Recreating Lives

When I first moved to Hong Kong, I didn’t have any expectations on how it would go. I didn’t know anything about the city, and quite frankly, I only took the job because nothing else remotely as interesting had panned out1.

When I landed and was picked up by a driver sent by my then boss, I was in (a very sleep deprived 2) awe of just scale of humanity in the city. Up until this point, I don’t think I’d ever stepped foot in a city as vertical as this one 3. I knew no one in this city of 7 million, a sobering idea when I nearly got hit by a bus on my first day because traffic goes the opposite way 4.

Because I had no notions of what to expect, I was able to build a completely new life there with new people, new hobbies, and new interests. The only thing I really wanted to find in Hong Kong were good American craft beers 5.  That was it. This is not to say I wasn’t homesick. I was, for about the first 6 months, but that went away surprisingly quickly.

Moving back to Chicago has been an entirely different beast. From having spent 4 years for school here, I had an expectation of how the city would be like, and it was romanticized in my head as being the place where I first felt at home, where I belonged. I forgot that what made places feel good to me were the people there 6.

I find that I’ve fallen into a trap where I’m trying to recreate the bits I loved about Hong Kong (reliable public transportation, people who were ambitious in some form or another 7 or just did really cool things, gym community, British beers, boyfriend), but nothing is coming together. The CTA is notoriously, conspicuously, and frustratingly slow 8. I’ve made some new friends, but I don’t feel like I’m learning much about anything from them. My current gym is seriously subpar9. Not pining too much for British beers as I’ve found a couple of others that are pretty nice.

And yes, now addressing the boyfriend. Notice how I’ve been silent for quite a way on anything romance related? It’s not that I’m keeping things from you, reader. It’s just that there’s absolutely nothing worthwhile to write about. The dates I’ve been on have been so unremarkable that I have even been unable to spin any sort of remotely interesting story about any of them.

A friend of mine (she shall henceforth be referred to as Burrito Friend because our friendship started by pursuing a top 10 list of best burritos in Chicago 10) remarked a bit offhandedly to me that not everyone can be lucky enough to still be in love with their ex. And that struck me. Maybe it’s true, though it’s been a while since we split up, so it shouldn’t be the case, right? Am I enough of a sap to still be hanging on to this slightly more romantic image of him? Though I suppose it also says a lot that if we ever find ourselves in a similar locale and are both still single, I’d go after him in a heartbeat. Yes, I understand that we wouldn’t be the same people as we were when we were in Hong Kong, but why not try?

The Bun also weighed in on this for me since it threw me for such a loop. She thinks it’s ultimately a good thing that I haven’t demonized him in my own recollection. Though, it’s pretty hard to demonize a cute guy with a British accent who brought me all sorts of food, even when I was in the hospital. He even visited everyday.

Ok, maybe Burrito friend is right. But I should be able to find someone similar in Chicago right? Doesn’t necessarily have to be British or look like he did. I just want someone nice who will bring me food.

1. 4th year for me was weird because when everyone else was going crazy with recruiting, I was putting together an application for the Army’s officer candidate school. That didn’t pan out as I didn’t manage to heal from a nearly torn through tendon in my foot, leaving me scrambling around March and April for a job. The other places I had on site interviews at were completely horrifyingly soul sucking enough that I took a job at a small company I couldn’t find much information on in a city I knew nothing about. That should say something about how I felt about those positions.

2. Contrary to popular belief, I am not completely unflappable. I just prefer not to have many people around when I have my meltdowns. Someone I know once told her girlfriend that she was modeling her lack of expressed negative emotions after me. Anyway, I digress. That flight was super sleep deprived because I was an absolute ball of anxiety during the 12+ plane ride over. I was nervous enough to have gotten sick the second I landed in San Francisco from Dallas to catch the connecting flight over to Hong Kong.

3. Sure Beijing had been more populated, the city was also much more spread out.

4. When I drive back stateside now, I still have to remind myself that I need to drive on the right side of the road. Funny how just 2 and a half years abroad can have such an impact on my life.

5. But then American beers got crazy happy with beers that supposedly are flavored by jasmine tea,  blackcurrant, vanilla or something else equally as heinous for a beer. I now find myself pining for a glass of clear British pale ale.

6. I find that I’m saying I don’t feel particularly strongly about people very often now. But really, if you’re a friend of mine in person and are reading this, you know that isn’t true.

7. I have only met ONE new person in Chicago so far where I had the initial reaction of, “OMG you’re so cool. How can I be more like you?”

8. I have outpaced 3 buses on a certain route while on my bike recently.

9. Everyone there is perfectly nice, which is why I stick around (that and it’s close), but I’m not entirely convinced the coaches know exactly what they’re doing. It’s also a nice place for me to get a much needed ego-trip and feel superior to others.

