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Despite serious pollution, the American crocodile has found its home in the Rio Grande de Tarcoles. (Alex Ip for The Xylom)

A Home Away from Home

On the other side of the Pacific, I have found my home.

 

繁體中文版

 

Costa Rica is not Puerto Rico.


The first person I met in Costa Rica reminded me not to mix up the two places. Despite their alleged shared affinity of reggaeton, the former is a Central American sovereign nation, the latter an unincorporated territory of the United States still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Maria and political turmoil brought by Telegramgate.

Costa Rica is not Las Vegas.

Contrary to my mom's repeated insistence, Costa Rica is not located in the Mojave. It has been named by National Geographic as one of the happiest nations of the world, not because of all the gambling and partying and drinking, but probably because of Pura Vida (the lifestyle which literally translates as Pure Life), scenic views, and biodiversity.


Costa Rica is not Hong Kong, nor the States.


As I would spend six weeks on the other side of the Pacific alone on a service project advancing Climate Action, armed with nothing but broken Spanish phrases, I couldn't believe that I could find my true home — for now.


 


The timing couldn't have been more perfect.


I have been studying in the States; On May 3rd, I returned to Hong Kong, where I had been born and raised, for my first summer break as a college student. I had planned to leave for Costa Rica in Mid-June but was forced to push back the date three weeks to allow for last-minute maintenance work done at the project site. Now I would leave on July 6th, then hop on the plane to Atlanta, GA the day after my project has ended to start my sophomore year of school.


When I returned to Hong Kong, I felt uneasy. Sure, I liked the city, its hustle and bustle, its world-class almost-everything, its people. My people. But there was always a dark cloud hanging over us, just like the volatile weather outside of the skyscraper apartment our family was renting. Living in Hong Kong could be stressful for a lot of reasons, from unaffordable housing to long working hours to a lack of social mobility. Moreover, our political outlook has been looking bleaker by the day. That was perhaps why I had been so elated when I received two scholarships to study abroad; I thought that the grass was greener on the other side, the skies bluer, my future brighter in the form of a world-class education and possibly a work visa or even a green card a few years down the road.


What would Hong Kong become the next time I go back?

But when the government decided to put forward the Extradition Bill, all hell broke loose. Many fear that the Bill will topple what has remained of the firewall between Hong Kong and Mainland China. Simmering public anger erupted in the form of mass protests reaching up to two million people, and confrontations with increasing intensity and creativity.


Because of my rescheduled flight, I have been able to attend many of them with my parents. Still, the time had come for me to leave midway through the ongoing movement; I would not return in six months. I wished my people all the best in fighting the good fight. But could I survive in Costa Rica? How would I change? What would Hong Kong become the next time I go back?


 

Two flights, one terrible thunderstorm, and twenty-six hours later, I landed jet-lagged and disoriented at the Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría.


Costa Rica is indeed not Hong Kong. Traffic is still a problem as in many places, but then you remember that the largest interstate highways are only two lanes wide on either side. Air conditioning does not exist in many households. Costa Rica is fifty times larger than Hong Kong but has only two-thirds of the population.


Upon closer inspection, Costa Rica does resemble Hong Kong in some ways. Most cars that skitter along the roads are produced by familiar Asian brands such as Hyundai, Subaru, and Toyota. Made-in-Hong-Kong oyster sauce — affectionately called Chinese sauce by local Ticos — is used in meals. Some Asians open general stores and restaurants, where I could freely converse with them in Cantonese, Hong Kong's official language.