When I first mentioned my plans for visiting Hong Kong to Andy, a veteran of life in the Middle Kingdom, he told me that I was in for an interesting surprise. He said that the moment I stepped across the border from China I’d be absolutely blown away by the level of difference. I imagined it might be something like the Taba border crossing between Egypt and Israel – where in many ways, it felt like a huge relief to take just a few steps and suddenly become free of the need to scrutinize every transaction’s validity and to ward off a constant stream of touts.
Yet, when I finally did make the crossing into Hong Kong’s territories I was surprised to find that the change didn’t really feel all that drastic at all. I mean sure, it was different…but not that different. Certainly less different than going from San Diego to Mexico, something both Andy and I had done plenty of times during our college years at UCSD.
This was not true, however, when crossing back from Hong Kong into China...after having gotten used to the big, friendly, clean, and overwhelmingly Westernized city.
This time I felt like I’d just gotten slammed with a ton of bricks. Or at least a brick 😛
And it wasn’t because of the instantaneous octupling in the amount of litter, or the suffocating clouds of cigarette smoke (Hong Kong is almost entirely nonsmoking). It wasn’t because of the mysterious brown liquids that started finding their way onto my luggage, or because of the middle-aged men chasing after me shouting “Taxi! Taxi! How much!!” It was more of the overall feeling. Hong Kong was like a daydream; a small oasis in the jungle that is Asia. Much like Japan. And now I’d just stepped back into a foreign land – a place where language would once again be an issue, and where animal instinct was necessary to survive. I’d gone from one face in a crowd of many to a single, easily visible walking dollarsign. From an average Joe to an alien outsider. Gone were the Cartier, Burberry, and Louis Vuitton shops – and in their place just a few shady massage parlors and a whole lotta people.
And all in just a few short footsteps.
I bought my ticket on the first train to Guangzhou and headed off. It was already nearly 8pm, and I was still more than an hour away from my evening’s destination with no idea where I was going to stay. It was time to switch on that traveler autopilot and start getting things done.
(Note: This post was originally part of the next, later split into two.)