I am Bridget, an international Mum of 4, just beginning to find my new normal.
I love my husband, 4 kids, three-day weekends, sushi, wine, sunny days and long walks on the beach.
My eldest son is coming to the end of a 3 year-long journey battling leukaemia. He is an amazing boy who just takes whatever life throws at him and I am constantly in awe of his strength to soldier on and his solid and real faith.
My biggest strength as a Mum is the ability to keep going even when things are tough. To just soldier on and keep my chin up! I pray a lot and that helps me get through each day.
I recently joined a netball team and play in the Hong Kong Women’s league! Most of the women I play with are fellow Mums! Now that the netball season is over I have started training with a women’s dragon boat team. As well as my new hobbies, My husband and I have a weekly date night where we escape the craziness of dinnertime(aka witching hour) at home and enjoy a quiet night winding down together.
My family and I currently live in a small fishing village in the New Territories of Hong kong. We have lived in Hong kong for almost 3 years now. We relocated in search for the best treatment for my 4 year old son just after he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL).
Previously we were living in Beijing; I had moved there a few years after graduating as a Teacher in the U.K. to teach Primary School Music in an international school there. My husband, who is an Australian-born Chinese, was a lawyer with the World Bank and funnily enough we met at the International Church we were both attending in Beijing and started our married life there in 2008. Beijing is a very special place. Not easy to live in, especially being so far from family (Mine in UK and South Africa, my husband’s in New York and Australia) but with a small expat community relationships were easy and we had a great group of friends who we called family. Beijing life was simple in a way and that’s what I loved about it. It is a vibrant place with amazing culture and the Beijingers are very friendly and love to talk. It’s where we called home and thought we would for the long term – until that changed in a matter of hours.
Hong Kong was a place I did not want to live. Just a few weeks before we moved to Hong Kong we had visited for a family wedding. We enjoyed it as a place to visit but I remember vividly telling my husband that I did not want to live in Hong Kong. It felt a lot more crowded than before and even though that was the case it felt lonely too. People were focused on money and making it and there(as it seemed to me) was not much else to life there.
However, when we moved we didn’t have much in the way of choices, which I believe was a good thing. We were told to find an apartment close to the hospital where my son would have treatment, which was a place I didn’t even knew existed. It was different to the rest of Hong kong. Much more of a local feel and less materialistic. We lived by a river with easy access to cycling tracks and a lovely park. After 18 months and once my son had begun the maintenance treatment we moved from the busy district of Shatin, to the countryside of Sai Kung. It’s a beautiful district; fishing villages all along the coast; very local, small town feel. In the morning we hear birds, in the evening we see stars and it is peaceful – a real retreat from the busyness of the vibrant business district of Hong Kong. We made a good choice and our children are very happy living here.
Moving to a new place has it’s challenges. And for us those were even more apparent. Our first month we spent living in a hotel with friends travelling over from Beijing to help to look after our daughters while I stayed in hospital with my son and my husband travelled back and forth to Beijing for work. We didn’t make any friends in that initial period. We found an apartment and once we moved in I began to search internet groups in my area, mainly Facebook for signs of other foreigners living around us. I found a local group, mainly made up of Mums from overseas. However, I was preoccupied with hospital stays, applying for a live in helper, getting residency in Hong Kong and keeping our family afloat. We had extended family visiting to stay and help us out. I met an Australian-Brazilian family in the hospital with their son who had a brain tumour and we instantly became friends. The mother was my lifeline to the Hong Kong world. We were surviving on mainly friendships and support from our Beijing network. Many friends would be passing through Hong Kong and stop by giving support on a regular basis. And then there was social media where I realised I had mutual friends of friends. Those were easy first connections and made relocating in the circumstances much more doable.
I would say about 6 months after arriving in Hong Kong I was ready to start reaching out, which is when a good friend from Beijing told me about a BSF (Bible Study fellowship) class opening in Shatin, just minutes walk from the hospital. I had attended a class for a couple of years in Beijing and was excited to find out about this, especially as it was so close to our home. So I joined and started building some relationships through my small discussion group, most of whom were Hong Kong Locals.
I also began joining the small play dates that the local Mum’s group I had previously found were organizing. I wasn’t always able to attend due to hospital commitments but at least it was there. It’s definitely not easy trying to break into social circles and in Hong Kong there are a lot more Expats so it’s more difficult to find a group where you fit. In Beijing you didn’t have a choice as there were limited groups due to the smaller amount of Expats.
Recently I have been thinking a lot of England, where I grew up. Maybe it’s as the kids are getting older and asking questions. Or because we haven’t been able to travel as a family since Nathan was diagnosed. I’m feeling rather nostalgic about my upbringing and I guess I’m missing it quite a bit. When I left England I wasn’t planning on going back to live. I think I still feel that way, there’s too much of the world to explore, but I do have fond memories of the place I once called home. I loved the farms and the countryside. The quiet narrow country lanes, the walks on the hillsides, not seeing a person for miles, hanging out with friends and neighbours in our cul-de-sac. I miss being able to grab a coffee with my Mum, sister and close friends. Face Time is great but not the same as being there face to face. I may miss that place but I never regret moving overseas and the experiences I’ve been able to have.
I have been involved in a social Mums group for the last 2 years but not being able to attend every week due to hospital commitments with my son. So I attend when I can. I have found the group to be very open and welcoming and have formed some good friendships. I have also found that the kindergarten pick up, on a dry day, is where I do most of my socializing. I have a couple of friendships that have developed due to us living in close proximity and being able to help each other out with the school run/ pick up and of course our kids being a similar age.
After either being pregnant or breastfeeding for over 7 years now it’s been tough to get involved and committed to any sporting teams/ events. BUT last year, I took the plunge and through a Facebook Mums group found a competitive women’s netball team. I wasn’t ready for the competition and thought it was a “fun mums-throw-the-ball-around kind of team. But I have been pleasantly surprised at how fun it has been getting involved, playing “real” matches and enjoying tournament days with the family coming along. A few of the netball ladies, during off-season, row in a dragon boat team so when season finished I found myself signing up to join the Blazing Paddles. It has been a lot of fun and great to do things alongside women from different backgrounds, of differing nationalities who have kids a variety of ages. Thankfully Hong Kong is a place where I feel “enabled”. There is a lot going on here and once you have familiarity it’s easy to get involved in hobbies and activities.
ADVICE on a BIG moving opportunity:
I would say just
“GO FOR IT!”
It’s a once in a life time experience.
Your family will thank you for it one day – for the ability to adapt, for the cultural experiences they get to learn along the way. For the crazy things they get to see….(wild cattle wandering between houses/ thunderstorms typhoons blowing over tv aerials/ mask-wearing when you feel under the weather just to name a few).
GIVE IT TIME!
I’d also say if you are moving, it takes time to adjust to a new environment. It took us over 2 years until we started to feel like our new home was really “home”. The kids also felt that way even being so young, they talked about our “Beijing” home a lot. If you can have family visit often I feel that also helps.
Bridget! I, too, look forward to drop off and pick up for that check in with other Moms who know what it’s like to have a child the same age! We wish your family all the best and continued healing for your son.
It was a pleasure to hear your re-locating story and it sounds like you will be there for a while:).