The first is always the most memorable. And in my first travel’s case, it wasn’t just unforgettable, I even left my heart there and made sure it stays just there.
I am lucky to once belong in a company where travelling abroad for event coverage was part of the job’s description. During my one year and four months with it, I was able to attend and write about two international trade fairs of Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC). The first, which coincidentally was also my first time abroad, was the Hong Kong Gifts and Premium Fair in April 2010, and the second was the Hong Kong Electronics Fair (Autumn Edition) in October of that same year. Among the two, the former has always been the one that’s on my mind.
That first time opened my eyes to a dream that’s almost the only reason why I want to earn money nowadays. It made me realize how I want to travel the world and get to know other cultures and how their places look like. The best part of it was that the air fare, terminal fee, accommodation, and daily breakfasts were paid by HKTDC, it was only the other expenses that I had to take care of.
Solitary in An Unknown Place
HKTDC allows only one overseas journalist per media firm. And as a homebody who was a greenhorn to travelling even just around Metro Manila then, one would expect that I felt scared with going to a foreign country alone and it even made me want to back out, but no, it was the other way around. It was thrilling, just thinking about it. I consider myself as the independent type and I get excited over anything new, so I didn’t mind the solitary experience at all.
So with only my baggage, the company name, and myself to carry, I went to Hong Kong alone and full of anticipation.
Just a few walks at the Hong Kong International Airport, and it already made me realize that one of my favorite quotes which says, “Perfect arrival is not arriving at all,” is not always true. The airport is humongous, in fact, it has a train inside. And first timers won’t be anxious in Hong Kong since it is very tourist friendly.
In fact, maps in English, Chinese, and Japanese languages are in abundance at the airport and one can get as much as they want. They’re easy to use and comprehend, that’s why I always say to people that if they can’t understand it, I don’t know what else I’ll think of them. Those colorful papers are complete with information from street names to all the possible exits in subways. They’re perfect even for people like me who are not exactly good in reading maps, and geography in general.
Then there’s the weather. The whole time I was there, it was quite rainy and the temperature ranged from 19°C-21°C during daylight. I don’t get cold easily that’s why that temperature, cool enough to make me wear a jacket and just right to make me still feel comfortable, is what I loved most about my stay in Hong Kong. I could just walk endlessly on the streets (which are, mind you, don’t only look safe, but are also really safe), without feeling even the tiniest bit of exhaustion. It was even during those walks when I always thought that I finally found the right place for me.
But with my work as the priority of that trip, I only had time for leisure in the evenings and the morning of my last day–the fifth one. So I was only able to wander around Wan Chai, Central, and some parts of Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan, and Mong Kok.
Yes, I wasn’t able to go as far as Lantau Island for Hong Kong Disneyland and Aberdeen for Hong Kong Ocean Park because:
1. Time constraint
2. I had limited resources, my salary then was just right for everyday living in my homeland
3. At 22, I still didn’t have enough guts to go that far
4. Besides, I couldn’t imagine myself being truly merry in an amusement park and oceanarium all by myself. For me, it’s a place where I need to have somebody with me whom I can instantly share my excitement with.
I also failed going to Victoria Peak, which entrance is just in Central, for the same reasons.
But though I missed what could have been three of the best in Hong Kong, the places I had been to were enough to make me fall in love with the region. Solitary walking is when I think and observe most so I was able to witness the beauty of Hong Kong and the discipline of the Hong Kongers. And I began admiring the place for those.
My Temporary Home Sweet Home
As I said above, HKTDC pays for the accommodation of its OJs. And maybe because it has a connecting path to Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), but Renaissance Harbour View Hotel Hong Kong is the chosen lovely abode for OJs during their stay in Hong Kong, and I felt really fortunate for it.
Located at the scenic Wan Chai Waterfront, Renaissance Harbour View Hotel Hong Kong is a four-star luxury hotel complete with landscaped pool, gym, restaurant, and amenities from cable TV, to iron for clothes.
I was given a room with two single beds, one for me and one for my messy stuff. It was nice and comfortable with almost everything I need already there.
The hotel boasts of its harbour view, but my room was located at the other side so what I saw whenever I looked at the big glass window was the garden view. It was alright, though. It was still relaxing to stare at.
Going to the hotel wasn’t without a flaw for me. Since the airport is two islands away from Hong Kong Island where the hotel is, HKTDC also pays for the shuttle service called Airport Hotelink Limousine to bring us OJs to Renaissance, and back to the airport on our last day.
What happened was because the staff of the shuttle had a Chinese accent, I didn’t understand him when he asked who would they be dropping off this hotel and that. And the thing is, I didn’t know that there is a Renaissance Harbour View Hotel and there’s also a hotel simply called Harbour View Hotel. I was dropped to the latter. Sheesh. So with my stroller with me, I walked from the latter to the former all while I was completely unsure if I was going the right direction. Good thing it isn’t at all that unusual to walk around Hong Kong with a stroller.
‘Cause No Man is An Island
I went to Hong Kong alone, but I met a few people during my stay. The first was the Concierge of Renaissance Harbour View Hotel, Dino Recile, who is one of the three Filipinos among the hotel employees. He was introduced to me by the (cute) male receptionist who took care of my checking-in in the hotel. (Confession time: I had an instant crush on the receptionist, and we had a short conversation that went:
Me: *busy looking at the floor*
Receptionist: We have the same birthday.
Me: Huh? What? *I looked at him*
Receptionist: The same birthday, month and day. *smiling and pointing at my birth date on my passport *
Me: Oh. *I smiled, too* How about the year?
