Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Tyranny of Distance

I love Christmas. Mostly the few weeks leading up to it, the day itself is always an anti-climax, but everything else, the carols, the shopping, the food, is the highlight of my year. I've decked the blog in honour of the season and I'll be dedicating a few posts to the good, the bad and the ugly of Christmas this month, but today I want to write about travelling, something many of us do at this time of year.

We're leaving tonight for Sydney and we'll be away for two weeks. I'm stressed and anxious about the flight, I'm not organised enough, and as much as I'm looking forward to the time away (especially given the horrendous state of HK's air this week!) I'd rather just stay where I am. I always go through this trauma for a few days before going to Australia; the thought of repatriating just for a short time always brings up mixed emotions for me and there are times when I think it would be easier just to stay in Hong Kong. They say that home is where the heart is, and I definitely feel like I would be at home anywhere as long as D and J were with me. But there is a part of me that will always belong in Sydney. As much as I love going back to visit I know it can never be the same as it was when we lived there. People have changed, we have changed, and life has gone on without us, but at the same time everything is so familiar and the same. It's strange going back and having to stay in hotels and hire cars, it makes me feel homeless. At the same time I feel comfortable because I know my way around, but I feel like I don't belong. It unsettles me and I feel like I'm being pulled in two directions. I want to stay and pick up where I left off, I want my son to grow up on the street we used to live on and I want our friends to get to know him. For a long time I refused to acknowledge on the Australian immigration departure card that I was merely a "visitor," I always ticked the box next to "resident departing temporarily." I held onto the hope that I would return sooner rather than later, and was in complete denial about the fact that I was no longer a resident in my own country.

I go through this angst every time I go back. I torture myself by window shopping at real estate agencies, and spending quality time in all my favourite spots. Then the reality sinks in and I realise that when we visit Sydney we see her at her best. Our friends all make time to see us, we've saved up so we have more cash than we would if we were paying rent, we don't have to battle traffic or work in dead-end jobs every day. We don't get involved in the politics of the place or rely on the local infrastructure in any way, it's all good when you're just a "visitor." I also struggle at the other end of a trip, when I have to come back to HK, and my husband has to drag me kicking and screaming onto the plane (quite embarrassing sometimes...). On returning to Hong Kong I slip into this depressed fog for a few days; I don't unpack, I mope about the house complaining, "it's not like this in Sydney," and "when I was in Sydney I could buy this/do that/go there/be happy..." (yes, I'm a delight to live with). Viewing a place through holiday eyes is very much the same as wearing rose coloured glasses, and I have to constantly remind myself that if we did stay in Australia life would be much much harder. Not to mention all that we'd be leaving behind.

The fact that our families are there is the main reason we go back as often as we do, but it adds to the emotional wrench I feel at both ends of a trip. It's lovely that people care and that they want to spend time with us. I would complain a lot more if we went back and no one made a fuss. My father-in-law will be meeting us at the airport on Thursday and I'm absolutely delighted that someone will be at the gate to greet us for the first time since we moved here 3 years ago. Of course we want to see as many people as we can but we've learned from experience that it can be absolutely exhausting trying to please everyone. Despite the fact that that's simply impossible to achieve, we do still tie ourselves in knots trying, but we always end up disappointing someone. No matter how much running around we do, we can never see all of our friends and all of our families, and we're often forced to make a choice between the people we want to see and the people we have to see. I always leave feeling as if I could've spent an extra month there and still missed people. Being there reminds me of all the people we're missing while we're away, the babies we don't get to watch grow up, the family members who grow older every day, and whose time is limited. I'm so happy to see everyone but so sad at the same time. Noticing that my father's hair is greyer and my mother is thinner every time we see them, that I've been away long enough to notice these changes, breaks my heart. It sounds completely selfish but one year I'd really like to go back and not see anyone, to avoid the heartache. I'd love to take my boys to a small beachside town and have a proper Australian holiday, just the three of us, another impossible dream.

It's not just the emotional aspect of the journey that takes a toll. It's a real physical and logistical nightmare sometimes. Our first trip back to Australia with J was a marathon effort. We flew from Hong Kong to Sydney, then Brisbane, then Canberra and back to Brisbane again. J racked up more air miles in that month than most people do in a year. We also spent several hours driving to places outside of the capital cities. The poor little guy was so overwhelmed and exhausted by it all that it took weeks for him to adjust when we came home. When we went to Melbourne in June we decided that we'd stay in one place and ask people to come to us. It went well (still completely disruptive for J's routine, just less exhausting) but there were a few family members who couldn't come and see us, and that has complicated things even more for this next trip. If we tried to fit everyone in we'd literally spend most of our time in the country on planes or in cars travelling to and fro, all for a brief visit, where we'd probably be greeted with a comment like "what a pity you can't stay longer."

Unless you've lived overseas and had to return home with a small child in tow, it's hard to comprehend exactly what's involved. Some family members have never travelled and they seem to think it's much simpler than it actually is. "Just jump on a plane," they say. We've had a few visitors come through Hong Kong since we've been living here, and while we wouldn't want everyone rocking up on our doorstep, it would be much easier if more of our family came to us. I don't think you can fully appreciate how difficult it can be to travel overseas (packing, check-in, immigration, 9 hour economy class flight etc) with a baby until you've done it for yourself. It's an exercise on the scale of a small military operation. I'd like to think that there would be fewer demands placed on our time if more people understood how little of it we have and how complicated it can be. Maybe that's just wishful thinking, or maybe that's a selfish way of looking at it, either way a little time spent in our shoes would benefit a few people.

Now that I've done nothing but complain I do have to say that I can't wait to get back to the city I love so very much. I'm going to take my son to Bronte Beach, walk along Sydney Harbour every morning with a coffee and my beautiful boy, I'll shop until I drop in the malls that have everything I've not been able to buy in Hong Kong, I'll eat in my favourite cafes and laugh till I cry with friends I haven't seen all year. Then we'll go and see my parents and the town I grew up in. We'll look out over the vast open plains and breath deep lungfuls of fresh country air, we might even convince Pop to take us out to get a Christmas tree. We'll sit with my Nanna and she'll tell me stories of when her babies where J's age and I'll probably cry when I say goodbye, because she hasn't been well this year and she and I were cut from the same cloth. And my husband won't have to drag me kicking and screaming onto the plane because we don't live there anymore. Hong Kong, for better or worse, is home.

No comments:

Post a Comment