Four years ago, almost to the day, my roommate at the time and I sat in our living room, marveling at the flashing lights, bendy dancers, dragon heads and fireworks. We looked at each other and said, “Whatever it takes, we are going to BE at the Olympics in China!” Irony of all ironies. That former roommate was here the week before the Olympics started. What may be of even greater shock to her, and probably to many others; I have not paid one iota’s bit of attention to the Olympics. I did not watch the opening ceremony. I have not picked a “favorite” athlete to cheer on. I didn’t even participate in an Olympic protest. And you all know how I love a good protest. I could not tell you what sport is being played today or tomorrow, despite the Yahoo reader that seems insistent on keeping me informed. What I have paid attention, however, has been the Olympic Countdown.
I moved to Hong Kong on September 1st, 2007. My first week here, I set off to explore my new neighborhood. I came upon a lovely park just a few blocks from my flat that I have come to enjoy not just because it has a free standing McDonald’s ice cream stand, but for the semblance of quiet it offers in this overwhelming city. And right smack dab in the middle of this park, there it stands. Tall, flashy, neon. Embodying all that is Hong Kong. The Omega’s Official Olympic Countdown Timepiece. Now, it should also be said that the Countdown Timepiece in the park near my house is not the only one in this city. I know of at least two others of the same size, and there are at least two smaller versions in the airport alone. You can’t walk past the Timepiece without walking in someone’s photograph – I’m the white girl forever ingrained in someone’s Olympic Countdown Timepiece Memory.
For a year, this clock has faithfully been ticking away the months, the days, the hours, the minutes, the mere seconds until the Official Opening Ceremonies in Beijing. Every time I would pass by The Timepiece on my way to yoga, or while seeking solitude in a deafening city, the neon red numbers would blink back at me. ~tick~tick~tick~ “Its almost time,” it would whisper to me. “Get ready. Its almost the big day!”
Now, before I you think I have completely lost my mind and have started talking to inanimate objects, let me explain. Even from the day I arrived, I knew the day that I would leave. I knew stepping off that plane that in 15 months I’d be flying back in the opposite direction. Since being here in Hong Kong, it hasn’t slipped my mind for a moment that this, my life in Hong Kong, is not forever. There is a clock ticking. The months, the hours, the minutes, the mere seconds – they are faithfully ticking away. ~tick~tick~tick~ “Its almost time.” Almost time. Somewhere along the way, I figured out that my departure date from Hong Kong was exactly 100 days after the Opening Ceremonies. So with each day that dropped away from The Timepiece, I knocked off another day on my own personal countdown. When there were 118 days till the Opening Ceremony, I knew that in 218 days I’d be boarding a plane State-bound. When The Timepiece glared 74 days, I knew that in 174 days I’d be mid-Atlantic, watching an outdated movie I hadn’t seen yet. But when That Timepiece hit 1 day, I realized I was about to cross over into new territory. Double-digits. Tangible time. I can look at my calender and see an actual departure date.
And now The Timepiece stands still. Alone. Quiet. While the rest of the world roars in excitement over the Games. In my head, a new Timepiece has been erected. The red neon lights faithfully shed away the days. Soon I’ll be coming home. Though honestly, home is one of the more intangible things in my life right now. The Countdown began the moment I stepped off that plane. Only now its beginning to feel real.
“Sometimes you count the days, sometimes you weigh them.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert