Friday, September 3, 2010

You've Got to Have Friends

Thanks everyone for the comments this week; it's great to have feedback and I really appreciate all the advice. I've relaxed a little more at mealtimes and we're trying more finger foods, and even though the little guy isn't eating much more than he was a few days ago, it's less stressful.

My husband's been in New York this week and since I couldn't go with him I've been watching old episodes of Sex and the City. Apart from making me wish I could afford to wear Manolos and live on 5th Ave, it got me thinking about friendship. I've always been fairly shy and reserved (clearly, only the shyest people publish their private thoughts on the internet) and making friends doesn't come easily to me. My best friend and I have known each other since we were 4 years old. We grew up blocks away from each other, went to school together and shared the agony of adolescence, and all the joy and heartbreak, failure and success that has come since. I love that I can be myself in his company and never have to explain anything. He knows me better than anyone and I know we'll still be friends when we're 70. This kind of comfortable, effortless and loyal friendship is my kind of friendship, but it is a rare thing to find.

When I moved to Hong Kong I found it very hard to leave my friends in Sydney and in some ways, I didn't really want to make new friends. I didn't think it would be possible to establish those same sorts of relationships again. I'm not great at putting myself out there and being myself in unfamiliar territory. I was terrified by the prospect of having to start over. Get togethers where there are lots of people I don't know still make me feel a bit ill, especially when it involves leaving the island. In my first week here I was invited to a hen's/bachelorette party for a girl I already knew. I met so many new people that night and everyone was keen to include me. I had so many phone numbers and offers to catch up by the end of the night that I was overwhelmed, and to be honest I wondered how genuine they all were. I didn't think it was possible for people to truly be THAT nice. As the weeks went by I had more offers for girl's nights and bookclubs and morning teas but I turned many of them down. For quite a while after we moved here I hated Hong Kong and I took it out on the people around me. I had a very narrow vision of life and the people here, and I hate to admit it, but I misjudged their intentions. I also didn't want to go to all the trouble of making friends here because I had no intention of staying for very long...

After a few trips back to Australia in a short space of time I realised that life was going on without me at home; my friends were going to work, getting married and having babies, and I was missing it all. I realised that in order to survive in Hong Kong I'd need to keep moving forward too, and to do that I would need a serious attitude change. It also appeared that we would be here for the long haul and I'd need a lot of support. Luckily people in our circle of friends were patient and hadn't given up on me completely. I realised they were so friendly in the beginning because they'd all been in the same boat at some stage and knew what it was like to leave a life behind. I had been wrong: They were THAT nice. Some of those girls at that first party are amongst my closest friends today, and I may not see them very often but I'm so very grateful that they made the effort in those early months.

While I was pregnant I was lucky enough to have 2 very good friends going through it all at the same time. They both had multiples so it was a different experience for all of us but we bonded over our swollen ankles, ultrasounds and nursery furniture. On hot summer days we'd waddle over to the pool next door and float for hours. G and I would catch up almost daily for tea and some days we didn't need to say anything at all because we felt exactly the same way. We were thrilled when K delivered 3 healthy baby boys, and both girls shared our excitement when J arrived a few weeks later. Sadly, G had to go back to the UK before her twin girls were born so we've yet to met them but I paced the floor, in floods of tears, thousands of miles away the day she was induced, and I was overjoyed from a distance when all was well. G and her husband are such special friends we asked them to be J's Godparents (my husband's one concession to the christening debate), so they have to stay friends with us wherever we all are in the world! All I can say is, thank goodness for Skype.

Over time I've realised that what we have here is unique. Hardly anyone we know works 9-5 and we see our friends here far more than we ever saw our friends in Sydney. We understand how hard it can be when husbands are away, especially when babies are young, and we rally around cooking and shopping. The community here is welcoming and supportive. I grew up in a small country town and I'm reminded of it sometimes when I walk through Mui Wo and people smile and say hi. I feel like the people we know here compensate for the people who aren't here; they're our family for the time we live in Hong Kong. I've seen a lot of people here from very different backgrounds develop close, lifelong friendships and I'm sad that I almost missed out on that.

It's not always idyllic; there are downsides. I sometimes feel like we live in each other's pockets, and it's impossible to keep something a secret around here! Hong Kong's population is also very transient. People come and go, and very few stay here forever. We all have "homes" somewhere else in the world and it can be very hard when people move away. My friend K has been away for the summer and it's been a long 3 months! For me personally, it has taken some time to reconcile my shyness with the very social side of life here. It's something I still struggle with. I've had to overcome a lot of my insecurities and neuroses and it hasn't been easy; the expat life is definitely the recluse's version of jumping in at the deep end! Since J was born I've been able to connect with more people; there's always something to talk about, and I've found I have more in common with some people than I thought. Mother's groups and playgroups are brilliant; it's hard to be shy when you're out with a child as active and vocal as my son (not to mention cute!).

The friendships we've built here are a big part of why I'm still in Hong Kong. So, to my new friends who stood by me when I was difficult and antisocial; a big thank you. To those who still aren't sure about me; I'm trying my very best to get out of my shell. To my friends who have known me forever; lots of love. And finally to my new "friends" I haven't met yet, thanks for reading. Have a great weekend x

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