A letter to my 30-year-old self


You will be reading this letter after a long day at work in Shanghai. You’re probably feeling smug about the work project you’re working on and how your clients admire your lawyerly skills and your professional yet alluring appearance. You probably thought then your life was on an unstoppable trajectory and partnership in an international law firm was just a matter of time. You haven’t had a boyfriend for almost a decade, though there’s always been guys hanging around you waiting to be noticed. You weren’t sure then and will probably never be sure if marriage is for you. You thought you were at your best on your own and this would never change.

First things first. The only constant in life is change. There was no way you could’ve foreseen meeting S and moving to Prague to be closer to him, exchanging your high-flying career and exciting life in glitzy Shanghai for a different kind of adventure in a city with street names you couldn’t pronounce even after living there for a year.  You couldn’t possibly have known that in the space of 20 months, you’d find out the truth about S, break up with him and be retrenched from your job. The ensuing few years became the toughest and most character-building time of your life, making decisions you felt you had to make but weren’t best either for your career, mental or emotional health.

During this time of darkness and despair, you will move to Beijing, you will experience more setbacks in your personal life and career, you are humbled, you learn how to ask for and receive help, you hack through the dense forest of the global financial crisis, the resulting uncertainty and changes, and you reinvent yourself into a communications guru. You will take a job that you initially thought was dead-end, which turns out to be enjoyable, exciting and surprisingly fun. You realise it’s possible to have nice colleagues after all.

Bad news is, your love life will remain blank after S.  You eventually come to accept that even though it’s tough to be single and looking for love in your late 30s, you don’t have to accept the advances of unacceptable men. Your parents eventually learn to nag less about you finding a boyfriend because they’ve either given up hope that you’ll ever get married or they really can’t bear the idea of eventually meeting the man you choose to marry. Your friends and colleagues in Beijing will balk at the fact that you don’t look or behave your age, you’re still single, and it doesn’t bother you anymore.

I wish there was more good news in this letter, my precious 30-year-old self. I really do. If it’s any comfort, I can assure you that the next ten years will be challenging yet rewarding, frustrating and exciting in equal measure. And God will prove Himself faithful. You’ll learn to dwell less and less on what you don’t have and more and more on what you have. You’ll be less and less resentful and more and more grateful. In turn, you’ll be less and less depressed and more and more joyful.

Then you’ll realise being in this place was what you were looking for all long.

Lots of love,




Beijing vs Hong Kong

ImageI’ve been having quite a few conversations with my friends in Beijing about moving to Hong Kong. It all started a couple of months back when I was chatting with my colleague in Hong Kong about staff turnover in our team. She said they were having trouble finding a replacement for a colleague who’s finishing her secondment in Hong Kong end of March, so it’d be great if I moved to Hong Kong and took over her projects. I’d be closer to our department head and much closer to getting a promotion in the near future.  Because I didn’t see it coming, I was taken aback by her suggestion and gave a wishy washy answer that she interpreted as I’m open to moving to Hong Kong in the future.

I was in Hong Kong for 2 days this week for some meetings and training.  Less than 24 hours passed after I touched down in Beijing before my Beijing supervisor informed me I was going to Hong Kong again in early April for a regional meeting.  My colleague was over the moon while I sulked after hearing this news. 2 trips to Hong Kong in less than 2 weeks! I couldn’t help wondering if this was all part of my colleague’s ploy to get me to transfer to the Hong Kong office.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always enjoyed my previous visits to Hong Kong, be it a visa run or a work trip. The humidity is great for my skin, my friends there always take me to the best places to eat and drink, the shopping’s great and it’s nice to get unimpeded access to Facebook, Twitter, BBC and whatever website’s blocked in China.  I’d even think about moving to Hong Kong 6-7 years ago, but ended up in Prague instead.

After Prague, I moved to Beijing in late 2010.  In the past four years, I’ve seen more and more colleagues and friends leave Beijing for Shanghai, Hong Kong or their home country, citing the capital’s increasing pollution as their primary reason to move.  There’s been days when I’d wake up, look out the window, see nothing but a greyish/brownish shroud and start entertaining thoughts about leaving Beijing. These thoughts would grow in urgency if the pollution persisted for more than two days, probably because I start getting depressed after not seeing the sun for a while.  And just when I’d decide I’ve had enough, the wind would blow, the rain or snow would fall, transforming Beijing into this:

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Then I remember everything I love about living in Beijing: cycling on wide cycling lanes, Chaoyang Park, great hiking up the Great Wall, straight-talking, down-to-earth and nutty locals, the hutongs, my interesting, off-the-wall expat friends, politics, history, culture….

And my thoughts of leaving Beijing would once again be shelved into the deep recesses of my consciousness.

Hong Kong will just have to wait another day.