Coming Home

I’m sure we all remember this little guy from our childhood – E.T. made some very special friends with some kids during his time on Earth but at the end of the day, for him, his home was with his own species.

It’s a long flight from Ireland to Hong Kong and trust me when I say that 12 hours can feel like so much longer than that when two little girls do not go to sleep….. As the girls happily watched movie after movie (long haul flights alone with the kids is the one time Mummy lets them watch as much t.v. as they want) my mind drifted and I started to think about where “home” is for me now.

Cork in Ireland is where I was born and grew up and it’s where my Mum and sisters still live.

I moved to Dublin to go to university and, apart from some backpacking, It would generally be where I lived for my 20’S and 30’S. It is also where I met my husband and where my kids were born.

Hong Kong is where I have lived with my family for the last three and a half years.

So where is “home” to me now?

Is it Cork?

I come from a particularly beautiful part of East Cork, in the countryside beside the sea.

My Mum (and her father before her) grew up in a house about a kilometre from my childhood home.

Mum married a boy from a neighbouring village.

Our local church is where my whole family was christened from my grandmother down to my little sister. It’s where my parents got married and it’s where I married my husband. It also has been the place of farewell for my grandparents and my own Dad.

My Mum (in my childhood home) and 2 of my sisters and my niece and nephew still live there.

My roots go deep in this little corner of the world.

Cork people are fiercely proud of where they come from. Indeed, they can’t understand why Dublin is the capital of Ireland and not Cork.

Dubliners, on the other hand, will tell you that the only good thing to come out of Cork was the road to Dublin.

Suffice to say, there is great rivalry (that’s the polite way of putting it) between Cork and Dublin people. So you can imagine how my Dubliner husband felt coming to stay with my family in Cork for the first time.

Of course, not only did I marry this Dublin boy but my kids were born in Dublin too, firmly making them Dubliners – you should see my husband cringe when my Cork family get the girls shouting “Up the Rebels” for the Cork football team!

An accurate map of Ireland (according to Cork people)

Cork is where I want my daughters to experience the Irish summer school holidays that I had and when I think of Christmas, it is where immediately springs to mind.

As Dorothy famously said in The Wizard of Oz:

My childhood home means family and tradition to me.

There will always be a part of me there and indeed a part of Cork with me in Hong Kong – I have seashells collected from the beach beside my childhood home decorating my window ledge here in Hong Kong. There are lots of pictures hanging on my walls that remind me every day of the beautiful place I was lucky enough to grow up in.

Where I grew up

However, when I do go back for holidays, I can’t shake the feeling that I don’t really belong there anymore.

My school friends have moved on and sadly I’ve lost touch with most of them.

I’m still a “local” in the neighbourhood but I’m also not if that makes sense.

I still know most of the neighbours that were there when I was a kid. I remember every bend and pothole in the narrow winding country road. I remember the one finger wave the locals give to passing cars (sorry, only Irish people will understand that one!). Yet, I’m not “one of them” anymore.

I miss my nephews and nieces birthdays, Mother’s Day, some friend’s weddings and other special events which, as an expat, can’t be helped. But I think that not being able to be physically there most of the time, means that when I am there, I feel a little more of a visitor (a very familiar visitor that gets her laundry done like she’s a teenager again!).

Cork is and always will be a part of me – it’s where I was born and where I grew up but it’s my childhood home. It doesn’t really feel like ” my home” to me now.

Is it Dublin?

I was still just 17 when I moved to Dublin to start university. I made great friends there and have so many warm and fun memories of these years. Ah, good times! While we remained close after college, around our 30’s sadly, most of us drifted apart over the years as careers, partners and babies took us in different directions.

There were new friends too of course, from work and from baby group that I connected with and I look forward to catching up with them when I go back for the holidays.

Dublin is where I got my first job and built my career – I have fond memories of Friday after work drinks complaining about our bosses and putting the world to rights.

I rented my first (of many) apartments here and, over the years, lived with a hodge podge of flatmates that hailed from around the world – it was some of these backpackers that sparked my interest in travelling.

I met my husband in Dublin (though, of course, we went to Cork to get married!) and his Mum, Dad, sister and nephews are there too. I also have a sister and two nephews living in Dublin.

My husband and I bought our first (and second) home together here and both our kids were born in Dublin.

So Dublin is very much “home” to me too.

Dublin’s Fair City….

However, when we go back now, there are tenants living in our house.

It’s lovely to catch up with friends and family but, again, I can’t shake the feeling that I don’t belong there anymore either.

It’s kind of hard to explain but it’s kind of like, when you move abroad, you forget that everyone’s lives just move on without you and while of course there’s still a place for you, that place has changed.

So, even though I lived in Dublin for 20 years (stop trying to work out my age!) and many key points of my life so far have been there, I’m not sure it’s “home” anymore to me either.

Is it Hong Kong?

We have been here for three and a half years now and I certainly feel very different about Hong Kong now than I did during my first year here.

The first year I definitely did not feel at home. It was a big adjustment -not knowing anyone, the culture, the language, the food, the lifestyle and don’t get me started on the humidity (I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that!).

As has become our custom now, I took the girls back to Ireland for the summer school holidays. I think that my husband was nervous that I wouldn’t come back after that first summer holiday.

Hong Kong is a very transient place with a big expat community. It is very easy to meet other expats (who come from everywhere) and we all tend to look out for each other.

On the other hand, there is always the feeling that your friends could leave Hong Kong at any time – to return to their country or move onto new opportunities. I have certainly seen a few friends I made in my first year leave and I know a few more now planning their exit strategy.

Of course, other people will come and there will be new friendships but the transience of the place sometimes makes me feel that it is hard to put down roots here. There are expats who have been here 20 years who I’m sure may disagree with this, I’m still a relative newbie!

During our second year, I settled in much better. Sure, some days I still miss Ireland (often on days when the temperature hits over 40 degrees – I like the Irish weather! ). But, I have grown to love the melting pot that is Hong Kong – typhoons and all (feeling my building move, in our 15th floor apartment, during the T10 typhoon last year was definitely a first time experience for me). Life here is certainly never boring!

By the second summer, I remember being much happier coming back and by the third summer I was thinking about going “home” at the end of the summer. Aha!

Where’s “Home” to my Kids?

When my girls bring home friends to play, I always love to hear an European accent as it’s familiar to me as being from my part of the world.

I always ask the friend what country they come from as I can usually recognise a French, Italian, Spanish, German or Eastern European accent. Usually they look at me in puzzlement and answer “Hong Kong.”

Even if they are Hong Kong kids, I still want my daughters to retain their Irishness .

This often requires ‘correcting’ them when they say “trash” (it’s rubbish), “vacation” (it’s holiday) and “candy” (it’s sweets).

Going to school in Ireland, it’s pretty much compulsory to learn the Irish language. When we moved to Hong Kong, I had great intentions of teaching my girls Irish at home to keep them in touch with their Irish heritage and the Irish school system. However, like their mother, foreign languages don’t come easily to them. Once they started learning Chinese in school, I decided that one new language was enough for them to deal with.

My husband points out to me that the girls being able to speak Chinese will be far more useful to them in later life than being able to speak the “cupla focal” (Irish for a “few words”). He’s right, but still I am sorry that, unlike every adult in Ireland, they won’t have sentimental memories of how much most of us hated Irish class in school (my fellow Irish class survivors, do you remember having to read that book “Peig”?).

Going off on a bit of a tangent here, but I thought this was so good – it’s a short 13 minute film called Yu Ming is Ainm Dom (My name is Yu Ming). It’s about a young Chinese man who is disillusioned with his life and randomly decides to teach himself to speak Irish. He then travels to Ireland only to find that Irish people actually speak English. It’s so sweet – totally recommend watching it when you have time.

To keep their connections to Ireland strong, I take the girls back to Ireland for 5 weeks every summer. They get quality time with Grandparents and cousins and they get to experience the Irish summer holidays that I have such happy memories of.

My youngest does not remember living in our house in Dublin at all which makes me a bit sad but I must remember that we moved to Hong Kong when she was only 2 years old so, to her, Hong Kong is absolutely home.

Poor Daddy has to stay in Hong Kong to work for most of the summer while the girls and I holiday in Ireland – at the end of the holidays, the girls will both talk about going “home” to see Daddy.

If asked, I think that my kids would probably say that they were born in Ireland but that their home is in Hong Kong.

So, Where is “Home” to me?

I’ve come to think that the question should not be “where” is home but rather “what” is home?

I believe that, to make the most of my life, I need to live “in the now” and embrace the moment.

To me, home is where my husband and children are, it’s where I feel safe and secure, it’s the bed I want to snuggle up in if I’m not feeling well.

I remember after my husband and I made the decision to move to Hong, I saw this little decoration in a shop. I bought it and gave it to my husband in the taxi on our way to the airport. It hangs in our apartment window now – I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment.

The old proverb “Home is Where the Heart Is” certainly rings true for me.

Home is not made from bricks and cement, it’s a feeling.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – where do you consider home? Where do your kids call home?

Leave your comments below!

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2 Replies to “Coming Home”

  1. Fabulous read. Thanks Linda.

    Having grown up in Laois, moved to dublin, then on to Australia, Oman, London, before moving to US for 20 odd years, with a very brief year in Italy, only to return to London for 5 more and now 2yrs in Hong Kong, I certainly can relate 🤣. My poor teenage kids often lament the fact that friends have known other friends ‘forever’, and how they would love to have had friends from Kindy! I remind them that they do but we just don’t see them as often 🙄.

    Again, as my darling daughter now moves to Netherlands to attend university, she asks the same question; “Where is my home?” After all these countries, the only answer is, wherever we are all together!

    Only time will tell, if we have ruined and blessed our children!!! Praying it’s the latter!!🤣🙏

    Like

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