We’re walking through a bustling Hong Kong MTR station, newly minted Octopus cards clutched in anxious fingers as people push past and all around us. After a day of miles of trekking attempting to check off tasks from our to-do list, noses in maps, said maps covered in sweat drips from said noses, we are now beginning the long slog back to our apartment to put up our aching feet.
And then I look back, and Sam is gone. There are people, people everywhere, but Sam is not among them. I look around. My other friend is 50 feet ahead, bobbing through the crowd, drifting further and further away from me. I look back – still no sign of Sam or our other companion.
“Silvia!” I call. She doesn’t hear me – how could she, in this cacophonous crowd? “Silvia!” she halts, and three people crash into her. We can’t stop here.
I run forward to catch up to her. “Sam and Brigid disappeared,” I tell her, a little breathless but trying to keep my cool.
We’re fine. They’re big girls.
But suddenly the fact that absolutely everything we’ve tried to do for the past two days has been so damn difficult has come rising up and I can’t fight it back with a smile and a shrug of my shoulders, not now. I’m hot and I’m thirsty and I’m jet-lagged and I want to go lie down in a cool room but I can’t because home is an hour-long subway-walk-bus-walk odyssey away and anyways we couldn’t find a fan all day, and I want water but I’m going to have to stop somewhere and buy more because we couldn’t find a filter, and now our friends are gone and the rules of good friendship are that you don’t just walk away when you get separated in a big, foreign, overwhelming city so it would be great if I could call them but I can’t because, oh yeah, we also couldn’t figure out phone plans.
So I’m upset, and I’m upset that I’m upset because I’m in Hong Kong and it’s so cool and logically I know my friends have to be fine but there’s a piece of me that has to be worried. We’re in a strange place and we’ve done nothing but get lost all day. Where have they gone? Where are they going to end up?
Silvia and I rush back to the gate to look, swimming upstream and offending everyone, and still there’s no sign of them. We wait and we scan. I look Silvia in the eyes. “I don’t know what to do,” I finally say. I tell her to look while I try to connect to WiFi but neither of us has any luck.
We swipe our cards and exit back into the lobby. I notice that I’ve been charged for this wild ride to nowhere and this feels like a grave injustice.
We go up and down stairs, literally searching high and low, until finally we look at each other and realize they just aren’t there. Our best bet is to take the metro to campus and hope that they make it there too. At the very least, once we are there we can connect to WiFi and try to reach out.
On the ride there I am taking practiced breaths, I am telling myself that obviously they are already at campus. They got separated, they went ahead.
But I’m imagining them stuck in an MTR-gyre, looping around and around, just as confused as we had been all day, only to finally figure it out and arrive at campus an hour later furious that we had abandoned them.
We arrive at the campus stop and take the elevator up and we see them leaning against a wall 100 yards away, waiting.
I’m flooded with relief and annoyance in equal measure.
I’m annoyed that I overreacted. I’m annoyed by what it brought to the surface – the stress of the past two days, the culture shock. I am chill, adventurous Kelly. Good attitude. Can-do. I knew this move was going to be challenging – I guess I thought that anticipating the challenge would mitigate the challenge, thereby tricking myself into believing I knew what was coming while simultaneously underestimating what was coming.
It’s the little things that got to me, the things that even just one more day in and we are working through them. We have a phone plan now, and we have found a grocery store, and we know where an ATM is, and we understand our position in relation to our campus (mostly…) The buses are still baffling, and there will always be a language barrier, and the cockroaches in our moldy shower have a much longer lease here than we do, but we can make do.
I just have to remember that it’s healthy and okay to get annoyed, that I shouldn’t suppress every negative emotion in the name of having a positive attitude, only to let them bubble up at inopportune times when one needs to have one’s wits about them.
I’m not betraying the experience by feeling a full range of emotions while I am here – in fact, I am honoring it.
I already feel so accomplished, having made it through these first few days considering the multitude of struggles. I’ve moved fully halfway around the world and I’m making it work.
Hong Kong has already been an absolutely beautiful journey. The juxtaposition of bustling city and jagged mountaintops, searing heat and bright blue waters routinely takes my breath away.
I have felt the electric energy of SoHo and the serenity of the city gardens. I have basked beneath both the baking sun and the dazzling city lights.
I can already tell that I love this magnificent city of contrasts and rough edges, with its twists and turns, challenges and gifts.
But living here is hard. Moving here has been one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Two things can be true.
So, keep it coming, Hong Kong. Hit me with your best shot. I’ll love you all the more for it.