Sunday, January 15, 2012

Traveling, part 1

Once, when I was in high school, I happened to leaf through a special edition of TIME magazine that had brilliant panoramic photos of the biggest cities in the world. At the time, I had only been to three of the more than 100 cities featured: Vancouver, Seattle, and San Francisco. Even those cities seemed small compared to the rest in the magazine.

As I flipped through the pages, one shot in particular caught my attention. It was a night shot clearly taken from a tall hill overlooking the city, which encircled a harbor in blinking, twinkling lights: Hong Kong. I am not sure why, out of all the cities in the magazine, Hong Kong stood out so vividly, but something about it captured my imagination and briefly took me out of rural Washington and dropped me somewhere so foreign, so exotic.

My eyes scanned the brilliant skyscrapers and city lights along Victoria Harbor and I wondered what was happening in the city at the moment that the picture was taken, what was happening even as I looked at the picture. Surely there were millions of people in the city--what must it be like to be one of those people? What was it like to look at those dazzling buildings from the streets of the city? What was it like to stand and look out over the harbor? Was it cold? Was it warm? What sounds, sights and smells would overwhelm me, and would they be familiar to me or completely new and unexpected?

In that instant, I attempted to step into the shoes of people for whom I had no previous knowledge, no context and seemingly no common ground. It was terrifying and it was exciting. Even after I'd put the magazine down, the thought persisted: what is it like to walk those streets? To be in the middle of an iridescent urban jungle? From that moment on, I dreamed of one day actually walking those streets myself.

Of course, I was only dreaming, right? I mean, if I did any sort of world travel in college or later, I would go to Europe. To go to Hong Kong... well, it seemed wild, impractical.

Still, the vision of the Hong Kong city lights remained clear and bright in my mind's eye in a way that no other city on earth could compete with.

When I thought of world travel, adventure and excitement, Hong Kong was the first place that came to mind. Still, the prospect intimidated me even in hypotheticals and in daydreams about traveling the globe, so I would put it out of mind and dream about places that were adventurous in a much safer, more familiar way... Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum.

In March of 2008, I visited New York City for the first time during a free-day on a college choir tour to the East Coast. As I walked those busy streets, surrounded by buildings that seemed to disappear into the clouds, my mind again returned to that photo of Hong Kong. Soon, I would graduate from college and then I would start my career as a teacher--not much travel involved in that profession! I smiled and thought to myself, "Hong Kong will never happen, but hey, New York is a fair consolation prize."

Little did I know that exactly a year later, I'd be in Hong Kong, walking those streets that I had often dreamed about. Though invisible to the naked eye, I would be in at least 10,000 tourist pictures (me and over 10 million others, of course). Perhaps relatives and home-bodies would look at those photos and wonder, as I had years before, just what it was like to walk those streets, what it was like to be a part of a scene so sweeping, so foreign, so spectacular.

By that time, I would have an answer.

(To be continued)

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