Almost 16 years ago to the day, I woke up in the YMCA on Waterloo Road, scared I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.
Weeks earlier, I had quit my job in Washington, DC, moved all my belongings to my parents’ house in Chicago, and then packed a couple suitcases to bring to Hong Kong.
I arrived at the Waterloo Road YMCA late one night in early June, 1994, with nothing but those two suitcases. No plans of where I’d live beyond my three night reservation at the Y, no job, no work visa.
To make matters worse, I had sat next to a young American missionary on the Seoul-Hong Kong leg, who spent hours telling me how I’d never find an employer willing to sponsor me for a work visa. (I had applied to a few graduate programs in Hong Kong, and had only heard back from one–a rejection.)
The Y, as I remember it, wasn’t white as it is in this image from the 1960s, but rather a grimy gray or a downright brown. My room was so small, I couldn’t get out of bed on one side, as the bed touched the outer wall. The tiny desk seemed to wobble from the weight of the television perched upon it. I worried the legs would give out while I was sleeping.
On that first morning, after leaving the Y bright and early, I searched the classified ads to find an apartment. By 3 p.m. I had signed a contract to sub-lease a broom closet in a high-rise condo overlooking the South China Sea. Later that month, I interviewed for and was offered a job as the circulation manager at a magazine publisher. At the same time, one of the universities sent word that I had been accepted into their graduate program in government and public administration–with a two-year student visa.
But back to that first day in the Y. After I returned to my room later that afternoon (it was 4 a.m. Chicago time, after all), I turned on the television and saw that O.J. Simpson was in bad trouble.
My uncertain future in Hong Kong didn’t seem so worrisome after all.