A mixture of anxiety and stress gripped me as I sat and mused over the results for “Hong Kong to everywhere” on Skyscanner. Five months into my trip, the amount in my bank account was the amount I had confidently declared I would return home with, in a year. When the flight prices came up, I gave Thailand a second thought. However, I’d booked an onward flight from Tokyo after being told I needed one to enter the country, so Hong Kong was up next, and was now just as equally out of my budget as Japan.
22 hours was more than I could afford in Hong Kong, so I planned to sleep at the airport. After paying almost as much to check my bag into left luggage as a night at a hostel would have cost, I took the airport express train straight to Hong Kong central. A search for “best coffee shops Hong Kong” lead me to Sheung Wan and Soho. I naively thought that dim sum restaurants would rule the streets, so didn’t bother to use digital intervention to find them.
As I waded through menus with chicken innards, duck necks and roast goose, I felt like a “baka gaijin”, perhaps akin to someone looking for kangaroo on Australian menus. Where was the dim sum at? It was later explained to me that dim sum is traditionally consumed in the morning. So instead of the expected dumpling heaven, I discovered an exciting area full of cafes and street art. The best coffee shops in Hong Kong are of course in the most gentrified area within the city. Shop fronts and signs became stylised and appeared in English.
My stomach hurt with hunger and my love of dumplings was pushed to the limits after about an unfruitful hour’s search. A sign at the top of a flight of stairs caught my attention, N O S H. Nosh means food. I headed towards it and found young adults and Macbooks. I said sorry to my dumpling conscience and promised it dinner, and lunched instead on a Swisse potato rosti and a flat white. This is Hong Kong today – at least this pocket of it; a distinct marriage of East and West. Good coffee and ‘western food’ among colourful streets fringed with clotheslines hanging from windows high above me.
I spent the afternoon wandering around the streets of Soho, enjoying the markets, street art, and mix of old and new buildings and residents. I looked up after taking a photo and a girl caught my eye and said “Hello!” and asked me if she could see my photos. Jelly was in Hong Kong for the day like me, visiting from her city in Southern China. We walked around together taking photos, until she suggested visiting another friend she’d made that day, who worked just around the corner. With several hours to kill until I headed back to the airport, I found myself drinking beer and tequila shots in a bar this friend managed. Will is British Cantonese, and has lived in Hong Kong all his life. He talked about the changes he’s seen the city undergo, the skyscrapers rise, and the expats creep in. He was also the person who informed that yum cha means “drinking tea”.
Regardless of what it was called, I didn’t eat any dumpling, dim sum, or get to yum cha, so headed back to the airport to spend strange night attempting to sleep on seats, waking every hour to find the scene around me had shifted. Different people sat in different places, in differing proximities to me. At one point, I became conscious of laughing, or rather cackling and chatting very close to me. I opened my eyes and stepped towards a woman to see that she was alone, with her mangy feet up and trolley full next to her, apparently amusing herself. Another waking moment and I was surrounded by old people that looked at one another and laughed each time I submerged from my delirious state to see who was sharing my space.
Though I wasn’t in an ideal situation financially to enjoy Hong Kong, I met some friendly people and caught a glimpse of the city’s buzzing atmosphere and eclectic mix of influences on food, fashion and architecture, and next time plan to fulfill my dim sum fantasies.