Read the previous chapter: “Telling Stories”
I came back to understand why they say the lucky ones get to leave.
When we were nineteen, my close friend, Rose, left Hong Kong, looking for space to grow up. It was only a matter of time. Ever since I could remember, she had been telling me how stifling Hong Kong was. I asked her why. “You grew up in Singapore. You won’t get how it feels to spend your whole life in Hong Kong.” I know a thing or two, but am hungry for more. When Rose’s grades sent her to a local university that hovered on the outskirt of the world’s top 200, it was her cue to leave.
Rose made sure the world knew about the fantastic life she lived outside Hong Kong. Her first night-out, makeup with wobbly eyeliner and white foundation, her first kiss, the bearded white guy she lost her virginity to, her first yoga session, the first of her many business internships, moments with every one of her sworn siblings—all documented on Facebook. For about a month, I also received Snapchat updates from Rose throughout the day, until I deleted the app after realising I was only one of the hundreds of followers getting her Snaps, or whatever they’re called. She Skyped me the details. “I did it! I finally had sex.” I faked a lost video connection in this facepalm moment. Rose had always been eager to lose her virginity. I even had to talk her out of fucking that tea salesman at her summer job. When she finally satisfied her curiosity, I was relieved. She had told me she was seeing this white guy with alleged yellow fever. Rose said his ex was Shanghainese. I gave her the obligatory, “How was it?”
“It wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.”
That first time opened the floodgates to multiple white men, although Rose admitted she had never made more of an effort to stay fit, dress up and paint her face than she did with her first. “One day,” said Rose, “I just decided that being hot didn’t matter anymore.” As a young teen, Rose gushed about how gorgeous Caucasian men were. “Local Hong Kong guys don’t even come close!” But the floods of white men have either been too fat, too skinny, too old, or too grubby. Her selection of partners weren’t exactly winners in the looks department. Still, I was happy for Rose, who—thank God—didn’t just experience the world through her vagina. Rose creates. For a while, it was home-made jewellery. She captioned photos of her creations until she got good enough to make roses look less like mangled wires. She has also been sketching. Her emaciated self-portraits with heavy smile-lines make you wonder if there was something she wasn’t telling you. She looked old. “What do you mean ‘old’? That’s what I look like now”, Rose said defensively. She was an exchange student in Germany, and a business intern in San Francisco. While studying abroad, amateur yogi Rose was everything but employed. “My dear sister, learn to live and love freely,” she told me. And because she always tells me how I am one of the few who understands her, I censor myself. I never said “‘independence’ does not mean living off of your dad’s credit card”. It means you stop waiting for something to happen.