A Weekend In Hong Kong, an Urban Wilderness of Land & Sea
An otherworldly city, a complicated future, and the sincere, international community who calls it home.
High-rise buildings came into view as the plane sailed through the warm and dusky Hong Kong sky. An indelible smile formed on my face as I thought about meeting Morgan, my oldest friend and soul brother, for a long weekend.
I watched the piercing icons of modernity branch through the golden evening haze. The stress of international travel vanished.
The trifles of daily life ebbed with the sun.
I was meeting my mate. Nothing else mattered.
By the end of the weekend, the both of us would come away with a better understanding of this otherworldly city, its complicated future, and the sincere, wonderful people who call it home.
Hong Kong is more than just a city.
It’s a part of China, but not — a vast assemblage of land and sea comprising over 250 islands and 7.5 million people.
Hong Kong has passed between British and Chinese hands for the last two-hundred years since China’s Qing Dynasty ceded the territory at the end of the First Opium War in 1842.
In 1997, the British transferred Hong Kong back to China. It’s now considered one of China’s special administrative regions, along with the nearby Macau, which was returned from Portugal to China in 1999.
Hong Kong maintains governing and economic systems separate from mainland China and akin to that of the west, operating under the principle of “one country, two systems.”
As mainland China holds the right to interpret Hong Kong Basic Law, the region’s constitutional document, the mainland is essentially free to do as it pleases. It did so in recent years by imposing new security laws.
However, many Hongkongers won’t easily hand over their way of life.
This gives it a unique distinction amongst any other city as a confluence of deep eastern roots and western style, government and culture.
From my brief and relatively surface level experience of Hong Kong, I felt an inherent sense that there’s nowhere else like this global melting pot that’s seeped in history and fiery passion.
Mo and I took the metro from the airport to where we’d stay in Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side of the harbor. It took no time at all to feel the energy of this city as we ambled around the densely packed district looking for our hostels.
As we got our bearings, we accidentally strolled through the Chungking Mansions, a dizzying structure that was originally supposed to be residential, although is now home to a myriad of shops, stalls, vendors and guesthouses of different ethnicities and cultures.
We found the building containing both of our separate hostels, another labyrinthian structure with eight or nine elevators on the same floor, all going to different quadrants.
After a bit of a disorienting touchdown, it was time to eat. On my first trip to Asia years ago, I read something along the lines of the advice:
On your first night in Japan, don’t look for the quintessential hole-in-the wall ramen shop with the secret code behind a tattered hanging curtain.
This has since guided my adventures when touching down in a foreign land.
The first meal doesn’t have to be perfect. You’re hungry. You’re tired. You don’t know where the hell you are or what you’re doing.
Just go anywhere that looks reasonable. If there’s people and the vibes are solid, I’m all in.
We found a low-key spot in TST and chowed down on noodles, fried rice and an assortment of crispy golden meats. About halfway through the meal, in a daze of joy and excitement, we stopped to recognize the moment.
Mo is currently traveling the world; we spent December ripping through Japan, the country I currently call home. When he left, we thought that would be it for — well, we didn’t know how long. It was a big, teary-eyed goodbye (just me).
Yet a month later our paths realigned, and we were chatting about life over roasted goose on the Kowloon Peninsula of Hong Kong.
How did this happen? Because, we thought, at this point in our journeys, garnering meaningful experiences is more important than anything else.
The people we’ve met together, the memories we’ve made, the ways our hearts have changed — these are all things to build upon for the rest of our lives.
You can’t go back and get these experiences again — not in the same way, at least.
The moment is now, and if you truly want to make it happen, there is a way. Mo worked and saved for years before his leap. I’m teaching English in Japan while pursuing my dreams.
There are home-stays, nonprofits and teaching opportunities which can be found through organizations like Worldpackers.
What we concluded, as we sipped tall Tsingtao beers and laughed amongst neighboring tables, is that we’re still the same dudes we’ve always been.
Seeing the world has guided us. But it hasn’t changed us into something we’re not. We haven’t necessarily “found ourselves.”
Rather, pursuing meaningful experiences has helped us realize who we truly are at our core. That’s the person we’ll continue to mold.
As you experience, you whittle away the boundaries of your soul: perhaps you take a chance and talk to that girl or guy or go on that adventure, emboldened by being in a new environment amongst a foreign language and people.
Maybe you go through something difficult and find the courage to handle the situation. This strengthens an essential pillar of your character. You then see more clearly: this is who I am.
This is what I can do.
Simultaneously, your horizons broaden. Things you thought were true no longer hold the same weight. Perhaps most importantly, you realize:
This is who I can be if I face the world.
To follow my travels from Japan and much more, including my podcast, travel photography and reading list, check out Citoyens du Monde❤️🔥