Many people I know have a love-hate relationship with Hong Kong. They share a common dislike for its impatient disposition, for the way their bodies perspire uncontrollably in summer humidity and for the stereotypical Hong Kong local’s lack of candour. Yet these same people make recurring trips, brag about the latest food haunts they’ve discovered and return home carrying suitcases plump with the latest fashion trends and cookies from Jenny Bakery in Sheung Wan. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about this little island, despite its littleness, that keep travellers coming back for more. Whether for business, for pleasure, or both, it is beehive of sights and activity, with a tempo that is always approaching hysteria.
Hong Kong is on my Top 3 list of destinations I have travelled to the most. It isn’t too far from Malaysia or Australia, I have close family that live there, and being a hopeless city slicker, I continue to be bowled over each trip with how much it continues to change. I believe that when you travel, you have the option of becoming somebody else. Because being in somewhere foreign, you are less shoeboxed in by what you do, and instead, made infinitely more interesting for what you are here for. Arriving in Hong Kong, I was no longer the sportsjacket I wear to work, no longer smashed avocado on toast, no longer ‘Next stop, Central Station’. I could fall in line and sync my footsteps reverberating hum of the many footfalls that make up the drumbeat of this metropolitan island.
This is the perfect place for your transformation to happen. The pace in which the whole city moves, makes one feel like you’re riding on a full-speed conveyor belt, taking in the wondrous sights while Hong Kong dismantles you and reattaches new arms and legs. Suddenly, your goal in life isn’t submitting that monthly marketing report at the close of business deadline. You are reborn a renegade and your mission is to find that one DJ in Lan Kwai Fong that will indulge you in Despacito. The false assumption is that escapism means you are running away from your problems. When in reality, it can be about putting on a new mask and a new mentality. So when you return to your person, you not only have a renewed passion for Justin Bieber but also begin to question why that report ever mattered so much in the first place.
For some, travel is also about indulgence. And one could argue that there is little in the world more indulgent than traversing down a descending stairwell for wafer thin Peking duck skin at Mott 32, accompanied by a two different types of sauce that sit as whirlpools in your dish. It can mean getting your dim sum fix at Charter House’s The Square, eating wu kok shaped like swans, scallops encased in clam shell buns and being able to critically analyse the differences between their abalone tart versus the defending champion from Lung King Heen across the road.
Even if you’re in the spirit of trying something new, some routines refuse to yield. This for me took the form of finding myself awake and ready to go at the very late hour of 7 am. In a country like Hong Kong, this means you exist even before the wet markets do, and you end up traipsing empty streets that echo the personalities of the people that usually occupy the spaces between the lines. This can mean riding dead walkalators as plastic bags dance in the wind near your feet, the Hong Kong equivalent of tumbleweed. But it can also mean being first in line for Tai Cheong’s freshly baked egg tarts and polo buns, seeing Filipino maids set up camp on their day off and the rare opportunity to converse with a local willing to humour your caveman Cantonese.
As big a role as food, shopping and ‘things to do’ plays on a successful itinerary, sometimes it isn’t any of the above that make a trip memorable. It was unreal, being able to smash out at a Muay Thai class, powered by two shots of coffee and less than four hours of sleep and having tea past 10 pm with a Muay Thai fighter I’ve long admired. The feeling of finding my favourite Muji soy sauce senbei (completely unavailable in Australia) and surveying the well-stocked supermarket at IFC Mall. Tacking on a ‘work opportunity’ to the trip and being able to site tour a boutique hotel while speaking to its extremely passionate staff. Going from dinner with my parents at Caprice or RŌNIN to sipping on wine in a cup at the closed office of an old friend’s law firm. I coo over these miscellaneous joys that only come with repeat trips and familiarity to a place that isn’t your home. I love cities that don’t sleep and Hong Kong is insomnia personified.