As a little girl growing up in 1990s Melbourne, I dreamt of being blonde and good at netball. Given I was born in Hong Kong to Chinese parents, the blonde didn’t eventuate. My netball skills did not improve. I had never heard of the game before arriving in Australia as an eight year old and no one really explained the rules to me; I was rarely given more than ten minutes of play.
Summoned to perpetual orange duties, I felt pretty un-Australian so I spent most of my teenage years compensating. I thickened my accent, learnt to love AFL, ate a lot of meat pies. I resisted trips back to the motherland, so much so that I didn’t return for over a decade. I wore this as a badge of honour; as evidence of my loyalty to Australia.
But in my adulthood, I find myself wanting to return to Hong Kong more frequently, not only to visit family but also to enjoy what the city has to offer.
First of all, Hong Kong is stunning. I’m in awe of the glitzy skyline every time I catch the ferry across Victoria Harbour. Secondly, getting around is ridiculously safe and easy. Public transport is clean and reliable. Taxis are cheap and plentiful; you don’t even need Uber. Then, of course, there is food – where a $7 bowl of wonton noddle soup is as satisfying as a Michelin-starred feast.
Beyond convenience and cuisine, there is language. Cantonese, my mother tongue, is boisterous and crude, full of fun colloquialisms and slang. There is a three-word phrase which means “the traffic is so bad, I want to vomit.” It’s everyone’s excuse for being late.
Lately, I have been contemplating a big career and lifestyle change. My husband and I are expecting our first child. Far from wanting to live in Melbourne forever, we think there will never be a better time to do a stint overseas.
Hong Kong is an obvious choice largely due to my cultural roots. So much has changed in the last 30 years. The hilly streets of the Western District where I grew up are now dotted with trendy cafes, wine bars and burger joints. Mandarin has overtaken English as a second language. But, the wet markets and traditional dessert houses selling late night tong sui (sweet soups) are still there. Cantonese is still widely spoken.
"My mum definitely does not support a return to Hong Kong. In her mind, this would be a complete waste of the last 30 years."
The number 13 bus I used to catch from school still runs on the same route. My sister and I spent many hours at the bus stop, nagging our nanny to let us walk so we could use our bus money to buy snacks. She never allowed this.
As I reminisce about the past, I also imagine a future on the island. Low income tax would mean we could work and save. But I could occasionally indulge too, maybe in purchases that I would never justify in Australia. We could yum cha on the weekend with my grandparents. The rest of the world will open up too, with Tokyo or Kuala Lumpur a mere four-hour flight from the city.
While I write glowingly of Hong Kong, I feel un-Australian for even considering a return beyond a holiday. I love Melbourne, for all the things Hong Kong does not have: world-class coffee, bike trails, farmers’ markets, good yoghurt (dairy is awful in Hong Kong), fresh air and open spaces.
The eight-year-old me would never have considered this.
My mum definitely does not support a return to Hong Kong. In her mind, this would be a complete waste of the last 30 years.
"Leaving Australia won’t be a sign of disloyalty. It won’t undo our migrant success story and it won’t make me any less Australian."
Why bother packing up and leaving everything we know, working so hard to adjust to a new way of life only to go back with the next generation? (Hong Kong was being returned to China in 1997 after 150 years of British rule. We emigrated in 1990, fearful of what life would be like under a Communist Chinese rule).
Besides, Hong Kong according to my mum is a terrible place to live. She spams me with stories about the rising cost of property, the worsening pollution and the broken education system.
It’s hard to know just how angry mum would be if I do move back.
What I do know is that I will be forever grateful to my parents for moving us to Australia and giving me the opportunity to adopt a second culture, a second home and a second identity. With the friends I have made, the best friend I have married and the life we have built in Australia, it’s hard to picture the last 30 years spent anywhere else.
But leaving Australia won’t be a sign of disloyalty. It won’t undo our migrant success story and it won’t make me any less Australian.
I have the strongest of ties to two places and for that, I can have the best of both worlds.
Lucille Wong is a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter @luci1307.