Over the years I have developed a series of standard quips in response to locals’ questions about what it is like to live in Hong Kong as an expat. A typical conversation runs something like this:
Local: It must be hard to live so far away from home, especially on holidays.
Me: You’ve obviously never met my mother. (Sorry Mom, but it’s a little funny.)
As part of my shtick I regularly tell people that the main problem with Hong Kong is that there are direct flights from both coasts in the US and for that reason I’m considering moving to inner-Mongolia. Or that despite the hype about flats being small, mine unfortunately can still accommodate my parents.
But truth be told, I love my family and for all my jokes about them being what drove us to settle in Hong Kong, I am finding those jokes harder and harder to make. I have just recently entered a new stage in life. I have become an adult. And yes my bat mitzvah was admittedly long, long ago and my twenties and thirties too have passed. This new era isn’t demarcated by my age, but rather by my father’s. In June he turned… I’m not actually allowed to tell, so suffice it to say he is no longer a young man.
It was in the final days of Elul, back in Hong Kong after the summer, that I awoke to that inevitable call. My dad had fallen in my brother’s house, and had been taken by ambulance to an emergency room in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, I can’t say I am surprised. He fell last year when he was in Hong Kong for the b’nai mitzvah of my children. That fall resulted in a visit to our local hospital (complete with nuns and crosses in the rooms) and thankfully only bruising. He also fell when I was in the US visiting this summer.
But now that I am home in Hong Kong, I must busy myself during the excruciatingly slow passage of hours between phone calls when it is far too late to call the US, when I know about the fall but don’t know the prognosis yet. I wait and think what it really means to be this far away. I fear that one day I will be faced with the impossible task of feeling like I am choosing one family over another. While I envision the need to travel back and forth from time to time, my place is here with my husband and children. The burden will rest largely on my brother who lives just thirty minutes from my parents.
My husband tells me frankly that my dad’s annual visits to see us in Hong Kong are numbered. And I know this is true. The long flight is taxing, our driveway pavement is uneven, the jet lag is seemingly now impossible for him to shake, the humidity is simply unbearable, and the walk to shul is treacherous for him as well.
On most mornings, I run alone up the Peak, the mountain behind our home. I am surrounded by lush and beautiful vegetation. I stop at the top and look out with the same sense of awe I had the first time I looked out on the Hong Kong skyline. I stop and say, “I can’t believe how lucky I am to live here.” But then I invariably think of my family back home burdened with the problems that I can no longer pretend don’t exist.
I often talk to my mother as I run. She has become accustomed to my slightly out-of-breath chatter and knows that this is my time, when the kids are safe at school and the workday hasn’t yet begun. We kibitz about our holiday meal plans. Like most “only children,” my brother and his wife are torn choosing between two sets of parents, leaving my parents often alone for the holidays.