Monday, May 25, 2015

What to expect when you're (not sure what to be) expecting

... to go somewhere new, I mean. I don't want anyone to read a single line further and think that I'm pregnant.

I am, however, on the verge of a big life change. Tomorrow at 7 PM I will board a plane to Hong Kong. I'll be spending the summer there working for a well-known international magazine's Asia bureau. For legal and Googling reasons, I should probably not say which magazine this is--it definitely isn't Thyme magazine, I'll tell you that--but just in case you figure it out, I should also say that all thoughts I write in here are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.


Since May of last year, which is when we last left off, dear reader, I sure have had quite a lot of adventures. I ran a crowdsourcing campaign that successfully funded a trip I took from Helsinki to Beijing by train over seven weeks. I blogged about that elsewhere, for the funders of my trip, but am in the process of turning that blog and the experience in general into a book proposal. I moved to California and worked harder than I ever have in my life over the course of my first year in journalism school. I ate a lot of burritos and forgot about how it feels to wake up to the sound of rain. And I applied for, and was accepted to, this internship. My job this summer at not-Thyme magazine will be to work on their breaking news blogs. I'm pretty excited about it. I also intend to pitch the editors for the chance to do my own reporting; I'm even more excited about that. Lastly, but certainly not least, I'm planning to eat my weight in dim sum. It's possible I'm the most excited about that.

Here's the odd thing: I don't actually know what to expect when I get off the plane on Wednesday. I've now traveled to more than 40 countries. I've lived abroad in both the west and the east. But Hong Kong exists in this sort of odd gray area between the two, a mix of colonial history and post-colonial innovation, whatever it is that happens when two very different worldviews and political systems butt up against each other like tectonic plates. It's an incredibly exciting place to get to be, but it means I have no way of guessing what my life will be like there.

How Western will it be, how similar to my life in America or in Spain? How will I feed my coffee addiction, with fancy espresso or terrible Nescafe? Will I be able to find peanut butter and yogurt in the grocery store? How much will I be able to speak to people on the street in English? What percentage of people I interact with will be expats? Will I eat most of my meals with a fork?

How Eastern will it be, how similar to my life in Kunming or my other Asian travels? Are we talking squat or sit toilets? Can I drink the water? Do shops close on Buddha's birthday? Will excitable tourists ask to take their picture with me? How much will I use my Mandarin? Will I have to cook all my vegetables? Is there a market I can go to to bypass the grocery store altogether?

These data points, which by now I use almost automatically to orient me when I arrive in a new place, are uniquely not-quite-plottable in Hong Kong. I can't really anticipate where on this plane my life for the next three months will land. And actually, I find that--discovering that hidden vegetable market, ferreting out wherever the best/most acceptable coffee is, figuring out what my breakfast routine will be, going to the grocery store in search of peanut butter--pretty damn exciting. I hope you'll come along for the ride.