Saturday 17th October 2009

Adventures of a Tai Tai:  The Expat's Dilema

One of the most common dilemmas that expats face concerns what to do with annual leave. How should you spend your time off work? Should you save it for when relatives come and visit? Use it to return home to your own country for Christmas, weddings and any other family gathering that your mother insists you absolutely have to attend? Or should you actually do what annual leave is for… have a holiday!

The first option, save some for when friends and family visit, poses a real problem. When you haven’t seen people who are close to you for a very long time, you really do want to be around for the duration of their visit. However, the sheer amount of visitors that you get when you live somewhere like Hong Kong means that this is totally impossible. My husband and I, for example, have had nine lots of visitors so far this year, covering a total period of 68 days! The tenth visitor is due on Wednesday.

The second downside to taking time off to show people around Hong Kong is that there is only so much to see and do here, and whilst proudly showing off all the city’s hot spots is great at first, after 30 to 40 visits of the same tourist attractions, the once interesting tours and landmarks begin to lose their appeal and death begins to lose its sting.

I personally have always favored spending my time off traveling and exploring. One of the things I was looking forward to the most when I found out I would be moving to Hong Kong was the prospect of traveling throughout Asia. I absolutely love Asia and my husband and I visited the region every year whilst on vacation. So how much of Asia have I seen since moving here? Have my dreams come true?

Since moving here I have had the luxury of visiting a number of exotic places; Barrow in Furness, Leyland, Whitney, Queensferry and Sittingbourne. You probably have never heard of any of these places and there is a distinct reason for that… they are locations that no sane individual would ever want to visit whilst on holiday. They are also all in the United Kingdom and nowhere near the Asian utopia I planned for. However, it has been totally unavoidable as a result of the fact that my husband and I have been hit by the dreaded curse that is weddings.

For my husband and I, the vast majority of our time off work has been spent going back to the UK to attend weddings. Time and time again we say that next time we are invited we shall politely turn down the offer but time and time again we crumble at the words, “it would mean so much if you could make it” and book the first flight available. Not that I don’t enjoy a good wedding, or more to the point, a good reception, but all the exciting trips I had planned to see the backwaters of Kerala, Headhunters’ Trail and the Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand have been replaced by drunken rambling speeches of how Joanie met Chachi and first dances to songs that sound like something you hear in a dentist’s chair as you are staring up at a picture of bunnies in a field.

The worse part of all the weddings I have attended over the past couple of years has been the downtime between the actual ceremony and the commencement of the wedding breakfast. After an hour and a half of politely circulating with the rest of the wedding guests I feel like I have answered the question, “How’s Hong Kong?” over a million times, each time sounding less and less enthusiastic until I eventually sound like a manic depressive. What’s more, I have repeated myself so much that I have developed a lisp. There’s also that dreaded moment when you bump into people you haven’t kept in touch with since you moved away and you are forced to make polite conversation with them. Half way through this conversation it occurs to you exactly why you have left it so long, but it is too late and you find yourself promising to keep in touch more in the future and inviting them to visit which, inevitably, they do.

Next year we have vowed that everything will be different. Surely all of our friends have already got married (although the marriage number two circuit may be about to commence) and anyone who chooses to visit will just have to fend for themselves. Unless of course it’s my Mum, or my sister, or my best friend from University, or that guy I worked with in Durham, or my Uncle’s best friend’s cat…

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