Hong Kong

I’m back after a hiatus. There were seismic changes and all in quick succession. Physically fatigued and mentally worn out, I had no time to think; much less to write. Such fervent planning, selling, buying, packing and unpacking that I felt bereft of any emotion, focusing only on the tasks ahead. It all began when I requested for a transfer from Hong Kong to India.

After the macro planning of moving countries came the piecemeal planning. Taking photographs of my furniture, uploading it on various websites, drawing up a price list and the slow, systematic, dismantling of my life. As I had inherited my landlord’s furniture I didn’t own much but what I did was precious and cherished. But if you separate the owner from her belongings, you’re just left with objects. Life can be brutally transactional.

My hot pink IKEA sofa, my romance chest, my movie style lamp, my Indonesian wooden bar cabinet. Yes that’s right, I owned a bar cabinet with lots of very expensive glasses, imagining I would be hosting many soirees. I’m not a drinker but I am a dreamer.

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It also involved some paperwork. As you know it’s not my forte. (https://pausetoponder.com/2013/09/05/staying-true-to-form/). Between the termination notices and other formalities, it didn’t allow me to feel melancholic about the inevitable farewells.

I attempted writing this piece but words escaped me. I felt strongly, but strangely, I felt empty. One Friday evening, I opened my refrigerator and thought I’d seek aid from alcohol. A glass of wine perhaps, like shown in the movies. There’s a saying in Italian “ In wine there is the truth”. Alas, instead of coherent thoughts I welcomed sleep.

Why? I wondered. Life changing events and I felt nothing? I probed. Perhaps my instinct for self-preservation had kicked in.

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Leaving Hong Kong was rather difficult. It’s a transient city but I grew up in that city. It took a lot from me but it gave me so much more. Wonderful friends, heaps of fun, lasting memories and lessons. It was a defining period in my life where I wandered off and then reclaimed myself.

I’d spent nearly seven years in Hong Kong. A few more months and I would be a permanent resident. Hong Kong. Have you realized how different a word sounds depending on how your world changes? How easily some names that meant so much at one point, that would roll of your lips so naturally, now sound unfamiliar?

In response to immigration officers, I’d say I live in Hong Kong. I’d rush to airport gates announcing a flight to Hong Kong. My last two passports were issued in Hong Kong. My photo identity was my Hong Kong Identity Card. In response to where I was from, Hong Kong was the most appropriate response. After all my business and personal travels, I’d land in that city and wait for the airport express train to swoop in and carry me swiftly and safely to what was then, home.

I had packed my bags for Hong Kong with trepidation. Everyone assured me that I would love it and I did. How could I not, the vibrant city envelopes you in its heady mix of money, shopping, friends and travel. It’s off-the-charts sexy and it also has a soul.
It must have been my unending enthusiasm because when I landed in the month of February it was unexpectedly cold, bleak and uninviting. I was cooped up in a service apartment for a month with no friends but plenty of time. I was lonely initially but not sad. I began to revel in the anonymity. Getting lost in the labyrinth of gleaming and imposing buildings.

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The early years are not something I want to forget entirely. But they’re also something I don’t remember easily. The memories have been folded neatly and pushed in the far corners of my heart. Once in a while I’m reminded of them, accidentally. Chancing upon old scanned documents in folders long forgotten. Unearthing USB’s with photographs. On rare occasions I cave in. I remember them, deliberately. Like today.

It would be dishonest if I write this chapter on Hong Kong without mentioning my former husband. My former, laugh-out-loud hilarious partner. He’s not a person, he’s an experience. He kicks the door open to announce his arrival. One of the most creative people I know with talents that never cease to end. He can cook, sing, rap, dance, act, play musical instruments and play sports. A photographer par excellence. He ran marathons, reviewed movies, programmed music channels, created cartoons and last I checked he was into rowing and also sang in a choir! He is a living example that it’s never too late to attempt anything.

We shopped, made new friends, partied, traveled, binged on our favourite TV series and experimented with international cuisines. We enjoyed all the firsts that come with living overseas. In a foreign land we leaned on each other for companionship, resulting in a closeness that wasn’t sustainable. Eventually we had to pull apart. We got confused. We got temperamental. We got lost. We lost each other. It was as if I had subscribed to an entertainment channel. Scratch that, a bouquet of channels. Perhaps our combined energies were self-destructive; waiting to explode.

I was desperately sad in the months that followed. It was the void that hit me first. I tried every trick in the book to fill this void but I was just sinking into irrelevance. I hit the malls with a vengeance,tried Zumba and became post-break-up thin but I slowly realised that only I could fill this void. I had to be autonomous in my unhappiness. Not by staying busy but by staying strong.

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To fill this void, along came a new companion. Anxiety. It hung around me in a heavy air. I tried to outsmart it but I couldn’t. It linked arms with me. It accompanied me to meetings, picnics, parties and in bed. I accommodated it, because anxiety kept me on my toes. It kept me in check. It made me more efficient. The longer it stayed , the better I got at handling it.

