“You’ve never traveled internationally, and for your first trip, you picked China?” My world-traveling friend marveled at the adventure awaiting me and gave me advice for mitigating jet-lag.
He was right. I might have fared better had I traveled to Europe first, but I’ve always been an all-in sort of gal. Off I went on a nearly 16-hour flight with a group of people I had never met.
My first surprise came on the monitor in front of me on the international flight when I realized we’d be traveling north and over land most of the trip, a seemingly out-of-the-way path on a map that is deceivingly shorter on a globe. A path straight across the Pacific is significantly longer than the northernmost route over the Bering Sea.
Our fearless leader managed a healthy balance of freedom to explore and herding the crew to ensure we had all the info we needed and a meeting place and time for reconnecting. Hong Kong is an incredibly dense city with high rises everywhere to house its massive population.
From the airport, we headed over to our hotel and out for a bite to eat before a much-needed rest. In the morning, my roommate Connie and I took a walk to find the harbor. We had been told a path that was supposed to take us straight to the water, but construction on the walking paths diverted us. After 2 1/2 hours of walking, we finally arrived back at our hotel, but–lucky me–I had swollen feet and a blister to show for my morning excursion.
The high rises were a bit overwhelming. I live in the Mid West, and in a fairly rural area to boot, so navigating Hong Kong came with significant challenge.
That first morning, I was heading directly to point A, with perfectly good directions if not for the maze of construction. Somehow, we made it to point B and quite an adventure meeting new friends along the way happy to help direct us. I doubt anyone else in our group had quite the sightseeing workout we had that morning.
By the way, China is a very big place with varied climate. Our trip took us to a latitude roughly equal to Havana, Cuba’s. Every place plants could grow, including vertical wall space on the sides of roads in this concrete jungle, hung lush tropical greenery. I marveled at the work necessary to maintain a city with so much greenery mixed into its urban crowding. Hong Kong is quite different from Mainland China. “In 1841, China ceded the island to the British, and in 1842 the Treaty of Nanking was signed, formally ending the First Opium War. … On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was peaceably handed over to China in a ceremony attended by numerous Chinese and British dignitaries” (“Hong Kong”). Their people drive on the left side of the road, and we saw tons of double-decker buses in keeping with British influence. Many of the shop clerks and owners spoke English fluently, so ordering lunch and asking for help did not present much of a challenge that first day. Thankfully, the trip planners gave us this time to adjust incrementally to our temporary digs.
We quickly gathered our belongings when we finally made it back to the hotel and started out on our next adventure, by water to the mainland, where my preconceived notions of China had me expecting guards with guns looking suspiciously at me as I entered the country. While we did go through many levels of security working our way onto the mainland, I never felt as guarded as I expected.
“The nature of adventure is discomfort.” My wise husband explained to me that if I wanted adventure, I had to accept that I would not be comfortable. He suggested that world travel is about learning how many different ways the world sucks differently than where you live sucks, but it’s also about learning how great other places are, just as great as you have it here, in their own way. How’s that for wisdom? He was right, and I’m so glad he helped align my thinking before I started the journey.
Frankly, I like my comfortable American dream. We’ve done well and live comfortably in the States, so while this adventure sounded exciting, it sounded terrifying at the same time. I’m the gal who plans a two-week vacation and decides she’s done and wants to go back home after the first one. I had no exit strategy for homesickness on this trip, and the last thing I wanted to do was become a whiner. I asked God to give me strength to handle the inevitable uncomfortable situations with grace. Even more, I wanted to explore and experience China, not just work in their schools and eat at restaurants, but really see the people, their history, religion, and culture. I got exactly what I asked for–uncomfortable moments and all. I wish I had time to post the entire adventure at once, but re-entry was not as smooth as I would have liked–more uncomfortable moments. I’ll try to post more in two weeks about meeting my hosts and the work I did in the schools.
…and that’s the view from My Front Porch.
“Hong Kong ceded to British.” History.com. History.com Staff. A&E Networks, 2010, August 8, 2018, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hong-kong-ceded-to-the-british.