Monday, October 21, 2013

You Will Realize This After You Move Back Home After Living Abroad

You Will Realize This After You Move Back Home After Living Abroad

Originally published by Thought Catalog

Moving Back Home. For people who have lived abroad, it’s a death sentence. It’s the end to your misadventures in a foreign land, and end to the identity you carefully crafted and experimented with, an end to the reality you authored, an end to an era of living in the present.

But when you moved abroad, the end had always been the beginning. When you signed that contract, the end shook your hand and allowed you to have your fun while it lasted. It laughed at all your hangovers and discomforts. Because it always knew that sooner or later, life will catch up. And if you’re not prepared, you’ll meet a version of yourself that didn’t fully “apparate” – Harry Potter speak, when you decided to move back home. Part of you will always be left behind the county you once lived in. Part of you in the home you spent many years in, but are not so familiar with anymore.

In short, you enter a crisis of sorts. You’re first met with delusions, where you figure out if those months/years actually happened. If you actually met the people you spent most of your waking hours with. Then, you feel anxious about what to do next – if you want to recreate yourself in another foreign country, or stay put where you are back home. Then you become analytical. You explore the pros and cons of your previous experience and try to justify to yourself why you moved back home and plan what to do next. It becomes your lullaby every night. Eventually, sick of being in your head, your stuffed animals staring at you and your Facebook pictures of living abroad, you take courage to reconnect with the friends you left behind at home, without losing sight of the friends you left behind at your other home across the Pacific Ocean. With the support of both parties, you feel better. Maybe you were never alone at all, even if you’re just around yourself most of the time, as you figure things out through this process.

So you know what I realized? Regardless of what geographical canvass you live your life in, one thing is constant – you will always be with yourself. That means that it’s not just about seeking the next big life-defining adventure in the backdrop of a new country or career path, but how you are ok with just being around you, wherever you are and whoever you are with. In fact, the end goal of moving back home will be bracing the realities in your life that you tried to escape from – whether it is familial, career, relationship, monetary, etc. Are you finally brave enough to face the fears back home that you tried to escape from? Do you want to start a new chapter in your life story? Because now its not about the setting anymore, but the plot that you want to develop.

And maybe at the end of the day, the main villain in your story is fear – it decided whether you’d move abroad, decided whether you’d move back home, and determined if you’d decide at all. Fear is actually a neutral character that can instigate behavior. So next time you feel it, wherever you are in the world, will you run away or face it? When you’ve figured that out, you’re finally home.

The taste of home away from home (Hong Kong, Dec 2012)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunsets in Hong Kong

There’s something magnificent about sunsets. To describe one is to find a speck of yellow plotted across a vast sky that turns the horizon red, then a slight purple, then eventually, a mysterious black blue. Black blue is probably the color of the universe, and without the yellow speck that is the sun, we have a glimpse of just how expansively empty the universe is. It’s a dark place, but the stars bring it some light, with the “star” of the show as the sun. This is probably what explains our fixation on sunsets, knowing that its goodbye for a while to our main source of light in an otherwise dark, dark existence.

Sunsets quell us. They open our hearts to the gift of peaceful solitude amidst the busy backdrop of our lives. Our other senses surrender to the sight of metamorphosis - of an ordinary backdrop turned extraordinary as light creates colors and shadows that have the ability to evoke emotion. Witnessing a sunset is like watching a painting drawn by God everyday for all men, regardless of class, gender, religion or race. Sunsets allow us to befriend time and not feel guilty as we reminisce the past, bask in the present and dream about the future and all its possibilities. They allow us to just “be” - and even be one with something beyond our finite comprehension.

Even sunsets caught on film can captivate and inspire. I hope you become as inspired as I have been by the sunsets I have seen in Hong Kong. 

Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island
Stanley, Hong Kong Island

Tai Po, New Territories
View from the Peak, Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon Tong
Wisdom Path, Lantau Island
View from Ocean Park, Hong Kong Island
Mui Wo. Lantau Island
Hong Kong Geo Park, New Territories
Tap Mun, New Territories
Central, Hong Kong Island
Disneyland, Hong Kong Island
Dusk at Stanley, Hong Kong Island
Dusk at Sai Kung, New Territories

Monday, September 16, 2013

What to Expect when Moving Abroad

Have you taken a leap of faith and left everything to move abroad?

