It was a muggy, hot, long day to explore Hong Kong, and Lord knows we were tired. The air-conditioned beds in our hotel room and the rooftop pool were calling us, but the streets and the people of the bustling city were way more enticing. I had never been to any Asian countries before – despite all my travels, something about this city was just… remarkably different.
Maybe because of its size? This former British colony, though seemingly overwhelming, is actually just a little bit smaller than the city of Los Angeles, and they’ve had to compensate for its small size by building endless skyscrapers up instead of out. These buildings were full of rich, colorful culture, with people and food and art and history everywhere you looked. When I was searching for things to do on my birthday, I came up with WAY too many options. Ancient Chinese temples, endless dim sum, hiking Victoria Peak, outdoor markets, beautiful beaches, hidden speakeasy bars, parks, galleries, ferries, tea houses…I wanted to do it all, and we only had a half a day! It is one of my larger regrets that I didn’t get to visit one of the many small islands peppering the coast – Yim Tin Tsai, affectionately known as Hong Kong’s “Ghost Island” called to me, as did the famed island of Macau, an atmosphere I’ve been told is somewhat akin to the Sunset Strip or Las Vegas. However, as pleasant as a long boat ride against the cool ocean air sounded, I wanted to discover something a bit closer to home.
My best friend Elaine taught me so much about her home, even before I got the opportunity to visit. Her spirit of joy, her work ethic, her fire for justice, her love and hospitality, and her strength in her beliefs all illustrated in my mind what I thought the city would look like when I got there. Much as I love my friend, her character was just a small glimpse of the feelings I had in Hong Kong. On my 22nd birthday (the best birthday I’ve had, to date), we took the train into Old Town Hong Kong (don’t ask me exactly where that was because I was just following Elaine) and explored through alleys of used things – furniture, paintings, little red books, costume jewelry, paper fans, and so much more. I walked by dozens of herb shops and tea houses, and we even discovered a tiny bookstore that had a secret second level! I think my favorite discovery was a Valentine’s day card for $20 HKD that had gravestones on it and said “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” Definitely regret not buying that card.
What I remember about my short time in Hong Kong isn’t the traffic that held us up while we were driving past the protest, or the tension in the air caused by political turmoil. I remember my best friend’s family buying me an entire birthday dinner of some of the most incredible food I’ve ever had. I remember every person there having an easy smile, regardless of my broken Cantonese. I remember people who would leave no one behind, and an atmosphere that felt like home, even though my home was over 7,000 miles away. I remember a genuine love for music and passion for their beliefs…a dangerous passion, but a fire that rightfully deserves to burn bright.
I am privileged to have experienced this city, and blessed that I have a voice to speak out in support of the HongKongers rightful cause. I feel so welcomed – I, an American foreigner, have received so much love, and I’m thrilled that I get to share a piece of that feeling with the world. I am so inspired by these beautiful souls who have taught me what it means to take control of your destiny and what the meaning of freedom truly is. Because of them, I stand with the people of Hong Kong. Because of the love for their city and for freedom, I stand with my friends.