Thursday, July 24, 2014

3 Life Lessons from a Hong Kong Summer

When I decided to move to Hong Kong, there were plenty of things about this lovely little place that had never occurred to me.  In particular, my Midwestern pea-brain did not fully comprehend that although it is part of China, Hong Kong is technically in Southeast Asia and it is a tropical climate.  I’m not sure what I expected, but oh boy was I surprised by what I got.

I may brag about the 70 degree and sunny December days, but now that it’s July, I’ve got my tail between my legs.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love Hong Kong, but after two summers here, I figured it was time to stop complaining. I’m finally ready to face the heat and the humidity with humility and see if I can find meaning in my temporary physical suffering.

Perhaps it is just my deluded desire to take the negative and turn it into something productive, but I realised that dealing with summers in Hong Kong actually has taught me a lot about life.  I thought I would share a few key lessons I’ve learned recently and what they might mean outside of the weather forecast.

1.  Just because the sky is blue doesn’t mean it’s not raining.

First of all, I mean this completely literally.  Summer in Southeast Asia is rainy season, which means no matter what colour the sky is or how many days in a row it has been raining, there are absolutely no guarantees.  The sky’s determination to secrete water is unpredictable and undeniable.  The clouds move swiftly and vindictively, so if you aren’t prepared with an umbrella at all times, you will get soaked.  The good news is, there are 7/11’s on ever single corner and every half block in between, and there’s a Circle K across the street from every 7/11, so there’s usually a solid backup plan if you get caught protection-less.

What has this really taught me?  Never take things at face value.  Always be prepared.  And if you’re not prepared, know what your options are (7/11 or Circle K?)  Just because things are going swimmingly now, doesn’t mean there isn’t a T10 typhoon waiting for you around the corner… 

2.  You don’t actually want it to be sunny.

Having lived through a lifetime of brutal winters in Chicago, Boston, and New York, I have been conditioned to believe that sunny = good.   What could be bad?  Summer sun evokes romantic images in my mind of playing in the sand on the beach, frolicking in the grass, soaking up rays with friends, laughing over picnics and bonfires and sunsets.  

Early in the erratically cloudy Hong Kong summer, I found myself resenting the rain and yearning for blue skies and sunny days.  Then, I got what I wished for and I learned my lesson:  When its 100 degrees fahrenheit and 100% humidity, you do not want it to be sunny.  A day at the beach in the HK summer sun is a recipe for skin cancer, multiple days of dehydration, and intense fatigue.  

Especially when it comes to startups, traveling, and relationships, we always have romantic notions in our mind of what the ideal experience would be like, if only the conditions were perfect.  Sometimes, we are lucky enough to get what we want, only to quickly discover the reality is far from what we had imagined.  

3.  You may think you don’t smell, but you do.  I 100% guarantee it.

I don’t care if you have never been “a sweater” or if you use investment-grade deodorant.  I don’t care if you just showered, or if you took a taxi here.  It is summer in Hong Kong, and you smell horrible.

I can say this because it is completely true for myself.  I used to be one of those people who could run for miles and barely break a sweat.  I never understood the difference between antiperspirant and deodorant, I just bought whatever had the best perfume.  Consequently, I spent one year in Hong Kong assuming that smell was not coming from me.  I spent another year thinking I was probably the only person that could smell myself.  Now, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I stink and everyone knows it.  And guess what?  You do, too.

I recently read a great post on the importance of facing your ego and acknowledging your own motivations for doing a startup (check it out here).  Besides our sometimes savoury scents, there are a lot of things about ourselves we are afraid of facing: we are selfish, we are mean, we are scared of failing, we want to be needed, we need to be valued.  The beautiful things about admitting these otherwise shameful realities is that you’re not the only one.    

Accepting your body odor, your vanity, or your selfish motivations won’t cure you of them.  It will, however, liberate you from dwelling upon them and wondering if they’re good or bad or relevant at all.  It will free your mind to move onto more productive tasks.  It will also remind you that sometimes if you want to get things done in Hong Kong during the summer, showering three times per day is just plain essential.