Hong Kong after 7 months
Going back to Hong Kong after 7 months for a work trip felt different. A lot had changed – I could sense how the city was trying to get back on its feet after the tumultuous events of last year. The national security law had all but stopped the protests. Spirits felt a bit dampened, with the double whammy of Covid-19 hurting the economy and the daily lives of people. The government, however, had done an amazing job at containing the virus and things were just starting to open up after the third wave.
My stay in Hong Kong started with two weeks of quarantine. Upon landing at the airport, the government had taken a sample for testing and had shuttled me to a hotel for one night until my results came back. In the morning after getting my results I took a cab to my hotel, taking in the outside knowing I won’t be able to look at all this again for the next 13 days.
The physical aspects of quarantine are okay. You get up, you take a shower, you work, and then you go sleep, with a few meals sprinkled during the day. What I was not prepared for were the isolation and loneliness. The first few days were okay, but being stuck in a tiny room for 2 weeks became very hard over time. On top of that, around five days into the quarantine I got the news that a very close relative had passed away back in Pakistan and then I had to deal with that too. Around 8 days in, it suddenly dawned on me that I had to stay in the room for 6 more days and it felt like the isolation would never end. Quarantine is hard, and I really do think the governments imposing such requirements should know what the mental impact of this is. It is a necessity, but it really should not be this hard.
Once I got out of quarantine, I already had a bitter taste in my mouth about the whole situation. The city, which had been a home to me for 8 years, now felt unwelcoming. Of course, this was simply due to the extraordinary circumstances but it did feel like that nonetheless. My work required me to put my head down and work non-stop for the next 10-12 days, so I got busy, not really caring about what was happening around me.
One of the weird things I realised I was doing was converting everything back to CAD for buying food and groceries. Even though this always happens whenever I travel, it took me by surprise how quickly I had gotten used to doing CAD math in my head. I earn money in HKD, so this was even weirder – doing the math to convert my earnings to CAD then doing more math to convert HKD to CAD to know how expensive things were. My brain’s quirks were on full display.
Hong Kong during covid is still a very happening city. Everyone is constantly on the move, with places to be, things to do, and with people always running out of time. One always, always gets trapped in this rush. I had almost no time by myself once I was out of quarantine – breakfasts, lunches, dinners were all scheduled with people. This can seem like the ‘entrepreneur’ lifestyle and it has its benefits, but after spending a few months in a somewhat slower-paced life in Canada I fully realised that the hustle is good, but in smaller doses. The constant social life wore me down and once I was done with the work I was in Hong Kong for, I took a couple of days to work from home (hotel) instead. I was also starting to miss home. I had not anticipated getting homesick – I had not even been homesick when I first came to Hong Kong so this came as a surprise. It was probably because I had spent a few months living near family for the first time as an adult – and had thoroughly enjoyed it. I was desperate to go back home, sleep on my own bed, shower in my own bathroom, and cook food for myself.
After a longer than expected stay, I am back home and quarantining for 2 weeks again. Quarantine at home is definitely better than doing it in a small hotel room. Hong Kong was a good experience after so many months away and meeting friends after all this time was refreshing but now I do feel the city is no longer a home to me. I think it mostly has to do with having family around while also being in a more livable city. I love the open spaces here in BC and also the not-so-crazy-expensive rents in the Metro Vancouver region. Being able to live in a larger space and having the freedom to go far off places without an air ticket are things I got used to faster than I could have imagined and I would not trade this for anything.
It’s good to be back.