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.