Hong Kong. I never included it as a travel destination in any of my lists. None of the Asian countries, to be honest. The flights are likely to be tiresome, I’m not a huge fan of warm climate, the culture and daily routine will be unfamiliar and unwelcoming, people don’t even speak English, right? One of the ways to find out was to apply for a place in #DMUglobal trip and see for myself.
There will be a separate post with some of my favorite photos, it’s not ready yet. With memories still being fresh, it seems like a good idea to share some of my observations and thoughts. Naive me even brought a notebook to write down little comments during the trip. As it always seems to happen, neither there was the time nor energy for that. This post would be different if I would write it while still in Hong Kong, but I guess you can’t say that the experience is complete till you go back to where you came from and see how much everything has changed.
Let’s start from the beginning. The flight to Hong Kong was 10 hours, but it took 13 to go back to London. I love flying, but nobody likes to be seated in a tiny space for such a long time, right? When I was flying back from Canada the flight was 9 hours. However, both of the HK flights felt more like a holiday than the actual holiday – round of applause for Cathay Pacific. They served delicious vegetarian/vegan dishes, fresh fruits, a wide variety of snacks. An impressive selection of music, TV shows and films (and usually I’m the first to criticize these things) kept us entertained all the way through the flight. We received blankets, pillows, personal headphones and device to watch all the stuff on. Nothing compared with my Canada flight which, until now, I thought was decent.
My favorite thing to witness, no matter which country or city I’m visiting, is how different everything looks the first and the last night there. We landed at 6AM Hong Kong time. If you haven’t been to a different climate country before, you might not know, but the air feels different when you get off the plane. I love those moments, you never really know what to expect. I knew that HK air was supposed to be more humid, but I didn’t expect to enjoy that. It wasn’t that kind of humid that makes you feel like you’re a walking puddle. I was worried about the weather being too hot and sunny with me having to spend all the time trying to stay in the shadows, but it was nothing like that. Sun was shining pleasantly and even when the temperature went considerably high, it felt nothing like painful Mediterranean heat.
The hotel we stayed at is located in, I would say, suburban area. It turned out to be a good thing. I always seem to learn more when exploring behind the scenes of the city rather than perfectly polished tourists hotspots. The hotel itself was very nice and fancy. You wouldn’t expect anything like that from university trip. We also received breakfast every morning, my favorite part of the day which made waking up so easy!
Subway (or underground, as we call it) system was easy to understand, less complicated than London’s in terms of changing the lines. All you have to do is to get off the train and walk across the platform rather than wander through the countless amount of tunnels and pathways. They use Octopus card, it’s very similar to Oyster in London but more advanced. You can top up your Octopus and then use the money when paying for food, groceries etc.
Taxi is cheap in HK, it will cost you about £10 to get from one side of the island to another which is only £2.5 if there’s 4 of you. From what we saw, drivers don’t really speak English, but if you show them Cantonese name of the place you want to go – they will take you there.
FIRST THOUGHTS – ‘TAKE ME HOME!’
After arriving to the hotel we had some time before check-in opens, therefore city exploration had to wait. We decided to have a little walk around the suburb. I remember thinking ‘oh no, how am I going to survive till the end of the week’. Everything somehow seemed very dirty and unfamiliar. I don’t think that we encountered a single person who spoke English. The street market was full of live fish in little white containers, raw meat could be seen hanging from the ceilings of the shop and local food places offered to try fried frog legs and other rather interesting parts of animals. We found one menu that had an English translation but ended up having our dinner at McDonald’s. No English communication there either. I felt no inspiration whatsoever.
At the beginning of the week, I felt like a lost sponge, walking around, absorbing sunlight and culture, but not sure how to process all the information I was receiving. Lack of sleep become my second nature. But let’s compare the first day to the last – wandering through the familiar sea of colors, happily floating through the textures, sounds, and scents of HK. It’s weird how on the first-day locals looked annoyed and unfriendly when the last day was filled with smiles and light conversations. People chat with you on the subway, smile in the streets, if you greet them they will greet you back and try to show directions even if you don’t speak the same language. As mentioned above, I was worried about the language barrier. Hong Kong proved what everyone says anyway – language is not the most important part of human communication. Yes, it’s dominant and it makes things so much easier, but one smile or light head nod can mean more than a bunch of words ever will.
I felt this painful lack of inspiration before the trip. The connection between me and my creative side was buried underneath zillion of deadlines I had the week before. Hong Kong gave me answers. It’s like we all carry an invisible bunch of boxes within ourselves, filled with things about ourselves, that we’re still yet to figure out. Every time we visit a new place, it gives us a key to unlock one of those boxes. HK unlocked at least three. I always used to think of myself as a very open-minded and thoughtful person. Surely, this was that one part of my personality that needed no improvement. I’m not so sure anymore. Hong Kong taught me that sometimes we are so used to doing something certain way, our way, that we are completely oblivious to other options available.
If you know me long enough you know that I have this thing for the monochromatic shades and color combinations. Even my personal style is often a mix of grey, white and dark shades. Colorful outfits and accessories? Never heard of these. In HK something switched. I was wearing yellow, orange, blue, red clothes and it felt great!
It took good two days for my brain to process the fact that I’m in Asia. I completely lost track of time on other continents, lack of Wi-Fi connection prevented me from replying to my emails or thinking about work stuff. I felt like a stranger in Hong Kong – to myself and to the others, but I also finally felt like myself. Weird concept, right? But it was exactly what I needed.
University did a brilliant job when it comes to travel arrangements. I can’t remember going on a trip before that was organized for me by someone else. Normally, I would feel anxious about hotel and travel, however, DMU and Study Trips staff seemed to have everything under control. Hotel was really nice, we received topped up travel cards for Hong Kong’s MTR (subway), a smartphone from the hotel with mobile data to navigate our way through the city, a lot of baggage space and even delicious breakfast every morning. All the directions were clearly communicated and smoothly planned. It felt great being a part of #DMUglobal group. We would constantly bump into other DMU students or staff members when exploring HK. To me, #DMUglobal is so much more than a trip. It’s a global community, a way to explore foreign cultures from the inside. You won’t easily get a chance to visit foreign country’s university, court, have dinner with local professionals etc when traveling by yourself.
DEAR HONG KONG,
Thank you for allowing me to experience the tranquility of your temples and beautiful religion. Thank you for reminding me that nature is a friend. Thank you for teaching me that it’s okay to fall if you know that there is someone waiting to catch you. Thank you for showing me that some conversations can be like a walk on sunshine – pleasant at first, but few moments too long and you will burn. Thank you for reminding me that when you listen, you hear and that most of the time, dancing doesn’t require music.
After this trip, Asia doesn’t scare me anymore. I want to visit Japan, mainland China, go back to Hong Kong, explore Vietnam, Philipines and much more. I still can’t quite wrap my head around, how the first evening I was walking in a strange and dangerous place, but leaving Hong Kong felt like leaving home. Hopefully coming back will feel just the same.