Receptionist: No. 1983.
Me: Oh. Okay. *And my instant crush on him was born*
Receptionist: Wait, I’ll introduce you to our Filipino co-worker. *Went somewhere*
Me: *Started counting our age gap*)
And it was then when Dino Recile and I met.
Dino is a typical Filipino, hospitable, happy, and amiable. He served as my tour guide, in fact, he was responsible why I enjoyed my short stay in Hong Kong. All I had to do was go to him and ask him where best to go given my short time, and he would obligingly pull a map then tell me directions on how to get here and there. Then whenever I got bored and I needed someone to talk to, I just go to his location in the lobby and ask him about his experiences in Hong Kong, and in turn, I shared what was new in the Philippines then.
I also met two OJs at the fair’s Networking Reception. The first was Ms Kim SunJung from South Korea, and the other was Mr Rakesh Desai from India. I think I was the youngest among the OJs so I couldn’t help but be shy on everyone.
Then during my last day in Hong Kong, since it was also the day when I would be going back to the Philippines, I wasn’t required to roam around HKCEC anymore, so what I did was go to places I hadn’t been to, and it was when I met a few Filipinos.
There’s a Filipino restaurant in Wan Chai called Mang Ambo’s Filipino Restaurant, and the owner, Mang Ambo, is there during lunch time. He learned that I was in Hong Kong just for the fair and he told me that there are many Filipino journalists around the place who also eat in his restaurant, and that if I was interested in working in Hong Kong, maybe I could talk to some of them.
Then there was also an architect who has been living there with his family for already quite some time, and another, an unemployed woman on the look for a job there. It was nice talking in my native language in a foreign land.
After eating, I went straight to the Avenue of Stars located in Tsim Sha Tsui. While I was resting, I was spotted by a seaman in the name of Marny. He asked me if I was a Filipino and I said yes, and so we talked mostly about his family and girlfriend, who is now his wife, by the way. And they’re already expecting a baby soon! ^_^ Yes, we still have a connection until now.
Eats Time to Eat!
Of course, a travel experience isn’t complete without our palates tasting what the unknown place has to offer. So although I didn’t have a lot of money to burn, I still made it a point to eat some of the food in Hong Kong.
On my first day, while looking for Mang Ambo’s Filipino Restaurant, I got lost so I ended up eating at Sun Thai Restaurant where I ordered Fried Noodle with Beef in Malaysian Sauce with free tea of my choice.
At first, the dish was really delicious, but as I consume those thick pasta, I felt like throwing everything up. At the end, I wasn’t able to finish it, and I didn’t feel good the entire day. I wasn’t able to eat dinner because of that, too. 😐
Lesson learned that day: Camille isn’t a noodle person, she still prefers rice all the way!
Besides, food servings in Hong Kong are bigger compared to those in the Philippines, so it was quite overwhelming to eat that much food.
The second cuisine I tried was at a Cantonese restaurant called Spicy Mama in Jordan, Kowloon with SunJung right after the Networking Reception. Its staff are pure Cantonese and cannot speak English, so its menu for foreigners are all photos, and its customers will have to rely on their sight’s judgment for the food they want to order.
We had the Deep Fried Spicy Crab and another vegetable dish. The crab was scrumptious, but the vegetable, well, I almost didn’t touch it when I saw it was full of onions.
Then because of what happened on my first day, I became skeptical of almost any unfamiliar food I saw. So to be safe, I ate at Mang Ambo’s Filipino Restaurant during lunch and sometimes, even during dinner for the remaining days.
The restaurant is a turo-turo style like that in the Philippines, so if you’re a Filipino living in Hong Kong and you suddenly miss the atmosphere of your homeland, this restaurant is the place to be.
For only 23HKD, a customer is served with one rice and one viand of their choice of Filipino cuisine, and it’s 28HKD for two viands with one rice.
Hong Kong is like a big shopping center with some of the richest people in the Philippines going there only to shop whenever they want. And although I was short on resources, I still bought some stuff for my family and myself.
The best place to go to in Hong Kong for affordable items is the night market in Tung Choi St, Mong Kok, Kowloon. I heard customers can haggle all they want until they get the price they desire there, so even if it was raining during that time, I braved the night and was satisfied with everything I bought when I got back to the hotel.
Going Here and There
Hong Kong is just a three-island Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, but it’s still big enough for people not be able to stroll around on foot. So transportation is still essential to get from point A to point B. I was only able to ride on two, though (Aside from the shuttle).
A must-try in Hong Kong is the Star Ferry which operates in the Victoria Harbour. For the price of only 2.50HKD Mondays-Fridays and 3.40HKD Saturdays-Sundays and public holidays, a person can already cross from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and vice versa by sea. Then from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui and vice versa, the lower deck costs 2.0HKD and the upper deck 2.50KD on Mondays-Fridays, and the lower deck 2.8HKD and upper deck 3.40HKD on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.
But what’s cooler than the MTR is the Octopus Card, a rechargeable smart card used in paying for all the transportation available in Hong Kong, except perhaps the taxi (Not sure). It can also be used in convenience stores, supermarkets, fast-food restaurants, parking meters, car parks, vending machines, and service stations. It’s an all-in-one card that doesn’t have an expiration date. Mine is actually still with me and it still has 48HKD, which I can use on my next visit to Hong Kong, whenever that may be. 🙂
And that was my whole first experience in travelling and Hong Kong. It was a marvelous experience and I’m looking forward to visiting more countries in the future.
Have you been to Hong Kong? Did you like it the same way I do? 🙂