Several people have asked me what I’ve been doing here in Hong Kong. And I suppose that’s partly due to the fact that the concept of a sabbatical is a foreign idea to most people. The truth is – most of what I do here every day is things that I could and would be doing from anywhere. Every morning, I have to wake up with the boys and get them ready for school. Doug takes care of making breakfast and taking them to the bus; my duty is making lunches (an absolutely dreadful task, but one that I took on as I’m too lazy to get myself dressed to walk to the bus stop with them). Then, after I read the news and practice my Chinese, I work on my research project. Since September, this has consisted of entering and cleaning my massive data set (which is really 10 large data sets combined into one); now, I’ve at least been able to move on to analyzing my data. As with all research projects, this one is behind schedule, but that’s only because my schedules are always too ambitious, not because I haven’t been working or making good progress. This work is interspersed with things like laundry, dishes and cleaning – both because they need to be done and because I often need a break from my data.
All that, then, is really not much different from what my days would have been liked had we stayed in Dartmouth during my sabbatical. Normal here is like normal anywhere else. It’s when I step outside the apartment that nothing is really “normal” for me (although to be sure the apartment itself isn’t “normal” either, but that’s a subject for a different post). Most days, I go to the market for food; this is necessitated by two facts: 1) our refrigerator is so small that it can only hold a day or two of food for four people, and 2) with no car, I can only carry a day or two of food (and booze – can’t forget the booze) for four people. Some days, I take the 46 bus to the grocery store in the Tuen Mun mall, as it has a wider selection of Western food products. The bus is filled with locals, all talking rapidly in Cantonese. Of course, I can’t understand a word they’re saying, and more than once, I’ve been chewed out by the bus driver when he’s asked me about a stop I requested and I can’t respond. Definitely not normal. Other days, I walk over to our local market; again, barely any one speaks a language I understand (except for our favorite grocery store clerk who loves practicing her English with us). It’s quite common to see people pedal by on bicycles with kids perched on the back or hordes of school kids in strange uniforms walking by. At these moments, I really do feel like a stranger in a strange land.
As often as I can, I also try to head out behind the apartment for a trail run. Both Doug and I have really gotten into hitting the trails, due mainly to the fact that Lingnan borders on a spectacular county park. 10 minutes up a gut busting road, and we’re there. Trails criss-cross the park, going up and down the hills, meaning that we rarely take the same route twice. And when you’re not on the top of a hill, you’re completely isolated; it’s really easy to forget you’re minutes away from some of the most densely populated places on earth.
Of course, it’s not all work and working out either. Usually, Doug and I take an afternoon off each week (in addition to our weekend exploring with the boys) to go out to lunch and explore the city. As of late, much of this exploring has focused on malls, as we try to get our Christmas shopping done, but it’s been nice to explore the city and spend some time with my husband. So, some things are different, and there are reminders that “we’re not in Kansas anymore” pretty much every day, but really, life here has settled into a familiar routine.
In some ways, it’s a bit disappointing how “normal” things are. You’d like to think if you move hallway around the world, that things in your world would radically change. To be sure, some things do change; we’ve seen and done so many things that we never would have had the chance to if we haven’t moved here for an extended period of time. But I also think it’s an important lesson: the grass isn’t necessarily greener somewhere else. You still have to supervise homework and clean out nasty Tupperware from lunchboxes no matter where you are. Of course, in just over a month from now, we’re going to have to pack up and establish a new normal all over again, and I can’t say that I’m not apprehensive about that. But our time here has made me realize that we can and will do this when the time comes. And our time here has also made me realize that when we return back to our old “normal” back in Dartmouth, you can be darn sure that I’m going to appreciate what we have.