Category Archives: International

Mooncake moping

Technically, I don’t really have the time to be writing this post, but I’m feeling so homesick right now I think I might otherwise burst. Into tears. Or flames. Either/or.

Tonight is Mid-Autumn Festival, and although it’s over and done with in fifteen hours ahead of us Hong Kong/Beijing/Shanghai time, it still hasn’t arrived in Vancouver. This is the night when the moon is traditionally held to be at its biggest and brightest, when families gather together to eat mooncake and appreciate the beauty of the moon. It’s also the night when children often grab their paper lanterns and wander the streets with their parents in tow. (I only ever did it myself once, when my mother had the time to take me, and I remember being terrified all the while I was carrying this lantern that it would catch on fire and I would burn. I think it actually did catch on fire and we had to stamp it out, but that last bit of memory is hazy.)

As far as Chinese families in Hong Kong go, my own isn’t very traditional: we never go to sweep our ancestors’ graves (I don’t even know where those are, truth be told), I open my laisee packets way before I’m supposed to, and we don’t eat with our relatives on the winter solstice. But Mid-Autumn was one of the few times we actually did what everyone else did and ate mooncake with each other, even if we didn’t do anything else.

Which is probably why I miss my parents very badly at this time of year and always try to get some mooncake to assuage that feeling. Except I haven’t had time to run to T&T this year, so now I’m just desperate. I don’t know where around UBC I could go to get some, either, or when, but I swear I’ll do it one way or another…!

I also need to procure a few individuals who are willing to eat mooncake and look at the moon with me. Last year, all we could see was a glowing cloud, but tonight promises to be perfectly clear for such nostalgic activities. Therefore, if you would like free mooncake, are willing to take pity on my desperation for half an hour, and have my number, let me know. (Sometimes I think I should go back onto Facebook, so this latter matter of collecting people would be a whole lot easier…)

Wish me luck in my mooncake mission!

Coming back to starts

How amazing is it that email these days can store everything you’ve been saying and receiving for the past several years? Not only that, but being able to search and rediscover things you’d forgotten you’d even done.

The other day, I found the exact date of The Ticket that brought me away from Hong Kong and dropped me in Vancouver to begin a new life. This week marks the fourth year since that landing date. I’m a little in wonder of it all: of how my parents were willing to let me go so far away from them, of how lucky I am that I could, of the growing space between that frightened, eager eighteen-year-old girl I was then and the (only fractionally) less frightened, less eager person I am now.

Rereading my panicked emails to my friends and family about the items I ultimately forgot to pack, I remember all those questions racing through my head. Will I be able to make friends? Will I succeed at university? Will I be able to take care of myself? After all, the only thing I’m confident of making for breakfast is cereal…

But also the hopes: I hope I meet great people. I hope I have classes that change how I think in whole new ways. I hope I get to travel and see even more of the world. I hope I love it all.

I want to turn to myself from four years ago and say: you will, you will, you will.

You’ll meet some of the most amazing, admirable individuals you’ve come across in your short life, as long as you put yourself out there. You’ll find those classes that blow your world away, as long as you keep challenging yourself. You’ll have more opportunities to do what you dream of than you’ll know what to do with, so choose the ones that speak most to you (and don’t try to do them all, because that’s not possible).

You’ll find real friends after your heart, with patience, effort and a little bit of luck. You’ll succeed at university when you follow your interests, when you put in the time and effort, and when you ask questions and seek advice for when you don’t get things right. And you’ll totally learn how to fry an egg. Never mind if it doesn’t look pretty.

You probably won’t love it all — that’s a little too much to ask. Life has its way of throwing bits of grief your way when you least expect it, after all, and the imperfections are what throw the better bits into appreciative relief. But I promise you will love your UBC life if you give it the best chance possible by coming with an open heart and an open mind.

View from Gage

The very first view I got from Walter Gage where I stayed for ASSIST (now Jump Start)

UBC Jump Start starts this week. A longer, more intensive orientation than GALA for students coming from abroad (and this year, also for aboriginal students), this was where I first threw myself into UBC and met some of the most awe-inspiring individuals you’ll still see all over the place on campus (those that haven’t graduated this year, anyway). Here is where I met one of my very good friends to this day, where I met another to whom I just said goodbye, and where my world began to open up just that little bit more.

Even if you aren’t going to Jump Start, their blog is a good resource for those of you who want to get a head start on understanding the great, mad adventure that UBC can be.

