Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My exit speech and repatriation anxiety (at length, PART I)

On the plane...

What just happened?

In some respect, it is all becoming a blur to me.

It's not a blur in terms of the whole "it seems like just yesterday I was arriving in Hong Kong for the first time..."

It's a blur in my head... all of my experiences and emotions are blurring together. However, I keep having these flashes of conversations or smiles on peoples' faces or uncontrollable laughter popping into my head and at what seems like lightning speed.

I got very busy this last month and blogged maybe once? I wanted to blog so much more, as I feel like I was probably overflowing more with ideas, emotions, revelations, than ever before; however, I was also ok with it. Maybe I didn't need my blog as a source of accountability as much as I did early on in my experience. Just maybe.

You really just don't get it until you live here. Here? Am I still in Hong Kong? Right now I am. I get this knot in my throat thinking of not being a HK resident. That's really strange to me. At this moment, everything I know is HK. But wait... I just relinquished all things technical related to my position there, aside from my valuable, time-saving, even decent-photo-bearing HK government ID card. Why do I still have that? Will it be void after my visa expires? I guess I won't know until I come back. "It" seemed to know everything else and was even linked to my thumbprint, aiding in rapid entry into and exit from HK. What a concept.

My heart also dropped for a split second when the teller cut up my Hang Seng Bank card when I closed my account today (Tues. 24May), proudly walking out of the University branch with an envelope of the money I had saved. Yes, I managed to save a fair amount of money considering my rent was about 40% of my income! That part felt good, but the knot came when I thought "how am I going to pay for things?" "Will I ever get to say
'EPS ng-goy' again?" Plus, because I was only getting paid in one lump sum each month and paid for everything with either my EPS card, cash, or my Octopus (transit) card, i.e. no credit card, I had become a lot better at budgeting my finances. SHOCK!

Speaking of Octopus card, also a "what a concept" topic, I didn't turn it in to get my balance and deposit back. I ran out of time, but I did have the brilliant idea to spend my meager $40HKD balance as well as into the $50HKD "red" that is what initially paid for the card all at Starbucks ("Tsim-bahk-urrrrh" in Mandarin) where I got my pre-flight dinner, coffee, and water. Good one, Jodie! I will miss the convenience of that card and the convenience, low cost, efficiency, and speed of the HK transit system in general. The rest of the world should take note.

Yesterday (Mon. 23May) I turned in my CityU staff card. Unlike my HK ID card, the photo on my CityU card was bad! I looked like a prisoner, no joke. However, I still got sad when I gave it to Ms. Ankie CHAN at Human Resources. (P.S. Everyone's surnames are always in all caps... I just realized I still wonder about that. It does make it easier to know which is the surname and which is the given name. Maybe I'll do that from now on, ha ha ha. Anyway...) Then, for the rest of Monday and into Tuesday I know I had a smiling -- but sad -- expression on my face every time I rang the bell to gain entry into my office or lab. Whoever would answer would exchange the same expression with me. They were used to that. We (scientists?) are used to that too. There were only two people on campus with which I shared intense emotion upon saying goodbye on my last day... Alice and Dave. I had already said goodbye to my collaborator and colleague, Shuhong, while I was visiting her in China last week. The other goodbyes I had on campus today were just smiles, hugs, and thank-yous. I left boxes of chocolate in the office and lab... it was not big deal, really. I even skipped several goodbyes and didn't think much more of it.

Alice is my stoic friend. I did see on my last day, however, one gigantic tear roll down her cheek when we hugged goodbye. I know she is an emotional person. I have never doubted that. I saw her cry one other time when she and her boyfriend broke up. For the most part, you just have to really know Alice in order to know if she's happy or sad about something. There will be no overt signs that a regular person could decipher... you just have to
know her, and she's a tough shell to crack. Trust me, I do like to tap, tap, tap, knock, knock, knock... let me in... with the people to whom I become emotionally connected. But, sometimes Alice and I will sit together, have a coffee, and barely say a word. I think we liked that about our friendship. I did at least. It was comforting. Even though sometimes her stoicism confused me or even put me off when I was in a particularly vulerable state, I don't think I doubted that she cared. She gave me a lot in terms of a friendship and professional relationship, as she was also my technician and assistant at times. I hope I gave her what she needed too. I think I did, actually. Maybe I'll never know.

My other close relationship on campus was with my colleague/collaborator, Shuhong... Charlotte. Charlotte is her English name. This is the one we decided on after at least 2 months of deliberation after which time I promptly bought her the book Charlotte's Web. Her position ended a week before mine, and so Alice and I went with her for 4 days to mainland China before I had to pack up and make my exit from HK. Prior to the China trip, we were hard-core on the second research project, trying to finish up the first research project, and often only moments from killing one another out of frustration and sheer exhaustion. She wouldn't admit it, but I'm sure I was weighing on her nerves too. We were just tired. We did work well together though, and we developed a very special bond and friendship. I cried when I left her in China. In my eyes, her life is a bit of a shit-storm, and I think I'm especially emotional about that aspect, leaving her back in her home country where her situation is less than ideal, to put it lightly. I know she wants more out of life but feels stuck. I really think that is what made me the saddest.

