Last week I had the supreme privilege of traveling to the Far East for business. I made the trip last year as well, (which I wrote about here), but this year was different because I had a better idea of what to expect…sort of. I didn’t get lost at all in the mammoth hotel. I was able to find my own way from Hong Kong to Macau without even batting an eyelash, and I felt much more comfortable and confident when speaking to the other participants than I did last year. In fact, some participants even remembered me from last year, which was simultaneously exciting and just a wee bit awkward, since history has proven that I tend to be rather forgettable.
This year, instead of flying direct to Bangkok and then to Macau’s tiny airport, I was ‘drafted’ into taking the ‘scenic route’, flying from Tel Aviv to Kiev to Bangkok to Hong Kong, where I boarded an hour-long ferry to Macau. In fairness, I’ve always dreamed of traveling the world – I’m just not sure that this is exactly what I had in mind! But maybe I should have been more specific in the formulation of these dreams…
I’ll spare you the details about the work stuff, and about the 50 hours of travel time. OK, one quick story: on the flight from Kiev to Bangkok, someone lit a cigarette in the bathroom (aka, the lavatory). SERIOUSLY. I was actually sleeping when I heard the fire alarm go off, and it’s a darn good thing that I was, or I’d probably have freaked out a bit more from the sudden, incessant wailing. I was almost relieved when I smelled the cigarette fumes, because I became instantly alert and realized that the plane wasn’t going down or anything – it just had a really, really stupid person aboard. But as long as it wasn’t the pilot, I felt comfortably trying to go back to sleep.
The most interesting part of the trip was the few hours that I took to visit Hong Kong city before heading to Hong Kong airport. I researched a bit and found out that the “Ladies Market” would be an interesting place to go in the short time that I had. Needless to say, I was nervous about finding my way there, which required a ferry and two subways. The ferry was no problem. But I hadn’t received great subway directions from the concierge (who’d never even heard of the Ladies Market). Luckily, when we arrived at the ferry terminal in Hong Kong, there was a lovely couple who I heard speaking English, and I decided to ask if they happened to know the way. As if the stars were fully aligned, they were heading in my direction, and offered to show me to the Mong Kok station where the market was, and to teach me about changing trains. They even explained to me how to get to the airport from the market, and listened to my idle chatter as I shared my excitement about this new experience. I only had an hour or so there, but I was able to get a feel for Hong Kong (the city looks pretty similar to New York – I even found a 7-eleven where I got some Haagen Dasz), and to explore the market, where you can get almost anything from authentic Asian slippers and Chinese robes to knockoff designer handbags (again, quite like New York City, but in much larger volume).
And then, the unthinkable happened. Left alone to navigate my way back to the airport via subway and train, I braced myself for the adventure ahead. I managed to purchase the train ticket and fought the rush hour crowds into the depths of the Mong Kok subway station (which once again reminded me of New York, except so much cleaner). And there, standing on the subway platform, was the kind stranger who had shown me the way only a short time ago, heading back towards Macau on the very same subway line! I wrote last year that traveling alone isn’t so much fun, because you don’t have anyone to share weird observations with, but in those moments, I was able to share my reflections with this lovely Hungarian stranger (who just so happened to move to Macau, learn his way around Hong Kong, and be nice enough to share his knowledge with a total stranger). And so, Lori and Rebecca, if you’re reading this blog (which I hope you are), just wanted to let you know how much your kindness and spontaneous friendship improved my trip – thank you!
I made several purchases over the course of my trip, souvenirs for the family I left behind. But this time I didn’t buy anything for myself (unless you count an overpriced bag of potato chips or an ice cream bar?). I didn’t need to. Because I came home with wonderful memories, one more reminder about the fantastic people in this world and a greater confidence in my ability to talk to new people and to navigate unfamiliar territories. Lastly, I came home with 500+ unanswered emails (which almost a week later I’m still going through)? And when you have all those things, who needs (or has time for) physical stuff?