I became a permanent resident of Hong Kong today. Seven years of buzz and breathtaking skyline and literal living in a nook the clouds. Of efficiency of the extreme kind embodied in everyone from the helpers to the handymen to the transport system to the government. Of unlearning fear and believing in safety and not having to think about who might be watching. Of being confused about the last train and taxis at midnight and walks down deserted streets in a little dress uncaring. Of exploring fashion like everyone else and being obsessed with thinness, but not fair skin. Of siu mai and cha siu faan and noodles in soup and reaching for chopsticks and drinking hot water all day. Of trying to learn Cantonese and succeeding only marginally. Of two babies and taking a train and a minibus to the hospital. Of free ambulances and public hospitals and government social workers and nurses who will bend over you at 2 am with only a hint of exhaustion seeping through their concern. Of impassive faces and grannies wreathed in smiles over your daughter’s curls. Of typhoon warnings and the wind howling and 98% humidity. Of untouched beaches and 60% country parks and the shame of old men whistling down hiking trails as you puff up. Of public parks and punks in Mong Kok. Of libraries and lunch alone with a book and art and music in the cultural desert. Of no democracy and yet feeling like you have a say. Of being in and out and somewhere in between.
The whole process was clockwork Hong Kong.
I spent a few weeks gathering more documents than I needed because I was convinced that applying for the equivalent of a green card could not be that simple. I mailed them in and got a letter asked me to come into Immigration a couple of weeks later.
My appointment at Immigration was between 12.30 pm and 1 pm. I told my boss I’d leave at 11.45 pm and be back by 3 pm. I was, to the minute.
I thought the process could have been speeded up a tad, but then I glanced at the letter they sent me and it said to budget 90 minutes and that’s about how long it took. The Immigration officers are like robots, speaking the bare minimum with not so much as a “good afternoon” in between. I’m not a greeter either, these days I try to employ the smize, a la Tyra Banks. I’m not sure anyone but me knows I’m smizing. It’s apparent no one cares.
One guy stamped my papers and sent me down to the 8th floor. They asked me to come back in half an hour. I sped down and had lunch. Then from counter to counter, the highlight of which was the photo-taking. The last time, the immigration officer – who I remember being quite hot – encouraged me to comb my hair and asked me to take another one, even though I was fine with the first. It turned out to be one the best photos of me. This time I had to ask the brisk female officer for a second go. I wasn’t convinced of the result, but decided round 3 would be embarrassing. I’m not entirely Hong Kong after all.
During the short trip down for lunch, I was transported back in time by the young and smartly dressed office-goers. Once I used to be them. I treasure that time of my life, 20-something and navigating the city in high heels. Would I want to go back there? Well, I wouldn’t mind that array of lunch options, and walking through those buzzing streets, and the beautiful people, and being as thin as I was then though I was convinced I was fat. Now I’m fat but I think I’m thin. I think I like this confidence better.