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Alone in Kowloon
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I'm reading
Alone in Kowloon
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I'm reading
Alone in Kowloon
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Articles
26 September 2021

Alone in Kowloon

Two years into lockdown in Victoria, Ruth Niemiec recollects a much longed-for pastime: travel.

Written by Ruth Niemiec

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There is a place on the coast of the southeast of China, at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta. Hong Kong, the place I miss travelling to most. In Victoria, Australia, we have spent over two-hundred days in lockdown. Travel is permitted if it falls within an exemption, which I do not have.

Like most of us, I look forward to the day I can travel again. Adventure is vital to my soul and the way in which I learn and grow. Who would have thought that we would be living through a global pandemic, and one that has dragged on for so long? With each passing day spent in lockdown, with only the familiar scenery of my home and what lies outside the windows of my home, I itch to be on a plane, headed for my next great journey. The time in my life travelling, immersing myself in cultures, learning customs and navigating the exhilarating unknown still seems so far away.

Hong Kong is my spiritual home and there are a million reasons why. When I close my eyes, I see steam rising off streets, permeated by the soft glow of neon lights, buildings reaching up into the night sky like modern gods. I see bamboo scaffolding, laundry drying outside windows. I see people working, loving, relaxing, existing under a canopy of dense pulsating energy. If you wanted to say a city was alive, it would apply foremost to Kowloon.

Hong Kong’s diversity also brings back memories of manicured gardens, the golden pagoda of Nan Lian Garden, rich red Taoist temples cloaked in incense smoke, luscious green parkland, deep blue sea.

I see the future and the past in one place, and it is the only country that has ever made me feel truly present. When I walk the streets of Kowloon, there is no past to look back on, there’s no future that I need to plan or worry about. Everything is ‘now’, my senses come to life. My heart rests for a moment because everything around me distracts me – in the best possible way.

The first time I travelled alone internationally, I was sure to pick somewhere that looked exciting, but would allow me to dip my toes into solo travelling without too much of a danger element. I looked at brochures of Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Hawaii and Vanuatu, studying them all closely. I decided on Hong Kong, ultimately because the front of the brochure was a red-sailed junk boat, sailing in front of a majestic backdrop of skyscrapers. Looking back, that image truly captured the essence of Hong Kong.

As I sat at the airport with my brother, I rambled off a million things that could go wrong for a woman travelling alone. He assured me I would be “fine”. My heart was pounding away in my chest. Once I was on board though, the adrenaline kicked in and that familiar feeling that comes with being on a plane pacified my nerves. The worry of everything I was leaving behind disappeared, the excitement of adventure awaited and I felt truly alive.

The train ride from Hong Kong airport to Kowloon begins with vistas of pale blue water and dense forest green hills. The train is a dragon; I was inside its warm belly as it flies safely to where I needed to be at that moment. Apartment blocks started appearing, poking out of the land, getting taller and taller until finally I could see the city, which is nothing short of a sci-fi landscape and a marvel of our current civilisation.

Being in Kowloon, surrounded by strangers, feeling miniscule and ordinary, allowed me to realise who I was: a brave woman. I had outgrown my fears of travelling alone. I became comfortable travelling with just a backpack full of necessary items. I found familiarity and common ground through holding ordinary conversations with strangers at restaurants and marketplaces. I was eating Dim Sum beside a Texan who asked me how many times I had visited the city and told me they had been returning since the early 1980s. We discussed Donald Trump on neutral territory. We both complimented the fine quality of the food that we were enjoying, and I was given pointers on where the best places to visit were. The Texan told me Hong Kong felt like a second home. I didn’t know then what I know now, that it too would become a second home to me.

Sitting in the sun by Victoria Harbour, captivated by a cloud of humidity seemingly suspended between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, while listening to a band cover “Kung Fu Fighting,” the wind whipping the sound away, was a particular moment of bliss. It was then I realised how completely liberating travelling could be. The indulgence of solitary experience, the magic of each moment as just your own. I had navigated airports, travelled through the Kowloon’s veins – made up of alleyways, streets and shopping malls, stumbling a few times. I found myself while lost on a street corner, just an hour from midnight, without a map, trying to remember which direction the streets went and struggling to remember if ‘that’ was the building I had seen on the way there, to the random street corner. The confusion and fear subsiding as the warmth and spicy ginger flavour of a street vendors Siu Mai hit my taste buds.

I’ve been to Hong Kong twice and though I was travelling with another person the second time, I still managed to find myself in the city I will always want to return to.

The lights, the noise, the grime between the white tiles in hole in the wall restaurants, serving Michelin rated noodles and brisket that melts in your mouth. I miss the pulsating, dense and vibrant city and when I can be, I’ll be back on a plane to do it all again. I miss it all.

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