Part of what made this time magical was your determination to make things work in your new country. No matter what the costs were. No matter how uncomfortable or lonely it could be. Relive the growing pains of starting over somewhere in the world and laugh about the makeshift life you led as you first transitioned to your new home abroad. 

  • You have that nightmare story of your first month living abroad which you laugh and tell your friends about, even if back then all you wanted to do was cry and book a flight ticket back home.
  • You most likely ate in Mcdonalds during your first week abroad, where you moped a little because you didn’t know where else to find meat. Or fish.
  • You bought the cheapest, most basic cell phone for your local number, even if you owned an Iphone. Because you only used your Iphone when the WiFi was free. And also to take pictures of sunsets. Or your food.
  • You attempted to start your nth blog during your first month abroad, and concealed the identities of your new friends via the first letters of their names. Eventually you forgot about your blog and used brunch as your new avenue for emotional catharsis.
  • You realized that living with strangers was not too bad after all. And even if your flatmates did end up being a little creepy, you weren’t home most of the time anyway.
  • You actually enjoyed going to Ikea. You turned a bedsheet you bought into a makeshift curtain, used those colorful plastic plates and cups when friends came over, and bought a tacky carpet just because. In fact, you sometimes go to Ikea just for the sheer joy of eating their meatballs.
  • You didn’t own a television and watched everything from your laptop. In fact, you never even bothered reading a book during your first few months abroad, because your life was too exciting to escape from.
  • You learned how to budget by using meals as units in buying clothes (i.e., “that top from H&M is three meals…”).  
  • You only ate properly when your family was in town. Otherwise, sandwiches from 711 did the trick.
  • You hardly washed your bed sheets. No one knows why but you just didn’t.
  • You changed your name at one point or shortened it so locals can pronounce it easily. It’s like having an “English name” of sorts (if you taught ESL in Asia you’ll understand what I mean by this).
  • You had a friend who organized everything - from birthdays to hikes to Secret Santa. 
  • You also had a friend who knew about all the deals in town (“OMG 2-for-1 happy hour prices lets go NOW!”). More often than not, this friend was female. In fact, the reason you tried Yoga was because of her persistence in selling you the deal on Groupon.
  • You only went to a movie theatre for dates or because you could get discounted tickets if you went as a group (again, it’s all about the deals…).
  • You had a friend who hosted most of the house parties. He/she was the one who lived farthest away from civilization, but had the most complete kitchen (“OMG you have an oven!”) and the most spacious common area, so you didn’t mind.
  • You actually went to the museum for fun, even if you have never been to the one in your own country, except that time you had to go for your primary school field trip.
  • You wasted so much time on or, comparing flights and strategizing your layover trips. Hopefully, you weren’t the person who’s browser always screwed up the minute he/she was paying for tickets. 
  • You locked yourself out (or in) of your flat after going out and slept in your friends place after calling him/her in the wee hours of the morning.
  • You Ikea closet consisted primarily of pieces from H&M, Zara and Forever 21, which you can easily spot on the street, because those were the only places you could get “normal” and reasonably priced clothes from.
  • You suffered from a bad haircut that cost twice as much as what you got back home because of a language barrier with the hairdresser.
  • You organized a pest-control or mold-control operation with your flatmates - gloves and masks and all.
  • You fought about doing the dishes with your flatmates. And fought about how one of you did not replace the egg they took. The worst was when the fight was about one of them taking your ice cream without asking permission.
  • Your weight fluctuated like crazy, and so did your feelings about dancing to house music (something you used to hate). 
  • You religiously Skyped at least once a week with people back home. It was your portal to the alternate universe you left behind, especially if you were in a long distance relationship.
  • You secretly liked one of your coworkers / co-exchange participants or they secretly liked you. Because just as your food palette adjusted to the local cuisine, so did your taste for what you found attractive.
  • Your definition of the perfect gift was a home cooked meal or a well-chosen book. But giving and receiving gift cards from Zara, H&M, or even Starbucks wasn’t too bad either.
  • And lastly, your definition of “luxury” changed while you first moved abroad. Luxury meant upgrading the bananas and apples in your fridge to pomegranates and cranberries. Or spoiling yourself with legit morning coffee. Or buying that sinful cheesecake slice for dessert. But regardless, you learned that best luxuries were usually the simplest of indulgences… it was always having chocolate lying around - for days when you missed home, for days when you said goodbye to another friend or fling, or for days when you just wanted to enjoy that perfect moment of sheer contentment in your own corner of the sky, living life to the fullest in your new home abroad. 

