Faith in each other

A view of the river in Nong Kiaw

A month in, the clearest part of parenthood is the reflection it provides. In the late nights, in the long days with sparse sleep, we see few things clearly save each other. Our ability to rest, to walk, to eat, to see friends, and exercise depends on our partner’s abilities, on their tolerance, and on our mutual trust. We have, in this small child, a way to finally see the compassion in our relationship, and our kindness for one another. It is humbling, to understand that our ability to hold the baby while she cries and our partner eats is perhaps the best gift we can give. It is clarifying to understand that our push for an extra smile when she will not sleep takes more energy and is therefore more appreciated than anything else we’ve done in weeks. And it is revealing to understand that our ability to do things, from lunch with friends to climbing workouts to dinners out depends entirely on our partner’s ability to be ok when things go wrong. We serve at the pleasure not of a higher authority, but of each other, a pleasure that must be re-iterated daily. Would you like to go out, would you like to go to the gym, would you like to meet friends? Each one requires explicit confirmation, and the understanding that it could take extraordinary effort, extraordinary patience.

Mostly they do not, and Clara is peaceful, is at peace with our decisions. She is ok with electronic music and ambient heat outside the pizza parlor on a Friday night, where we eat on a bench and share a beer with friends after a long week. She is ok with the bright lights and bouncing tunes of the climbing gym, with the many voices and odd sensations of an afternoon at the swimming pool. She tolerates a ferry ride, an MTR ride, and many taxi rides, without outburst. In some ways we adventure at the pleasure of the child, and I think in some tellings this would be true. But it is not, for while she has a voice, and uses it at will, she has no say in the initial agreement, in the planned outlay of patience and effort. That is instead an agreement built on all our years together, almost fifteen now since those early scooter rides in Shanghai. Almost four now here in Hong Kong, where the idea of family became more possible.

And so we continue to grow, our true selves revealed to each other in the things we are willing to smile together after. It has always been this way, of course. In many ways our four hours together in the back of a flatbed from Nong Kiaw to Luang Prabang remains the clearest mirror, held up to our relationship in pain, guilt, and the joy of adventure. It is good, then, to find new joy together in these late nights and the early mornings they blend into.

First days

Looking southwest from the Peak in Hong Kong, across Wong Chuk Hang, and Aberdeen to Repulse Bay, Stanley, and the ocean, where container ships pass.

Like anything new, the first days are a bit of a blur. We sit in a room overlooking all of Hong Kong and try to take in the view. We are looking at the face of a new human, someone never before met. We are looking out at an island, at hills of jungled green and reservoirs that mirror the trees nestled in the valleys. Expensive homes dot the hillside below us, and beyond that the flat areas of Aberdeen, Wong Chuk Hang, and Repulse Bay. Past all that container ships pull towards us and away. The main sea route in and out of Hong Kong feels busy enough. Only the skies are quiet, with no airplanes in sight for much of the day.

The view is shocking on a clear day, all the way north to land that is not in Hong Kong, that is part of the greater country that surrounds us, some twenty miles up the coast. It’s a view worth millions, a view utterly unavailable in most major metros, and the thing that sets Hong Kong apart among world cities.

Mostly we ignore it, focused instead on the new person who has joined us. Our spare moments are spent texting family and friends, sharing photos and chatting about the new responsibility we’ve taken on. It’s a weird one, learning how to care for a human who most definitely can’t care for themselves. Like every new parent, I’m sure, I’m shocked at how unready we humans are released into the world. Unable to walk or talk, and not particularly close to either. While friends with older children say that the time goes quickly, by any reckoning three, five, eight, or eighteen years is a long time. Thinking back to the start of our relationship, fifteen years prior, makes it clear just how long a commitment we’ve made. Life will not be boring.

We look forward to the learning, to sharing our lives with someone new. After all my years avoiding housemates, it’s a bit of a strange choice. I hope that the cat feels the same enthusiasm, at least eventually.

In the afternoon, we are lucky and nap together. The pleasure of three people tucked into a single bed is pure joy. After an hour, when the nurse comes to take the new member for a checkup, we realize how free we are, going to sleep without any responsibility, without worry or hesitation. In the first few days of parental leave, rather than adding to our stress we have ceded our normal tasks, our professional goals and targets. In the hospital for another twenty four hours yet, we have not yet assumed the full burden of our new role. I have no complaints.

Looking north I can barely see the buildings of North Point over the hill, the tops of the AXA tower and One Island East poking above the mountain. I can see Red Incense summit, where we watch the sunset and fireworks. I’m excited to take Clara up there, to show her the world we live in. To show her the place she was born.

Mostly unprepared

Before change, like before a storm, there are moments of peace, of pause. On a Wednesday after yoga I work from a courtyard, free until a dentist appointment. It’s beautiful here, cool enough in the shade to be pleasant. For two hours I write documentation and update plans. I want to remember these moments, with little to worry about save my own responsibilities.

