For me, that city is Hong Kong.
It begun as a spur of the moment trip booked just a week prior, and turned into the most revolutionary and character-changing trip of my life thus far.
April 13, 2016; the flight. Now normally, long haul flights are not that memorable and more often than not, you will find more people sleeping than conversing. That is usually my method as well. However, this flight was just a small introduction to the wonders that would await just over the Pacific. I bonded with two men, one in a seat in front of me, and the other behind me. One of the guys was a 20 year old with the same sense of wanderlust as me; he was going to Japan for a year long internship, the other was a 29 year old visiting his long distance girlfriend. We talked for hours about the brilliance of traveling, though the older one said he was surprised I would go alone at such a young age. But, I am a force to be reckoned with!
After the flight landed and we all were about to head our separate ways, the younger man ran to catch up with me and said, “I just want to say, you are something special. You’re unlike anyone I’ve ever met before, and I hope someday we meet again.” How could I forget that? I have a list of insecurities that is longer than Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but to be told that its my personality that makes me stand out was something I will could never take for granted.Those words make me want to be better, they make me want to drop all self doubt and realize that I am something, at least to someone.
April 14: Day one. Arrival: 6.38am. Upon exiting the airport, I found my way to a very cheap bus to take me to Kowloon. The bus was two floors, and so I immediately went to the top so I could take pictures of all the new sights during the 1 hour and 20 minute journey. I had been obsessively looking at pictures of Hong Kong on Instagram multiple times a day, and seeing it in person was more beautiful than I could have imagined. I used to hate big cities, and prefered rural lands and parks much better, but Hong Kong was a world on it own. It was a big city, and a park, and a wonder of the world. At just after 8am I dropped my backpack off at my hotel, Silka Seaview Hotel, and went off exploring. Only 3 hours later I met up with an Instagram friend (an incredible photographer and person) who took me to a restaurant where we met up with his girlfriend and then went to two giant malls, one was 14 stories and I still can’t get over that. When they went to work, I went to the Ladies Night market, a very hot tourist spot. Normally I avoid tourist areas at all costs because I want to see the REAL city, but once again, the Ladies Market was amazing! All the veggie friendly street food was to die for! The steamed buns are now a constant craving that I know I wont be able to have fixed until I go back. After the Ladies Market, I checked out toy stores for my dad, but found nothing that would interest him too much, but its fine because going to toy malls were a trip on their own! Floors upon floors of incredibly detailed action figures and novelty toys.I got back to the hotel at around 10pm; a full 14 hours of walking around.
April 15: Day two. Began at 8am. I decided to walk to Nan Lian Garden, because then I would be able to see more. I’m a firm believer that everything is in walking distance if you have the time and on this trip; time is all I had. Nan Lian Garden and the Chi Lin Nunnery were the most unique gardens I have ever been to, and I’ve been to many gardens I’ll tell you that. It was a place of peace and tranquility placed right in the middle of high rise apartments and a bustling city. It showed me that people that are always on the go, seek refuge to escape the constant busyness of city life. I was unaware that a zen garden and a busy city could coexist with such perfect symmetry. I never knew how liberating it is to have absolutely no time constraints or itinerary, and how freeing it is to wander aimlessly through an unknown crowded city with nothing but a transit card and money to get you by. The one thing I did know, however, was that Hong Kong would change my entire perspective on life and seriously reduce and completely diminish my anxiety. Never in my life have I felt so calm, yest excited at the same time. Maybe it was the Buddhist temples I went to, or maybe I am changing with each new city I see and each trip I take. I am whole.
After leaving the gardens I went to Temple Mall for lunch and a little bit of window shopping before heading off to Sik Sik Yuen Temple. This temple was full of tourists but it was extremely vast and beautiful. As I was leaving, two middle aged Asian men ran up to me very giddy and motioned to their phones for selfies. I absolutely love that kind of attention so I was very down! The men gave their phones to what I presume to be their wives, and they took a multitude of pictures of us. I was starstruck at that point because of the sheer cuteness of it all. I feel like I was born to be a celebrity. Maybe one day!
I got on the Subway (so unlike myself!) to Prince Edwards station. Originally it was because I heard there was a cool toy store on one of the streets, and I was on a mission to get my dad a gift. But the store was not there. Only loads of street food. I bought some fruit from a cute little old man who graciously gave me giant a beautifully colored bananas. Upon realizing I was not going to find a toy store, I gave up the search and just wandered down what I would consider to be the true local Hong Kong. Nothing was written in English anymore, and kids were playing in the street. I saw few cars, but absolutely no taxis which reinforced my idea that I had wandered very far from the city. I stumbled upon, what else, but a 12 story mall at the end of one of the roads and obviously had to go in because I know how great their malls are. But this one was so unique! It was comprised of a maze of small little rooms with themed goods and a single seller. It was like a 12 story garage sale, but with new items. While I loved the set up of it, I did feel completely awkward standing in front of the seller and looking at but not buying anything.. Sorry, I’m cheap! I left the mall some time later and walked around this unfamiliar area until I found a street name I recognized. I’m was gifted withe having an amazing sense of direction, maybe its because I often go hiking and switch trails multiple times, or maybe its because I walk everywhere and have learned how to tell the general direction I’m headed. science!!! I walked back to my hotel, grabbed some fruit and showered because man on man it was hot outside!! I decided to take my hotel’s free shuttle bus to the China Ferry Terminal so I could explore Kowloon Park. The park was massive and there were so many cute little character statues. I took pictures of each one individually, because what else! I spent the rest of the day in the Southern part of Kowloon until I went to an overpriced vegan cafe, another mall, and the multitude of shops on Nathan Road. When the sun went down I headed north to more Night Markets and more steamed buns, my new love. It was a long day, and it was a great day.