Nom nom nom at my previous workstation

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Cope with Turning 25

 When I turned twenty-five last January, I died a little…

It’s true that as you wake up each day, you are closer to dying. But for whatever reason death feels very distant when you’re at the peak of your youth. I did have a brooding classmate in Grade School who kept writing, “we are all going to die” in those Yasaka Grade 4 pad papers that made you proud to use them because you are one step closer to the sophisticated variations of pad papers - the handy ¼ sheet, the daunting intermediate pad, or the ½ lengthwise pad that is hardly used so you don’t mind giving them away (because the worst nightmare of every Filipino high school student would probably be paper-leeching seatmates). At that time, we all just wanted to grow up. 

Fast track this by a couple of years and now you wish the internet was never invented and you still got snail mail from your childhood pen pal or neighbor who immigrated elsewhere. Life is happening on warp speed as you complete your degree and unofficially minor in whatever extra-curricular you were part of. You almost ruined your GPA at one point because of an unrequited love or a love that blossomed - only it was not the right time or place. Before you know it, you are wearing your toga and taking pictures with people who, one way or another, made your university years a safety blanket for what was to come. Because it is only after graduation as you vegetate on your couch and search online for jobs or professional schools when you realize that the years ahead of you follow no more set trajectory. Thus, the anxiety begins. 

This realization hits twentysomethings at different times in their lives. For a very long time, I believed my mental age was 21, and I honestly believe whoever coined the term “Forever 21” is a female philosophy major who did her thesis on existentialism. Because those words seem to be the very essence of being a twentysomething - living in the moment and living like you’ll live forever.

So when I hit 25, I really did die a little.

As I was the first to turn 25 in my circle of friends, one of them was tearing up as I whined about how terrible it was and how old I felt all of a sudden (she was turning 25 in two months). I was symbolically smack in the middle of the naivety and recklessness of the early twenties years and the impeding gloom and pressure that comes with turning thirty. It was as if the next five years is equivalent to a bucket list of what you need to do and accomplish before you die, when the fact is you are only turning 30.

But like most feelings, you get over them. During the time I turned 25, I was working abroad for almost two years. For one thing, I decided to go back home last June. I wanted to figure things out without the distraction of living abroad - the ultimate canvass for living in the moment. Since being back, I have been reflecting on the significant events that filled those years and made me the person I am today. I have been reminiscing about the many memories I made with a bunch of strangers I shared a tiny office with, who eventually became lifelong friends and became the support system I needed to navigate through the frustratingly amazing twentysomething years. I am still sentimental about that phase in my life, but I am at peace with the decision of coming home, because I just knew in my heart that it is time to move on and begin a new chapter in the twentysomething story.

I guess 25 is but a number, and so is 30. And growing up is not the same as growing old. And having no regrets is not the same as being reckless. And despite our tendency to overanalyze and be critical about everything that happens during our twentysomething years, one can only do so much. Because the beauty of being a twentysomething is surrendering to the fact that although you are still figuring things out, you know in your heart that every setback and triumph is part of the grander scheme of becoming who you are meant to be. You just need to learn to trust your gut in the decisions that matter, and allow life to unfold before you as destiny slowly weaves its way into your life at twentysomething. 

The Five Stages of Self-Discovery while Abroad

 I remember writing this from my office desk around March of this year, as I idled time away on a not-so-busy day. Tweaked it a bit after coming home. Here is my attempt to demystify the stages of self-discovery while working abroad, in city like Hong Kong. 

