Once, on a first date, we had just finished covering all the things he was into – Asian politics, Marx brothers movies, gymnastics and whiskey – and he asked me what mine were, what were my things?
I thought about this for a while, trying to think of an interesting answer. I needed one that would make me sounds appropriately fascinating and beguiling and just a little unusual. I was two martinis in. I gave up.
“I like most things,” I told him.
I think what makes me, in my own unjustifiably inflated self-image, a pretty good traveller is the exact thing that makes me a fairly wretched travel correspondent. It’s just that, you see, I like most things. My reputation on the ship is, already, that I am in – whatever it is, wherever you’re going, whatever you’re doing, I probably want to join. I have backed down so far only at chicken feet and I am, understandably, wracked with regret about that. But… have you seen cooked chicken feet? They’re unexpectedly soggy looking. Bird foot I was down for, damp, squashy bird foot was a step too far.
But all this makes me a terrible travel writer. The thought process of the good reporter is discriminating. They have an active mind. They sort things into categories, make connections, and decide what is interesting and what is not. They tell you what you really ought to do, sorting through the morass for gems.
I, on the other hand, have a mindset while traveling would best be put into writing as: “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The inside of my head in every port is a slot machine, all bells and buzzers and bright flashing lights.
The good travel writer, I have noticed, also takes careful notes.
These are the sum total of my notes on Hong Kong, typed urgently into my iPhone:
“If I lived here, I’d have great thighs.”
In my journal I wrote one thing only: a two page description of a pork bun (that does not, incidentally, do that pork bun justice. A crackle of caramelized sugar, a pillowy bun that gets dense and thick in your mouth, savory, spicy pork in the middle. It’s a god damn revelation.)
So, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m sorry guys. I’m sorry that I can’t be discriminate, and thoughtful. I fear, really, that I cried wolf on Tokyo, and then shouted it in Kyoto, and then sort of mumbled it in Shanghai, and now you just aren’t going to believe me anymore about Hong Kong.
But did you know in Hong Kong you can get Michelin starred pork buns for $3 in a train station? And that the parks have free wifi? And that at the protests last year, they set up homework stations where student protestors helped other protestors kids with their math? Do you have any idea how wonderful Hong Kong is? Do you? Do you really?
Here: let me tell you about it.
In Hong Kong, there are parks filled with elderly men playing cards and children exercising and flamingoes standing around in clumps and aviaries and water features and free museums. In Hong Kong, there are markets full of fish and meat and nuts and spices and vegetables spilling down streets on the Kowloon side. In Hong Kong you can buy a rose latte and then a $.50 token and get on the top level of a ferry with rows of wooden seats that will take you across the bay, ringed by the spindly shoots of sky scrapers reaching up in clusters towards the sky, but none reaching higher than the blueish mountains behind them. With a gentle breeze on your face, you will watch the dusk settle over the valley and see all the buildings blink to life. Their moving lights depicting koi and clouds and New Years wishes printed ten stories high. In Hong Kong you can ride double decker trams, tall and impossibly thin, down busy shopping streets that change from Gucci to dried fish and back again. In Hong Kong you get a martini on the 60th floor and look down to see different nests of drinkers clustered out on precipices clinging to the side of buildings, invisible from the street. They are perched 30 and 40 stories up, and their laughter drifting up is just a little bit louder than the traffic.
In Hong Kong you can text a man you haven’t seen in seven years and have only spoken to twice to say: “a girl I have never met just invited me to a Ukranian art opening at an alternative arts gallery and she says you should join,” and his only response is, “that’s a very Hong Kong invitation.”
In Hong Kong, your old acquaintance becomes your new friend within an hour. Within two you are sitting in the Foreign Correspondents Club, the same club where characters from every spy novel you have ever read gather to swap stories in dark corners and gossip about diplomats and throw down challenges. Within three hours you are loudly telling anyone who will listen that you will be living in Hong Kong within two years. And you mean it. By God, you really, really mean it.
On Sunday morning I went for a hike with a friend of a friend, up through the Hong Kong University campus, up winding paths filled with Filipino workers on their day off, Chinese families on pleasure strolls and white Hong Kongers and ex-pats jogging by in expensive trainers, showing off on the pull up bars. At the top, Victoria Peak, we got a coffee and then leaned on the stone walls flanked with guardian lions and peered over the lush foliage down at the valley. The Star Ferry was tiny, winding back and forth over the broad harbor, and on either side groves of sky scrapers grew wherever the surface was flat enough to support them. In every direction the outlying islands and the New Territories stretched out green and wild, Hong Kongers often charter junks for a few dollars to take them out on Sundays to the beaches for picnics. We wound back down to the city, where i climbed up and down streets, bargaining (still poorly) for trinkets and sipping iced coffee. In the evening, when I finally got back on the ship, I immediately and googled “job postings, history, Hong Kong University.”
I’ve done none of it justice. Not even the pork bun. I can’t – it’s been two days and my thought process on Hong Kong is still, more or less, “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I just don’t know what to do or where to begin.
The only thing I know is that I really should have spent more time on the pork bun.