Minutes before 8:00 pm one night last week, I showed up at a workshop on Non-Violent Communication for which I had signed up for weeks before, paid a 200 HKD workshop fee, and taken a taxi there after dropping off some items for someone isolated in a quarantine hotel room several kilometers away.
Within a minute of showing up, I left.
I had looked forward to this workshop for weeks.
It just happened that my priorities shifted, and I realized that when I showed up.
The week before that night went like this:
On Sunday night – I was up until 1:00 am while my mother was contemplating her next step since her flight from Doha to Hong Kong got banned for one week, while she was on her way to Doha.
The following morning, I woke up with the sunrise, as I typically do, but not knowing whether she had rerouted through Singapore, Bangkok, the US, or chosen to stay in Doha one week.
The week proceed with meetings on Monday night, 7:30 am Tuesday morning, an emotional coaching session at 7:30 am Wednesday morning, singing rehearsal until 10:00 pm on Wednesday night with a commute.
My mom made it into a Hong Kong quarantine hotel that day.
On Thursday morning, I was back in town for an 8:30 am breakfast meeting. I made two exceptions to my normal rule of not taking meetings on Thursdays to have two business meetings I really wanted to have. By 6:00 pm, I had completed two intensely creative negotiations, each lasting more than two hours.
I then began a journey to the quarantine hotel meander through a web of pedestrian skybridges, crossings under onramps, and parking garages to visit four different entrances of the hotel, each one meeting me with a “quarantine hotel, do not enter” sign.
Around 7:30 pm, I succeeded in finding the provisions-drop-off entrance. By then, I'd clocked more than 9,000 paces that day, about 5,000 of them after 6:00 pm.
Then I caught a taxi to go to the workshop.
I walked in within 5 minutes of the start time.
The studio looked intimately lit and the big table with a thick black top sat in the middle of the room, a few people sat around it quietly conversing, rectangular yellow cards laid on it popping out from the black top, each with a word about some concept related to basic needs and other considerations that would be unpacked attentively during the workshop.
I felt my energy slow to a crawl.
Next to the black table, stood a small folding thin light brown table. Three colleagues and friends sat or stood nearby. "Hii," they greeted me.
“Hiii,” I said.
One friend introduced me to other participants I did not know, and I waved to the group.
On the way, I had inquired about whether there would be food at this workshop, as some previous workshops with this group had.
I saw two small trays of sushi in front one friend – trays of sushi usually sold for individuals.
No other food was in the room and I had not brought anything.
"I think I'll go buy something to eat," I said, not taking off my shoes and moving closer to the door.
"Let's share," she said in Cantonese.
"I'm gonna buy something to eat," I said, smiling and nodding, then replacing my face mask.
"We're starting in three minutes," said another friend.
"Yea, I gotta go," I said. I opened the door. "Byyee" I said on the way out.
I slipped into the elevator, left the building, walked across the street and into a shop that sells Sichuan style yam noodles in soup – a place I really enjoyed before, scanned the LeaveHomeSafe QR code – Hong Kong’s location, and sat down at a table, resolved and relieved.
I texted the group, letting them know that I felt too run down this night, had an early start the next morning, and wished them a very enjoyable workshop.
"Ok dun worry," replied one friend within a second.
The moment I left the workshop, I felt no fear about what they would think of me, of disappointing anyone, or being perceived as rude. My activities of the week had caught up to me and I did not need to be in a district with a 1-hour commute until 10:00 pm the night before an important 7:00 am meeting.
I could not picture myself patiently practicing non-violent communication in this state.
One friend wrote to me privately around 11:00 pm that night, asking if I was OK, hoping I got good rest. It felt warm and kind.
It had been an overloaded week and I found myself at a low point tonight, I shared. I felt it would be better to eat more and sleep more and thanked her for understanding, said I was sorry to have missed it, and said “Good night”.
The following day, another friend reached out, same questions.
I thanked her, told her I was feeling the love, and gave the similar explanation I shared with the other friend.
“Inspired! I’m learning to self-care more,” she responded.
By then, I had asked her “How are you?” and she had shared “Swamped,” and “Financial year end at work, a never ending to do list, needing proper rest.”
In our practice session with ‘discipline’ as the discussion theme, I shared a 60-second version of how I arrived and left the workshop.
“That took discipline,” said one of my Zoom roommates.
Discipline. Is it structure? Is it awareness? Is it knowing what’s most important in a moment and being OK if that’s very different from the plan?
Right after I left the workshop, I rescheduled the next day’s lunch meeting, giving myself space to think, prioritize, work on my collaborations, and to write clearly.