In July 2013, Buzzfeed did a listicle called “31 Signs You’re A Third Culture Kid“, which includes very true and valid points on what it’s like being a TCK. Yeah, my accent is inconsistent, “where are you from?” is a question with no easy (or at least just simple) answer, and the diversity of my upbringing is responsible for my flexible perspective on almost anything today. (Which sometimes gets me into trouble.) There are heaps and heaps of advantages, so please don’t get me wrong and bombard me for what I’m about to say next. I’m always going to be grateful and appreciative of the person I’ve become because of my experiences, and I understand they’ve done me more good than harm. But there are also negatives that sometimes, in those moments of loneliness and insecurity, make me wonder if I’d be happier if I weren’t a TCK. The Buzzfeed listicle touched upon a few:
“14. …you ‘hang out’ more online than in real life.”
“27. And, no matter how many you say, good-byes never get easier.”
And here are a few more, and I’ll start with one that mooches off the one right above.
So Long, Farewell
Because most of my friends are not local HKers, and consists mostly of expats or ABCs, CBCs, or BBCs, and the ones most dear to me lives all over the world but mostly in Australia, there are always people coming and going. Coming for a visit, coming to live and work, coming to try their luck living abroad. Going on an extended trip, going back to their home countries, going to pursue their career elsewhere. There are periods when it feels like I’ve spent a few weeks saying, “goodbye!” It really doesn’t get any easier.
Living Inside an Armour
Partly due to the reason above, I’ve found myself getting to know people according to a system of scales and ranking. It makes no sense to me to invest much emotion into any friend I make now, because who knows how long they’ll be around for? Sometimes you know it’s just a matter of time before you see that person again, and others you just don’t know if you’ll ever see that person again. I can count my best friends on one hand and still have maybe one or two fingers left over. If I were like that with every person I meet, I feel like I’d spend a lot more time being hurt when they have to go. I’d rather not…
…I’d rather not, because I know how much I’ll miss them. I spend at most, the entire year, or at the very least 50 weeks of the year missing my friends. Tezza is the only one who makes it to HK on a semi-regular basis, and the others I place in the same circle as her don’t really make it here at all, except for a couple of rare occasions. This separation is something I’m aware of every single day, and whether or not I let it get to me, it kills me every single day. Today is one of those days it’s getting to me.
Flailing When I Fall
My mum and I have a great relationship, but I don’t tell her everything. (Sorry, mum.) Plus, our relationship is just not very balanced. Often it feels like it swings from “brilliant” to “volatile”, without spending much time, if at all, in the spaces in between. As a result, whenever something happens to me, good or bad, the people I want to call right away to tell are on the other side of the world. Try to co-ordinate sharing incredible news, or seeking emotional support from people you love who are separated from you by a time difference of anywhere between two to twelve hours. It’s difficult, and it’s probably why I fall into these patterns of getting into my own head too much. I don’t tell people enough, because the people I’d want to tell most aren’t right here. I was recently told, “you’re such a closed book”. Yeah, I’m working on that, it’s just taking me a while. Sorry.
Not Being Able To Be There
The other side of the coin of not having my friends here when I need them, is not being able to be there when they need me. At this stage of my life, friends are getting hitched and hatching babies left, right, and center. And often, I’m not there. I have to try to join in on the joy seeing pictures of the first friend I made in high school cradling her newborn son, convey through an email how much I’m hurting for another friend who’s working through losing a parent, offer support through Whatsapp to one of the strongest pillars in my life who’s making some major life changes, or share my excitement for a friend who’s preparing for her wedding. There are far too many examples of things I’ve missed, and I’m not narcissistic enough to think I’m needed at any of those occasions. I know I’m not needed, strictly speaking, but I wish I could be there, and I can’t express enough how sorry I am for not being there. I’m sorry. It’s not always possible to work out my time and finances in time to be there, but I always wish I could be.
What Are You?
Look, a huge part of being a TCK is that you don’t have a set identity. “You’re from here, but you’re not from here” is a sentence I had said to me just a day ago. “You’re a fake Chinese”, “you were born here, that makes you Chinese, not Australian”, “you were raised in Sydney during your formative years, you’re more Australian than Chinese” are all sentiments I’m very familiar with. I’ve realised it’s impossible to place myself in a category, and that’s the most wonderful, beautiful and incredible part of being a TCK. I’ll always be grateful for my ambiguous identity. But since I’ve accepted it’s not possible to identify myself completely one way or another, I’d appreciate it if you don’t try to. I was told once I have no right weighing in on commenting on Hong Kong social or cultural issues because I’m Australian, and that kinda hurt. Thanks for that input, but I don’t think that’s a fair comment, and I don’t think you’re right.
It’s All In Your Head
Other TCKs will know. Friends, acquaintances, and even family members who’ve not had your experience as a TCK will look at the above list, or listen to you vent, and then tell you it’s all in your head. You’re being narcissistic (which I know I can be, but I also know it’s not narcissism ALL the time), you’re just over-thinking it, work at it and you’ll find it’s not even a problem, you’ll fit in if you just try. Yeah, I’ve tried, and tried, and tried. And I’ve gotten better at it, but I don’t think I’ll ever fit riiiiiight in with Hong Kong. And that’s okay, just because I was born here doesn’t mean I’m meant for this city. It’s taken me so long to feel at home in Hong Kong, and I do love this city, but I’m constantly aware I might have a better shot of being a happier version of myself somewhere else.
There Will Always Be Shitheads
It is not okay to have me read from a cha chaan teng delivery menu, and laugh at every Chinese character I falter over. It is not okay to make inappropriate jokes at me and of me based on assumptions of my promiscuity because the person I was with at the time was foreign. It is not okay to walk up to me with no greeting, ask the meaning of a word in English, and walk off without a “thank you” after I explain it. This is not asking you to treat a TCK in a special way, it’s called common courtesy, assholes.
Wow, that ended up being more of a vent, sorry about that. But I feel better now. And there is one thing I’ve always loved about being a TCK, especially since moving back to Hong Kong: you find out who your real friends are, and you learn to cut through the bullshit. I have a wonderful extended family, a family I lived with while I was in Sydney, and I love them dearly. It’s always been very clear that Imrie and I couldn’t be more different, but I know we’ll always have each others’ backs. And that day, out of the blue, when she listed me as her sister on Facebook was one of the happiest days I’ve had in so long, it sticks out in my recent memory like a crystal among rubble. And needless to say, all my other friends who mean a lot to me, here in Hong Kong or anywhere else in the world, you know who you are. Everything I’ve talked about in this post sometimes tear me apart, and there are nights when I cry myself to sleep after holding back tears all day. But having you in my life makes it worth it.