We’re back in Hong Kong after a 2-month vacation back to the “States.” I realize that some of you may not have been aware that we had even left Hong Kong, but I like to keep things somewhat on the down low in terms of our whereabouts. I’m sure you understand.
Anyway, it was our first trip back to Jacksonville and other parts of the U.S. since our move to Hong Kong. I try not to say “back home” because, well, at the moment, the U.S. is no longer our home.
It was, of course, wonderful being back in the U.S.
When we disembarked our plane in Atlanta and as the U.S. immigration agents greeted us, the first thing Webley said to me was, “it’s so nice to be able to understand what people are saying.” Oh, yes, my dear, I could not agree more. I thought it was equally as nice to be able to respond to their greetings and say something like, “it’s great to back in the U.S.” and then hear back from them, “welcome home.” They were so sweet with their southern drawls and big, warm smiles that I just wanted to drop to my knees and kiss their feet.
It’s amazing the things you miss when living in a foreign country, not able to speak or read the language. I’m trying to learn Cantonese, but I’m barely at caveman level at this point and I think I know maybe 4 of the Chinese characters (someone told me that you have to know somewhere around 2,000 characters before you’re considered literate. Oy! Only 1,996 more to go!). I know you find it shocking that neither gets me very far.
Idle chit chat and the exchange of pleasantries with the grocery check-out lady is virtually impossible. Once I get past the initial “leih hou” (how are you?), I’m pretty much tapped out. Over-hearing a funny story on the MTR doesn’t happen either. I can’t even turn on the TV to find out what the heck is going on in this town. It can be terribly isolating and humbling and lonely.
When we got back to Jacksonville, we all just slid back into our old life. No offense to anyone, but nothing really had changed back in the ole ‘hood. After all, we had only been gone 6 months and I’m sure that if we were still living in Jacksonville, I’d be doing the same old things too: homeschooling, schlepping kids around, church, volunteering, work, grocery shopping, wash, rinse, repeat.
But for us, EVERYTHING was different about our new life in Hong Kong. Then suddenly we were thrust back into Jacksonville with all of our old friends, family and surroundings. It was just so SURREAL. I had to ask myself: did we really move to Hong Kong? Do I really have this whole other life on the other side of the planet that in no way intersects the life I had in Jacksonville? I felt like I had just awoken from a dream and I was trying to recall the people in it and this new place that was supposedly our home.
The question I got the most during our visit was: “so, do you like it in Hong Kong?” I found that question to be difficult to answer. My canned response ended up sounding something like this: “well it’s been hard, but it’s been good for me.” And that’s the truth.
Years before we moved to Hong Kong, a friend once said to me that he thought it was a good exercise to get outside of one’s comfort zone from time to time because it reveals to you the sin in your life. I didn’t really know what he meant when he said that, but now those words reverberate in my head over and over. In Jacksonville, I may have looked like a foreigner on the outside, but I really am anything but. I’m American through and through. I can’t speak another language and I certainly can’t read any other. Being only one generation removed from immigrants, I always considered myself to be a lot more sympathetic to the plight of foreigners in America then the average American, but still, America is the only place I know and I was so busy, busy, busy.
I think back to all those people who crossed my path who were foreigners. There was the Chinese lady in my BSF class; the Mexican laborers who worked on my house; the Burmese refugees who were at Humble Harvest; the Bosnian family shopping in Winn Dixie. Did I ever go out of my way to be helpful to them? Was I kind to them or was I impatient because they couldn’t speak English very well? Did I try to befriend them or was I too busy to make the extra effort because I couldn’t understand them?
Now, living in Hong Kong, I am the foreigner. I may not look like it on the outside, but I am. As soon as I open my mouth, it’s obvious to those around me. Sometimes I don’t even have to do that. They can just tell somehow by the way I dress or hold myself. It’s a busy, bustling city and people have places to go and things to do. They can’t be bothered to help the foreigner understand what the grocery check-out lady is saying. The language barrier is too difficult to try to be friends. Trust me, the bitter irony of it all is not lost on me.
So, it has been hard adjusting to life in Hong Kong, but it’s a good kind of hard. Just as my friend said, it’s the out-of-comfort-zone-hard that’s revealing. I now have such compassion for foreigners and the illiterate. Whenever it is that we move back to the U.S., I hope to never be blind to those people around me. Because I know how they feel and I know what they are going through.
Here are some random pics of our trip back to the U.S. We were on the road quite a bit.
We went up to Chi-town to visit Benjy’s stepmom, more affectionately known as “Nana.” Here’s a shot of us at the Cantigny gardens. The flowers were stunning.
I got to spend some girl time with all of my BFF’s including this one. I’ll be submitting this pic to the Chi Omego Eleusis. Lol!!
The kids attended a camp in Asheville, North Carolina along with some other friends from Jacksonville. While the kittens were away, the mice (parents) played. Among other things, we went whitewater rafting.
and went to the Biltmore Estate to experience how the .001% lived.
Then we headed to Benjy’s and my old stomping grounds. I seriously have never seen more beautiful beaches in the world and I kind of think that’s saying something.
Aaron did a lot of fishing, especially with his best fishing buddy, Lolo.
And we had a wonderful time hanging out with all the Filipinos.
After eight weeks and about 15 pounds later (due to our binge eating of Mexican food and other cuisines we craved since our move), we were back in The Kong…
…and back to all of its peculiarities and ideosyncrasies. Here is a ginormous snail we saw as we were on our way to church on Sunday. The leaf gives you some perspective. Aaron said he’d be good bait (the kid is always thinking about fishing).
And instead of the Dog of the Day, here’s the rare Cat of the Day pic. He was sitting in a shop on top of a stack of dried cuttlefish. I tried to get him to look at the phone, but you can see how un-cooperative he was being. He was just like the dogs that I previously photographed around town….only the exact opposite. That’s why I love cats. Their aloofness cracks me up. The nerve of me photographing him! He’s telling me with his eyes to pound sand.
3 thoughts on “We’re baaaack!!!”
Loved hearing about your trip back and your reflections . It was so good to see all of you!
Tala, It was AWESOME seeing you all in Jacksonville. I’ve never read your blog before but find it quite informative as well as entertaining. Be well, stay safe, love on one another and we’ll see you soon back in Jacksonville. I had a friend in high school that whenever he left for college, he would always say, “I’ll see you soon”. For some reason, the time passed more quickly. Love & Hugs to all of the Woods Family…
Thanks for the new Blog, Tala, and all the great photos. When I was in Japan in ’68 I felt the same way as a tourist feel over here. “No one knew English where I went, and I could read nothing.” The folks were extremely nice, too. I think most Asians are very friendly, everywhere. You and Benji are really parents of ‘true grit’ to take your children to so many exciting places on this globe. They will never forget a thing and will love you forever for the love and efforts shown to them. Keep having fun with your “excellent adventure !!!”