Often big changes are visible some ways out, and yet still impossible to anticipate. The end of university. The first days after moving to a new country. These events are monumental, and will be permanent memories. Their dates are known in advance, planned around. And yet the feeling, the act of being on the far side, remains invisible, unknowable until it arrives. I think often of our first week in Hong Kong, walking the TST waterfront in the humid evenings. That week, at a hotel paid for by a company long since bankrupt, was uncertain, and beautiful. Every act, of getting coffee at Starbucks while messaging real estate agents early in the mornings, of eating noodles at a Japanese place at the end of the day, awoke us, reminded us of the shift we’d made, from San Francisco to Hong Kong.

On this afternoon in June I wonder what the next few weeks will feel like, how well I’ll remember them. I know everything will be different, but the how of it, the feel of the change, is invisible to me. I hope I remember to write.

Scant busy days

Occasionally, when otherwise unoccupied, I find myself busy for a prolonged stretch. It is no great expanse of time, merely the full measure of a work day, from early in the morning until the sun has set. Being mostly unemployed, these days are never single purpose, and the varied nature of them affects my mood. On good ones, like today, they start with interviews with distant companies, conducted before the household has woken. I sit in the office, grateful for the view of Kowloon, and talk to engineers on products I am curious about, am hopeful for. After a few hours I emerge to make tea or say goodbye to the family, depending on the work day.

The next calls are ones where I talk less, but add more value, consulting calls with factories, with American engineers at the end of their days and teams closer to me at the start of theirs. These are the kind of calls I am at home in, translating or clarifying where needed, managing the structure and shape of the plan, and resolving minor issues with both sides for the hour following. These are the kind of calls that keep me sane, when mostly unemployed. They keep me connected to factories, to what is happening with China’s lockdowns and American labor shortages, and to where the distributed teams in the US are located. It’s a hard way to do hardware, fully remote and part time, but it’s rewarding, and the people are worth the contact hours. Many of them I’m sure I’ll work with again. Some I already have.

After these hours I rise and procure coffee, wandering down stairs to Fineprint to say hello to neighbors, the regular crowd. It’s a comfortable environment, the kind of experience central to our love for Hong Kong, for Tai Hang. Our street features a dozen restaurants, our neighborhood roughly thirty, and a fifteen minute walk’s radius an easy hundred. There is always somewhere to go, something to eat, someone to see. The liveliness of this kind of environment balances my work-partially-from-home situation perfectly. I can not imagine doing without, and worry some times about those on calls, so clearly in suburban locations, so clearly in a single family home with nothing to walk to. I worry about Americans.

I worry too about my Chinese friends, about those in closed loop” work environments that, with the euphemism discarded, means sleeping at work”. I worry about the sustainability of Covid Zero when it takes away everything but the ability to work. I hope we survive this, collectively. I hope my project manager, who has spent fifty three days in solitary quarantine in twenty twenty two, survives this. We don’t seem to have a choice.

Inside looking out

Hotel bed and towers beyond

Quarantine is always an odd experience. This time I’m alone, looking out at the world but unable to touch it. For seven days I watch the apartments above Elements, hundreds of boxes filled with life. I watch the restaurants and green spaces below, and the motion of cars. To one side I can see the Star Ferry trundle back and forth, and beyond that Hong Kong island, another stack of buildings and people. I watch a parent and child tend plants on their balcony, and children chase each other around a playground. Far to the left I can see a swimming pool, filled with those rich enough to reside in one of these towers.

Hong Kong is built on this density, on this ability to see several thousand apartments from any angle, but the view is rarely this good, nor are we forced to watch it this long. For a boy who loves people, loves towers, loves motion and this city, it’s a pleasure. While I of course would rather be out, rather be able to feel the air and touch the water, I’m glad to have this view.

Seven days is just long enough to force thoughtfulness. The first few days, burnt away in the haze of jet lag and working from a hotel, feel like any work trip anywhere. It isn’t till the weekend that the situation becomes clear. Like the weekends I used to spend in Dongguan, too injured to bother going anywhere, staying in a hotel alone is an odd experience. Even on those Dongguan weekends in twenty fourteen, though, I would spend most of the day walking, would feel the air and eat in restaurants. Quarantine is a different form of solitude. I think of all those who did three weeks like this, the requirement in Hong Kong over much of the past few years. I think of a factory project manager I know who spent fifty three days in quarantine in twenty twenty two for the pleasure of seeing her family in Taiwan for a week. Fifty three days alone, as a person others are to be afraid of touching.

It’s hard to imagine that length of time. It’s an odd experience, this week, but another few days and I’ll be home to my cat. Another few days and this whole trip, circumnavigating the globe fore the first time, will be over, almost like it never happened. So much of travel is like that, a blitz of new places, new weather, new colleagues and old friends, and then home again, to the cat, the family, and the hillside. Home to my tiny routines in our neighborhood, where the world is within reach.

I’m excited to see if the bakery has re-opened, to get bagels and milk tea. I’m excited to feel the humid air, and walk in the park.

Quarantine is a strange place, so close to home and yet nowhere anyone can see. And that comes back to the window, where I sit looking out. A boy kicks a soccer ball against some stairs, practicing his touch. Taxis loop in and out of the fancy apartment complexes, bringing guests and residents. And the harbor reflects the light as the sun sets on Saturday.

I’m glad to have this view, for a week.