In years zero to 12 of expat life, I curated a series of standard quips in response to locals questions about what it is like to live here. A typical conversation would run something like this:
Local: It must be hard to live so far away from home.
Me: You’ve obviously never met my mother.
I would regularly tell people that the main problem with Hong Kong is that there are direct flights from both coasts in the US and for that reason I was considering moving to inner-Mongolia. Or that despite the hype about flats being small, mine unfortunately could still accommodate my parents.
But truth be told, I love my family and for all my jokes about them being what drove us to settle in Hong Kong, I am finding those jokes harder and harder to make. I have just recently entered a new stage in life and it isn’t demarcated by my age, but rather by my father’s. He turned 80 in June.
Last week I awoke to that inevitable call. He had fallen and had been taken by ambulance to the emergency room in Philadelphia. I couldn’t say I was surprised either. He fell in Hong Kong last year which resulted in a a taxi ride to Canossa (and thankfully only minor bruising). He fell when I was in the US visiting this summer for a few days.
In the excruciating slow passage of hours between phone calls when it is far too late to call the US, I waited and thought what it really means to be this far away. I thought how I am going to one day be faced with the impossible task of being made to feel like I am choosing one family over another. While I will envision the need to travel back and forth from time to time, my place is here with my husband and children. The burden will rest largely on my brother who lives just thirty minutes from my parents.
My husband tells me that my Dad’s annual visits to see us in Hong Kong are numbered. And I know this is true. The long flight is taxing, our driveway pavement is uneven, the jet lag is seemingly now impossible for him to shake, the humidity is simply unbearable.
When I run up the Peak on mornings surrounded by lush and beautiful vegetation, I stop at the top of the Peak with the same sense of awe I had the first time I looked out on the Hong Kong skyline. I stop and say to myself daily, “I can’t believe how lucky I am to live here.” But then I invariably think of my family back home, perhaps snowed in and burdened with the problems that I can no longer pretend don’t exist.
I run down from the Peak feeling just a little but selfish that I call this place home.
This article originally appeared in Expat Living magazine (February/March 2016). This beautiful glossy magazine is available in select booksellers in Hong Kong. They offer free digital subscriptions for Hong Kong residents. You can find more at http://www.expatliving.hk/