The very first thing I remember as I stepped into baggage claim, after 24 hours of traveling, waiting in line for customs, and being jetlagged to the point of just wanting to fall asleep on the nearest bench, was the sea of smiling faces. I felt almost like a celebrity, as the people waiting for us waved and cheered as we came through customs. A smile broke through on my face and I couldn’t help but feel relaxed; I knew I would be fine. The people waiting were the host families, the people willing to take me and the rest of my group into their homes for a week, the people ready to give us a glimpse into their lives, excited to show us their culture, and more than anything become a true family to us even in this short period of time. A young, shy looking girl approached me and introduced herself as Sky, the girl who would be hosting me for the week. We took an incredible amount of pictures (as I would learn throughout the week was extremely common), found our luggage, and split up into our respective families. I squinted to read the signs, which flashed back and forth between English and Chinese: Tuen Mun, Kowloon, New Territories, and a large sign right above the door to leave the airport which read: æ¬¢è¿Žå…‰ä¸´é¦™æ¸¯,Welcome to Hong Kong!
When I first walked into Sky’s family’s apartment, part of me was wondering, “Is this it? This couldn’t possibly be it.” For some reason I expected someone to open up a door that would reveal a hallway leading to another section of the apartment, or even a normal sized room. But I soon realized that what I saw from the doorway was all there was. Of course, I had been told that the living spaces were cramped, but it still came as a shock to see it for the first time. Everything in the apartment, though, was neater and cleaner than any house I had ever been to in America. Hearing us come in, Sky’s mother stood up to greet us. The smile on her face matched the ones I saw at the airport with its warmth and kindness. She didn’t speak a word of English, and Sky whispered in her ear the word “Welcome” to say when I thanked her for the beautiful jade bracelet she gave me. She was clearly a little nervous and anxious, and kept saying “ok?” and “you like?” as she pointed out various aspects of the area where I would be sleeping as well as the dinner she had prepared. It was amazing to me how calm and happy Sky and her parents were living in such a small space. I tried to imagine my family, or any other American family for that matter, spending even one night living in a place this small, and shuddered at the thought. But Sky’s family lived there every day with a never leaving smile on each and every one of their faces. The whole first night was a whirlwind of meeting new people, seeing new things, and taking in the seemingly endless crowds of people as Sky and I made our way to her apartment, but my clearest memory was the smiles that never left the faces of the people surrounding me. I had many unbelievable experiences throughout my trip to Hong Kong, but what I will never forget is how I began and ended my journey surrounded by smiling faces.
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