Today we’ve got a special treat here on Modern Love. One of our regular contributors, Shannon Young, joins us to talk about her recently-released memoir, Year of Fire Dragons: An American Woman’s Story of Coming of Age in Hong Kong.
I was privileged enough to read Shannon’s memoir pre-publication. I loved her rich and detailed descriptions of Hong Kong and admired her brave sense of adventure as a young expatriate. Here’s a bit more about the book…
When 22-year-old Shannon follows her Eurasian boyfriend to his hometown of Hong Kong, she thinks their long distance romance is over. But a month later his company sends him to London. Shannon embarks on a wide-eyed newcomer’s journey through Hong Kong—alone. The city enchants her, forcing her to question her plans. Soon, she will need to choose between her new life and the love that first brought her to Asia.
Shannon, tell us about your book and how and why you came to write it
Year of Fire Dragons is a travel memoir about the year I moved to Hong Kong to join my long distance boyfriend. We met during my study abroad semester in London and dated long distance for two and a half years before I finally got a job in Hong Kong where he was living. A month after I arrived, his company sent him back to London.
The book follows the first year I spent in Hong Kong during which I tried to hold on to our relationship and plans together while falling in love with the city itself. I started writing for the first time that year, primarily to help me process all the new experiences I was having. At first, I pictured the book being more travel-oriented and descriptive, but the thwarted romance and personal journey ended up providing a more compelling plot.
Where are you now? How does your life look similar to and different from the Shannon we get to know in your memoir?
I was 22 during the year the book takes place. I think that’s a pivotal age for a lot of people. 22-year-olds are typically just out of college and have all kinds of expectations for what their adult life should be like. Often, things turn out differently than expected. They certainly did for me!
In the memoir, I am coming to terms with changes, both in my circumstances and in myself, that would come to define my adult life. Instead of being a book editor in New York City or London (my original plan), I taught English for five years to pay off my student loans and I’m now a full-time writer of memoir and post-apocalyptic fiction (under a pen name). I still live in Hong Kong, I still love this city, and I think I’ve come a long way toward carving out my own place here. And for a quick spoiler: I’m now happily married to the man who brought me to Hong Kong!
You were in a long looooooong distance relationship during this period. What are two things you think your long distance relationship taught you that help your relationship today?
The key thing is, of course, communication. Long distance relationships are great for talking about your thoughts and feelings apart from the mundane aspects of everyday life. Now that my husband and I share a home, we still need to communicate just as clearly, and we’ve had lots of practice.
The other thing I think I’m still learning is how to keep a balance between focusing on your own interests and acting as a couple. In a long distance relationship, you have a lot more time to do whatever you want to do without worrying about what the other person wants. It’s surprisingly easy to be selfish with your time. Now that we live together, we get to spend more time together, but we’ve also established independent interests that are healthy for us to maintain. Being long distance also allowed me to get to know Hong Kong (where my husband grew up) on my own terms.
What did you learn about yourself and your relationship through the process of writing this memoir?
I tend to be pretty confident that I know what I’m doing. It’s definitely a humbling experience to have other people read your writing and recognize that you still have a lot of work to do. I declared the book finished on more than one occasion, but smart people (and distance from my work) showed me all kinds of ways to make it better. Just to give you some idea, the first time I decided the book was finished it was 88,000 words long. It’s now 75,000, and a lot of the current words weren’t in the original “finished” draft.
Just like I thought I knew exactly how my life would look when I was 22, I have also thought at various times that I knew exactly how my writing career should progress. New opportunities are constantly changing that perception, and I’ve learned to be a lot less close-minded about the right path for me. I’m learning to recognize that even though it’s good to be confident, it’s helpful to acknowledge that my plans, circumstances, and desires can always change–and that’s okay!
As for my relationship, the same principals apply. We are constantly changing and maturing in our lives together. Our family circumstances, employment statuses, and health will not stay constant. We need to constantly work on understanding each other, how we process our feelings, and how we react to the world around us.
Shannon, thanks for joining us today and sharing some more of your journey. I checked out your Seabound series and it looks intriguing :). Modern Love folks, you can pick up a copy of Shannon’s memoir here.