Happy New Year!
Ever since this blog began I have written something on New Years Day, a reflection of sorts on the past year. Through the years my posts took on a familiar pattern, summarizing top recipes (back when I published more recipe posts) and moving into a reflection of my travels that past year.
When I look at what I wrote last year, I can’t help but chuckle. So little did I know . . .
And that’s a wrap! What a year. As always, nothing is predictable and you never know how your year is going to turn out. We never would have expected the crazy geopolitical events happening around us. In some ways I feel like it’s been A LONG time since I’ve lived and worked in Boston. In other ways, I feel like time is zooming by and I can’t believe I’ve already been here for two years.
We take each day one step at a time. You never know what surprises might come along. Here’s to 2020 and all that it brings.– Jen from Tiny Urban Kitchen . . . . . January 2020
. . . “and all that it brings.” Yep, that about sums it up.
This year has been undoubtedly different. We did not step foot in the US for the first time in our entire lives. We have not seen family for over a year. We have not left Hong Kong since March.
Though we can’t travel for leisure, Bryan also does not need to travel for work, which has been an unexpected blessing. We have spent a TON of time together – whether it be hanging out at home over home-cooked meals (or delivery!), or exploring lesser known parts of Hong Kong between lockdown waves.
I’ve also picked up classical piano again, started “painting” with the Apple pencil, and cooked more this year than I have the last two years combined. I’ve focused on my Mandarin studies and I can actually see progress, especially in my writing, which was so, so difficult for me.
We have re-connected with old friends through Zoom, and I’ve secretly enjoyed not commuting every day on the crowded Hong Kong subways. One of my favorite aspects of working from home is the ability to enjoy lunch with Bryan every day at home.
It’s unclear what next year will bring, and I have no idea if it will be better, worse, or just different. I’ve learned not to expect anything, nor take anything for granted. I constantly remind myself to appreciate and be thankful for my current situation and what I have now.
Below are highlights of this strange year. Instead of sharing about my various travels, it will be about how we navigated ever-changing pandemic “lockdowns”, “re-opens”, and various day-to-day restrictions.
January – Thailand and Initial Covid Inklings
In terms of months, January was the most “normal” month of the year. As I look back at what we were doing, I feel a bit nostalgic and sad at how so many of those things came to an abrupt, unexpected stop.
We did things that seemed so normal back then, but impossible since then . . . . like visiting Dafen Village, where we sat in the alleyways of this artist village in Shenzhen and painted with the help of a teacher.
Or our annual trip to Thailand, where we caught up with old friends, tasted fantastic food, and just enjoyed being outside without a mask. Although people still weren’t wearing masks regularly at that time, we were already aware of the virus and wore masks during our flight.
I will never forget the fast progression from mask-free to full-on masks. It happened within a week in late January right before Lunar New Year. I distinctly remember looking around me and seeing how many people were wearing masks on the subways. I personally began wearing a mask starting around Wednesday that week. When Bryan came back to Hong Kong on Thursday, he said “maybe I’ll wear a mask today.” By Friday, the whole city was covered in masks, and every other person seemed to be a disease-carrying suspect.
A few days later, Bryan left for a week long business trip in Belgium. I stayed behind, spending time with some friends from China who were seriously considering not going back, due to quickly escalating situation in Wuhan.
And then I got the call. Just like my friends from China, Bryan was also advised by his boss not to come back, but to stay in Belgium instead.
I’ve never done this before, but I booked an airplane ticket to leave in less than 48 hours. I hastily packed (including packing some more things for Bryan!), and off I went, not knowing when I would return.
February/March – Stuck in Europe
February was an odd month. As we watched the pandemic unfold in China (and the panic that ensued in Hong Kong), we felt a bit insulated from all that. Europe seemed relatively safe at the time, so we actually had the opportunity to be regular tourists. Not only did we explore Brussels (where we “lived”), we also visited nearly towns Ghent and Brugges, as well as took longer excursions to Paris, London, and Amsterdam. I’ve written about our European adventures in more details at this post.
It was a surreal time. As the situation globally got worse, our original plans (to visit Northern Italy, Spain, and the US) got canceled one by one. As mid-March rolled around, things started to look bad even in Europe.
We scoured around looking for flights and managed to book one of the last direct flights from Brussels to Hong Kong. We arrived back in Hong Kong just in time to enter Hong Kong’s second lockdown.