April 16: Day 3. Began the day at 8am. I took the tram down to Central Station and walked to Hong Kong Park because it was still too early for things to open. Getting to the park was an adventure on its own because I could not for the life of me figure out how to reach it. I ended up walking on a street until the sidewalk ended and I was literally on a highway. At that point I was about 99.9% sure I was an idiot. I wandered around the park for awhile admiring its beauty. I love being able to see high rise buildings between the trees. The waterfall at the park was so lovely and at just the right angle you could see the whole city behind it. I wandered over to the pier where I met a super cute dude who Lives in China as a nanny and the kid he was watching was adorable! We talked for a bit and he told me that he hoped to see me in mainland sometime soon. The people I meet abroad are always so kind and interesting. It makes me eager to travel more if only to see the land they saw for extended periods of time. I continued to wander and explore until I got tired sometime after it got dark.
April 17: Day 4. The most memorable 15 hour day. I woke up quite early and decided not to waste precious time since I only had a day left. I walked down to Victoria Harbour at sunrise, and the fog was hanging so low but moving so fast and it was an absolutely breathtaking sight. There was one other man standing near the sea for as long as me and I could feel our connection as we both shared the appreciation of the beautiful world we inhabit. Sometime later, a guy came up to me to having a conversation, he was very kind and we ended up going to get Starbucks together and then we went into a station and he played the piano for me. When I headed off I walked back to the hotel and got stopped by some weird guy who sold suits and wanted me to come with him to look at the suits he designed. Then he told me he wanted to keep in contact so he asked for my number and facebook info and I said no because for some reason it sounds like a scam????? Sarcasm. Of course it was. I told him I cant text international numbers and I have no wifi for facebook so he went so far as to turn on his Hotspot so I would add him right there. I just said I had to go and I pretty much bolted out of his small room. Why did I go in in the first place? To nice for my own good.
Then I went back to Causeway bay and hung out around the upper class area of Hong Kong. I felt way under dressed! I went to Times Square and walked around that giant mall there and got hooked up with some free food samples and it was incredible. Once again, sorry guys, I’m cheap! When I bought actual food from a restaurant, and woman and her daughter asked if they could sit with me, which I openly accepted! She told me about her life, from being born in China and moving to Canada and then moving to Hong Kong because of her husbands job. Her daughter was 8 years old and wanted to learn english, and if I could have been her private english teacher I would without a doubt. Too bad I cant get a visa that way! I later met up with another Instagram photography friend, and he took me to the most brilliant places I never would have found without him. First we went to a very small own on the Southernmost part of the island so we could take pictures of different architecture. I was the only foreigner there, which I love!! We walked to another little area where there was access to a beach and a medium sized waterfall. It was a sight I was unprepared for; just beautifully breathtaking. We took pictures there and hung out for a bit. Next stop was to get in a taxi and head to Sai Wan Swimming Shed. A wedding photoshoot was going on there so he and I were having a hard time taking pictures of the island and empty dock. But once they left he took pictures of me on the dock bridge. It was SO windy on that bridge. Like I literally felt like I was about to get blown away.From there we watched the sunset, and I am not the same having seen the sun set and the moon rise from the other side of the world with a friend from social media who became a friend in real life. A friend I will never forget. Then we went on a two-story trolley (unique to Hong Kong and cant be found anywhere else) to the main ferry terminal and we took a boat back to Kowloon. Seeing the city lights ahead and behind us was a humbling experience. Looking at everyone on the boat I realized that every single one of those people are from some area of the world, traveling so life doesn’t escape them. They all have their own problems, however insignificant, and we are all individuals in a species dominating the globe. When we got off the boat we tried to find a vegan ice cream shop but unfortunately it was closed down, so we hopped on the metro and parted ways.
The following morning, I had to leave, and it was pouring rain for the first time. Quite fitting for the emotions I was feeling. I got on that hour and a half bus again and waited for my plane to arrive while talking to a man who told me that he’s proud that I have a sense of wonder and a deeper level of thinking than others my age, including himself at my age. He told me that I’m going to make it far with easy going, globally minded, mature personality; how uplifting those words we to me.
On the flight, while standing in the back, a man asked me if I was on my way home. And honestly, no. I will never be completely at home in America, since my heart will always be elsewhere. But I guess that’s the price I pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.
In 15 days I will be packing up and finishing up my life here in America and moving to Korea, a place where I am happy to call home; a place only 3 hours away from Hong Kong.