For various reasons, this post is significantly delayed. I’ve spent a lot of time editing it in my head and missing my friends and Hong Kong doubly while doing so. Looking back, it is absolutely insane to me how this past year has played out. Never did I think I would be typing this in my bedroom a few days before Thanksgiving. I did not imagine a situation where I wouldn’t be in Hong Kong playing rugby surrounded by towering buildings and seeing my favorite kiddos each week learning how to write essays, even though my friends and I had begun conversations of when is it time to leave and many now have. Also, I couldn’t have drafted a year and a half in which I didn’t see a new country, or a full 10 months of not setting foot on a plane and still have no idea when I might again.
Some things I thought I wouldn’t do in 2019: go back to Bangkok, go to Thailand in back to back months, buy a ticket for a flight less than 6 hours before hand, take a trip with my work pals, and arguably most importantly, once again get the delicious coconut ice cream on Khao San Road.
In November 2019, protests ramped up in frequency in Hong Kong. Eventually, it came to the point where kids weren’t able to come in for their lessons, some teachers couldn’t make it in, or we were trying not to have coworkers come in if they lived in more protest-heavy areas. Somehow finding myself at the head of organizing that, it was a very exhausting time of combing through update after update of what was going on with the protests, coming into work extra early with my extra large coffee to print off the daily schedule and begin to see what I was working with that particular day, and continually making updates as the protest location changed throughout the day. Eventually, protests were so frequent and disruptive to public transport, we had a Thursday off as decided by the Education Bureau (EDB) in HK. While we marveled at our day off on Thursday and the mystery of what the weekend held, a bit excitedly as we never get weekends off, and certainly not together. Soon enough on Thursday, the notification came through, EDB decided to close through Sunday, which even covered our Saturday work day. As we met each others eyes in shock, we became excited about the possibility of a weekend together, but soon reality set in as it crept over us what the expectations for the weekend protest were. The past two public holidays in mind and the fires and tear gas that came with it, I realized I really did not want to see what the weekend had in store for HK. I love HK and support their push for freedom, but me sitting in my apartment consuming tweet after tweet of what was literally on fire next never added anything to the cause. How to avoid a weekend sitting at home or on rooftops listening to what’s going on and staring at the news? A weekend getaway with the gals (plus Berkeley).
After some conversation of whether or not I was really serious and we were really doing this and spending some time searching the best fares and flight times, I laid down the ultimatum with Sophie, something to the effect of ‘We can go to Bali for x amount, or Bangkok for x. They both leave in a few hours, tell me your choice or I’m going by myself.’ And Soph was convinced. Huddled around Kelly’s computer in her apartment, we bought our tickets and convinced Charlotte at the same time, then headed back upstairs to the roof to share our purchase, probably grinning like little kids on Christmas. After blurting out where we were headed, the three of us hurried home to throw our weekend bags together, texting who was bringing what so we didn’t all need to bring sunscreen.
Sometime after leaving my apartment with my weekend backpack, Kelly and Berkeley finally decided to come along with us. Hearts in our chest, us gals met at the airport express and talked about our weekend ahead. Somewhere in there, I received a phone call from the booking agency as I’d accidentally booked myself on the flight twice, so the agent was double checking as it was a same day flight and purchase. It took a couple of months and some phone calls, but eventually they did refund the ticket that wasn’t used. Boarding the Royal Jordanian plane, we were pleasantly surprised for the 5 of us to be seated in the same row, even though we booked under 2 separate purchases. Convinced with that we made the right decision, we slowly tried to put work and protest related issues behind us for the weekend, which I think everyone did much better than me at giving themselves a mental break.
Landing continued the excitement as after a hot wait in the immigration line, Char passed out to keep us on our toes. (She was ok, just dehydrated). Making our way outside, we piled into a taxi with a guy who really enjoyed belting out the worst version of Country Roads I’ve ever heard in any country. I will never again hear anyone singing ‘mountain momma’ and not think of this taxi driver. He certainly had spirit.
As he dropped us off at the end of the street from our acommodation, we slowly realized our funniest mistake of the trip; letting Char book us a hostel right on Khao San Road. Khao San is the long back packers street that everyone tourist visits during their time in Bangkok. During the day, it has tons of tourist trinkets and some food as well as where my sister and I had hennas done on my first time in the city. At night, it a bustling attraction of bugs on sticks, bucket drinks, and bars that pour into the street as sunburnt, swaying tourists mill around, pestered by venders if they’d like to go to ping pong shows or some one else’s ‘better bar’ down the street. Walking down this street is like walking through crowded concert pits, one after another as people dance to different music drowning out and mingling with the bar right next to it. Around 3 a.m., the party street finally cuts those of us dumb enough to decide to stay on it a break and quiets down.