Most of my other relationships in HK were off campus.

Dave. I call him Dave. That is strange, actually. Come to think of it, no one else I worked with at CityU called him Dave. This written stream of consciousness isn't about the name, really, but rather it is about who this person is. This person is so high up on a pedestal in the eyes of most people who know him. I'm not joking. In most respects, he is quite elevated in my mind as well. This is the scientist I've looked up to since 1997 when I first decided the physiology of fishes was the most interesting topic I had ever studied. He wasn't Dave to me then. He was Professor D.J. Randall because that is how I saw his name on all of the papers he wrote and the numerous book series he edited. He was
the scientist in my field for decades. I was so excited when I signed on for my PhD program at UBC as I'd be working with one of D.J. Randall's former PhD students who was a professor there. My Master's supervisor wasn't thrilled about my decision and even said "you know, it's not like you're working with D.J. Randall himself, it's just his former student." Now, here I am 7 years after that comment, and Dave is not only a colleague and collaborator but someone I would call a close friend. We've had some of the longest talks about anything and everything, even beyond science... in fact, often beyond science. He's always been a no bull-shit kind of guy, but I also think he's believed in me from the start. I've never known his reasoning, but I've always felt like I've had him in my corner so to speak. Today, I tagged along with him for a lunch he had to attend for some general education administration so that we could chat and spend some last bit of time together before my flight. We talked mostly about research. Then at one point he apologized for being so busy with EDGE (the general education program of which he is director) and for not spending more time on the research with me. Later, we talked about what I got out of my experiences, and he said that he thought I've gained some more confidence in myself. That was huge and meant a lot. And he's right. I have gained some confidence in my research, for certain. Here I was in HK doing research outside the time requirements and pressure of earning a degree. However, maybe there is more pressure because now -- even more than ever -- starts the "publish or perish" mentality. I don't have time to waste sorting through ideas and slowly learning new techniques or protocols like I did (and was supposed to be doing) during my PhD. Now, you just have to do it. And when some of the research details didn't turn out as we had planned, I was able to switch gears on the fly, ending up with one very neat and complete story with one of the research projects and some incredibly interesting measurements and observations on another project that will hopefully lead to completing another good story. I feel good about what I did science-wise. What I didn't do was write other papers that I have piling up on my desk from past research. When will I get to them? Enter feelings of repatriation anxiety... more on that later.

Dave and I also talked about family, what it means to be away for so long, and not just "away" but traveling the world. The phrase is right. You can't go home. Every time, it gets harder and harder to go home to Illinois as I feel more and more disconnected from that way of life. I go there for my family and a few friends that still hold meaningful places in my heart, but even that is difficult. My life is so different than the lives of those that are there. Not better. Not worse. Just different. I cannot integrate into their lives so easily, and it's hard for them to understand my life when they are only getting glimpses of it from photos and the occasional skype or phone call. Now, I'm going home to a different home. Going home to Vancouver will most certainly be different, though. Everyone there knows more of the Jodie I am today, and I've only been gone 7 months, not 14 years. Still, life has gone on. Growth and change have occurred in everyone, not just me. I'm used to the anxieties associated with going home to IL, and I'll visit those feelings in 3 weeks when I prepare for that trip. In the meanwhile, I haven't fully articulated my anxieties about going home to Vancouver. I mentioned a few things to Kim, but I don't know I've fully explored them in myself yet.

I came to HK mainly for the career move... the science... the professional relationship with Dave, but I did a lot in personal development as well. This blog was the platform and perhaps springboard for me to grow on so many levels. I did just that.

Why have I not published this post yet? What is holding me back? Do I feel as though my work in HK is not done yet? Well, the science is not done, but science is never done. I set goals for myself from the personal growth perspective, and I feel as though I achieved them... except for the water drinking goal. That should have been the easiest... really... but I'm paying the price of failing that goal now that I'm back in Vancouver. My body cannot get hydrated enough. My lips are so dry, my skin absorbed what seemed like 5 liters of massage oil at my massage therapy the other day, and my havoc is being wreaked on my face too. I even gave myself a home facial last night in an attempt to apologize to my complexion for improperly hydrating for so long. The other goals included:

  • Doing a form of fitness and/or yoga daily
This has now become so ingrained in my being that I chuckled when thinking about it. I think I logged about 180 hours of yoga in HK! I also aimed to:

  • Try new classes and teachers weekly.
Some of them I loved, and some I hated. I really fell for the Anusara mixed levels class taught by Michael Lau, as some of my avid readers will already know. And, I would have never found that one had I not been pursing this diversity in my practice. Furthermore, I really grew to love Luis as a small group class trainer (Bodypump and Bodycombat) and ended up asking him to train me one on one.

To be continued...


  1. Love your thoughts and can't wait to read part 2! Glad you are back on this side of the world for the time being. =) xoxo