This is embarrassing, in fact I’m confident any readers I had hooked with my introduction may consider me a complete fraud when you read the first ever email I sent home after arriving in Hong Kong for three days at the beginning of our years backpacking adventure;
1st July 2006; First Instalment of our adventures
Hi there, it’s me and Nathan at 2.35am here in Hong Kong, and England have just lost their game – bummer, I was soooooo giddy. Hong Kong is so humid, it’s a little unbearable and the things they cook and show on the streets are not nice; ducks with beaks still attached and rats! The buildings are amazing – lots of photos taken and lots more to see before we leave.’ Only a quick email for now to say we have arrived safe and sound and lapping it all up. Speak and email in detail soon. Lindsay x
OK, so here’s the thing, I did promise to include the emails and journals exactly as I wrote them minus the spelling errors, I’ve removed these because let’s face it my use of the written English language is humorous enough. I mean I seriously wrote ‘bummer’ in an email to my parents. I remember my dad at a parents evening once telling my English teacher I sounded like, and I quote, ‘a refugee from Eastenders.’ My mum was an absolute TV soap addict hence the link. I was absolutely mortified, I still am, I’ve never quite fully understood my dad’s humour but I can’t deny my first email home makes me wonder how I ever passed my English exams; I did by the way.
On reflection I realise just how innocent to travelling at this point I was, I’ve just arrived in a new country and instead of using every waking hour to explore I’m engrossed in watching a football match. What I will tell you about this match is that me and Nathan (I can’t quite bring myself to write Nathan and I, it always sounds too formal) were the only two English people watching the game in a hotel conference room full of local people. When we went into the room it was set out like a school class room with tables and chairs for two people in three rows facing a blank wall which the game was projected onto. We were seated in the middle, and had inevitably become ‘the attraction’ being watched throughout the game. It was a far cry from the day I got my first, and to date only, speeding fine on a motorway making my way to an England game at the Baths Hall in Scunthorpe, with my face painted, team shirt on, clappers and beer in hand and no doubt screaming profanities at a screen in a space full of people doing exactly the same somehow now I wonder why on earth it mattered to me to be on time? But that’s just it isn’t it; I was totally in the moment, surrounded by friends and caught up in the excitement of wondering could this be the year that England win the world cup? Nevertheless, and despite for the first time really feeling out of my comfort zone in Hong Kong, we embraced this new found interest in our nationality and began interacting with the locals where it became apparent I had absolutely no idea about who the players were or how the actual game even worked , I mean ‘off side’ what does that even mean, afterwards I came to the rather obvious conclusion that I genuinely have no interest in the game, it was the atmosphere I’d momentarily enjoyed and yet here I sat amongst a roomful of locals willing to teach me the rules, tell me who their English player heroes were and genuinely share an interest in my country while telling us all about the best places to visit in theirs; I can say this now, having lived amongst different cultures over the years that have passed by since this, that this was without knowing the beginning of learning to enjoy the similarities and differences in other cultures. I have honestly never planned to watch another England game since this one, that’s not to say it’s never been background noise somewhere, but I accepted there and then that if I was to fully enjoy and learn from our year’s backpacking adventure that I’d have to absorb myself in exploring new places and along the way begin to accept who I am.
I will add that its true we did explore the local streets around the hotel we were staying in and had seen full fried ducks complete with beak hanging dripping from the open windows, however rats I fear may have been a complete exaggeration, I suspect upon research that what was hanging on the rotisserie ovens were many other forms of edible meat, not rats, but to my untrained, horrified eyes, I’ve renamed it all rat and retreated to the safety of my hotel and emailed home at 2.35am, likely intoxicated and jetlagged (great combo) in the hope I’d have a hamper of all my own favourite delicacies delivered to save me ever having to witness food displayed in this manner again. This all leads back to my earlier comment about my innocence of life other than I’ve known it; clean supermarkets and fast food from chain companies. This wasn’t the moment that taught me the joy in experiencing new flavours, oh no I was found happily tucking into a Macdonald’s the next afternoon, in fact I’ve always had an intolerance to Chinese takeaway food based on this experience, I taste the grease before the fork even reaches my mouth, but it did however, along with the conversation we’d had later that evening with locals at the England game lead us to try a local restaurant the next evening. Once again we were the only English people in the restaurant, placed in the middle, and with no clue what the menu said we left it up to the owner to bring us dishes he thought we’d like. I genuinely mean this, it was all delicious, exceptionally cheap and overall something I’d now recommend anyone traveling anywhere does, find where the locals eat and eat there. Time and time again we’ve done this when we’ve travelled; each has brought us new flavours, new experiences and a universal recognition of how kindness is received when you branch out of the ordinary.
Just last week I met a woman at a playgroup with Zack who is now living in Sheffield coming from Hong Kong, she asked me of the places we visited and where we stayed. I had to call Nathan, my mind drew a blank over the name of the place we stayed, Kowloon, and while I could describe in detail the places we visited none of the names had stuck. For a few days I’ve pondered over whether this meant I hadn’t truly absorbed our time in Kowloon, thinking I can’t have, I’d have remembered the names. Yet as I returned to a different playgroup and introduced myself and Zack to the same parent of who’d I equally forgotten their names, I knew then my answer, like I clearly recognised this parent and their child and we exchange brief conversations it’s because we are both as busy as each other chasing after our one year olds, ensuring they enjoy the experience of playing with other children and toys, and the same can be said of Kowloon, I remember the images of the places we visited clear as day, the smells of the street food, and the feelings I had racing around an unknown country proud that our adventure had begun and that I’d braved the unknown, so yes I believe I did absorb my time in Kowloon, and to prove it I still have the fridge magnet of ‘Nathan Road’ (no, not a beautiful place in Kowloon) to prove it!
So I’ll end it here, I’ve had a sneak peak at the next email I sent home, it’s much lengthier, in fact so much so I may have to break it down into two halves. I’m not quite sure how I want to end each blog but I think I’ll go with this for now;
To Isabel and Zack; if this time taught me anything it is that the bravest thing you can do in life is to step out of your comfort zone, it may well feel scary but this too is OK, remember ‘your people’ these will be your go to who won’t ever judge you but will advise and encourage you. (PS, always be willing to try other foods but not if it looks like rat.)
To mum; I remember your tears as you waved us off at the airport, I’m sorry that I didn’t understand then how hard it is to let your babies go, and worse still that the this was my first email home. I imagine, and I’d like to believe that you were just pleased to hear from me right, ‘that’s our Lindsay’ you’d have said with a smile.
* Photo collage at the beginning; top photo taken after said speeding fine, middle photo after England lost the World Cup watching from said hotel conference room, the bottom photo as proof we ventured out to explore.
I am a 'wannabe' Nomad who currently lives in Sheffield with my husband and two children. I genuinely love exploring new places but finding time to fit this in is tricky so more often than not I'm found in the closest independent coffee shop because nothing cheers me up better than a decent coffee.