I knew little to nothing about Hong Kong, and was admittedly ill-prepared for this leg of the adventure. Other than exchanging some Canadian dollars for local currency and looking up a bus route from the airport to our Airbnb before we left Toronto, I’m ashamed to say I knew virtually nothing about this part of the world.
I have been (mostly) pleasantly and embarrassingly surprised throughout our little stopover.
But what really interests me is the “real“ life in a city, not what the tourists come to see, but what happens “behind the scenes”, as an almost invisible yet ubiquitous part of the fabric of a place.
As it turns out, I had the opportunity to catch a small glimpse of this on our second morning here.
Still horrifically jetlagged after our arrival from North America the previous morning, I awoke multiple times throughout the night, and eager not to wake my sleeping travel companions, I quietly dressed myself and snuck out of the apartment around 5 AM.
The streets near our Airbnb at the intersection of Nathan and Jordan Roads downtown were quiet, but nowhere near deserted.
Eager for some free Wi-Fi and curious how their breakfast items compare to those in Canada, I wandered inside.
But a second, shocking “sub-population” makes up the periphery of the restaurant: Every bench of every table booth is filled with what appears to be sleeping street people!
I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to be a visitor here, and how lucky, irrespective of where “home“ is, to have found a path in life that has afforded me a steady income with regular access to food and a decent apartment, as well as the ability to travel. I’m also intrigued by the reaction of the food-purchasing locals. No one seems to bat an eyelash at their less fortunate neighbours, many of whom are still fast asleep on their benches when I leave an hour later, heads resting on backpacks presumably containing all their worldly possessions. (I consider that in Toronto, where both the climate and the mindsets towards such public integrations seem to be much colder, such sleepers would surely have been evicted from their temporary posts rather than left to find a few hours of relatively safe and peaceful escape from the elements.)
Hong Kong is similar to and yet significantly different from how I imagined it.
As I stumble out from my early morning of blogging at the familiar restaurant-come-homeless shelter and back into the street to wander “home” with the sun finally rising in the distance, my mind turns to our afternoon at Kowloon Park yesterday.
Filled with greenery, Asian “kitsch” and some impressive accessibility features for the visually impaired, this urban park tells the city’s story from a different angle.
How glad I am that we had the opportunity to spend a day in this bustling metropolis. Like all travel, this experience is one that expands the mind and provides opportunity for reflection, both on life‘s big problems, and ones personal contributions to either the problem or possible solutions.