I Left Hong Kong (and my Husband Stayed)

What do you do when the Hong Kong lifestyle loses its allure, but a job keeps you tied here?  For one Hong Kong Mom, she made the toughest of decisions.  Cara Ng, a 20-year veteran of our fair city was ready to go — so she packed up herself and her two children and moved to her home country of Canada.  Yet, her husband stayed behind in Hong Kong and continues to work and live here. “We left for many reasons: pollution, education, politics are the big ones,”  says Ng.  “Hong Kong will always hold a large piece of my heart, but I know that the move to British Columbia was the best decision for our kids.”

As a passionate member of the Hong Kong Moms community, Ng is often asked for advice from families considering similar “separation” moves.  Here, she offers her insight and suggestions based on experience on how to best handle this difficult situation and support the children.

Move to a place that you would have the most support.   Be it parents/friends/relatives. This is not easy (it’s been successful for us, but not easy). It’s very difficult being the ONLY one your kids have to communicate with. You will hear, “Mommy!” about 7 million times per day. You will need to escape once in a while. Having friends/family nearby will feel like a godsend.

Treat yourself to enrolling the older kids into simultaneous camps. Whether summer or  various holiday camps, this will save you from running around all day. You will need the break!

This year, we did not enroll in ANY extra-curricular activities. I wanted to make sure that the kids settled into school and that we had time to “explore” our new surroundings. I wanted it to be a family experience — going out and trying new things, seeing new places.  I have LOVED not having to run all over the city taking kids here, there and everywhere. Now, we know what school is like, I know what the kids’ days are like and we can really think about what activities they want to do.

Skype is a life-saver!

Be aware that fantasy and reality are NEVER the same. The most difficult aspect of relocating was not culture shock for me — it was realizing that no matter how hard I tried not to build a picture of what it was going to be like for us here, it isn’t exactly how I thought it would be. Things that I worried about haven’t come to pass, while things that never occurred to me to worry about have caused issues.

Remember that while you may have friends and family where you settle, they have lived their lives without you being an integral part of it for a very long time.  People will tend to forget that you are there and go about their lives they way they have for years.  It isn’t personal or intentional.

Become as involved as you can manage with the kids’ school life. I have taken on organizing hot lunch for the entire school (517 kids) once a week. I also volunteer driving or supervising for field trips.  My kids have found this presence in their school lives here to be a big comfort and the changes in school to be less intimidating.

Realize that it can be very difficult for you to make friends.  In a place where people are not as transient and don’t tend to move around a lot, social circles have formed already. Breaking into them can be difficult and can take quite a bit of time. Being involved at school and meeting other mothers helps with this.


Be prepared to be a homebody at night. Childcare is very expensive, so you will use it sparingly.  This means that most nights are spent in front of the television or reading.  If you need your nights out on the town, you likely won’t get them.

Get a library card! Movie rentals are free and so are the books! They also often have activities for little ones during the day.

Know that you will have fantastic days, good days, so-so days and truly awful days.  That’s normal.

Make sure that your spouse knows that having bad days is normal.  And that you are not complaining or regretting the decision simply because you are unloading on him after a bad day.  You don’t expect a solution — only an ear to listen.

Know that when your spouse visits, it can be difficult, too. You have been 100% responsible for the kids and all day-to-day decisions regarding them. When your spouse visits, it can be difficult to let that go and allow the spouse some of the decision-making again.

When your spouse does visit, do not allow it to disrupt the routine too much. If the kids walk to school on their own, ask the spouse to walk them for a couple of days, but after that, have the kids walk on their own again. Otherwise, when the spouse leaves, the kids expectations of you will remain the same. If the kids normally unload the dishwasher, make sure that they continue to do so when the spouse is there — it allows them continuity and routine.  (Note: It has been brought to my attention, by a dear friend who is also living apart from their family, that perhaps this is a very selfish perspective. As such, I will re-evaluate this one and speak to my husband about this. Thanks, dear friend, for being so honest with me!)

Go easy on yourself.  This isn’t an easy decision or an easy life.  Know that you will mess up.  Your kids will mess up.  You will cry yourself to sleep.  But it can also be amazing for the kids! Know that you are working towards a greater goal. Reunification! Make your kids part of that! Treat yourself once in awhile. Order take out. Get a massage. Get your nails done.  Whatever it is that gives you that much needed “me” time.

Start a “gratitude, thankfulness and happiness jar”.  And set a pen and small pad of paper beside it.  All of you write down, as the mood strikes you, things that you are grateful for, happy about or thankful for.  They can be simple:  I’m grateful for the smell of freshly cut grass!; cinnamon buns make me happy!  I guarantee that when you are all having a bad day, opening that jar and reading everything inside it to each other will make you all smile, remember why you are doing it and give you strength to carry on.  This has been a life-saver for us — and something I heard about from another Hong Kong Mom.

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