This year’s Christmas letter hails from Southeast Asia. In September, we made the voyage – 20+ hours flight time and a dozen bags of luggage – to Hong Kong to settle a new home. We’ve found the city to be beautiful, friendly, shocking, crowded, busy, enlightening and intimidating. The climate is tropical, space is small, all things are expensive and the pace is fast. As expat rookies, the learning curve is steep. The simple is hard. The routine is exotic.
We began our time in Hong Kong in a small 31st floor service apartment in Kennedy Town, a densely populated district on the northwest part of Hong Kong Island. The streets are lined with restaurants that proudly hang their freshly roasted goose (without troubling to separate its head) and ‘wet markets’ where fresh produce is sold along side freshly butchered meat (i.e., butchered on the spot). Alas, Hong Kong is cosmopolitan and internationalize enough to have such Western amenities such as a grocery store – albeit a grocery store where everything is small and expensive. A bag of corn chips is US$9 and a half-gallon of ice cream is US$15. Except ice cream isn’t sold in such a big carton. A box of four popsicles was actually labeled a “Family Pack”. Sort of the antithesis of Costco where two or three gallon-size jars of mayonnaise are bundled together for a value package.
We imported our own brand of novelty – a family of six complete with a blond-haired, blue-eyed 3-year-old. From the time we landed with 12 pieces of checked luggage to our arrival at a restaurant asking for two or three tables to be combined so we can sit together, we received curious looks that conveyed both bewilderment and gleeful anticipation of the monetary prize the patronage of such a large group will bring. And the fair-haired little boy? Stranger Danger seminars have not reached this far east. Complete strangers embrace Jason, doting and indulging him beyond repair. Our shy, clingy mama’s boy seems to find the attention liberating; unhealthily I think.
We are finding some stability in our permanent flat. We live in a high-rise apartment building, but we are down on the fourth floor. The sea is a short walk away and Jason discovered that the rocky beach is fertile hunting grounds for snails. Buses, trains and taxis are our mode of transportation now. After learning the system, we are getting fairly proficient at getting around. The kids find public transportation to be a source of freedom. They can’t drive, but they can ride the train or hail a taxi. We don’t miss driving much – the traffic is hectic, in part because they drive on the wrong side of the road – because we can sit back and read or relax until arriving. That’s not to say the day Tim bought a 40” TV wasn’t challenging. Two taxis pulled away once they saw that he was lugging a big TV box. That day he missed his pickup truck.
People often ask how we are adjusting. The simple answer is that we just are. We haven’t adjusted, but we are adjusting. We are grateful for a chance to see the world from the other side and sorely miss home at the same time. It is stretching and challenging, but a rich experience at the same time. Some days are hard and some days are amazingly fun. But they are all new experiences that are far away that we never would have been able to have without stepping across our Rubicon. You can’t buy that at Wal-Mart.
The Christmas “feeling” is of course different here. There are the Christmas decorations around the city, shops promising special deals, etc. We play our favorite Sinatra Christmas album, but there is still a missing feeling. Maybe it’s the lack of crispness in the air from winter pushing its way in. No it’s more than that. It’s the separation from friends and family that are never cherished properly until they feel out of reach. No platter of Christmas goodies from the neighbors. No driving around the neighborhood admiring the Christmas lights – and commenting on who really went over the top this year. No preparing for the explanation of why Grandpa refuses to come over Christmas morning before 9am to start the opening of presents. No get togethers with friends; sometimes catching up on life, sometimes just doing life together.
This Christmas we are thankful for God’s blessing and more than ever thankful for our friends and family. Merry Christmas from 8,000 miles afar!
Tim, Shelley, Devon, Alexis, Emma and Jason