Usually this time of year, I’ve written an update to say where I’m going, or staying, and also, usually it’s a bit more exciting. Along with that, I think that birthdays are personal New Years and a better time than January 1st to reflect. Especially as mine wraps up one school year, and sometimes country, and brings the start of the next.
24 was… a lot of things. If anything, it was the year of opposites. Stressful, but rewarding, busy yet nothing to do, chaotic and boring. Parts of this year were crazy challenging, and some totally mindless. I have never felt more useful at work, and also never more useless. I was offered several great positions this year, and also spent some time unemployed. I had been planning last July to start a masters and I am so glad I didn’t as I have no idea when I would’ve found the time to do my work. It was also difficult as March passed with my last hope of traveling this year. While I had several trips planned and tickets bought, COVID canceled them all one by one. It was hard to accept that I wouldn’t see a new country as I that’s how I’ve been measuring ‘success’ over the past few years. I’m still not quite over the disappointment of canceled plans, but have finally been able to look on the positives of this year – of building friendships that last many time zones. I doubt I’ve ever been more social than I was the first half of 24 and have so many good memories of brunches, rugby games, late night drinks, staycations, and last minute trips (that I have yet to write about). Out of all the chaos that has happened this year, I am so thankful for such a great friends.
When I came home in February after just visiting for Christmas, I really thought it would be just a few weeks, maybe a month. I love Hong Kong and only left because: 1. School was shutting down and I had no idea if a paycheck would stop coming in 2. Since HK wouldn’t/couldn’t shut down the border to China, doctors and nurses were going on strike as they didn’t want the system flooded with mainland Chinese (at that time, we knew that it wasn’t young people who were getting horrible sick with COVID, but still, who wants no health care access) and 3. Italy and Singapore canceled all flights in and out of HK, and other countries were starting to follow their lead. Sitting in one of the most expensive cities in the world potentially with no paycheck, no health care, and no way out was not something that sounded like a good time to me. Fortunately, I had been renting an apartment monthly rather than a year lease which has helped a lot.
After a couple weeks at home and slowly watching the virus spread to the pandemic it is now, it was surreal and frustrating. Watching the same things happen at home, school closings etc., that I had just watch happen in HK was a deja vu I would never like again. It was very hard in that time for me not to be angry (that the US hadn’t taken more measures to prevent, that I wasn’t in HK, that…) and was also a huge sense of loss. While everyone was going through the same thing with social distancing and staying at home, I had gone from seeing my friends every single day at work and afterwards at dinner, drinks, practice, etc., and it was very hard to lose them in addition to being separated by a 12 hour time difference. I’m sure a lot of people had COVID/quarantine depression, but I definitely had some COVID anger as I tried to accept that it didn’t look likely that I would return to the life I loved in HK.
And a good thing I did finally accept that since as of July 1, the ‘one country two system’ special administrative status of Hong Kong is seriously in question, and many, including our Secretary of State Pompeo, say is effectively dead. I love HK, I miss my friends and life there dearly, but I am not interested in living in China and if I was still in HK, would definitely be making plans to leave shortly. With the passing of the national security law (which no one in HK had access to read until it went into effect on the 1st), China has given itself all legal power to try whoever they want for, well, whatever they want. I have seen so many HK activists’ Twitters go silent or scrub themselves for anything protest related or critical of China as everyone is worried. I’m sure under the new law even this post would be deemed a foreign influence or against CCP and get me flagged or questioned, and if not, my prior ones where I protested sure would, small potato or not. As always, I don’t want to be the only source of news and instead encourage you to google ‘Hong Kong National Security Law’ and read for yourself. As we watch the situation in HK and how the US will react and take away special allowances for the city, my heart goes out to my friends and the millions of other Hong Kongers who have been fighting for their home and wait to see how far China will push.
As I sadly will not go back to HK, I have tried to make other plans for the upcoming school year. I once again applied to the Peace Corps and was meant to leave in August this year for Tonga. Since my interview and acceptance email, PC has evacuated all current volunteers, brought them home, and also has suspended returns until at least October of this year. I have been updated on my leave date to be tentatively September 2021, so I am sitting tight until then, at least. While waiting, I am bartending and waitressing, which means this is the first year since kindergarten that I am not waiting for the start of a school year, as student or teacher. Out of all the things to have happen in 2020, I didn’t think a move home, a new American phone number, and bartending in my hometown would be on the list, but here I am for at least a year. Fingers crossed that 25 will bring a new country or two while waiting out my next move to give me something to write about.