I tucked my ball point pen and took out my passport in the hope of not trying to be clumsy while falling in line at the Hong Kong Immigration. My toes have gone red from wearing high heels all the way from Mactan, Cebu. I schlepped a step or two moving my fifteen kg luggage closer to the immigration counter.
It was my turn. The Immigration Officer was clamoring, “One pah! One pah!”. Without the hand gestures, I would have really thought she meant I was traveling with a bad luck on my passport. She was only trying to say she’s entertaining one person at a time.
Because I do not have a Chinese tongue aside from the simple Xie Xie and Ni Hao Ma, the encounter with the Immigration Officer taught me to rely on nonverbal cues and broken languages in order to survive the trip. We took the Airport Express Travel Pass to Kowloon. I unfortunately had to battle with my luggage again from the MTR Station to the ground floor where the bus station is. I finally took the K4 bus bound for Tsim Sha Tsui where I was staying. I was expecting a long wait before the bus would be full but no. Buses in Hong Kong have no issues leaving even almost empty.
Hong Kong is like a grab bag of trains, buses, cabs and subways. Transportation moves around lifeless buildings like bugs crawling for food in long queues. Every station however has instructions and directions written so I wasn’t too intimidated.
From the moment I stepped out of the bus, I figured out that it’s seriously cold in winters. Fellow travelers wore things that looked like they were made of duvet. Locals of both sexes lit cigarettes around busy street sides. The cold breeze whiffed in and out my unmentionables. And I’d like to state for emphasis that I was already on my fourth layer of cloth.
At the Mc Donald’s, I gestured with my head and lips to signal the front register that I did not have any other orders to place. I brought my tray of burger and walked towards my seat. There were two observations that I made: one that food chains in Hong Kong are solely for eating (read: no teenager leafing through a John Green book and no casual conversations), second is that you should be ready for local fast-food stalls ignoring you if they don’t like you. I cannot hold contempt over their way and culture of dealing with people of different race but it is certainly extremely annoying trying to follow what an outlander is trying to tell you when you are not so used to the language.
After Tsim Sha Tsui, I crossed towards Central, Hong Kong to continue my urban trek. I glimpsed at the crowd of locals and tourists alike and sneaked glances at the towering hotels the likes of Giorgo Armani. I saw local femmes in fiery auburn tresses and Korean sock buns though their fine eyes and pale skin gave away a distinct Asian feel. Quite unlike citizens of the tropics (like me) who wear clipped onyx hair and have taste buds used to higher sodium content than them.
Double-decker bus and right hand-drive cabs rushed along the highways. Engines starting up, jabbering tourists, and the tiny voice inside my head told me there was more to see.
At times it smelt like freshly opened can of mackerel and at other times, the aura of a hustling Times Square. The things that I felt the most however were my four-in-hand knotted scarf that added warmth and my exhausted phalanges from the overwhelming walks.
By night, everything looked like lights promenading from one building to another. Jaws dropped and upbeat emotions cascaded as we walked towards the highest peak of Hong Kong looking over the city. However, reaching there only made it even colder.
Among all this though, Hong Kong had a way of surprising tourists with entertaining shows and great attractions. I walked of the Avenue of Stars, visited The Peak, Madame Tussaud’s, Ocean Park, Disneyland, and several others. They create undeniably perfect replicas of the things that matter to the world – Main Street, USA in Disneyland, North Pole in Ocean Park, the celebrity wax figures in Victoria Peak, and even the house of Tarzan.
I usually like discovering a more ‘local’ thing to do and not be restricted to the “touristy” stuff only. So I gave a buy-and-microwave-it-yourself meal that’s a favorite among the locals a try. I talked to the long-time residents, the kind that comes atypical from when you buy souvenirs from a shop. Some of them were Singaporeans while the others were Caucasians, Pakistani, and Indians. They were immigrant residents or overseas workers who choose to live and travel with an open mind to know different cultures. Thanks to them!
The van rides back to the Airport run by Middle Eastern folks were a fraction lesser in cost than the regular single ride of MTR. I gave them a shot. They helped carry my now 20 kg luggage at no extra charge, and made sure I was comfortable the whole time, smiled and were polite. That’s when I realized I don’t always have to believe what the culture news say about other countries.
About the author:
Syril Tañala is the ultimate travel junkie. A nurse, blogger, travel show host aspirant photography enthusiast, with inclinations towards fashion, she’s a travel writer who is inspired to bring Tacloban on the world’s travel map. She blogs at Pens and Paper.