The first night we got massages and called it a day (or maybe night). The next day, we did some touristy things for Char since she hadn’t been to Bangkok yet, including a tour of the Grand Palace and a boat ride through the canals, where Charlotte and I were absolutely convinced we walked, er well floated, right into a kidnapping trap: spoiler alert, we are fine, Grandma! We went to the palace just before closing which proved to be a great time for getting our Insta pics in. Afterwards, a taxi driver from in from of the palace took us to the canals for a river cruise and convinced us to do a tour with him the following day. That evening, all of us piled into one tuk tuk and rode 30 minutes with Berkeley dangling into the street to visit a night market for food and drinks and souvenirs, always souvenirs. Later that evening, much later, Charlotte and Sophie went out while I had some noodles and a massage and facetimed Megan, probably about our Philippine trip which turned into a trip to Panama, which also turned into another victim of what could have been in 2020.
Our last full day, us three gals took the taxi driver’s tour down to see the floating market, which was definitely a tourist trap and not quite how I’d pictured it, with a greenish Soph and Char in the back seat regretting their sins of the night before, wishing they hadn’t agreed to such a long car ride. After the twisty canals filled with trinkets, animals, and food, we went to the next stop on our private tour, the train market. We waited around for the train to come and watch the little market pack up for the train to squeeze through, grazing where awnings had hung shading sweet fruit moments before. It was how I had pictured it, sort of, but rather anticlimactic.
Crawling back into the taxi for a long drive back to the city, our stomachs rumbled nice and hungry for our food tour. We made a quick stop at the hotel to change, and I have never cut one that close before and considered us lucky that we made it just in time before the food tour departed from the meeting point, so my friends got to see suuuuper stressed me even while we were supposed to be taking a break from super stressed. We were in such a rush, one of the girls had glimpsed a headline ‘PLA takes to the streets in HK’, but no one had time to read the full story before we rushed out the door. Only during out second stop on the food tour did I remember this tidbit, and blurted it out, loudly, to Kelly and Berkeley, overtop everyone’s cheerful conversation. And that’s how we, I, let the rest of the group know where we were visiting from. (PLA were helping to clean the streets and not what the worst of our imaginations were jumping to and did not necessitate the conversation of whether or not we get on the plane to go back that we had for the rest of the evening before we finally got wifi. Sorry friends!)
While it wasn’t the must stuffed I had ever left a food tour simply due to how much we walked. around, it was certainly the longest one I had ever been on. I believe we had 11 different stops, though thankfully sometimes we did a drive by of picking up one snack and eating it while sitting down waiting for the next to be spooned onto our plates. From fruit with chili spice to mango sticky rice, we definitely had our fill, and I breathed a sight of relief that everyone seemed to enjoy it as I had suggested the activity. The last night, Char and Soph got tattoos while Berks, Kelly, and I got final massages and were ready to go to sleep. I would fight anyone right now for a $10 Thai massage, you can simply not get anything comparable in the U.S. maybe we would all be less angry if you could.
After we got off the plane in Hong Kong, we were greeted with one of the worst weeks of protests. This time last year, Hong Kong Polytechnic University was the main face of the protests. To sum it up, protestors took refuge on campus while police tried forcing them out and putting legal pressure on them to give up. I followed this protest the way I followed them all, even the ones right outside of my apartment, on Twitter, other social medias, and messages from my friends on the scene. I watched this rapidly escalating situation unfold with dread, wondering at what point it would become another Tainanmen Square and whether it would be confined only to the campus and what would happen to my friends trapped inside.
Following last years theme, November is continuing to be the toughest month for me. It certainly feels like there is not much to be grateful for this difficult year. Sometimes I’m angry and not grateful for anything, but as always, there is a lot to be thankful for. I am so thankful for my people, the ones that have come into my life since moving home and the ones that I miss daily (sorry that I am so bad at texting back lately).
For everyone struggling with this year, which is well, probably everyone, here’s a few things that have helped me: A huge help to me has been discovering and bing reading It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny. (hyperlinked to Amazon page.) If you ask really nice, maybe I’ll let you borrow my copy, but it’s now one of my favorite books so I’ll need it back. Nora has been through a huge amount of grief and loss in a short period of time, and manages to recount it in a humorous, relatable way. While you probably haven’t miscarried, lost your dad and husband to brain cancer in a few short months, grief is grief, and loss is loss, and Nora hits the nail on the head about both in this book. She has a twitter page as well as a podcast if you’re more of a listener or tweeter. Why is grief and loss relevant right now? This link can answer that question for you. Everyone is suffering loss this year, some more than others, and whether one recognizes it or not, it is impacting everyone on a daily basis, in my opinion, especially as we deal with the anticipatory grief the linked article talks about. Finally, many people have asked me how I have made the transition of ‘being out in the big world’ to returning to small town USA. (It is hard, it is so hard. There is so much going on in the world and there is so little going on in my hometown.) My answer: my therapist appointments are on Fridays. There does not have to be anything ‘wrong’ with you to see a therapist or counselor. As a psych major, I’ve always had the opinion everyone should see one, and with all the uncertainty this year holds, it is as good as time as any, perhaps better than any, to start.