Photo by Zoe Chen on UnsplashAFTER A CHAMPAGNE-FUELED FLIGHT from Vancouver to Hong Kong, I landed with a foggy head and a serious case of exhaustion. But stepping out into the city’s tropical humidity, the fatigue rolled off me like water. For the duration of my bus ride to Hotel Vic, I gaped out the window at the vertical jungle of skyscrapers and steel and gawked at the harbour filled with hulking cargo ships. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. It was my first time ever in Asia and already I was hopelessly in love.
I had spent the majority of 2018 taking care of my hospitalized mother. She had ended up in critical care several times after complications following a routine ileostomy surgery. The year had been rough, to say the least. My mental health had taken a hit, as had my career. There was little time to do anything other than worry, and as such, my wanderlust had disappeared into the great unknown. But I wasn’t going to turn down a work trip to Hong Kong when it came my way, and so I set off on an epic 30-hour journey from Newfoundland to Asia.
Photo by Simon Zhu on Unsplash
As it turns out, that wanderlust hadn’t disappeared; it was just dormant. I felt a spark reignite the moment I wandered through the open-air markets in Sham Shui Po, avoiding hawkers selling discounted electronics and clothing, and side-stepping people laden with shopping bags. I watched as a young woman sipped her drink and rearranged her rainbow assortment of fruits for sale, and I stopped to observe a butcher hang bloody chicken carcasses outside his shop. I paused for sweet tofu pudding at the Beancurd Factory and then ordered a cold brew coffee at Café Sausalito.
Although Hong Kong is a posh metropolis of big business and banking, Sham Shui Po is one of the few neighbourhoods to mostly escape gentrification – that said, my guide Larisa insisted the café was a good sign of things to come. Nevertheless, the area is a good place to get acquainted with the chaos of Asia.
Snacking through Sham Shui Po
Sham Shui Po is also the home of Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong’s legendary dim sum restaurant serving Michelin-star meals at low, low prices. You can spot the place from a mile away: the storefront is crowded with locals and travellers all vying for the next available table. A parade of food began the moment I sat down. For an hour, my colleagues and I popped shrimp dumplings, BBQ pork buns and spring rolls into our mouths. The Lazy Susan was on constant rotation as we were served plates of pork spare ribs and pan-fried turnip cakes. I laughed at myself while fumbling with the chopsticks, but Larisa waved away my embarrassment.
“We all use them differently,” she said. “As long as you’re eating!”
Oh, and did we ever eat. Food was a constant thread through the duration of the trip. It didn’t matter if I was eating a gourmet meal at the contemporary Fu Rong restaurant or chowing down on fish balls from a street vendor on Temple Street, each experience was new – sometimes absurd – and always wonderful. Since then, I have bored my friends to tears with tales of Hong Kong dim sum and xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) that burst open in your mouth.
Joshua Rawson-Harris on UnsplashBut then, in the early morning of my third evening in Hong Kong, my boyfriend broke up with me via Facebook Messenger. (Yes, actually.) When I finally dragged my sleepless body out of bed – my head stuffed with cotton – I pulled back the curtains of my room overlooking Victoria Harbour and thought, “At least I still have this.”
Lantau Island views
Photo by Jason Cooper on Unsplash
That morning, I swallowed my heartbreak, put aside my fear of heights and hopped into a glass-bottomed cable car that whisked me from Tung Chung to the Ngong Ping Plateau on Lantau Island. I had to press my head between my knees a few times as we soared up, up and over the teal waters and into Lantau’s green hills, approaching Big Buddha – the giant bronze Buddha watching guard over the island. A few weeks prior to the trip, my ex had told me all about Big Buddha, having visited Hong Kong several times. The irony wasn’t lost on me. But I had popped some anti-anxiety pills to deal with the cable car ride and as a happy consequence, I floated around the village and the Po Lin Monastery like a starry-eyed tourist, snapping photos of anything and everything.
Photo by John Leong on Unsplash
On Hollywood Road, a colleague named Brigitte and I wandered off to explore the shops on our own. Our goal was souvenir shopping but after hastily leaving a third shockingly expensive jewelry shop, we decided to step off the traffic-choked road and into a narrow side street. Down a steep alleyway, slipping on cobblestone, we found ourselves surrounded by outdoor vendors selling all matters of hokey trinkets. It was exactly what we were after.
Markets aren’t typically my thing; I do not enjoy haggling or being harassed by vendors. But it was quiet and calm here. The sellers smiled politely as we browsed. In a tucked away shop filled with porcelain, I purchased a tea set from an elderly woman who didn’t speak a word of English, yet the transaction was pulled off flawlessly. I felt proud for immersing myself in this foreign place, and once again thankful to be there.
Hong Kong was captivating in more ways than one. Finding ourselves in the middle of Typhoon Mangkhut, I became grounded on the continent far longer than my return date. I didn’t mind. After checking into my airport hotel the evening before my flight, I flung open the curtains to find a sunset view of ships and boats drifting past. I swear, I could feel my poor little broken heart slowly pulling itself back into one piece. The sky was alight with pinks and purples and reds, and the vessels chugged along quietly toward the horizon, offering a surreal, dreamlike quality to the landscape in front of me. And just like that, I became a traveller again.