here we are, not quite ten months into our hong kong adventure, and we are already heading home...back to texas. why? you ask. the bottom line is this : piss poor planning on our part.
oh, the research. my lord, the research. we knew we were flying by the seat of our pants a little (okay, a lot), but we truly believed we'd be able to just do it...just figure it out. we did figure a lot of stuff out quickly and actually found that much general running-a-house-and-family stuff is actually easier here than in the u.s. our issues were the bigger ones...school and social lives.
we did as much research as we could from texas (i really need to write a separate post on how BAD web sites are for local stuff here in hong kong. think prehistoric web design in terms of features and searchability and usefulness). we didn't get very far with our internet research. i got the chance to talk with a family that had been expats in shanghai, and also talked with an former boss from my last job who also had been an expat in shanghai. i got some really great information from both women, and it was useful. the big hangup, though...having a school-aged child and trying to figure out the god forsaken int'l school system here. it's awesome academically, but it's a nightmare administratively. we went round and round and round to pretty much no avail. we were extremely lucky that livie was able to get into a really great christian kindergarten (preschool) that doesn't do the whole interview thing, and we have enjoyed it, but it's not the same as her being in the grade she was supposed to be in. this is a HUGE fail on our part. we should have organized some kind of help with school issues before we ever left the u.s., and we didn't.
the major issue that's made life very lonely, though, has been the lack of connections/community/friendships. livie has made friends at school, and we've had a playdate with a classmate, but for the most part, the friendships have not extended outside of school. at the risk of sounding like a petulant child, the biggest issue regarding friends has been mine. i have none. i go days and days without talking to another adult, and i HATE it. i have tried. i try striking up convos with people i meet; sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn't. more often than not, i meet maids/aunties when i'm out with the kids. they are always kind and friendly, but there's a big ol' border there that i'm not supposed to cross (and that most maids/aunties won't cross). i cannot go have a coffee and a chat with someone who calls me ma'am instead of my first name.
i have met a few moms that exchange information and make tentative plans, but the plans rarely (only once in 10 months) come to fruition. i am lonely and frustrated. i created an online group for moms in hong kong on the babycenter.com web site -a site i have been active on for years -and i sent out 41 invitations to moms who listed their location as hong kong. 2 moms responded/joined the online group. neither of them responded to a get-to-know-you survey i posted (asked what part of hk people lived in, how many children they had, and what they like to do for fun with their kids in hk).
it seems a HUGE part of our social limitations is caused by us not having a live in maid. that sounds insane, doesn't it? i knew before we moved here that most households have a live-in maid, and we considered doing the same, but once we got here and saw how small the apartments are and observed family dynamics when we were out and about, we decided the system was not for us (i did not want a stranger living with us 6 days of the week, and i, frankly, did not like what i saw when i observed the dynamics between some families and their helpers when i was out and about). we figured this would be private...our decision...not something that impacts anyone but us. we were wrong. i swear to you that almost every social conversation i have had has come around to the subject of live-in maids/maids within the first five minutes. i have been asked why we don't have a maid, and have been scoffed at/questioned/advised when i give my reply. i had one north american woman roll her eyes at me and tell me "what, are you still morally opposed?!" i sat there, speechless (that was at the one and only book club meeting i attended). i have talked to a couple other women who seemed to understand my thinking but gently told me that not having a maid was making me a social pariah. i have never heard of or experienced anything i have found as bizarre (or isolating) as this particular aspect of our hong kong adventure. it boggles my mind.
so, between the school issues and the lack of social life, we decided to ask josh's employers if we could come home a year early (summer 2012). they were open to the idea, and seemingly before the bosses here in china could even talk to the bosses in the u.s., there was an opportunity for josh in the austin office, and the bonus was that it was an immediate opportunity. so, here we are moving back early and even six months earlier than we had hoped. we are thrilled!!!!!!!!
i think i could write a book on what NOT to do before moving half way around the world. my number one suggestion would be to find mentors. in our case, what we really needed was a family with school-aged kids who had moved here when the kids were school aged (versus moving here before they were born and already knowing to get them on 10 waiting lists before they were 2 years old) to help us understand what we were facing. we had no idea what a corporate debenture was or how to manipulate the wait list situations at various int'l schools or just how to help a five-year-old prepare for and survive the interview process to get into school. having mentors of a western nationality and with school-aged children would have been tremendously helpful. hindsight is always 20/20.
i cannot say that we regret this experience. it truly has been one of a lifetime. we have had many great adventures here in hong kong, and we have had the invaluable opportunity to travel to other parts of asia. my one regret is not better preparing ourselves for this move; i feel that we could have been more successful and happier here if we had just done our homework (thoroughly and completely) and known what we were getting ourselves into. i think we also would have chosen a different part of hong kong to live in if we had done more research. there's that pesky hindsight again ;-p