Drops of sunlight pour through my window, warming my face as I blink my sleep away. I hear a distant rumble of morning traffic, the din of a thousand ambitious souls marching to another 14-hour work day. It’s a hopeful sound, fueled by promises of wealth and prestige, dripping with determination and valour, and endlessly beating onward.
Red. Yellow. Green. Back again.
I stretch and yawn. My roommate, Emi, stirs.
Outside, this is the fast-paced, monotonous, eclectic life of a Hong Konger. Right now, inside a damp little dorm-room that smells like wool socks and tangerines, all is quiet. Even though we have no heat and the morning is chilly, it feels cozy somehow. It’s home.
This is life in Hong Kong-- a constant clash of stop and go. And I’m living it. I listen again to a layer of mournful silence picking at my eardrums. There are no chirping sparrows or cardinals outside my window. Though the nights are warm, the fields which should be filled with crickets are silent. These skyscrapers are a monument to the tenacity of mankind, to his cunning and dominion over beings he deemed lesser. Dominion for now. I see flashing neon lights and a red and yellow double decker bus zooming by in my mind’s eye. Scenes from the night before. All that remains here is the endless buzz of industry.
I love this city.
My mother looked at me quizzically when I told her I wanted to study in Hong Kong. Why Hong Kong? Why not Paris, London, or Sydney? I could have told her I wanted to save money, or that I wanted to learn Chinese, that I wanted to eat lots of Dim Sum, or that I wanted to challenge myself by experiencing a culture completely different from my own. But I would have been lying. I wish I could tell you that I chose on rational grounds, that I crafted carefully color-coded spreadsheets filled with dollar signs and cost-benefit lists. But, I sheepishly must tell you that the principal force urging me to Asia was an ingrained contrarianism which has propelled me forward (and landed me in trouble) since childhood. I wanted to do something different. There, I said it. How original I thought I was!
Yet I haven’t regretted it for a minute.
In my first month in Hong Kong, I have met some of the most intelligent, fiercely independent people I have ever known. That’s what travel is really about, anyway. It’s not about photographs or sightseeing, or even new philosophies you are exposed to along the way. It’s about the people who touch you and the way you made them feel. I know that’s what I’ll remember most.
There’s no way to predict what the next four months will bring.
Carefully laid plans can be erased in an instant.
More monasteries, nights out with friends, nature preserves, bungee jumping and looking for weird buildings to sketch. A trip to Port Elizabeth, then Taipei. A two-week excursion in Komodo, then Borneo, and a million small miracles that hide in the mundane, waiting to be noticed.
An old woman in a pink skirt smiled at me on the underground today. Yellow flower petals drifted lazily in the wind near my favorite street market. Lanterns from the lunar new year festival cast a soft velvet glow over a glittering black fountain. This city is full of magic, especially at night. It’s so big, such an intimate place. Everywhere I go I am a stranger, totally forgettable, and every alley is my own private stage.
Sometimes I like to climb up the peak across the street to watch the action from afar.
I remember empty stares in an elevator car;
I wonder what they were thinking of.
I see eight million lives as intricate as my own,
Eight million pairs of eyes looking upwards,
Tensing against the waves, leaning into the storm,
Pushing, pushing, pushing,
I’m far away from everything I’ve ever known, and I miss home;
But I don’t ever want to go back to the way I was.
Suddenly I realize, home is not a place. It’s with the people who really know me.
The joy lies in how deeply I laughed, how carefully we listened, how deep our silences, how generously I gave my time and money away.
I’ll never leave this citadel.
We are totally free, and I am the luckiest person in the world.