There are some traumas that are linked to experiences that are specific places that linger long after you left them:
1. One India-related trauma that I recognised when I moved away (apart from the obvious – the trauma of being a woman) is a morbid fear of bureaucracy. In Hong Kong, despite what people say, the bureaucracy is largely efficient and not to be feared. Sure, there’s the filling up forms and submitting stuff. But even if you make a mistake, it can be corrected without going through seven circles of Kafkaesque hell. Nevertheless, when I had to submit my documentation for permanent residence, I went crazy with the paper. V told me I was an open and shut case and didn’t need to worry so much. But I did.
I do this every time I need to submit a visa application even though the chances of being rejected for a visa are quite low. It’s the fear of the runaround that could come if you have one tick out of place.
I recognised a kindred spirit in a Russian friend. If anything, he is worse. He was so paranoid to be not one toe out of line on his visa requirements. And was like, my friend, I hear you.
2. A Hong Kong related trauma is spending extended periods of time around people who are speaking a language I can’t understand. It’s one thing to not be able to understand what exactly happened in the fight that broke out on the MTR or what the TV announcer is saying, although this does cramp my eavesdropping style, but the thing that really gets me is being at a two hour or more lunch surrounded by people speaking Cantonese (the language is not important here, just that I can’t understand it) and having to smile and nod and pretend you kind of understand or don’t mind. My patience for doing this has waned so much that I rarely consent to meet more than two Cantonese speakers at one time and studiously inquire about language of presentation before any event.
I recognised my aversion to this kind of linguistic limbo when the prospect of visiting V’s relatives in Kerala. Now this a family that will make no effort to converse in anything but Malayalam although the younger generation does speak English. Something about being made fun of if you stick your neck out and speak English. Or maybe they just think it’s too much trouble in the way Hongkongers (and possibly English speakers do). The point is – I don’t want to volunteer to be the resident Ms Blank.
I have literally avoided visiting Kerala for this reason (and the fact that I suck at performing conventional Indian femininity and will stick out like a sore thumb if I hang out with men while unable to say a thing to them). In the end, I have capitulated under the condition that we stay in a hotel and not someone’s house (to limit the time I have to spend playing Noddy) thereby branding myself the bitch in law.
I also realised the language issue is what I dread about moving to Bangalore. Sure, in my social circles, English will be the lingua Franca which is a step above Hong Kong, but for the man on the street it’s Kannada so basically Hong Kong redux. In the process, I’ve discovered a secret pleasure – that of being in a place where everyone speaks English.