It was still early on Valentine's Day when I got an email for $290 roundtrip flights to Hong Kong. We were three months past our last visit to Spain, I was ready to dive in somewhere new, and Jenna simply wasn't in the mood for a 15-hour flight. I wasn't going to miss flying across the world for the price of gas. So: my first ever solo trip would be to the other side of the world.
Booking travel to ditch Jenna for a week and run off to Hong Kong might not seem like a classically romantic Valentine's gesture, but we've always rolled our eyes at the idea of liking each other more for 1/365th of the year.
Arriving felt like predestination: I was surrounded by the warmth of Hong Kongers, immediately comfortable despite not understanding anything or anyone and arriving in a torrential rain that lasted for two days. The history of the place is complex, contextual, and subtly beautiful in a way I'll never fully understand, and I met Hong Kong on the precipiece of a dramatic turn in that long history. About four weeks after I left, massive pro-democracy protests began in light of increasingly less subtle provocations from the mainland, and eventually led to a CCP backlash that permanently altered the political landscape and "One Country Two Systems" that have defined the past several decades of life in Hong Kong.
I saw a guy busking, playing a Jazon Mraz song on his guitar, so I took a video on the way past of a happy moment on the street before going back to tip him a few dollars and chat just for a moment when the song ended. I saw him in a viral video months later being surrounded and harrassed by HK Police for playing Glory to Hong Kong in the same spot.
I don't know what I was looking for in Hong Kong, and I don't know what I found. The trip was a blur punctured every so often by the bright lights, warm sea breezes, and legendary food of a place unlike any I've ever visited. There were many moments I'll never forget: watching the sun set from the very top of Victoria Peak after hiking from dense city to jungle trails, watching the sun rise at the docks in Victoria Harbor as an older man appeared smiling and half-shouting "YOU'RE A GOOD BOY! STRONG! GOOD BOY!" at me, or finding my name brightly lit and waiting for me at the entrance of a closed restaurant early in the morning, when it hadn't been there the night before.
These photos serve as a reflection on the journey, taken only with my iPhone, because I wanted to pack light and experience the city instead of looking at it through equipment. Looking back, they reflect how I felt better than I could have at the time. You can see me wandering a beautiful place, trying to peer inside despite being immersed, reckoning my fascination and respect with my inability to understand.