It was a typically humid evening in Hong Kong. I was making my way along the promenade towards the ferry piers, speedily so as to catch the last boat back home. Lamma, the outlying island where I lived (a place populated mostly with hippies and heavy drinkers) was only accessible by ferry.
I had just finished the late shift, and so was enjoying a rare opportunity to enjoy a crowd-free walkway. There were few sounds, except for the water lapping gently against the harbour wall. But as I gazed up at the glittering buildings on my left, an uneasy feeling hit me. I realised I was bored rather than dazzled by Hong Kong’s unique and magnificent skyline, something I'd vowed would never happen. It was then that I knew… it was time to leave.
In reality, it wasn’t just the skyline I was bored with. My heart had also stopped pounding in anticipation of the city’s infamous Rugby 7s weekend, the spectacular Chinese New Year firework display or the city’s annual music festival. Dinner and drinks at another glitzy rooftop bar felt like a chore rather than a treat. At the same time, Hong Kong’s downsides felt ever more visible. I was tired of battling the ruthless crowds that flooded pavements, barging their way through with bags, shoulders and umbrellas. I was sick of choking on the pollution that occasionally got so bad it was if you were wading through a toxic soup. This and the relentless hot, wet air that sent drips of sweat trickling down your back within minutes of leaving your shoebox-sized home. I could have sucked it up of course, (the downsides, not the sweat) but that would have been the easy option. Truth is, I'd long envied friends and colleagues who were moving on, and deep down I knew I wanted a new adventure.
And so it was that the vertical city which had once stolen my heart with its wondrous architecture and verdant, mist-topped peaks had lost its sheen. What I had previously viewed as a place bulging with character and opportunity now felt like a prison that threatened to stand in the way of a life I knew I wanted. Aside from the city itself, I was also eager for a fresh step in my career. Gruelling shift-work had got the better of me, while I yearned to move to the Americas, and for an opportunity to learn Spanish.
Leaving, however, was harder than I thought, and when the day came to say my goodbyes I was overwhelmed with emotion. Hong Kong, for all its shortcomings, was my home. It had seen me through break ups, job changes and (far too many) apartment moves. It had acted as a base from which I could visit other Asian countries and allowed me to live freely and safely as a single, young woman. It had propelled me to new career heights and brought me friendships for life. It had changed me from a city-obsessed 27-year-old who thrived in swanky bars and high heels – prosecco in hand – to a 33-year-old horse-riding yogi and vegetarian, whose recent appreciation of outdoor pursuits and conserving funds had driven her to Lamma. Here, stilettos had been swapped for flip flops and the Mandarin Oriental for a smoky pool room (though prosecco remained a drink of choice). Snakes, centipedes and spiders lurked in the shadows and David Attenborough’s voice in my head became a soothing reminder that all creatures – even the most terrifying – were to be cherished.
Several months after leaving Hong Kong and I find myself preparing to venture abroad once more, but not to the US and not for my next journalism job as planned. Instead, I’m heading to India to do yoga teacher training followed by a stint working on a horse ranch in Argentina for who-knows-how-long. After several heart-to-hearts with a very wise friend of mine, I figure I have my whole life to work in an office, and that going out and exploring the world will generate far more stories than a computer screen ever could.
These last few months have also made me see that success in life, contrary to what society tells us, need not be measured simply by how far ahead we get at work, whether we get married or pregnant by a certain age, or how much money we have. It’s true that I sometimes feel anxious about the future, and about my money disappearing before my eyes, but on the plus side I no longer feel bound by what society tells me "I should" be doing. The important thing now is that I’m moving forward, and in a direction of my own choosing. I can sleep at night because I know deep down I didn’t take the easy option. I listened to my inner voice. And she’s almost ALWAYS right.