July 22, 2019. 2:30 pm Hong Kong Time (UTC+8).
I was standing in line quite a distance from the departure gate, waiting as the procession of people being roll-called for boarding moved sluggishly ahead. In my boredom, I took quick glances at everything around me: the grey but clean and wide dome of the airport terminal; the rows of seats next to me that were slowly clearing out as fellow travellers took their places in the line behind me; the kiosks and free-standing stores that sold books, coffee, and those duty-free souvenirs for loved ones in other lands; and most importantly the large plane outside, fitted in red and white livery, a line of windows yielding no secrets to its inner contents, its prominent nose, wings, and tail protruding in all their glory. This was the aircraft that was poised to transport me – and hundreds of other passengers – away from this city, and directly to the other side of the world, where we’d next expect to step on solid ground fifteen hours later.
I determined that I’d seen enough of everything, and I returned my attention to the phone in my hands. It was open, as it often was, to a Discord server that I shared with my friends from high school. Stories were being recounted, inside jokes told, laughs shared, as they all had been done for many consecutive days – but today, my friends were sending me off virtually, wishing me a safe flight and telling me to come back and visit them someday. We had last hung out just the other night, but that was the last time we’d get to gather in-person for the foreseeable future, and we were deeply missing each other.
As the line gradually approached the gate, I glimpsed at the large electronic signpost that rose from the floor like a mini monolith, presenting short pieces of information on its screen pertaining to the flight.
Flight from Hong Kong to Toronto. Boarding Now.
This was it. I was heading to Toronto, the city that would serve as my home base for what might be the rest of my life. The next time I returned to Hong Kong – if that would ever happen – I would no longer be a resident of the city, but rather a visitor who would only stay for a brief period of time, preferring to reminisce the Hong Kong that I once knew than to embrace the city in its contemporary form. It felt weird knowing that this marked the end of an era that had lasted all my life, from my birth in a hospital in a suburban part of the city and through a childhood and adolescence where I’d traversed the city and experienced much of what it had to offer.
And it would be years before I got to see most of my friends in the flesh again. These were the people with whom I had spent the past few years and shared some of my best memories. No longer would I be able to call upon them – or they upon me – to hang out on a weekend and go bowling or grab food in some bustling part of the city. Any jokes to be told, any laughs to be had, any games to be played would all have to be done in a virtual space, where we could never really feel each other’s presence no matter our efforts. Perhaps I would make new friends over the next few months as I settled into university and gradually forgotten about them in favour of my geographically closer social circles. Certainly, my ties towards them would slowly thin out, not least because of the geographical distance but also due to the time zone differences, me being at least twelve hours behind those of them who chose to stay in Hong Kong for university.
But alas, it had to be done. I had always planned to leave Hong Kong after high school, to return to Canada where I had family and I had citizenship. I suppose, then, that the best I could do was absorb the pain of departure and strive to keep in touch with my friends. Even far apart, we could try our best to stay close and maintain our friendship on a daily basis; thankfully, we already had a Discord server for that purpose. That gave me hope – as long as we all made an effort in this regard, we’d remember each other until the next time I returned to Hong Kong and could be a physical part of the group once more.
Having had my passport and flight ticket checked, I walked past the doors and into the gate. There was no turning back now – I was boarding the plane, my gateway to the next stage of my life, and it would be quite a while before I would once again step on Hong Kong soil, if ever. All I had in my mind now was a goal to embrace the future that presented itself in front of me – to make the best of the new environment that I would find myself in just fifteen hours later – but also to neither forget my old friends or the excellent memories that I’d shared with them.