by our fingernails, but we are almost there. So, for now, we focus intently on this final and most mysterious of all four-letter words… H.O.P.E.
Tell us a tale
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This article first appeared in the February/March 2019 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.