‘The Call’ comes through while I’m at the dentist, breastfeeding the baby, trying vainly to stop the toddler from sweeping all the magazines off the reception coffee table and overseeing the preschooler stutter through her reader. The seven-year-old is snuggly ensconced in the dentist’s chair watching Ice Age while I am being earnestly told that she needs a filling.
“Oh my goodness, I make sure she brushes her teeth every day!” I protest weakly, hooking the phone under my ear as I switch the baby to the other side.
It’s my husband on the line.
“Seriously, this is not a good time,” I mutter, trying to smile winningly and confidently at the dentist – I am a mother who knows what she is doing, not a rubbish mummy who forgets to wash and clean her children (not every day, anyway).
“My boss John’s resigned,” comes the hushed reply.
“What, Hong Kong John?”
“Yes, I’ve been offered his job.”
“Oh, that’s great!” I’m mentally calculating whether the promotion and subsequent pay-rise will be enough to pay for a new kitchen. “Hang on a minute, but Hong Kong John’s based in – Hong Kong?”
The penny, or perhaps the dollar, drops. In my mind, I travel back in time to a hard-won few days off to visit to a friend in Singapore the year before – the maid, the driver, the spotless apartment, the swimming pool, the beautifully cooked dinners, the immaculately ironed laundry, the cocktails, the fancy restaurants, the fun… I think of my own home, the breakfast detritus still on the table, the dishwasher unloaded, the Cheerios stuck to the walls, the overflowing washing basket. I won’t go on.
“Sign the contract!” I squeak. “Have they sent it through? Sign it! Get it sent though now!”
“Why don’t we sit down and talk about it over the weekend?” suggests my level-headed husband. “It’s a big decision.”
“Sign. The. Contract. Now.” I demand through gritted teeth as the toddler sends the receptionist’s latte flying.
Three weeks later and the house is packed up, the furniture either sold, given away, donated to charity or left on the nature strip, six one-way business class tickets have been purchased, and we’re on our way.
Now, I realised we would be landing at Chek Lap Kok late at night, so of course it would be dark, but I still entertain elaborate visions of swimming pools and cocktails and elegant waiters serving me afternoon tea on arrival. Meanwhile, back on board CX100, the toddler has vomited up the Chuppa Chup kindly given to her by the air stewardess and the seven-year-old has locked herself in the bathroom. (Note to self, never, ever travel with kids in business again).
But what I hadn’t bargained for on arrival was the typhoon. Or the rain.
We are whisked to our serviced apartment in the pitch black, water streaming down the windscreen and lightning bolts streaking across the sky. We tumble out at Parkview and are taken to our rooms. A cot sits in the master bedroom (oh joy, sharing a bedroom with an insomniac nine-month-old is always such fun) and there is only one other room. The seven-year-old, the preschooler and the toddler will have to share the one other bed.
What follows are the toughest, funniest, most exhausting weeks of my life as we settle into Hong Kong life. My husband disappears off to work the following day and doesn’t return until midnight due to a mysteriously-labelled ‘black’ rainstorm (or possibly he discovered the Captain’s Bar; no doubt I’ll never know the truth), I am introduced to heaps of lovely ladies who all genuinely seem to want to have lunch or dinner with me (all suggestions are followed up with an emailed invitation the following day, something that rarely happens back ‘home’; “I can fit in a quick coffee in six weeks time?” tends to be the depressing norm), and what’s more, I actually go to all those lunches and dinners.
And the fun has never really ended. In the ensuing eight years, we’ve climbed mountains, kayaked the South China Sea, entered half marathons, gone to places we never would have anticipated visiting, made – and lost – a ton of friends, had posh brunches in hotels and enjoyed not-so-posh barbecues on boats and beaches. We’ve haggled in markets, investigated temples, stuffed ourselves with dim sum and drunk our own bodyweight in fancy French champagne. We’ve entertained guests from out of town, shown newbies around, celebrated landmark birthdays and anniversaries and enjoyed the longest of lunches. In short, we’ve had a ball.
Hong Kong grabs you like that. It’s sometimes not the easiest of places – I dream of the day the supermarket duopoly is smashed and a gleaming, competitively-priced Carrefour or Sainsbury’s opens up somewhere on the plains of Yuen Long – and some days it can be hot and sweaty and frustratingly you don’t achieve anything on your ‘to do’ list.
But mostly it’s fun, and ridiculous, and extreme, and fast-paced and alive. Which is why we hope to be here for many more years to come.
Oh, and the dentists are pretty good, too.