It’s been just about three years since I first met Giovanni, and much like our first encounter, to this day I find myself marveled at the kind of character he is. In such a short period of time, he’s been a brother, a mentor, and a teacher. By sharing his experience with us, I hope you’ll be inspired as I have been by him. Here is Giovanni on his recent traveling experiences. -Stephen Obisanya
I’ve never been much of a traveler. Last October, I went to Jamaica, marking the first time I had ever left the country. The week spent there was a life-changing one, within which I met a 93 year-old man who was so wise I swear he could see the fabric of space-time. Not literally of course, but he was something out of a movie. Only instead of climbing ten thousand stairs up a misty mountain to see a bald meditating man with a long beard, I attained awesome knowledge from a bald, dread-locked, bearded man in a motorized wheelchair smoking a joint on the beach. I had began to see what life was like outside my own country, but it was just a small taste. I would never have imagined doing anything as spontaneous as living in another country until I went to Hong Kong.
Getting to Hong Kong was somewhat of a struggle. To make a long story short, Murphy’s Law threw all it could at me. I was slated to go through an exchange program, but I barely met any of the requirements, I barely met any of the deadlines, and I barely had enough money to get there (thank you Financial Aid). Slowly but surely, I pressed on, dragging my feet and reluctantly jumping through the hoops of paperwork to do all that needed to be done to get me there. I thought I would hate it. I told myself that I was going to stay by myself and enjoy what I could of the experience. Even the first group of people I met I attempted to shun. Those people wound up being some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
Hong Kong is a lot like New York City (where I’m from). It moves fast, it beckons you in deeper, it regales you with bright lights and dark alleys, bidding you to enter and explore all it has to offer. It entices you with sights and sounds and smells (stinky tofu is one of the worst things my nose have ever deciphered), and promises much more if you give it the chance. It’s mystical and practical, efficient and silly, beautiful and ugly, all at the same time. As I began to assimilate into its speed and learn its language, I felt something that I never have in New York: comfortable. I felt as if the city wanted me there; a welcoming pat on the back, as if I was accepted in spite of how I butchered a conversation in Cantonese. I’ll never match the feeling of haggling for an umbrella in Temple street market, and talking the vendor to $90 HKD from $180 HKD, completely in Cantonese. I didn’t know a lick of the language before going to Hong Kong, so for a foreigner to accomplish that just 2 months in is awesome. Nothing put a smile on my face more than leaving Lan Kwai Fong (the club district) in a cab full of drunk friends, and giving simple directions to the taxi driver to get us home.
Eating local food was always an adventure. While it may look enticing in the picture, you’ll either end up with Pig intestine and Chicken feet (whew…..), or Mango Honey Roast Duck served with syrup, which I’ve nicknamed “Sex with Stacey Dash”. Or, as I did in a hostel in the mountains, you throw away the food you are used to (beef with rice and eggs) in favor of a local dish consisting of fresh eggs taken from the chickens out back, roots pulled from of the top of the very mountain I stood on, tomatoes and squash grown in a neighbors yard, and rice from the local market.
So how did Hong Kong affect my world view? I’m moving there in two weeks! I spontaneously bought one way return tickets, and have been doing all I can to make it happen in the short two months I’ve been back home. There is life outside of this place you know. And while it is scary being in a foreign country and not knowing the language (mainland China was a nightmare), it will reward you in ways you can’t even think of. Seriously. I learned a new language, met friends from all around the world, and I’m moving to a new country on the other side of the globe all in a little over half a year. My advice to a would-be traveler is forget all your excuses (no money, no time, I’ll do it later, it’ll be hard, etc.), and hammer down a date and destination you want to go to and do it! It will not disappoint.
Hong Kong made me realize that these destinations you see in your mind and in the media are not as far off as you think. I study Kung Fu and have seen dozens of movies in the genre, all filmed in Hong Kong. Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan are my inspirations and they are both from Hong Kong. I never thought I’d actually be there. But as soon as I arrived, it felt as if I had lived there all my life. It’s like in old movies when they talk of the ‘Shores of Tripoli’, or ‘Casablanca’ or ‘Hong Kong: the far eastern Orient’. These places are VERY accessible, if you want to be there. Hong Kong helped me see that.
I realized also, that people are essentially the same no matter where you are. While people in Hong Kong are generally nicer and less confrontational than those in New York, They still suffer from insecurities, and the most powerful of all human debilitators: fear and laziness. However, they live a content life, not having to strive for the next thing (i.e. the next dollar, the next trip, the next reward) and focus more on the one they have now. They enjoy their life, whatever they have or don’t have equally, and are taken care of as a result of this approach. And I’ll tell you what: I’ll take the comfort and contentment of Hong Kong over the insatiable thirst for fame and fortune of my home city ANY day. Two weeks left until I call Hong Kong home.