The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Another place that’s home

on April 24, 2016

I was eight years old the first time I went to Hong Kong. I remember the experience vividly for many reasons. 

In those days, and I am sounding like my Dad, Mr Li, people just didn’t go on holiday much in my family. They didn’t even take a day off and even now when they do take a day off, it’s considerately early on in the week when you can still be bothered to cook for yourselves. 

Yes they are a hard working lot but times have changed and they’re a little more restful and a lot more adventurous with their choice of holiday destinations these days. I can honestly say, that according to my Dad, Mr Li, if you have to go on holiday then there’s no point in going anywhere else but Hong Kong. Like you can’t be full if there’s no rice attached to every meal. ‘What’s the point?’, he says. ‘To see new things Mr. Li.’ ‘What is there to see?’, says my Dad, Mr Li and that is what makes him such a steadfast man.

 

As a child I can distinctly remember being asked ‘What’s China like?’ Not in any mean way I should add. It was a time way before the World Wide Web. The truth would be, I don’t know. I still don’t. Nana Moon can tell you more about China than I can. ‘But you’re Chinese!’, they would cry. I know. ‘And you’ve never been to China before?’, ‘No, my parents are from Hong Kong.’ ‘What’s Hong Kong like?’ ‘Erm, I also don’t know….’ ‘But you’re Chinese!’

  

I know I’m Chinese! I’ve always known it. Even when people have helpfully pointed it out on the street, I was aware. But finally, when I was eight years old, I went to Hong Kong where I had this whole other ‘home’.  My Dad, Mr Li and a long line of Li/Lee/Lei’s hail from our ancestral village Tai Po Mei in the New Territories on your way to the China border. 

  

When you think of Hong Kong, you may think of the beautiful skyline adorned with skyscrapers across the harbour with a few ferries or junk boats passing by. The bright lights, the haggling for cheap knock off replicas, the noise, the smell the frenetic pace. The Hong Kong that I’m more familiar with is one that moves slightly slower, more green, more rustic. The one where I remember my Grandma. My Por Por. Living in our village that bustled with so much activity. 

  

The first time I went back to Hong Kong there was so much family I was meeting for the first time. I think that’s what really struck me. To suddenly have so many Aunts, Uncles, Great Aunts and Uncles all in one place. They knew me as daughter of my Dad, Mr Li and sister of Big Brother Li. The reason for this visit was for a special occasion. To celebrate a new house. A house with indoor toilets. I mean, for you and me, we’ve always known that toilets are indoors, it had never occurred to me that they wouldn’t be! Or that toilets could be anything but the ones that you sit on. And flush. Then suddenly toilets were outdoors and around the corner. Or indoors but nothing to sit on. Or something to sit on that you then push under the bed. It has obviously left a lasting impression.

  

I’m eight years old and I’m in Hong Kong for the first time.  Hanging out for three long weeks with cousins I hadn’t even met before. What is there not to love. Is it time that makes me view that first holiday with such nostalgia or how times have changed since? I haven’t stayed in our village since I was 16. In fact I’ve lived in our village for a total of 16 weeks in all my years. It’s not long at all to feel such strong associations but never underestimate the power of association. All my life it was embedded in me that this was our village. And that sense of belonging, no matter where you choose to live in the world, is reassuring. The village belongs to many of us. My cousins, my Aunts and Uncles, my nephews. I think this is also what makes it special. To feel this connected. 

  

So every time I go back to Hong Kong, I feel I have to visit the village. And every time it changes. I’m walking down a path that leads down the mountain to the start of the village where you then wind your way past houses that have been modernised and family members of a certain generation pop their heads out to greet you. It’s a lot quieter these days. Most people migrated out to the suburbs or to other countries a long time ago. But at the other side of the village there’s a new road that has been built on reclaimed land that could change all that and bring back families to the villages. There was a time that you looked out straight to sea but now the sea is just a bit further away.  
The path that we’re following is at once familiar and then not so. Where once there was just jungle, there’s a lot more concrete and then we reach the start of the row of terraces that led to our old house. Somehow, it looks a lot smaller. As nearly everything does when you revisit places with Grown Up eyes. I’m hit with unexpected emotion. I think of my Grandma, my Por Por. I think of my Dad, Mr Li having left this home over 50 years ago. I think of Big Brother Li looking on and wonder what kind of memories he has, especially on that particular day being his 50th Birthday. I look at #1, 2 and 3 and wonder when they will understand just how important this place is and what it will mean to them. 

  

Since then I’ve been back to Hong Kong six times. Not that often to be honest. Before you could buy all things Asian at the click of a mouse, a trip to Hong Kong was an opportunity to eat amazing food, buy the latest gadgets and get yourself a Hello Kitty/Ding Dong now called Doreamon fix. I would still say it’s the best place for amazing food. But living in tropical Singapore, some of the other things that you once couldn’t get enough of, is now quite accessible. So what does Hong Kong hold for me now. Well, it’s still great for shopping but the shopping with #1, 2 and 3 renders that objective impossible as demonstrated on our visit last month. Brilliant New Adventure had high hopes of us hitting the shops together but we sadly only got a measley half an hour in. Pah.

  

Brilliant New Adventure. That’s what Hong Kong holds. And Big Brother Li. And Nephews #1 and 2. And all the Aunts and Uncles and cousins that is the other half to my family. Having lived in tropical Singapore for seven and a half years with it’s own fair share of high rises and beautiful skylines, you always will miss a good mountain. Hong Kong is so mountainous and I had never appreciated that before. You can even climb these mountains but we’ll leave that for another time. 

  

I always imagine ‘home’ as being the UK. The place where we will grativate towards in due course. It’s where I was born and grew up. Where all our family and friends are. We have amazing times each trip back to the UK and it’s hard having to leave it behind. To look at #1, 2 and 3 and wonder if it’s fair that they don’t get to hang out with grandparents, aunts and uncles, godparents, close family friends all the time. 

  

And yet, what about this other ‘home’ that I have? One that forms part of their identity too living a blended cultural upbringing. You know, it had never occured to #1 to question why he didn’t have a Chinese name before this visit to Hong Kong. So Big Brother Li is working on that for him right now and most likely that’s how #1, 2 and 3 will proudly introduce themselves on their next stay in Hong Kong.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: