The Sojourner's Tale

Hong Kong was a good break.
We were there for 10 days but we did not go to HK Disneyland, having heard that it wasn’t such a big deal. Moreover I’d been to Ocean Park before so I didn’t want to spend a precious day at a theme park.
Funnily enough, most people go to HK on a whirlwind 5-day, 4-night trip to cover the must-see sights and popular spots. Fair enough.
But to truly understand a country, one must take time. Time is what you have the least when you have money. That is when you most need to get away.
HK, small as it is and dense as it may be, deserves more time particularly if you really want to get under their skin and find out what makes the Hong Kongers such a resilient, smart and quick workforce. They’re like ants, forever industrious and forever moving along speedily.
We had 10 days to explore and literally stop to smell flowers. In my case, I was forever stopping to bend over some osmanthus bushes to inhale the gorgeously sweet fragrance. Osmanthus (or “kwai fah” in Cantonese) is also a herb which you can make into a nourishing tea. You can get dried golden osmanthus flowers even here in Penang at herbalist shops.
But nothing beats the real thing, of course.
And stopping to truly close one’s eyes to smell the osmanthus is something one does not get to do everyday, not in tropical Malaysia where I heard this temperate plant cannot really grow too well.
In my head, I am always the journo with a keen eye for sights and sounds. Particularly when I travel, I try as much to absorb the experience so I can come home and transform these insights into my blog or journal.
Having said that, our trip to Hong Kong wasn’t so much of a break as it was an escape into the novel and new. Sometimes we get away so that we can be refreshed with ideas.
Many famous artists and poets recommend travelling and living abroad for a few years, if only to foreground the familiar. Comparisons, while odious, can be make easily because we humans thrive on differences.
We can only see differences if we get out of our familiar surroundings and stimulate our brains. In a new place, our brains work better somehow.
In an alien land, we start to ‘see’.
And so, this trip – worthy of more than a couple of blog posts – will be a subject for a few weeks at least.
There’s so much I want to share with you, if only to remind myself what humorous episodes we experienced or what culture shocks we had.
I spoke a lot more Cantonese in HK than I ever did in my life.
I started to really value how versatile and multifaceted we are here because we could speak in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien and Bahasa Malaysia. (We met a Taiwanese man who was totally surprised we could speak Hokkien. The Hong Kongers we met often looked impressed that we could bark back at them in Cantonese, coloured by our Malaysian accent, nevertheless! And to bitch about the locals while riding the MTR, we used BM.)
In our 10-days in chilly HK where temperatures fluctuated between 14 to 18C and the day was mostly grey and overcast, I appreciated the sunshine a lot more when we landed in hot old Penang.
Heck, even landing on Malaysian soil and handing my passport over to the Immigration officer felt so familiar and comfy. In HK, the Immigration officer just throws the passport back at us, which I find (and I am sure I am not the only one) totally rude! (Hong Kong Tourism Board, you may have spiffy campaigns and great ads but you sure have to educate your Immigration officers on civil behaviour.)
We learnt so much about what made Hong Kongers tick which a 5-day trip would never uncover. It helped that we stayed with a Malaysian friend who works in HK. We had a temporary home for a while.
In travels, one can be a tourist or one can be sojourner. Nic and I do not wish to be the typical tourist, wanting to cover all tourist spots just so we could show off photos of where we’ve been or where we ate.
Travel is a private endeavour because only you and you alone can understand what you see and felt. And there’s really nothing more boring to your friends than forcefully showing them your hundreds of digital photos – they weren’t there and they really don’t quite care. What they cared about are your stories of your travels. The photos are secondary.
A sojourn is one where lots of reflection takes place as the new land unfolds its magic.
In the beginning, all is wondrous and strange. Then one finds one’s way slowly, navigating along, being curious about everything.
In a way, it is like becoming a child again. Everything fascinates, even the grumpy old lady who sells hot sweet potato and hot chestnuts. Everything feels new, like watching with growing interest as the piles of people busily flocked this way and that, while we stood at the kerbside, eating our ice creams.
Come back as our stories get told…