April – 2nd Wave: A Month of “Lockdown”
Hong Kong locked down soon after we came back, entering its “second wave”. It was tough coming back, and I had to figure out how to live under these new circumstances. Jetlag and general pandemic tiredness got to me, and I hardly exercised during those first several weeks at home.
Finally, near the end of the lockdown, we began to hike, and had the opportunity to visit some beautiful places in Hong Kong.
May/June – Opening Up
In May and June, the number of cases in Hong Kong hovered close to zero. People let out a sigh of relief, and life began to get back to normal.
I started physically going back into the office. Churches, movie theaters, and gyms opened for service. We tentatively began dining out again, and eventually, even sharing meals with small groups of friends. I continued to cook a lot at home, making chive dumplings, quinoa chips, Chinese pumpkin cakes, and much, much more.
There was sadness in May, however, as I found out that an old friend from college had died in a plane crash transporting coronavirus supplies to a remote village in Indonesia. It was quite a bit to process. She was a pilot, doing what she loved and serving people in one of the most remote places in the world. She knew being a missionary pilot was her calling in life, and she trained for 10+ years to prepare for this difficult and specialized job. Why did she have to go so soon?
It was therapeutic to grieve together with old friends over Zoom, and we re-connected with so many college friends during that painful time.
A stunning rainbow that appeared during a sunny rainstorm in June reminded me that God was in control and that things would be OK.
July/August: Third Wave Lockdown
In July Hong Kong cases began to rise again, and we entered our “Third Wave.” During that time, I began to order organic vegetables weekly from a local Hong Kong farm.
Life in lockdown wasn’t that different from our earlier lockdown, though we had gotten more experienced. We knew how to navigate and manage the plethora of take-out and delivery options, which grew and grew as the pandemic worsened and dining restrictions increased. We started to figure out which places we liked the most. Some of my regular go-to lunch delivery spots included my weekly Din Tai Fung fix, falafels from Maison Libanaise, banh mi from Le Petit Saigon, and knife shaved noodles from Shiwei.
In June we also had fun being interviewed on a podcast with my friend Joe from Saverocity Observation Deck. We had a lively conversation about Hong Kong, food, the pandemic, and much more. Here is a complete list of restaurants mentioned in the podcast.
September/October – Opening Back Up
Things finally improved in September and we had a really enjoyable couple of months where life felt like it was returning to normal again. We were thankful that this “safer” period included our anniversary and both our birthdays, allowing us to actually go out and celebrate those moments.
During the October Golden Week Holiday, we took a week of “staycation”, exploring Hong Kong by hiking, biking, and visiting its small fishing islands and geoparks. It was a much needed time just to get away and enjoy nature.
November – Fourth Wave Begins
My memories of early November are warm and pleasant. Church had re-opened, and we were able to celebrate the baptisms of several friends. Bryan and I even attended our first symphony orchestra concert (masks on at all times!). We also enjoyed other lovely celebrations with smaller groups of friends, such as for Thanksgiving and also my birthday.
Two days after my birthday two things happened: I twisted my ankle and Hong Kong went into its fourth lockdown. In some ways, it sort of worked out that I couldn’t walk very well just as the city was becoming less accessible to me anyway.
December – A Distanced Covid Christmas
In December we spent our first Christmas ever in Hong Kong. I ended up getting in touch with my artistic side, making my own Christmas tree out of a yoga mat and collaborating with my Chinese teacher to illustrate a book as a gift for Bryan.
On Christmas Day we Zoomed for hours at various times to connect with family all over the US. We opened presents over Zoom, chatted with some friends, and overall had a very chill day.
We took the whole week off between Christmas and New Years just to relax. This time, because of my (still) recovering ankle, we couldn’t take any longer “trips” within Hong Kong. It’s tough for an active person like me to sit still (!) but the lockdown does make it easier. Can’t wait to get back onto the hiking trail!
And just like that, 2020 vanished into the night. I’ve learned not to expect anything, because you really, really have no idea what will happen next. Last year, after an unprecedented period of unrest in Hong Kong, everybody was looking forward to moving past 2019 into a new year. Little did we know what was in store for us. Similarly, we really have no idea what next year holds. Therefore, I live day to day, being thankful for each day as it comes.
Let’s appreciate those around us, and try to bless others a bit each day. I personally hope to be more mindful of that this coming year.
Happy New Year!