New philosophies

Looking back towards the sunset on Hong Kong’s harbor

In the fall of twenty twenty one I at last address the challenges of two years of pandemic, and begin to grow. People, I have written, do not change. When they do, if they do, we ought to accept those changes, sudden and surprising though they may seem. We can not try to change people. But we can be aware, and be supportive, when they chose to.

Change comes from many directions. Mostly, in my life, it comes from an accumulation of days spent thinking. In the fall of twenty twenty one, having quit my job, I start walking home from the office, roughly an hour and forty minutes away. To compensate for the commute length, or for my own readiness to leave, I start at four pm. The walk is beautiful, along the harbor of one of the world’s most recognizable cities, and one of its most expensive. It is a walk couched in privilege, in the fortune of the past twenty years. Hong Kong, despite the battles, is a beauty, especially as the mercury drops below 25 C for the first time in 7 months. On these walks, as with every moment in this dense metropolis, I am not alone.

Long walks surrounded by humans give rise to change, I’ve found. They’re part of the reason I love living in cities, especially ones safe enough to walk in a straight line from origin to destination without considering the makeup of the neighborhood. To my American readers, I promise, these places do exist. On walks like these I think of the comments of a French person, hearing that Americans think Hong Kong’s pedestrian infrastructure to be the world’s best. The harbor isn’t very walkable,” they say. And the sidewalks are narrow.” How poor a place do we come from, Americans, that we are astonished by what is a step down for Europeans? No wonder that we love to vacation there, and to dream of something that seems impossible to build in our homeland.

Walking long distances clears the mind not through the exertion, but through the time. Eventually we have exhausted the current trains of thought. Eventually we must stop at new stations. So, at last, on these weeks of wandering post-decision and pre-result, I come to consider what I am truly up against, here in Hong Kong on year two of the pandemic. So, at last, do I come to consider what I believe, and how it has changed.

I am no longer making five year plans. As prudent savers whose jobs revolve around planning and our task-oriented natures, we do not YOLO. In some way we cannot. Yet we are changing. We are making fewer long term plans. Having spent much of the first forty years of my life in pursuit of qualifications, of experience, of visas, of access, I appreciate the luxury of peace, of an inability to schedule flights for ultimate tournaments in foreign countries, or to purchase tickets to concerts I’ll need work to fly me across the Pacific to see.

The past two years, and whatever is to come, have killed my desire to plan our future, to map our lives. I have often been focused on the five year view, on the medium term. The medium term, I see now, is dead, buried by governments, by fear, and by the virus. Instead I have today, which I spent in the park, on the water front, and talking to neighbors. Instead we have our lifetimes, which we will try hard to spend without fear.

We will try to make choices based on what is good, on what is best, without concern for the five year plan or the final destination. We will go when we can go, stay when we want to stay, and learn what we can in every situation. We will try hard to be the people we want to be, not eventually, but now. It is indeed a change.

These thoughts coalesce from long walks, and are built on the decisions that presaged them. These are the outcomes of two years of thinking, working, watching, and talking. I’m lucky to have a partner who is ready, neither impatient nor hopeful, but able to see and happy to move with the pace of my mind. It’s a thing formed step after step for decades now, and only finally ready to let go.

Empty windows

As always, things end before we were really ready. Returning from a month abroad, we find our living room faces a newly empty apartment. Across the street the walls are bare, save for a horse painting. It will be left for the next tenant. The curtains that had obscured the kitchen are gone, leaving a clear view of the small space two women shared for the past two years. The apartment looks both larger and smaller, in the way of these things, with all their furniture gone.

We wonder where they’ve moved, these women we never spoke to but shared some slice of life with. For two years we have seen them come home late, the lights often going on at last at eleven pm, work finally over. We’ve watched them host dinners on Friday evenings, welcoming a handful of friends with wine and laughter. Mostly we have seen their cats, and they ours, as the animals watched the world or lay on the dining tables that face each other across the small street that separates our buildings. For two years we have shared the occasional wave and the knowledge that we are not alone, that despite the lack of communication we are happy to see each other, happy to watch the cats grow up.

