This is the first time in many years I have had to contend with loneliness. In my day-to-day life at home there is not enough “me” to go around and I relish the rare opportunities to be alone. While I am happy that Josh has found a community of friends at his school, in means that most weekends and holidays he is on the other side of the city with them, and I am on my own.
Except for the very wealthy, Chinese people do not generally entertain in their homes. May-lee Chai and Winberg Chai in their book, China A to Z: Everything You Need to Know to Understand Chinese Customs and Culture, write, “Generally, Chinese do not casually invite people over to their homes the same way that Americans do. While it is common in the United States for colleagues to visit each other’s homes for dinner, backyard barbecues, and the like, it is not uncommon for Chinese never to visit their colleagues’ homes at all. There are many cultural and material reasons for this, including the stricter sense of hierarchy in workplace environments; a feeling of shame or loss of face if one’s apartment is not as nice as that of one’s coworkers; the fact that unless someone is very rich, their apartment might be quite cramped and they may even have extended family members living with them.
So it was solitude overload, which lead me to take an early shuttle to campus on Wednesday even though I did not teach until 2:00 PM. At about 9:30 AM, I realized I had left the stack of (still needing to be graded) papers in my apartment. I started to walk to the bus stop to go back to the apartment and get the papers, when I realized I did not have the key for my evening rehearsal and made a sharp turn and instead walked to the Student Hostel Village office where the key holder resides. After being told I could not get the key before 5:00 PM, I decided to throw in the towel, get a cup of Hong Kong milk tea, and attempt to adjust my quickly tanking attitude.
Over the past weekend I had spent a great deal of time reading student papers. One included a reference to the Chris Gardner story portrayed by Will Smith in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness. Contrary to the intentional misspelling in the title, the language in the film that my student found inspirational, was, “It’s an “I” in happiness, there is no “y”, it’s an “I”. And sitting in the Student village, sipping my Hong Kong milk tea, I reminded myself that I was the one ultimately responsible for determining if my experience in China is positive or negative. I was able to convince myself I did not really need to trek back to the apartment to get those papers, and instead enjoyed a little café time.
Which brings me back to the topic of Hong Kong milk tea. Ever since I was in Ireland in 1997, I have liked my hot tea “white” or with a shot of milk in it. Hong Kong milk tea has more than a shot of milk, and is usually served with a few packets of sugar so you can sweeten it to your individual taste. I cannot say why it appeals to me so much at this time, just as I can’t explain why Jell-O suddenly appealed to me in my ninth month of pregnancy. All I know is right now it is my cup of comfort.
Milk tea is undoubtedly a remnant of the British colonization of Hong Kong. Other than sleeping in HK one night before taking the ferry to Zhuhai I have only spent one day there. Two weeks ago, Josh, his friend Anthony and I did a thorough investigation of the skateboard shops in Hong Kong. I can report that there are a least five shops all located within a few block radius of a chi-chi area called Causeway Bay. Down small alleys, and up back staircases behind stores with designer names, you find the board shops. After our thorough exploration and price comparisons, we camped out briefly at Starbucks to make decisions prior to returning for purchases. Josh got his much desired long board at a shop called X-Games, and Anthony got a signature 8 Five 2 board at the 8 Five 2 shop.
We had two good meals, appreciated the efficiency of the HK subway system, stocked up on a few groceries impossible to find on the mainland (tortillas, raspberry jam, canned tomatoes and kalamata olives) and returned via ferry to Zhuhai, thoroughly exhausted.
I would like to go back to Hong Kong and explore its realms beyond the skateboard shops. I also want to see other cities and historical sites. But it is clear that the only way that is going to happen is if I take the initiative, make the arrangements, and most likely venture to those locations on my own. So that is the tough part, trying to get comfortable with the fact that just like in the word “happiness”, there is only the letter “I” smack dab in the middle China.