It was for the first time that I have lived away from home for such a long time and in the place, which is different from my culture to such a critical extent. I had many expectations, resolutions and plans. The journey in fact was full of discoveries, much more than I could ever expect. Here are my major take-aways.
1. The place where I come from has a great influence on who I am
I had always believed before that I am a global citizen, that the place I come from did not determine the way I behave and what I base my judgement on. I thought that I form my opinion just based on the way I am and experience I go through. Yet, having spent four months in Asia, I realised that it is not like that.
During the first month I was observing people around, trying to understand their behaviour and adjust my responses. The later was much more difficult than I thought. Chinese have a very different from Europe level of politeness and the way they treat the passers-by, eat in the restaurants, greet shoppers and so on. Everything is just very different from what you are used to. That’s just the way they are, due to years of historical and other reasons. Different taste preferences, manners, interests, working style.
In class the professor explained that in Confucianism, which had an enormous impact on the formation of the Chinese societies, it is tought to be good to “your friends” and it’s up to you to define who your friends are. While in Christianity, we learn to be good to “all people”. Probably that’s where those manners and politeness come from. That’s the explanation that I found the most legit to the difference in manners. Maybe there’s something more behind.
I really did my best to find some local friends among my course mates. Most of my course group projects were actually with the locals, which I thought would increase my chances. Yet, it went with little success. I thought that Latvians are tough during the first months, when I just came to Riga. Of course, I love them endlessly now and think that they are among the best people I ever met 🙂 But Hong Kong is a very different story – I never got closer than the “small talk”.
Closer to the end of my stay in Hong Kong, it became apparent to me, that no matter how cool Hong Kong is, I wouldn’t be able to blend in the local culture regardless of how hard I would try. In fact, all of the expats that I ever talked to admitted that while living in Hong Kong even for 5-10 years, they never made friends with local Hong Kong people and therefore stayed in expats bubble. So I also stayed among the international people and should say that I met some amazing people from around the world. Yet, I have to admit that the project of getting into the locals’ company did not go through.
Western Europe is rather similar in terms of values and mentality to Belarus, thus, I never felt that much of a difference, when living in Italy and traveling around. When moving to Hong Kong, I have realised that I am a rather a European citizen, than the global one. That there are certain values, conditions, people who I am used to, that fulfil me and make me happy. It’s nice to travel around the world and to see all the possible corners of this universe. Yet, I have realised that I wouldn’t want to move in Asia for a long-term perspective.
2. You don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to start a new life
My whole summer before departing to Hong Kong I spent mentally in Hong Kong – planning, imagining, dreaming how it will go there. I had a huge resolution that once I’m there I will start eating healthy, exercising, stop postponing things and other nice habits, which we promise ourselves when starting a new week, month, year or tomorrow. For me it felt like, that it’s only a matter of time, that I will get there and that I will be happy for ever. It was not that easy.
I was incredibly happy for a few hours as I arrived, as I walked along the harbour in the center. And then, this sudden realisation comes, that it’s all the same. That the same me, as I was in Minsk/Riga and all the other places was now there in Hong Kong. That the scenes changed, but the actor stayed the same. It appeared to me that no matter where you go, you still have to go through the same process of challenging your mediocrity, pushing ourself out of the status quo.
Of course, I have learnt a lot about Hong Kong, about the world from people of very diverse backgrounds. But in terms of the personality, some rather inner skills and reflections, I think that I would be at the same level where I am now no matter where I would go that half a year. Now I realise that changing the country alone simply does not work, when we go travelling in pursuit of finding ourselves, leaving all the odds behind other bla bla. In the end, no matter where you go, you always take yourself with you. So, if you are willing to change something the time is now and the place is here, no matter where you are.
3. You are the starting point of your happiness
It Hong Kong I spent enough time looking back on my life choices, thinking what made me who I am now and what could be done differently. I would say that the best things in my life were happening when I was acting upon them, was always on the go and never questioned and doubted the successful results. While my failures would happen in times of emotional downturns.
It appears to me that our thinking and emotions that we allow ourselves to experience, determine the results of certain efforts/projects/something that is important to us at the moment. At least to me it worked like that. I would manage to finish my bachelor thesis and pass state exams in Belarus and at the same time study the hardest course at uni 24/7 in Riga. And this all somehow worked out well. I found a great support from people I was meeting for the first time, all the things mysteriously were getting resolved. Because I never thought that wouldn’t be able to do this. Even at those hardest moments of burn outs, you go to sleep, wake up at 6am and continue doing what you should.
I won’t provide negative examples, when I, myself, let it all go, put the whole thing off, shifted to the last place in to-do list and never returned again. Or, would wait till that moment when something good happens, lifts me out of despair, resolves everything by itself. It never worked. Just lying on the bed and hoping for the best never worked.
So, being stuck, I try not to lose fate and every day try to do something about the issue. I don’t wait for people to approach me, or something good to happen first. But I approach, seek to make people around happy first, and to give without expecting to be paid back.
4. People mean much more to my happiness and the way I feel, than I thought
In my high school, first years in the university in Belarus, I was somehow convinced that success is all about the achievement – getting the highest score in class, best project work, getting international internship and so on. I used to ignore school and university parties, dedicating more time to finish assignments/applications for international projects. I had very few friends in class. And I was completely wrong.
Happiness is much more than pure achievement. In the end, why would you need it, if you have nobody to share it with, nobody to cheer you up. My view of happiness, achievement and friendship has changed dramatically, as I moved to Riga. And was shaped much more in Hong Kong.
If before, I could never understood my classmates who prioritized relationship over career, then now I surely do. Now I feel that pure academic and career achievements do not fulfil and make people happy. It’s friends and relationships that do. And it felt so much to be true, when you are away from home.
Looking back, again I think I wouldn’t be able to be where I am now without all the support and network of friends in my life that I have. I truly regret undervaluing relationships back in high school. But probably it was meant to for something else. It’s through experience that you learn appreciating.
5. Everything I need to be happy, I already have
Due to a very restricted budget and rather high prices in Hong Kong, I had to keep an eye on my bank account very strictly. This meant that I even didn’t think of going shopping during all of that time, as I usually do back at home at least once in two weeks. I didn’t think of eating out in restaurants and had a fixed amount of cups of coffee-to-go I could afford to get in a week.
I should say that it was hard a bit during the first two months. But later, you know, it didn’t feel like I would need something at all. I have learnt to live with the resources that I already had and I can’t say that I felt somehow deprived or unhappy. I actually realised that 20 kilo of personal stuff that I had with me would be more than enough to live in Hong Kong even longer than for four months.
In Hong Kong I realised that our need to drop by the shopping mall at least once a week to buy something that we think we can’t live without, is purely constructed by media and era of fast fashion – when the shopping windows change their assortment at least once per month, beauty blogs create the lists of things you can’t live without every week and so on. And then we end up spending so much for useless stuff, to fill the gaps in our ego for a few hours, before we head again to the shopping mall to buy something else.
Now I find it irrational that young people invest such a huge amount of money in their material beings – buying expensive cars, brand bags, watches. Probably, for some it fills the holes in self-confidence, yet, there are so many other meaningful ways of investments, like education, network events, travels.
As I haven’t spent even an hour for shopping, I dedicated all of me to exploring the nature, very local places and traveling, which was much more self-gratifying experience.
6. I think I found that very person of my life. Or, better, reassured 🙂
Thank you for reading my monologue that far,