And now the apartment is empty. For us, returning home after travel and quarantine, the loss is instantaneous and the shock unexpected. Out of all our neighbors, the cluster of shared windows and barely visible lives, they were the two we appreciated most, two women and two cats. We miss them, and wish them good fortune. For ourselves, we wish for neighbors with cats, and we wonder when we’ll see those lights go on again.

Places I slept, 2020

A Hanoi view

My tradition of keeping track of every bed became almost an afterthought this year. Like most people, I have never spent as much time at home. My regular question as to the pace of the year and whether it will feel fast or slow in memory is easy to answer. Twenty twenty will feel very slow.

In some ways the change of pace is, as many have written, an opportunity to reset, to re-value and build new habits. Many have done so. Tara has learned to surf and pickle, learned to do handstands and play new songs. For myself the skills aren’t as obvious. This year gave me time to learn to lift my left arm again, and then to do pull-ups, planks, and climb once again. These abilities are the gift of a re-built shoulder, itself a gift of Hong Kong’s medicine and reasonably priced global insurance. The quiet days with nowhere to go and nothing to do save rehab were a gift of the pandemic, with sports and travel closed and my startup failed.

The other gifts, less physical, are those that come from the new job, from trying hard to help build a team and company. From presenting to a board, talking to investors, recruiting, and building cash flow models, twenty twenty gave me the chance to prove that all my start up experience could go further. It’s an opportunity I’ve sought, and I’m glad to be here in Hong Kong trying to make a company work.

As for travel, well, I think the list of places we were supposed to go outnumbers those we did. From weddings postponed or done via Zoom to meetings conducted on Slack instead of in person, there was much we gave up. For a year that saw Hong Kong give up so much more, that saw America give up so much more, it feels awful to even mention our losses. Far more important, then, to recall what we did do, before the planes stopped, and all the people we did see. Here then is my list, and a wish:

May we not have to say goodbye to so many in twenty one, and instead get to say more hello’s.

Tai Hang, HK
Hanoi, Vietnam
Taipei, Taiwan
Malibu, CA (x2)
Santa Monica, CA
SF, CA (x2)
Anaheim, CA
Manhattan, NY
Brooklyn, NY
Cherry Hill, NJ

The total for the year’s first 58 days: 10 places, and 2 of them twice.
Since then:

Kowloon, HK - a hotel staycation
Wan Chai, HK - another hotel staycation

Hope in the world

As Hong Kong has come back to life these last few weeks, this past month and a half, I’ve felt something new. Perhaps it’s just me, wishful thinking after months of quarantine. Perhaps it’s just privilege of having survived five months off work without awful economic impact, and having been able to get a job again. Perhaps it’s the change in the weather, the pull of the outdoors once the heat breaks. Every room feels better with the windows open than with the AC on.

And yet, perhaps this feeling is not only internal. Perhaps everyone is a little more open, a little more willing. Perhaps people are more likely to say thank you, more likely to hold a door or appreciate one being held. They seem more likely to wave, more likely to smile as we pass. As though we all appreciate our existence a bit more, and are glad that we are all alive. Playing frisbee yesterday at the park, the non-field area was full of families sitting in the shade, enjoying the grass, and everyone, unfailingly, was polite and glad to be outside. This could be temporary, caged birds emerging to stretch their wings. It could be how we operate now, entire generations defined by our common experience, by the shared trauma of pandemic and societal discipline. Survivors of a global economic crash, our saving habits changed and earning potential crushed, we now have another thing to share, that of being stuck at home and afraid, of being physically unable to move, unable to touch, unable to share.

As always it is hard to see the future, to know what will change forever and what we will gleefully forget when able. This weekend, at least, we are all out in the air, and even with our faces covered we are happy to be seen, happy to see, and happy, finally, to share.