I am experiencing upheaval. There is a full moon on the horizon and there is movement afoot. They say that there are a few life events that cause extreme stress: death, illness, divorce and arguably listening to Canto Pop music. Someone has lobbed a stone into the still waters of my personal oasis and its ripples are spreading out over everything. I’m not referring to the latest Trump blunder, or Silverman upsetting the conservatives, or the latest comments on the relative hotness of Justin Trudeau. I’m not even talking about the newly fashioned version of the Pirelli Calendar – all highly relevant and worthy of billions of social media posts I am sure. I’m speaking of a much smaller and seemingly insignificant act which has no Facebook posts but has had a far greater impact on my life than any other since my children were born. My darling husband has left his job.
Sometimes the smallest act leads to the biggest revelations; the repercussions are felt way beyond the initial effort. When something changes, and things stop functioning the way they always have, you need to sit down and question why and how and what for? It is an opportunity for a bit of self-examination, to throw it all down on the ground, pick up the important bits and put them back together differently. You may not be familiar with the Lego Movie (as an aside, I urge you to go watch this flick because there is not one line from Batman that isn’t funny), but in between the sentimental catch phrases and action sequence banter, the gist of the plot revolves around a special group of master-builders who redesign all the carefully construed, over-priced brick models to make super cool stuff of their own. Imagine, if you will, busting up the giant Lego Death Star that took you the better part of your life to build; but then, you get to choose the most excellent parts to fashion something new and utterly unexpected. This is exactly what happened when all of a sudden our family dynamic changed, seemingly overnight.
The reason we came to Hong Kong was my husband’s job. It was a work opportunity which we pursued, not something that was thrown at us, and we evaluated it carefully before we left (if careful evaluation involves several glasses of Cabernet Merlot and scribbling down a venn diagram on the kid’s drawing easel late on a Tuesday evening). We had a plan. Well, we had a sort of vague idea of where we wanted to be and how we wanted to live and it’s probably best not to get bogged down with too many details. This Hong Kong opportunity has opened up so much for us that we never could have seen it coming – another life lesson I have learned is to never make assumptions about something – or somewhere – you know little or nothing about. Our two year gamble became a seven year game changer. And then my other half, after careful deliberation, decided to retire.
So, if the reason for being in a place not longer exists, what happens next? The obvious thing to do is pack your bags and go home, but for us home is more than one place. It is a complicated jumble of emotions and memories, not necessarily a city to live in. So we need to be much more practical in our approach and selective when choosing those pieces from the Death Star, which if you remember, is strewn all over the floor. We take out the bits that are important and suddenly a new version comes to fruition before our eyes. We line our priorities up like the usual suspects: opportunity for work, education, climate, proximity to family, quality of life, school holidays… we are governed by how much time our children are not at school because long school holidays means enough time to see our families overseas. And this is where is gets surprising. Sometimes what looks like a situation born of necessity is actually a conscious choice made for reasons truly best known to to ourselves.
There is never a perfect answer; all situations will be different for everyone. I have found over the years of living abroad that you can ask one hundred people where they think the best place on earth is to live and you will get one hundred different answers, partly to do with the latest internet tweet on Top Ten Cities To Live, but mostly due to a wonderful thing called Perspective. We all have one. Just like those Lego master-builders, each and every one of us has a different way to see things. I am always drawn to books for examples in life and again I see lessons from a picture book by Anthony Browne which we often use in our Library to teach children the important value of Perspective. Voices In The Park (Dorling Kindersley) tells 4 versions of the same walk in a park and each is so radically different you get the surreal sensation none of them are having the same experience.
Like the 4 characters in the book, we all bring our own baggage and experience to a situation, so who better to decide our own course of action than ourselves? A friend’s Lego might be wonderful and original, but it comes from a place that is unique to them and reflects their own values and careful considerations. Another friend might have never smashed up their original in the first place, and that’s OK too.
And so, for us, after careful scrutiny and reflection we have made a huge decision: to move down the road. Yes. Down. The. Road. Over to a new neighbourhood, a bit greener with more access to the outdoors for our kids, a bit more removed from our current urban dwelling. In our new space maybe we can give ourselves a bit of breathing space before jumping into any big decision. After all, we wouldn’t want to get carried away. It takes some time to build new Lego.
Expat families are used to upheaval, and change is what keeps some people going. Even when we started our family in London, we changed address with monotonous regularity. I opened my mother’s address book a while ago to find 2 pages of crossed out entries under my name – you would think she might have learned to write it in pencil. I can remember each and every one one of those places fondly (except maybe the one that had the bolt lock so you could get trapped in the hallway on your way out to work, but that’s another story and we didn’t stay long for obvious reasons). I am quite used to moving. Apart from the messy administration, I am not so bothered by the process no matter how much I like to complain about it. It is at the very least a chance to de-clutter, which I am told is the path to enlightenment. And given the possibility of a monumentally disruptive transatlantic relocation, I am happy that our little domestic adjustment has lead to the decision to stay routed in this crazy transient city, at least for the time being.
Maybe age is making us reticent to change, or I don’t want to mess with pre-teens who are well adjusted and happy. Perhaps we are just not ready to leave. Or maybe I just feel the need for more time to fully appreciate Canto Pop. Whatever our reasons, it comes from our unique perspective which is sometimes just impossible to explain. I am excited by the prospect of a change of scenery, a little space to breathe and a new view to appreciate all the things around me. It will help me gain perspective.