by Caroline Roy
When we moved to Hong Kong in January 2004 from London, it looked like happy couples surrounded us. Admittedly, I chose to see it that way, as we were on our honeymoon with Hong Kong, with our first baby, good friends and a promising career path for my husband. We felt we won the lottery with our helper and were happy to have time as a couple.
Then, on December 26th, 2004, a devastating tsunami wiped out thousands of people in south East Asia. Amongst those was one entire family we just had gotten close to. I will never forget the memorial gathering we hosted for them in our house after my new soul mate, her husband and her beloved baby all had died together in Phuket.
Another friend lost her husband and her mother in that catastrophic event. The trauma of loss and chaos was present in many moments to come in Hong Kong. We were reminded that glitz is at the surface only. Underneath, the same themes that have concerned human beings for centuries are at work every minute we are walking this planet: the search for purpose, the fear of death and death itself, and our inborn respect for those unpredictable forces we will never fully understand.
Loss and separation can be extra difficult for people who came from far away to work and live in Hong Kong’s super world of appearances. From expatriates and Hongkongers alike I hear: when you lose a partner through accident or sickness, people shy away, not knowing how to be with you, what to say, and how to integrate a grieving person into their lives. Divorce presents different social challenges and it can get legally complicated too. If you are here on your partner’s dependant visa, you may have to leave. But then, the kids will almost certainly loose their relationship with one parent. Some sudden singles are very successful in managing all that, but it takes extraordinary resilience, talent and the willingness to sacrifice.
The question what do you do if your family unit falls apart in a real or a personal tsunami never quite left me. It took us six or seven years to even talk Plan B. We were so absorbed by other, legitimately important questions, that addressing our personal Plan B fell through the cracks. For years I had no idea what I would do, should anything happen do my husband. I was clueless about finances. Would I be able to survive in Hong Kong until they finish school or would I need to relocate? Where would I go? London was already too expensive by then. I had not lived in Germany for 25 years – what would I do there? Uncomfortable thoughts at the beginning, but we nonetheless developed a Plan B.
Once we created our plan b on all fronts from writing a will, thinking through various school scenarios, an alternative place to live and a retirement strategy, both of us felt that a nagging, subtle source of stress had been removed. Even better, we could make some strategic life decisions such as moving and buying real estate, because of insights we did not have before. My motivation and energy for tying up lose ends – entirely learned behavior, as I am neither a pragmatist nor a closure type – grew exponentially. I still have a lot to learn, but we are in a good place when it comes to planning and understanding who we are in practical terms as well. Now we enjoy Hong Kong more, because we know what to compare it with. Even this blog is a result of creating more time to write, one of my priorities that always came short.
For three months now, resources – now renamed Plan B – have consulted and met with single expats and locals in need and have helped to clarify affairs on various fronts. It has been an eye opener how uplifting, energizing and liberating it is to create clarity in life – regardless of personal circumstances.
Living with clarity over our physical, family and financial health, our legal status and also our cultural identity can turn things round. Advisers, consultants and coaches all make the same experience: the self-sabotaging state of denial works for a short while only, but soon it is draining and prevents us from progress in whatever field is we want to grow. But once you start addressing the fundamental questions in life, you gain new depth and energy.
What makes a good Plan B? It may only be a different perspective, an adjusted expectation, an alternative strategy to what you are doing now. It may be an alternative place to live, a new career, a different school for the kids, and an unused source of income, a different retirement plan, a decent health insurance and most importantly good friends. Once you found your personal base in this complex world, you can think about how to turn your Plan B into your second Plan A.
Hongkonqueror readers have helped to build the hongkonqueror’s Plan B, our new charitable group of Hong Kong volunteers with diverse professional and personal backgrounds who are here for single parents and expats in need. We help to create a working Plan B when Plan A didn’t work out.
We are presently looking for more volunteers with legal and immigration expertise.