This is the story of how I, a girl who likes to travel, fell in love with a city she never wanted to visit.
I’ve heard countless of stories about Hong Kong of course.
About the malls with their fancy, branded boutiques and the markets teeming with good buys. The never-ending food, from dimsum to yakitori to egg waffles partnered with ice cream. The view at the Peak, the junk ride across Victoria Harbour, the nightlife in Lan Kwai Fong, the rides in Disneyland.
Most Filipinos fly out to Hong Kong for their first trips, and I guess that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t want it to be mine. It was two hours away, a crowded city brimming with dimsum and shopping. I have that here in Manila. So I flew to Cambodia instead, got lost in a couple of more countries after that. Needless to say, Hong Kong wasn’t on top of my travel priorities.
And then, like in some twist of fate last year, I got assigned to handle the local publicity for their tourism board.
I spent hours researching, brainstorming, pitching and fielding media requests on a city that I never even once considered on visiting. I had to understand what makes it special, what makes it tick, what makes people come back for more.
Most of all, it was this: I had to love it like it’s my favorite destination.
A few months back, before I quit my job, I accompanied a local TV show to shoot an episode in Hong Kong. I was on business mode, concentrated in making sure the ten-member team was on time and shooting Hong Kong in the best light.
And then, something happened in the four days I was working:
I fell in love with Hong Kong.
Maybe it was the allure of being in a city I’ve never been before.
I wanted to wander around the streets and explore the secrets of the city. I wished for it to unfold in a way I’ve never experienced in all those stories I’ve heard, photos I’ve seen and publicity materials I’ve read. I craved for my version of a Hong Kong that I’ve never had before, never thought I would want before.
The trip was packed with work as early as 9AM to as late as 10:30PM. I wasn’t getting paid overtime for it and I definitely felt overworked at one point, but being in a new city was enough to keep me going.
In an effort to make the most of it, my colleague and I set out one night to walk around after a long day of shooting. It was almost 10pm and yet the city was still spilling with merrymakers wrapping up on the sidewalk.
We wandered aimlessly, fighting off the biting cold and the fatigue that was kicking in. We paused at a stall selling egg waffles so I can finally try one, then we walked further to a bodega, hoping for a tin can of the Chinese New Year candy specials.
I’m not sure when we decided that the night was a bust. There was a half-eaten egg waffle, stashed between a book and a travel journal in my bag. I also had a pair of clichéd Hong Kong magnets as pasalubong, thanks to a strip of souvenir stalls in the Ladies Market. Ironically, it reminded me of a tiangge back home.
We ended up nowhere when we wanted to go somewhere, defeatedly walking back to the hotel.
This time, the sidewalks are almost empty and the stores have shut down. We passed by a street topped with Christmas lights and dark corners with men offering us things we didn’t want.
There it was, the question that plagued me the whole trip: what do I really want? From life, from people, from my career.
It was easy to love a place I was leaving, a city that was going to be taken away from me after four days. Not because I signed up for just four days, but because somebody else gave me that opportunity. They had the power to decide my itinerary, my meals, my activities and when I should come home.
I guess that’s also a part of where my love was coming from: The reality that I had leave soon and that I had to come home.
That I had to face reality, go back to work and sit in my workspace while trying to ignore my wanderlust. There was the longing to travel, to see more of what the city has to offer beyond what was being given to me. But I had responsibilities to go back to and I had to be the person I didn’t want to be.
Someone who tried to convince her self that her love for travel was just another passing fancy. That she had to live a certain kind of life while feeling sorry for herself and wanting to be anywhere else. The kind of person who put aside what made her feel alive, tampering down the fire in her belly and living a life smaller than what she wanted.
These days, my life revolves around the things I love.
Writing, the kind that fills up my soul and the kind that makes me grow. Traveling, both on the road and through reading other people’s words. Listening, to what matters to me and to what matters to other people.
And I’m going back someday.
Not to who I used to be. God, I hope not.
But to the city that I didn’t get to know in my own way. The one that I flirted with and somehow fell in love with.
I hope to see you again, Hong Kong.