10. Carbon Live Fire Mexican was the winner. Get the Motherclucker, Stelotes, or Fish named William burrito. Their elotes are also great, as are their flour tortilla chips that come with the guacamole.

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Welcome to America, Land of Mediocrity!

I’ve been back in the US for almost a year now, and this transition has not been the easiest. While I initially came back more outgoing and open-minded, I’ve found that I’ve since regressed to become a bit more standoffish, more judgmental, and most alarmingly, more bitter. Coming back to the US has made me a more bitter person. Why?

The answer is mediocrity. When I was abroad, I was surrounded by high achieving people who inspired me in one way or another. My co-workers were all great people with either high academic achievement or savant-like people skills. The gym community was populated by multiple managing directors of major international banks, high flying lawyers, hedge fund owners, artistic entrepreneurs, and airline pilots. To be honest, I normally felt the odd one out at the gym work-wise, but then, not many 21 year olds1 are able to have their acts together enough to graduate college and land a cushy job outside the country, so I was in good company. Perhaps it’s just that the people who are normally living abroad as expats usually choose to go abroad and teach English2 or are sent by their companies to head up some new office or another.

While traveling, I had the luck to meet some fascinating people, who were not the textbook definitions of success but were interesting and intelligent in their own way. I will readily admit now that I probably would never have met a commercial fisherman who indulged in motorbike racing and entirely too many prescription drugs3 in the normal course of my life. I find that most people, myself included up until this point, choose not to socialize with those who we perceive as different. As my brother plans for his wedding, he and his fiancee are realizing that they don’t know any creative people who they can ask for favors to help with flowers or photography or anything else associated with a wedding. All they know are young finance professionals like themselves, and sadly enough, they are ok with it.

Since being back in the US, I’ve been surrounded by people who don’t want to be better. They want to blame the system instead of working hard for themselves. Others I find are just plain lazy and subpar.  I see this in the classes I’m taking at Chicago’s public research university4, at the my new Crossfit gym5, and in people I’ve met doing various things around the city. The Chicago Transit Authority is just as bad. When I complain, others merely shrug and say this is how all public transportation is like. They don’t believe me when I say I’ve never waited more than 5 minutes for a train in Hong Kong, even at 2am on New Year’s Day. They choose to be in denial. They choose to be second-rate.

Perhaps I just care too much about the people around me, but I just don’t understand why people don’t want to better themselves. And the result of all this? I snap at those who ask stupid questions6, I’m constantly annoyed with late buses, trains, and cell phone outages in tunnels7, but mostly, I think I’m bitter at myself for choosing to leave behind a life I built in Hong Kong that I could not have8.

1. At Crossfit gyms, there is a tradition of doing birthday burpees. You do as many burpees as the age you’re turning. On my first birthday I celebrated in Hong Kong, one of the other members called me out because she noticed on Facebook that it was my birthday. I was then asked how many burpees I’d be doing. After my reply of, “22,” I had to show my Hong Kong ID card to prove that I indeed was that young.
2.Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. Those are who are derisively referred to as “Losers Back Home,” especially in Asia. Losers back home normally couldn’t hack it for some reason or another and profit from the mere fact that they are white. They are a lesser breed of expats who mostly wallow in a very colonial sense of white entitlement while abroad.
3. I traveled overland from Thailand to Malaysia with him and the travel buddy. The fisherman passed out on 8 Xanax.
4. A girl who is currently in my lab group for chemistry is struggling to maintain a B, even though she has taken the class previously with the same professor and has all her old exams. Instead of studying, she tries to memorize answers from previous exams and tries to copy her old lab reports. I don’t understand why she would choose to copy from her previous assignments considering that she failed the course the first time around. She gets mad at the TA and the professor instead.
5. Most of the other girls I’ve met at the new gym are very averse to practicing stuff they suck at. The coaches don’t seem to push them too hard into improving their suckiness though. End result? I’m near the forefront of the leader boards at the gym, which is pretty disheartening.
6. A girl in my biology class asked me in all seriousness, “Which one is the x-axis? Is it the vertical one or the horizontal one?”
7. Seriously America. Figure it out. I had cell reception while traveling in a tunnel under the Hong Kong Harbour. Yes, that’s right. I had cell reception underwater. I also had cell reception in the middle of a jungle on an island off the coast of Thailand.
8. Dear Reader, you are no doubt asking yourself, “Why did The Bean leave behind this life she built and liked so much?” The answer is that Hong Kong is not the place I’d like to be in 10 years. The dilemma that most expats face around the 2-year mark is whether to stay or go. If I’d have stayed for 3 years, I would’ve been half way to my permanent residency in Hong Kong, which takes 7 years to get. At that point, I might as well stay. By the time the 7 years were up, I’d have put down roots there. Hong Kong, though, is not somewhere I’d have liked to stayed. While it’s all fun and games, especially in your 20s, the ultra-segregated environment colored by elitist condescension is not somewhere I’d like to have a family.