Finally, I was in a good place. There’s a line in one of my favourite books The Kite Runner:
“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

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Perhaps I had forgiven myself for what I considered a failure. Soon I began to love my life and my independence. My ex and I often found our paths crossing but never our lives. He met the girl he would marry and months later, I met my future husband.

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Our friendship grew organically. We didn’t say I love You’s. We didn’t need to. We just knew. If my ex had given me wings, my husband provided wings and roots. I call him my anchor. However, marriage meant leaving Hong Kong and my solitude. How ironic that the very thing that scared me at first was now invaluable. Solitude teaches you more about yourself and I highly recommend it in large doses.

In May, my ex-husband and I met for lunch possibly for the last time. For a man of flamboyant entries, his exit was quiet and full of grace. We caught up, cried softly (blamed it on spicy Sichuan Chinese food), reminisced about traversing the peaks and valleys of Hong Kong, literally and figuratively. He left on the 14th of June for the States and two weeks later I bid adieu to Hong Kong. Thus ending this glorious chapter.

Six months later, I’m back in India. Furniture sold, MPF and bank accounts closed, taxes cleared and correspondence addresses changed. There’s no trace of my life back in Hong Kong except for what survives in memory.

‘Do you miss Hong Kong?’ asks everyone. ‘No,’ I reply feeling faintly disloyal. Although I miss everything about it. Friends, colleagues, weather, food, gym, infrastructure, governance and yet I’m happy. Pure, unbridled joy. Sorry Hong Kong, just because I didn’t think I was lonely didn’t mean I didn’t feel lonely.

I’d left as a young, carefree girl and I’ve returned as a wise old soul. ‘Life takes you places, love brings you home’.

Sighing from the sidelines…

Hello lovely ladies,

I am a TV professional. When I say “I work in media” it usually elicits a desired response not just in the financial city of Hong Kong but in most parts of the world. At the risk of sounding lame, my work is a huge part of my identity and my self-esteem. I’m not proud of this admission but I can expand on it. I was average in studies, below average in sports and pretty much average all around. But all that changed when I entered the corporate world. This is where I excelled. I thrived on challenges. Finally there was something I was good at. There was no turning back.

I don’t have grandiose plans of success and if I were to be perfectly honest I’m still unsure about what I want to be at 50. A CEO? Maybe? Self-doubt rears his ugly head as I type this. It’s a tantalizing but distant possibility.

For my current role, I was one of the youngest candidates who was approached for this position. Others had been around the block but what I lacked in experience I made up with enthusiasm. But instead of patting myself on the back, I thanked God and my luck. Luck NOT talent.

Therein lies one of our biggest problems. While men can seem boastful about their success, most women suffer from an imposter syndrome. We’re reluctant to give ourselves credit where its due. We shyly brush aside compliments. We’re embarrassed when the accolades come our way. Why? I fail to understand. Isn’t it possible to feel proud and not arrogant?

Being a woman is hard work. The responsibilities of raising a child and running a household . The grooming despite the gruelling schedules. The balance sheets and balancing in heels, the monthly pains whilst politely ignoring the snide remarks about PMS’ing. We master the art of multi-tasking while attempting to look like a million bucks. Yet, the fairer sex is treated unfairly?

So, if no one else congratulates us can we, at the very least, celebrate us? Are we all in agreement that we shouldn’t be apologetic or seem undeserving of our success? Hurray!

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Dear alpha-male,

I like you. In fact, I’m a lot like you. I’m not a feminist and this isn’t meant to be a male bashing opportunity. Please don’t take it the wrong way because what I’m about to say is said with the nicest intention. I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend over the years. Something that I’ve been silently observing until now.

I’m concerned about your attitude. Things said in jest. The inappropriateness of the water-cooler conversation. The beer-banter and the irresponsible use of information.

Our jobs involve working and networking in equal measure and sometimes small talk turns to slander. Whispered conversations in conference rooms and long chats over cocktails, when you’ll drop your guards and your voices, touch my arm as if I was a confidante or co-conspirator. That’s when I am informed imprudently and almost unnecessarily about how a particular woman has risen to the top in questionable ways.

“ABC was promoted because she was close to the boss” or ” XYZ doesn’t have to worry about being made redundant because she’s a (the choicest sexual act)”. Comments made in churlish contempt.

From your reports it would seem the only way a woman could climb the ladder of success was, lad by lad.

The rumour mills are always churning. Producing idle gossip. Presented unsolicited.

Irrespective of age groups, countries and demographics, gossip is a universal problem. You’ll are well-educated , well-read, well-travelled and well-meaning guys in general and yet can’t comprehend that it’s not very macho to be so malicious. To belittle someone’s success on account of sexuality?!

NEWS FLASH: Men flirt with their bosses too!!! Over sports and single malt. On golf courses and in gentlemen clubs. I’ve been privy to many such wooing attempts when a guy sidled up to a more successful man who happens to be conversing with me and wanted to hog the attention. Said schmoozer then suggests stepping out for a cigarette. There is a perfunctory inquiry of whether I smoke and I decline as if it’s a personal failing.

