This Christmas I took a trip to Hong Kong with a friend from Manchester (who is currently studying up in Beijing) and then popped over to Suzhou for a homemade gourmet meal at a caver-friend’s place. It was lovely to return to Hong Kong, even if it was only for a few short days, and the meal in Suzhou in a way reminded me of our own holiday feasts back home in Michigan.
In Hong Kong, the two of us did as much “tourist”-ing as possible in the short time we had, hitting up Victoria Peak, Mong Kok, TST and the Avenue of Stars, Mid-levels, and Lan Kwai Fong. I stayed an extra day, which I spent with my former teacher from the APA. For me, returning to Hong Kong was a homecoming of sorts, as I spent enough of my “formative years” there to have developed a fondness for the place.
Christmas in Hong Kong means lots of people everywhere! Of course, there are always lots of people everywhere in Hong Kong, in certain places. But all of the holiday-goers do tend to clog things up. We queued for 2 hours to get up to the Peak, and another to get back down. In Mong Kok we braved seas of people to peruse Chinese souvenirs, fake bags, and rather interesting gag-gifts, such as the elephant-shaped men’s underwear, where the trunk gets filled by the guy’s *ahem* . We were able to escape the madness for a while at “Upstairs Café,” an aptly named little café up a narrow staircase, on the third floor of a nondescript apartment building. The sofas were so soft and squishy, it was like they knew that after a whole day (or just a few hours) of shopping, all the weary shopper could want is to sink into cushions that virtually swallow them up! We also went to see the Barbie display at Causeway Bay’s Time Square mall, where the dolls were dressed up in creations by Chinese designer Guo Pei.
When one’s family is scattered all around the world, one is forced to improvise that whole “home for the holidays” feeling, and I have to say, it turned out well. I may not have a “home” rooted in any one particular place, but I have found warmth and welcome wherever I rested my feet this season. My teacher welcomed me into her home and for a day I was surrounded by the warmth of a family. We had a meal of Christmas leftovers, consisting of turkey, ham, stuffing, and even sprouts! For dessert there was mince pie, which was surprisingly touching: I hadn’t realised that in just three years the little British sweet could become such a nostalgic symbol of Christmas for me.
After recharging for a night in Shanghai, it was off to Suzhou! In the morning I went on a mission to buy fresh mozzarella (to be used in our caprese salad), and baguettes for crostini. I arrived at the train station in plenty of time, and got to my friend’s to discover a cryptic note on the door explaining where the key to the backdoor was hidden. My friend (who was working until later in the evening) was entertaining another caver from Michigan, who had popped out to get more supplies for the feast, leaving the apartment empty. The little riddle was a happy surprise, definitely more fun than simply knocking on the door! When she got back, the two of us prepped until the host returned, and soon enough others arrived to lend a hand as well. The meal wasn’t until the next day, but a lot of preparation still needed to be done! Finally the hour arrived, and by the light of candles, fourteen of us dined…and wined! The seven-course meal ran as follows: an appetiser of crostini (three types: pesto and parmesan, olive tapenade with feta, and home-smoked salmon and cream cheese), next a caprese salad, followed by spicy pumpkin soup with candied bacon and apples, a vegetable course of green beans over mashed purple potatoes spiced with wasabi topped with lamb/mushroom sauce and crispy garlic slices, then a lamb lasagne made with handmade pasta, and ricotta, gouda, and parmesan cheese, next grilled rack of lamb served with spicy pepper jelly, finishing with cheese cake and strawberry sauce, topped with tropical fruit sauce and chocolate covered dried cherries. For those not full to bursting, there was also chocolate. And I cannot forget to mention that a German guest made us a pot of mulled wine, which truly was the last missing piece of my Christmas holiday puzzle!
On Christmas Day in Hong Kong, our Christmas lunch comprised of tasty tasty dim sum, including fluffy coconut marshmallow bunnies and char siu buns. We may have been far from home, doing non-traditional things, but our trip was memorable nonetheless. The two of us had many a heart-to-heart discussion, speaking of our futures, and dreaming of one day having homes of our own and hosting Christmases for our families. That future might not be realised anytime soon, but we’ll make it one day: “home” is still “coming” for us. We may not have spent Christmas with our dear families or old friends as we had in the past, but the holiday we had this year could not have been better.
Meeting up with friends old and new in the warmth of their homes filled me with a sense of joy and gratitude. My home might still be “coming,” but until it gets here, I’ll keep improvising, making or finding a “home” wherever I go.