(Maybe it’s all the reminiscing I’ve been doing with friends since first-year, or maybe it’s the short hair I haven’t had since 2007, but I keep thinking of all the things and resources I wish I’d known about earlier, or did find useful when someone told me. In light of that, I’ll be mentioning at least one per week for the next few months. Like how to take a bus! — I remember how stressed I was over this activity most Vancouverites take for granted.)

The meanings of home

you can go wherever you please but it's the insides you cannot leave

One of my best friends from secondary school has recently been blogging a lot on questions of home and what that word means. Having recently returned to Hong Kong to pursue her post-graduate studies after obtaining her BA from the University of Toronto, she is thinking about place, identity and friendship. If you’re interested in discussions on these, I highly encourage you to take a look at what she’s saying; she is an extremely articulate young woman who puts me to shame.

Having said that, I haven’t commented on her posts directly (although we’ve chatted about them) because I’ve been thinking about my own ambiguous relationship with the idea of home, an experience that is quite different, in some respects, to her current challenge of returning on a more permanent basis (for now) to a place from which she has long been absent.

Over the past four years, I have returned regularly to Hong Kong, twice a year for the winter break and for parts of the summer for the first three, and then once a year beginning in fourth year. I expect that to decrease even further in the future as I move around and make my home elsewhere, but I will always go back to Hong Kong to visit my friends and relatives. Go back: a phrase suggesting that is the place I originate from — because that is the place in which I spent all my conscious memories until I was eighteen and moved here for university. Whether I like it or not, my whole existence was in one city for the vast majority of my life, and it affected me in many fundamental ways that even now can’t be properly expressed to someone who isn’t from the same place or culture.

Regardless, I never did feel ‘at home’ in Hong Kong growing up. Not being, strictly speaking, Cantonese, I got a considerable amount of grief from some locals who were less than kind about my not being a sufficiently ‘Chinese’ person, whatever that means. Ironically, while I revel in my own difference in Vancouver, my childhood hurts from Hong Kong still stick like burrs I haven’t yet learned to shake off. If I were to be completely alone in either place, I would choose Vancouver a hundred times over, no question.

But home, for me, isn’t about being alone: it’s about belonging to a people, to a place. It means, more than anything else, having people who love me as an individual and being interwoven in the fabric of their lives. It meant that, despite not being comfortable among strangers in Hong Kong, I adored the friends and family I had in Hong Kong with every passionate atom in my body. With them, I did feel at home, and when I left, I was heartbroken and terrified that I would never again find people to rely on and trust and love that much.

I’m not sure why I thought it was a good idea to come to Vancouver without a friend in sight; I don’t think I realised how incredibly attached I was to them, or how terrible I was at change (or both). It’s always taken me a painfully long time to open up fully to other people, even as I handle small talk without a worry, so it took me three years to build up a sufficiently strong social support group to feel genuinely happy again. In those three years, I had a couple of friends I felt comfortable enough to speak freely with, but you can’t burden one or two people with your whole life all the time. So I didn’t feel ‘at home’ in Vancouver for a long time, even while I loved this place and the people in general more than I’ve ever cared about Hong Kong.

In those three years, I frequently despaired about my own ineptitude (as I saw it then) in building a new life for myself from scratch. Other people seemed to do it just fine, within months, really, so why did I still feel so out of place three years later? Every time I thought I was doing splendidly in Vancouver (and on the surface, I was doing just fine), I’d go back to Hong Kong and realise how much happier I could be, and that would throw me out of whack when I got back to Vancouver, wondering what I was still not doing right.

And then I felt increasingly out of place in Hong Kong, too.

My first few trips back to Hong Kong were wonderful: this was the place that still felt most like home to me in first and second year, and most of my friends were back there visiting at the same time I was, so we got to see and spend time with each other frequently. Of course, as time wears on, people change, make different plans, carry on with their own lives. The home I missed so much was increasingly a construct of the past, something that existed with people I loved in my memories, who aren’t necessarily the same individuals they are now.

This summer, I went back for five weeks, and my main conclusion is that I was there for too long. My parents work six days a week, I only have three friends left there at the moment, two of whom are working, and I had almost nothing to do because I accidentally left all the homework I planned on doing on a desk in Vancouver. Almost all the things I want to do and enjoy are here in Saltwater City, not Fragrant Harbour (much as I enjoy the shopping and eating there). Here, I have a job, school, many more friends, and several personal projects to work on at any given time: my life is here, now. And as relieved as I am that I’ve inverted my emotions and feel considerably more comfortable here than when I first arrived, it unsettles me that a place that was the definition of home for me for some good twenty years or so is no longer quite that, anymore.