The first stage of finding yourself in Hong Kong is novelty, just like in any other foreign city. It’s discovering how different you are by literally “sensing” your way around the place. It’s taking in your surroundings and filling your senses with the distinct smell of roasted barbeque pork, the iconic sight of Hong Kong’s majestic skyline, the orchestrated sound of footsteps rushing as soon as the beeping of MTR gates are heard, or the Panda you wish you could touch, pet and feed bamboo shoots to in Ocean Park. As soon as you enter Hong Kong’s airport you know that this city is not for the faint of heart, because here, your senses need to keep up, and so does your walking pace.

The next stage of finding yourself is called exploration. Let novelty fill you with boundless energy to explore Hong Kong through its tram system, MTR system, bus system, ferry system, or better yet, by hiring a junk boat, biking on its outlying islands, hiking its mountains, walking through its night markets, or by plain fumbling through its nooks and crannies and discovering something new every time. Explore Hong Kong and become the tease, saint, intellectual or socialite you have always wanted to be. All the world is a stage in this land of possibilities, with your backdrop and audience changing each time.

The next stage is called confusion. As you have many crazy adventures you start thinking if this is the person you want to be, and swear that you’ll mellow down. But then you do it again… and again… and again… whatever “it” may be. Wake up calls come in the form of a person from your not-so distant past– a friend, a significant other or a family member, who had been neglected as you continue living in an alternate universe frozen in time.

As your over-fatigued body catches up with the busy lifestyle you lead, you are forced into isolation, and forced into a period of reflection. Some opt for yoga retreats, others live in remote islands, some simply stay in during weekends, and others book trips home or book trips to the nearest third-world paradise. This period is crucial not just to re-energize, but also to realize the things that are truly worth it. In fact, you realize that there is an end to begin with, like many other good things in this world.

If you choose to stay or move on, either way you will reach a state of enlightenment, the final stage of this journey. It’s enlightenment that comes with knowing what you are capable of in this place of numerous possibilities, drawing your limits, and sticking with your decisions and whatever consequences they bring. Living in the present takes a whole new meaning, because now the present involves how you integrate your past with the future you anticipate, versus its old connotation of simply going with the flow.

And so, to find yourself in Hong Kong is to find a way to return to who you are amidst its many clashing values and propositions. It’s knowing that when you leave, you achieved the reason you came in the first place, from the choices you made during your brief yet wondrous stay in this city for gods and men.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hung Up on Hong Kong

 I wrote this after my first year of working in Hong Kong back in 2011, as an attempt to capture the spirit of this dynamic city.   

If at one point in your life you live in Hong Kong, you need to brace yourself. The iconic view of Hong Kong skyline is enough proof that it’s a land of possibilities. It’s a transit city, where people from all over the world come and go as often as the Star Ferry sets sail from Hong Kong Island to Tsim Sha Tsui. It’s the City of Now, with its heartbeat felt across the unforgiving pace of its subway escalators, along with passengers who expertly weave their way in the crowd, as their eyes remain fixated on their Iphone screens. To locals, this battle for survival is just like any other day, reflecting the rat race they face daily at their corporate jobs. To foreigners, it’s a taste of just how developed this part of Asia is. You just know that being here is where you need to be- at the gateway to booming China, yet not too drastic from your comfort zone. You could be coming from the East or West, as an exchange student, a domestic helper, an English teacher, an entrepreneur, or an investment banker and still find a piece of home in its multicultural people, breadth of cuisine, and contrasts in landscape. You could be sampling seafood in one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands, shopping until you drop at the nearest mall from your hotel or flat, or exploring traces of ancient Chinese culture during an afternoon hike at the New Territories. The options in Hong Kong are limitless, making it a dangerous city for the weak of will. Lifestyle choice is everything, considering how much you make and what part of the world you’re from. You can live it up every weekend partying with the most exotic people at Lan Kwai Fong, hop on a train to Shenzhen to get a cheap massage, or take the last ferry to Macau and gamble until sunrise. 

Find yourself before coming here, find yourself while you are here, or lose yourself in its neon lights and drunken nights until you say you’ve had enough… only to find that when you fly back to your homeland, where people walk slow and where barbeque pork can taste better, you realize that you’re still and have always been in love with Hong Kong, and will make ends meet to book a plane ticket back to experience its pulsating energy all over again.