Thank You Hong Kong, Hello Again Brighton
Let’s rewind to year 10 chemistry, where me and Bex, a girl I only knew the name of, were seated together on one of those two-person science benches. Our classes soon became an eccentric mix of chemicals and bunsen burners intermittently dispersed with chats about Peter Andre, nails, and everything else 14-year-olds discuss.
Fast forward to August of this year and, 10 days after leaving Hong Kong, I had the wonderful honour of bridesmaid in Bex’s gorgeous wedding. Held in a brewery with axe throwing and a burger van, the event was my social debut into my next chapter in the UK. There I met Hannah, who, like me, had lived abroad for many years. One of the first things she said as we spilled details about our former lives, was her shock to find that unlike expats abroad, “no one here ever wants to do anything on a Sunday.” Fuck, I remember thinking, had I made a huge mistake in leaving?
Tearing up my life in the UK and making the jump to Hong Kong for a new job was one of the best decisions I ever made. The thrill of an electric city, swift career growth, and strangers quickly becoming great friends, soon meant my one year contract was extended… and extended… until all of a sudden it had been four whole years. I was, quite simply, living dreams I didn’t even know I had.
But with the political changes accelerating plus a roaring pandemic, I knew it was time to leave. Not only had it been two years since seeing my loved ones, pre-pandemic Hong Kong, with its summer influx of new expats and convenient gateway to discover Asia, was on pause — and for how long we still don’t know.
And now here I am, in my home city of Brighton. The slower pace of life paves way for feelings of respite and reflection, and soon a realisation had hit that, even though these streets have seen me a thousand times before, I hadn’t truly seen them. With new eyes, I’m finding everything noteworthy: the purity of a West Pier sunset; the city’s obsession with turquoise, from the bike share to the seafront railings; the buskers (singing in English!) taking the street corners as their own. I might have grown up here but it was with blindness and insentience. It took time and space to find its beauty and carve a true appreciation of my home.
It is disconcerting to return. Because, yes, I’ve ‘moved back’ to Brighton, but the city (and me) have clearly moved forward: my (old) favourite radio station in the city has ceased operations; familiar roads are now exclusively for buses; the inpouring of vape stores and bubble tea counters strikingly evident.
Perhaps miscellaneously yet the most significant, I feel as though I am relearning vital logistics: remembering to push the button for the green person to cross the road has been a source of confusion and amusement (for context, they were all automatic in Hong Kong). It’s a peculiar feeling being a stranger in the city you spent the first 18 years of your life.
The upsides are still brilliant. There’s my loved ones of course. A new workplace. Those are the big ones but the small ones are equally as important. Brighton gives me the confidence to experiment more with my style. I can breathe fresh salty sea air. And my nostalgia is through the roof; moving around the city remembering the after-school hangouts on the beach, and passing by the bars, still in existence luckily, I snuck into underage.
And I think that’s really the crux of it, that happiness and sadness, delight and longing, can coexist together, blends of juxtaposing emotions arriving in waves and consuming my whole body. Seeing my school friends, those who stood alongside me through the turbulent teenage years, is wonderful. Our friendship is old, easy, constant, even as our lives frayed; diverting paths and individual ambitions. Yet I still yearn for the people of Hong Kong, the friends who built the magic of our mid-twenties, anchored to me for eternity after the emotion and exhaustion of both protest and pandemic.
For me, the feelings of leaving Hong Kong and returning to Brighton are rolled into one odd ball of excitement, vulnerability, and grief. Hong Kong is the backdrop to so many fantastic adventures and marks a life I had loved and curated, but Brighton’s elation and familiar warmth gives way to a change of routine and a new version of me.
Over the last four months, I’ve dived into my next chapter and leaned into the paradox of emotions that come with an end and a new beginning. I knew it was my time to say goodbye to Hong Kong — the city and I had given all we could to one another — but I still don’t yet feel ready to completely let it go. I’m all too aware that my Hong Kong era will soon be a distant memory, and the finality of this is already unsettling.
Alongside all the bittersweet heartache, the lasting sentiment of my time there will always be gratitude, gratitude to have fallen endlessly in love with the city and for the extraordinary people who accompanied me with love and belief. Hong Kong offered the nourishment for me to grow into the person sitting here today. I am more wholly me than ever before.
Truly truly thank you, Hong Kong.