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The real toll

Posted on Dec 20, 2023 by Chung-hong Chan

Four years after my last visit in late 2019, I was in Hong Kong again. 1 My wife and I would like to be very low profile this time. Unlike my previous Modus Operendi of twinning my trip homeward with other academic activities, this time I really just wanted to spend a lot of time with my family.

Before the trip, I did not feel as strongly those four years missed due to everything happened (and happening) in Hong Kong and the pandemic. Now, I can feel strongly how the 1500 days can do to the people whom you care for. I feel that my Corona experience was a very lucky one (which I did not realise), only because I deliberately detached myself from people. Upon attachment with the detached reality on the ground I can see how badly Corona whacked the older members of the family and the extended family by learning about many who are no longer with us because of the lethal virus. For the ones recovered from the disease, the disabling effects still linger.

Nothing is a greater loss than the loss of our loved ones. Learning a lot of those experiences in one go is an emotional overload which I can’t describe in this language (Broken English). Or perhaps now in any language. I am speechless even in my so-called mother tongue, in which i can’t as eloquent to express myself. I never have that Heimweh. 2 But I have just the Weh (pain), for the people. Also, for my guilt of enjoying the comfort of isolation in thousands of kilometers away. The reason why I can feel that up close only after four years is the tyranny of distance, both physically and emotionally; as well as the further lengthening of that tyrannical distance due to the matters in Hong Kong, the pandemic, and the wars. And more importantly, my negligence.

Hong Kong has changed, especially when I have been away for four years. I didn’t see the slow accumulative changes. I only see the sudden jump from 1500 days before and 1500 days after. The changes are huge, not least politically. There are perhaps even great observable changes in the soul of the collective mind. The psyche. Life is harsh on the floor and that batters people.

There is a song from Hong Kong that says: “Everyone could have betrayed the original ideal.” 3 I should not scold others for being changed. The time has its effect on me too, perhaps more strongly. I am not more pessimistic, but more melancholy. 4 I feel now the transition to the subtractive nature of life after I passed a certain age. I don’t feel the same about things that are not as important, e.g. career. For those things, I just need to devote some energy to be not more cynical about the unspeakable hypocrisy. The things I considered important, however, are increasingly out of my control: relationships, health (my own and the people I cared), my lack of time. I see things now with my mournful eyes. My lifestyle is different. My thinking is different too.

During my trip back home, my wife and I also took a few days to visit Osaka. That’s our first time visiting Japan (surprise!). I am pretty sure if this first trip to Japan were 10 years or 20 years ago, we would enjoy the Japanese pop culture even more. This time, we were like “today we only have a remaining body.” 5 We enjoyed the culinary experience more. We drank quite a few cups of Chuhai. We ate authentic Japanese food. We drank Coffee and Tea. Of course, we bought some stuff. 6

The trip back to a place I used to call home is now over. Although I can only express my feelings in German, ich fühle mich fremd in meinem eigenen Land, at the same time this trip gave a heart-warming conclusion to the isolation for the last four years. The coming weeks in 2024 Q1 will be challenging, which I will only tell you how when I’ve (hopefully) gone through that. 7 For this blog, I think I will write the scheduled OKR #10 and maybe one more post about my current tools. I don’t have much plan in the coming weeks.

  1. When I was in Hong Kong last time, “the matter in Hong Kong” was in its boiling phrase. I remember I told my boss at the time about this and he told me to rethink about my decision to go to Hong Kong. 

  2. This is the German word for home sick. The Germans call this “Home Pain”, I think it’s more descriptive. Many migrants from Hong Kong reportedly have home sick. I don’t feel that. I don’t buy, so not being able to access to the shopping paradise has no effect. I don’t need to talk to people in Cantonese. I don’t like to watch Hong Kong TV, although I have a weakness for 80s-90s Hong Kong movies and music. Unlike many Hongkies, I don’t care about not being able to eat Hong Kong street food. I don’t miss this “borrowed place” in its “borrowed time.” 

  3. 背棄了理想 誰人都可以 

  4. This word is usually translated into my native language as “pensive sadness and good at emotions” (多愁善感). “Good at emotions” probably means good at handling emotions, including how to express the overloaded emotions by an outburst. 

  5. 今天只有殘留的軀殼 

  6. For the future self: 100 Japanese Yen at this point in time equals 5.4 Hong Kong Dollars; or 0.64 Euros. When it was in 80s-00s, people considered 7 or 8 HKD to be normal. The highest I’ve seen recently was 10 in around 2012. 

  7. I don’t want to dramatize every little thing in my life. I really wanted to talk about things happened, rather than things that are about to happen. 

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