Also, even if there is an element of truth and if two people did get involved in a sordid affair and broke the protocol, it doesn’t absolve the man either!

Men are neither innocent, gullible or victimized. They’re sexist, stupid with their locker-room humour and sometimes, quite simply, jealous.

Behind every successful man is a patient woman but behind every successful woman is a begrudging man.

Gentlemen, play fair. Be nice.

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The girl who needs a grocery buying guide

Something strange happened one weekend.
I woke up at 8am!
On weekends that’s considered as dawn.
Feeling bright and energetic I jumped out of bed without so much as a yawn.

The joy of a weekend is to have bit of a lie-in without the shrill of an alarm.
I made myself a cup of tea and enjoyed the morning calm.
Deciding to use this time productively I left to run a few errands.
Having ignored my house I decided to make amends.

I’m blessed to have a helper and a cook who are indispensable.
They’re my lifeline and like family. They’re loyal and competent.
By design or by habit the task of buying groceries is left in their trusted hands.
But seeing the supermarket I,spontaneously, thought of doing it myself, so in I went.

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My senses groggy. My voice disembodied. I walked down the aisles, slightly lost.
The fresh colours and smells of fruits is what I love the most.
Other shoppers included either very old people shuffling along,
Or early-risers, swimmers, hipsters tying up their dogs or parking their bike.
And of course super sporty Amazonian women returning from their run or hike.

I started adding tomatoes, blueberries etc in my trolley.
Whilst admiring their bodies fit for haute couture.
Making lists of what I’d like eat during the week and feeling jolly.
Buying vegetables is a bit like buying furniture, it’s very mature.

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I came home and dropped my bags on the floor.
The rumbling in my stomach was turning into a roar.
Tired but happy about the chores being completed.
Even if the money in my wallet had rapidly depleted.

The aforementioned cook and helper arrive.
What follows is a humiliating, dressing down that lasts half an hour.
My effort ignored, my morning turned sour.
The critical cook shreds me to pieces and exposes my inexperience.
So much so for my lets-do-this-grocery-shopping-more -often drive.

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She starts with ” if you buy vegetables, your bank balance will come down by half”.
Why I asked with trepidation masked by a loud laugh.
She bemoans the pitfalls of career women and lifestyles she deems wild.
Expecting a rebuke I braced myself like an erroneous child.

She said: Tomatoes from the fresh market are 14$. You paid 26$.
Oh is all I said and smiled sheepishly.
She said: Why did you buy an eggplant. We already had one.
I professed a false love for eggplant and contemplated an escape. Perhaps head to the gym for a run.

She said: Why did you buy three packets of Okra? Two are enough for you.
I shifted my weight from one foot to another. Feeling small and stupid. I still do.
What are these? She points to the small packets of green stuff I’d thrown in randomly.
Finally! I have an answer for this one. I glibly assured her it’s Coriander for chutney .
It’s Pudina (mint leaves) she says in a half mocking half disapproving tone.
My confidence quickly dissipating as she continued to drone.

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She then coaches me on cooking and domesticity and how it would make a man happy.
Here it comes, the ultimate blow.
Because of course not having a man is the all-time low.
At this point my helper, who’s always been in my corner, comes to my defense.
She pipes in saying my purchases are organic and therefore more healthy.

They’re imported from Australia or New Zealand she shouts over the hoovering.
Feeling bad for me as I’ve been put through the ringer.
So? I’m going to be boiling and cooking them anyway, dismisses my cook.
Unless you want to use these imported tomatoes for salads or sandwiches? She asks.
Part question, part threat. Not exactly the menu I had in mind. No, is all I could whimper.

Some might question my wisdom for tolerating a feisty cook bordering on insolence.
In a world full of robotic, indifferent people, she’s right and she cares.
I hang my head in shame. In silence.
My helper, gives me a reassuring smile, indicating what “I can say to save ya”.
How quickly success turns to failure.

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Tyranny of language

My daily life; one day a slight variation of the other
I drown the voices around by being on the phone or listening to a song
on my train commute and trips to the grocery store
It’s often been lonesome in Hong Kong

To be isolated when others talk in Cantonese, Mandarin, Malay and Tagalog
I miss having a dialogue
No sharing of dreams, stories, the highs and lows
It saves me the time from small chat and the socializing trouble
Left to my own devices I live my life in a bubble

Lately, I’ve had this thought
What if we didn’t understand each other?
Left to our own interpretations, would the world be better?
Would we believe in the good?
Is it really important to be understood?

The white noise and angry words hurled in a train
The man begging, the litany that must speak of pain
Comments on branded bags, jewelry, social status and if you’re rich or poor
Judgments that fall on unknowing and uncaring ears is a blessing for sure

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So what if the norm was to change
No riposte nor retort exchanged
If you didn’t know what’s being told
Would it be liberating or leave you cold
All the remarks you’d miss
Perhaps ignorance is bliss

It does get frustrating at times
Often so helpless it could be a crime
But I stopped being sentimental
To escape from the anguish
I’m freed from the tyranny of language