Going Back to a Home I Never Knew
Thirty-three years ago, my mother fled Hong Kong for the opportunity of a lifetime in the West. When I made the reverse move, we both learned more than we ever expected to about where we belong.
Illustrations by Janny Ji
“It’s a totally brand new city. I don’t recognize anything,” my mom says, gazing wide-eyed out of the decades-old tram and into the chaotic streets of Hong Kong. “I never used to take the ding ding. It’s so slow,” she complains as the tram operator rings the bell twice to alert pedestrians nearby — emitting a characteristic sound that gives the tram its Cantonese nickname. “But actually it’s kind of nice. You can take your time to see the scenery around you.”
It’s been 33 years since she moved from Hong Kong to Toronto and four months since I did the opposite. This is how I became my mother’s tour guide in her own hometown.
The crowded streets that are familiar to me are now unrecognizable to her. I guide her through the modern subway system, which was constructed after her departure, and advise her on the best bus routes to take when she meets up with her old school friends. We walk together through Central, the city’s financial district, among 70-story skyscra…