When a best friend in Vancouver said ‘Welcome home!’ this year, I said ‘Yes’ hesitantly because it’s not yet a certain feeling with me, as much as I don’t feel at home anywhere else. It’s the ridiculously clean cut between my life in Hong Kong and my life in Vancouver, the fact that hefty chunks of my past go unrecognised because there is no one to recognise them, that leaves me feeling not quite whole. Four years don’t negate seventeen other ones, after all — but seventeen old ones can’t always continue claiming precedence over four new ones that have wrought significant changes in me.

Now I use ‘home’ in several different ways depending on the day and the situation. I call my residence my home, I call where my brother lives home home (even though neither of these feel like that). I say I’m going home when I’m preparing to fly back to Hong Kong and mean it until I get there. I excitedly tell all my friends that I’m home when I’m back in Vancouver because I want to mean it and sometimes do. There are days when this matters to me and days when it doesn’t.

Mostly, when people ask, I tell them that I’m from Hong Kong and that I now live in Vancouver. More importantly, there is nowhere else I would rather be. I count myself lucky to live in a place like this, among people who love me. One day, perhaps, I’ll call this place home without hesitation or reservation.

Things I Love Thursday

It’s my last week in Hong Kong and I’m thinking of all the things I’m happy and thankful for and will miss:

♥ Being back home and being able to see family and some very old friends. Relationships are liable to change over distance and time, so I’m particularly appreciative of the ones still around.

♥ Such cheap, good food! Latest escapade today: 24 inch wide pizza. It was also genuinely delicious.

♥ The Octopus pay pass. It’s so easy and convenient to use, not only on the train system and all busses, but also at car parks, several convenience stores and vending machines.

♥ Listening to train and bus stops being announced in Cantonese, Mandarin and English.

♥ Inexpensive clothing at Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok, where everything is either about or below CA$10.

♥ Mochi ice cream: balls of ice cream wrapped in mochi skins. One of my most beloved snacks as a child and the perfect summer treat. (They came out with a honeydew flavour!)

♥ A glass lamp that my mother bought for me some ten years ago is still my favourite; the glass is pink and has painted flowers on the inside so it glows beautifully when lit in the dark. If I ever have my own permanent home, I’d like to bring this over, if I could be sure it wouldn’t break.

♥ Visiting a really old puppy today who is fifteen years old but thinks he’s five or younger. He kept wanting to play despite wheezing like my grandmother. He looks a little like the puppy in the icon, but darker and much happier.

Vancouver in a few days! Summer blue skies, homemade salsa and guacamole. I’m looking forward to those.

Things I Love Thursday

I’m rushing about today because I have errands to run and a Chinese wedding banquet to go to tonight that probably won’t end until late. This is a quick list of what’s been fabulous in the last two weeks (I missed last week because my mind was on other things while in China):

♥ Seeing my grandmother in Beijing who is doing quite well. She was very pleased to see both my brother and myself at the same time, which hasn’t happened since four years ago.

♥ Beijing food I love: pancakes, chive turnovers, Peking roast duck, homemade dumplings (from scratch!)… and also the fabulous Beijing Books Building where I think I could sit and read all day on any of its several floors (and many people do). I stocked up on some learning materials and also a book on learning to speak Shanghainese. If I could learn live, that would be awesome, but sadly, I have no Shanghainese-speaking relatives in Vancouver.

♥ While on the subject of food, Hong Kong’s Pizza Express dough balls have got to be one of their best inventions. Just balls of doughs baked like a pizza crust and served with butter, pesto rosso and pesto genovese. Definitely have to try this when I get back to Vancouver.

♥ Other food I am gleefully consuming include Hong Kong dim sum (Vancouver dim sum is quite decent but it’s wonderful to have so many more choices for cheap), soup with puff pastries (I have a thing about puff pastries), egg tarts (my love for egg tarts seems to be passing into legend as three different people purchased me egg tarts over the last four days without me saying a word), salted fish and diced chicken fried rice, Chinese desserts… I think I’m going to go on an expedition for tofu fa tomorrow, I’ve been craving it so much.

♥ I went to Macau yesterday for a day trip and we ate plenty of good food and watched my brother bungee jump from Macau Tower. More on that later!

♥ My fabulous brother also set up wi-fi at home in Hong Kong so I can now access the internet as much as I want. Even though I don’t do it very often, it’s nice to have that option.

♥ Axis of Awesome’s ‘How to Write a Love Song’ amuses me:


♥ Dear Tommy, I’m so glad I got to see you before you moved on. You were the cat that taught me how to love every other cat and I’ll always think the world of you.