A couple of weeks ago, just past midnight on July 5th, I took off out of Hong Kong, flew across the Pacific Ocean, crossed the International date line and arrived in Los Angeles at 10pm on July 4th.
There are few approaches during my ten year career I can think as memorable as that one. It was like descending into a war zone. Thousands upon thousands of fireworks going off as far as the eye could see. A lurid display, the likes of which I’ve never seen. We descended right over the city with fireworks going off either side as we came into land. What an entrance it was!
What you Americans were celebrating, of course, was your independence. You were celebrating what that independence stands for: freedom. As I reflected on this, while forced to quarantine in an airport hotel room for the next 48 hours, I started to feel homesick. It’s a feeling I’ve been having a great deal recently. Which is strange, given Hong Kong is the place I call home. Given “home” is the one place I’ve actually been able to spend time in. So what’s going on? Why, exactly, have I been feeling homesick?
Part of the reason is I’ve felt imprisoned at home in Hong Kong. While I get to be with my wife and kids (something I’m extremely grateful for), I’ve never felt further from the rest of my family in the UK and elsewhere. This is because Hong Kong’s strict quarantine restrictions, although successful in keeping the place safe, have made it nigh-on impossible to see them. I’m also someone who has always felt “at home” while travelling. I like to think of the world as my home. I love nothing more than exploring it. The inability to do that has, well, hit home for me.
With that aside, the main reason I’ve been feeling so homesick is because I’m heartbroken. When I think about the changes that Hong Kong has undergone politically – this past year especially – the place that I have long called home simply isn’t the same. Freedom of speech has been stifled and many are living in fear. Many have fled as a result. Many others are planning to. You can feel it too. They have taken a stick to Hong Kong. Just like beating a child, its spirit has been crushed.
One of the main reasons I write under a pseudonym is because of what’s going on here. Whether my paranoia is justified or not I don’t know, but the fear is real. Many people have been arrested for speaking out. Colleagues of mine have been let go because of comments made on social media. One of Hong Kong’s biggest Independent papers was shut down just a few weeks ago. The nails being hammered into the coffin keep coming. Make no mistake about it, 2047 has come early. Hong Kong’s special position as a bridge between East and West – a place that once reflected the best of both – has been broken.
Sometimes I still feel like a local Hong Konger. I’ve spent most of my life here after all. There is no place on this planet I know more intimately. A place that has given me so much. Hong Kong will always hold a special place in my heart for that reason. Yet, nowadays, I feel increasingly removed from it.
Of course I have always been, and remain, an expatriate. Never a “true-blue” local. The plus side to that is I have options. I don’t have to stay here in Hong Kong. I can leave if I want to. It’s this question in particular – whether or not I should – that has really been plaguing my mind.
I liken it to being stuck in that hotel room on July 4th. There was nothing stopping me form walking out that door. The only reason I didn’t was because of what my head was telling me. That I could get fired or contract COVID… My head was telling me that it’s best to be safe. It’s best to stay put. My heart, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to say, “fuck this”, and walk straight out of that hotel room door and join the celebrations.
I’m homesick because I don’t feel at home in Hong Kong anymore. My values have diverged from the place. Yet my head is telling me to stay put. Not to leave the security of my job, my pay check, etc. However my heart is longing for somewhere (and something) else. They say that home is where the heart is. I get it now. Home is where your heart feels it belongs. My sense of belonging here has been eroded. I don’t believe it will be long before I gather my belongings and head straight out the door for good.
Freedom, is calling me home.
(Thanks for reading everyone. This post got me thinking about the meaning of home. Let me ask, what does home mean to you? For someone who has always felt “at home” on the road the pandemic has, paradoxically, left me feeling homesick. I’m curious if many of you have felt the same way? As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.)
You can find AP2’s personal blog here at: https://clear-air-turbulence.com