Within ten seconds of stepping outside the air-conditioned airport, sweat was dripping down the side of my face, and my hair was clinging relentlessly to the nape of my neck. Hong Kong is a place with many labels, including the world’s freest market, the center of shopping and food, and the easy-to-catch celebrities spot. However, no one had ever warned me that it was a jungle of humidity. My notions of Hong Kong were derived from all the Hong Kong dramas I have watched, commonly featuring action-packed movie stars who remained perfect despite heated battles. But now as I stood here, drowning in my own sweat, I could not help but wonder whether I had idealized this place too much.
I was on vacation with my family, and we had flown all the way across the Pacific Ocean from sunny California to sweltering Hong Kong. Indeed, Hong Kong is a melting pot, not only because of the weather, but also because of the various cultures, mix of traditional and modern times, and combination of sophistication and chaos.
I first noticed this when we boarded the metro. I was immediately fascinated by a large map above our heads, with all the different stations sprawled everywhere. As we slowed down, the speakers announced our stop in three different languages, first Cantonese, then Mandarin, and finally English. We got off and pushed our way through the crowd to the streets above, only to meet a larger crowd. Cantonese floated throughout the condensed air, loud, sharp, with emphasis on the end of the sentence. The tones were necessary to carry through the noise of honking buses, swerving taxis, beeping stoplights, and the footsteps of hundreds and hundreds of pedestrians.
After walking past several blocks, we reached a mall with an angled structure, showing off its modern design. My cousins and I fought for entrance, desperate for air conditioning. The mall was stuffed. Tons of people gathered around a focal point, where a celebrity was hosting a show. I gaped at my luck. My first day in Hong Kong, and already I have seen a celebrity! But, soon, we were drawn back out to the streets, where worn stalls graced us with exotic pink fruits and simple clothing items. We passed Indian men wearing colorful turbans and African men garbed in traditional wear. We ducked under dripping signs and trudged down a road filled with tables of food.
Where was I? I felt overwhelmed. There were so many things, so many noises, so many people. I was lost in the middle of all of it. My breath was running short, and my sweat made my clothes stick to my body. Where was the glamour that was Hong Kong? It felt like I was dropped into turmoil and left there to simmer. All of the sudden, the sky opened up and rain poured down. Everywhere around me, Hongkongers unsheathed their umbrellas and continued as if nothing was wrong. My cousins and I looked at each other, and then we all ran to find cover.
As I was running, I felt a sense of euphoria. So this is what it felt like to experience something entirely new! I had come to Hong Kong with a thrilling image in my mind, not preparing for the fact that it may be something I have never experienced before. The rain was drenching my hair and clothes, but I smiled. It was strange yet wonderful, to feel something so different. If this is what going to new places is like, then I am willing to travel to anywhere in the world.
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