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I am sure most people have that one place they want to visit so much that they build it up to be such an incredible place, but what happens when you finally reach there and it does not live up to those expectations and if anything you feel let down. That is exactly what happened to me in 2014 when I visited Hong Kong.
For as long as I can remember it has always right near the top of my bucket list, everything about the culture fascinated me, so different from the life I have always lived in London. I planned a short trip to Hong Kong as a stop over before landing in Thailand. I spent ages researching and planning a jam-packed itinerary, ensuring we made the most our three days in the city centre with the addition of a trip further out to Lantau Island. Thinking back now I always probably more excited about this part of our trip than I initially was about Thailand. I remember the excitement on the plane vividly, I was finally going to be in Hong Kong, exploring a city I always dreamed of.
The rush of excitement built as the plane landed and we made our way through the airport to catch the train into the city. I was finally in Hong Kong. Staring out the window on the train journey across the water, I could not wait to drop off our bags and start looking around. However as soon as we reached Kowloon, it was a completely different story I instantly felt a wave of anxiety, not of nervous excitement, just pure anxiety that made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Constant streams of people talking in languages I could not even begin to understand, incessant noise from the heavy traffic on the road. I at first put it down being over sensitive due to tiredness and travelling, assuring myself that the next morning I would see the city in a new light.
Unfortunately for me, the next morning things hadn’t changed but we carried on regardless not wanting to waste the opportunity of seeing a new city. Please do not get me wrong, we found some incredibly beautiful parts of Hong Kong, the central park in the middle of urban city was a breath of fresh air and Lantau Island with the Tian Tan buddha was one of the most beautiful places I have been too. I am sure the view from Victoria Peak would have also been stunning if we had not decided to go up on a day of fog so thick we could barely see five metres in front of us. However for every beautiful thing we found, it just seemed like there would be something else it bring it back down. Every time we would get the subway local people would constantly stare, however if you returned eye contact with a smile they would instantly turn away. At certain times of day in Kowloon the crowds on the street were so busy I honestly felt suffocated, bearing in mind I am used to rush hour tubes in London. Eating as vegetarian was also incredibly hard, I seemed to end up just eating ramen with floating fried eggs?! The one time we found a vegetarian restaurant, we yet again spent the whole time being stared at. One evening we were in a coffee shop and an American expat started talking to us asking us how we found the city, we were completely honest and she was not surprised but explained it was just the culture. The lady was in Hong Kong working with children of different ethnicities, she told us a story about a child who rides the subway every day to school with his hood up to cover his face, to try to avoid the constant staring, even in the summer. It made me incredibly sad. I am a firm believer in not judging on the actions of a few however all these small actions added up to make a big impression, right or wrong, it has now formed my opinion of this place.
I feel incredibly ungrateful that was I excited to leave Hong Kong to make our way to Chiang Mai, our first stop in Thailand, but I couldn’t help that feeling. I recently spoke to someone who has just moved back to the UK after spending ten years living out there, he loved it but said the city made him harsh, countless other people I have spoken to that have visited have said how much they enjoyed being there. Maybe Hong Kong was too much of a cultural difference for me? After all it was the first place in Asia I had visited, would I have seen it differently if I was eased in by visiting Thailand first? Would my experience have been different if we had stayed in a different area of the city? Maybe it is as simple as I just do not like Hong Kong? However part of me would love to return with new eyes and a fresh perspective, to see if it could become the place I always believed it could be. Until then, when people ask me what I thought of Hong Kong, I always reply with the same ‘ It is like New York, but without the charm’ .
I would to hear about your experiences in Hong Kong or if you have ever felt like this about a country.