AS WITH most of my trips before, my going to Hong Kong was largely unplanned. I originally wanted to go to Vietnam to get a feel of what I was reading (The Sympathizers by Vien Thanh Nguyen), a book set in the 1970s during the US war with the Viet Cong. It was a toss up between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. But three weeks before my scheduled leave, it was already too late to score cheap flights. My brother, always the optimistic planner when I felt I had nowhere else to go to, figured we could go to Hong Kong—it's not too far away, it's not expensive, and it's convenient.
Flights were booked, and still without an itinerary, we boarded the early morning plane to Hong Kong. I knew I was going to bring The Honourable Schoolboy by John LeCarré with me, as it is set in Hong Kong as well. Readers will understand that the best way to experience any new city is by reading a book set in it. My brother had watched Wang Kar Wai films and had the fancy notion that he can probably figure the spot where those movies were shot.
I was asleep for much of the flight. There weren't too many babies who cried. The travel time was faster than when I take the public transportation along EDSA on rush hour.
With small backpacks, we sashayed out of the airport quickly. I do not speak Cantonese, much less read the characters which I find fascinating but also puzzling. Our difficulty in finding our way around was compounded by the fact that we had lost sight of the army of Filipino tourists, with their Disney-themed backpacks and selfie sticks. We kept looking for the MTR, and despite warnings from our well-travelled friends to keep away from the Airport Express as it is more expensive, we had already picked our seats. Twenty-five minutes later, we were in Hong Kong island. It was only 9:30 am.
Despite having been colonized by the British for many years, not a lot of locals speak English. As we’d learn later, many things would get lost in translation, such as the time when I asked for the bus going to Po Lin Monastery, and the kind lady told me I should look for Bus 33. No such thing exists apparently; it was supposed to be Bus 23. My brother and I also had to resort to sign languages to find our way from one MTR station to the next. Our legs were dead-tired with all the walking, but there came a point when we got the hang of it.
What to do in the next 10 hours was something we had to figure out because our host, Minori, a friend of my brother, wouldn’t be available until the evening.
The dictum in traveling is to keep it stress-free as much as possible. Itineraries are guides, not absolutes, and one must always be flexible in his plans. With that in mind, we had a few things we felt we needed to cross off our list—touristy places we wouldn’t mind missing anyway. But whenever lactic acidosis assailed our triceps surae, we knew we could always go to the nearest coffee shops. The Starbucks stores in Hong Kong are quiet and peaceful, devoid of teenagers who need to take photographs of themselves every three minutes.
Minori was a great host, and one of the highlights of the trip was getting to know her. She made her apartment a home for us. I slept like a baby every night—thunder and all that outside the window in the early mornings, with a small view of the sea. She took us to her local church, where she actively serves in the Women’s Ministry. She treated us to Maxim’s Dimsum, where the queue can get extremely long, and ordering food involves reading Chinese characters. She had coffee and pancakes ready for us every morning, and she even baked us cookies before we went to sleep. I will miss her.
Praise be to God for the chance to marvel at the wonder of His grace. He has provided for the trip. He has kept us safe. He has given us new experiences to remember and enjoy. I’m back in Manila now, and as I write this from the airport, I’m waiting on my flight to General Santos City, where I’ll be spending the rest of my vacation leave at home in Koronadal with my parents.
I'm sharing some photos from the trip. You can view the rest of the photos here—some 128 of them.
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