I had a bad day in Hong Kong yesterday. The kind of day that makes me want to pack my bags and take my little boy with me somewhere far away. You'll be pleased to know that I have resolved those issues today over tea, an almond croissant and the latest issue of Red magazine. When I'm mad at this crazy city I have to remind myself that although the issues I have here might be unique to Hong Kong, there were days when I hated Sydney and wanted to pack my bags.
While I was at uni, and for two years after, I lived in the city of Canberra. For those of you who don't know it, it's allegedly the capital of Australia, but it's really just a flat, boring, large country town. It did offer me a great deal at the time but once I had graduated I felt elation every time I left, and was literally sick at the thought of going back. Nothing sunk my heart faster than stepping off the plane at Canberra airport. It never felt like home. In fact I think I can say it felt less like home than Hong Kong does sometimes. Sydney was a complete contrast. It was vibrant and exciting and moving there on my own at 22 was just about the bravest thing a girl from the country could do (the only thing scarier was moving to Hong Kong, but I at least had the commonsense not to do that alone). Sydney definitely felt like home, but it was a hard place to live. People who grow up in Sydney aren't that interested in getting to know people who didn't. It was as if they had all the friends they were ever going to need and there were no vacancies. I tried lots of different things to meet people; yoga classes, art classes and extra uni tutorial sessions. None of it made any difference. My first year there was the loneliest year of my life and so many times I wanted to, yep you guessed it, pack my bags, but the city itself fit me like a glove. I couldn't walk away. It wasn't until I met my husband, and he introduced me to his friends, that I felt like I had a group of great people around me. Ironically almost none of them were originally from Sydney, and we had a fabulous time together.
The city did have other downsides. Being from the country I found Sydney chaotic and overwhelming at times, and I needed to go back to my parent's place every few months for some peace and quiet. The first flat D and I lived in together was on the ground floor of an old building in Coogee, a block away from the main road. We had people above us and people beside us, and our bedroom was right next to the building's driveway. Our street was a shortcut for people coming home from the pub at night, and in the summer, every night was pub night. There was never a time of day when it wasn't noisy. In the summer, as well as the late night revellers, there were innumerable tourists clogging the footpaths, littering the street with their takeaway containers and baring all on the beach. It drove me mad! We eventually moved to a quieter neighbourhood, in a suburb without a pub. Naturally there were problems in this area too... We lived on a fairly narrow street, just around the corner from a local primary school. The school was in a cul-de-sac so every day at 8am our street would be packed with mums and kids in SUV's trying to get around each other to get as close to the school as possible. And you could forget trying to get a park out the front anytime between 2-4pm.
I know I often complain about the lack of fresh produce here in Hong Kong and I pine for a Coles or a farmer's market down the road but if I'm really honest, most days getting to the supermarket in Sydney was a pain in the butt. Here on South Lantau, on a weekday, I can leave here, drive to Mui Wo, do the shopping and drive home again in the space of an hour. In Sydney, with the shopping centre much closer than Mui Wo is to here, it would take at least 2 hours. By the time I battled the traffic, circled the carpark 40 times, made my way around the enormous supermarket, made it to the end of the queue and explained to the 12 year old on the checkout the difference between zucchini and cucumber, found my car in the basement, battled the traffic again to get home, hours had passed. Most days, unless I was desperate, I made do with whatever I had in the house to avoid going through all that. A trip to the supermarket was a surefire way to elevate my blood pressure beyond healthy limits, and a great way to waste 2 hours. My husband and I joked that Bondi Junction Westfield was like a vacuum - you went in to get milk and emerged 4 hours later, with no idea where the time went. I can't imagine what that would be like with a child in tow!
So whenever I'm frustrated by the fact that I can't find hummus anywhere, or someone cuts in front of me in a queue, or when the air quality is so bad you can smell it, and I'm really missing home, these are the things I think about. And I feel a little bit better.