At the end of summer, we flew home to Toronto. The idea of home, and of Toronto, has undergone several minute adjustments since I moved to Hong Kong 7 years ago. I used to have nightmares in Hong Kong of waking up in my childhood bedroom in the suburbs, breathing out a monumental sigh of relief only after realizing the sun on my face was a tropical one. It’s not quite so bad these days, and I even look forward to my visits home, but I still don’t know how to respond to, “So when are you coming back?” Ashley and I have started asking ourselves similar questions, considering what a post-Hong Kong future for our family might look like, but in all our conversations, Toronto is, more often than not, a last resort.
As per usual, we stayed at my family’s home in Thornhill, and, with each passing year, I grow more and more aware of just how long I’ve been away. I know my parents miss me and my sister, both of us having moved away after graduation, though not for lack of love for family. While the kids of their friends got married, settled down, and had kids of their own across the street, their own children are thousands of miles away, separated by mountain, plain, and sea. Though the distance is all to real, however, my relationship with my parents has grown and improved by leaps and bounds, and seeing the way my parents continue to pursue purpose and calling, even as they approach retirement, is a revelation. Their desire to be a force for good in the world has taken them to far more exotic destinations than I’ve ever set foot in – Venezuela, Kashgar and Xinjiang, and Madagascar, to name a few – and I’m somewhat in awe of their quiet passion.
Sometimes, Hong Kong feels like a dream, especially when I’m back home. The needle seems to skip off the record, the music stopping as I step back into the living past – sitting on my childhood bed, driving down familiar streets, eating at restaurants with faded memories, and worshiping in old church pews. So when I see friends from my Hong Kong life in Toronto, all of a sudden the music begins playing again and time moves forward at an accelerated pace. There’s a feeling of a shared experience, a language or vocabulary that can only be understood between people that have been away and come back. Both Sam and Fiona are originally from the Toronto area, and we were part of the same tight-knit circle of friends for years in Hong Kong. We traveled together to Europe after Ashley and I got married, and they moved to Beijing the following summer with their son, Lucas. They had another kid in Beijing, Jacob, and we all happened to be back in Toronto in the summer of 2015. We spent a good afternoon at Fiona’s family home in Mississauga, catching up with our fellow Asia-based friends on their new lives in China, and playing with the kids.
I will maintain to my dying breath that summers in Toronto have no equal. The vibrant and weekly festivals, the beautiful parks, the eclectic neighbourhoods, and all the energy and buzz of a city drinking heavily of the few warm months of the year make for a place that is never lacking in things to do. Coming from Hong Kong, I also have a newfound appreciation for quiet streets free of car exhaust, unruly crowds, overfilling trash cans, and dripping air conditioning units. One fine summer’s evening, we drove out to Unionville Main Street, walking along the quaint shopfronts and restaurants and beside the calm waters of Toogood Pond. The warm lavenders and dusky roses of the Ontario sunset wrapped around us like a blanket, the tranquil scene interrupted only by our footsteps and the distant cries of water fowl.
At the end of the day, though the allure of friends, family, and pleasant evening walks is hard to say no to, Ashley and I are both aware of the ever-present holiday blinders. A few significant impressions can effectively dictate one’s larger opinion of a place, often obscuring the reality of the lived experience. The effect can be especially pronounced when the place is home, with all of its lingering nostalgia, memories, and longing for a place to call your own. In any case, we aren’t ready to call Canada or North America home yet – there’s still so much we want to see and do. I felt it acutely one night as my parents were watching the Voice of China, the Chinese iteration of the popular reality show. It wasn’t the content or anything specific about the program that I can point towards to explain my emotions in that moment, though it’s entertaining enough. As I sat on the couch beside my parents, I could not fight the feeling of being in the wrong place. For now, the right place is Hong Kong, China, and Asia, and, for now, that place is home. We wouldn’t be going back home just yet, though. After 10 days in Toronto, we packed our bags and flew across the country to Vancouver, where we’d be joining friends flying in from New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, Tokyo, Sydney, and Hong Kong for a wedding reunion for the ages.