I come across very few travel blogs that touch on the stress, insecurity and pain of moving around the world, which might make it seem to would-be travellers that solo travel for the experienced is easy and stress free – well it’s not true – at least not for me.
I have now been living in Hong Kong for precisely 13 days and while I’ve had some big highs, I’ve had some even bigger lows. I’ve felt stressed, anxious, sick, depressed, helpless and exhausted, and I have to be honest – I don’t yet see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Moving is painful
Moving is always painful and stressful, but my latest move to Hong Kong has been the hardest one yet. Unlike other moves where my pre-flight nerves are balanced out by excitement, this time I was filled with dread an entire 24 hours before departure. The dread didn’t go away on the flight, it didn’t go away when I landed and it didn’t really go away when I arrived at my destination.
Any excitement that I had felt in the lead up to my move and been replaced by an overwhelming sense of why the hell did I do this to myself…. again?
To be fair, I hate long haul flights. I spent most flights cold, not sleeping, half-watching movies and dreaming up ways to be rich enough to fly private – or at least business.
I also feel challenged when I first arrive in a new city and don’t quite know the lay of the land yet. Are the taxi drivers going to be honest? Will I be able to work out the Subway system? Will people really speak English? Is someone going to mug me before I even get to my place? These are the usual set of questions that run through my brain, but normally I’m so excited that I breeze through the first steps into a new country and by the end of my first day I feel so completely content at my big achievement.
This time though I had a greater initial shock when I saw first hand what Hong Kong was really like. In my mind I had imagined something closer to Singapore than I had this. It was grungier, grimier and smellier than I expected. I had been told that Hong Kong is very East meets West with a large expat community, but in reality Hong Kong is very much an Asian city with a few expats and British Bars lightly sprinkled in. There are areas that have a great deal of expats, but to say there are a great deal in Hong Kong is less than accurate. Fortunately, though, after the initial culture shock, I have been able to readjust my expectations and enjoy the city for what it is rather than what it’s not.
Hong Kong is a special place once. It is crazily efficient, exciting and overwhelming – in a good way. There are massive shopping malls and food markets. Interesting people, bright lights, sky scrapers and energy beyond compare. I have enjoyed brief moments of my stay; like walking through Mong Kok’s Flower Market, visiting Pacific Place, taking train trips out to different stops on Hong Kong Island, meeting friends of friends for coffee in Central and even an amazing day trip to Macau.
The rest of the time though, I have been thrown every possible cruel failure I can think of. Not only did I get sick (like really sick) in my first week, but I also lost my phone, only its worse than that, because the phone in question is less than a metre from where I sit to write this. In some incredible stroke of bad luck my phone fell down a tiny gap between my bed and the wall. Now that might not seem like a big deal since furniture is normally moveable, but in Hong Kong the places are so tiny that the furniture is built in – meaning it’s entirely immovable – unless of course I were to get in a chainsaw and remove the bed myself (in tiny saw dust covered pieces) – something I have fantasised about doing many times in the past 7 days.
No amount of super glue, coat hangers, blue tac, cardboard, crying on Skype to my parents, help from the building staff and my Airbnb host, could get my phone, that is my navigation tool, translator, currency converter, link to home and source of comfort, out.
So after having nights of vomiting and diarrhoea (in a tiny flat with a host who had various friends over to stay and have drinks, because that’s not awkward or embarrassing) and spending more than 24 hours trying to rescue my phone only to have to buy a new one, not to mention a new sim plan (after I had already bought two because the first one was wrong) I figured the two worst possible things had happened to me – it must be smooth sailing from here right?
I’ve had trouble getting my visa sorted, my Hong Kong identity sorted, I haven’t been able to set up a bank account and I have had serious trouble trying to find a permanent place (I still don’t have one).
After putting in major effort to find work I managed to get a job offer after two interviews and I was initially thrilled, only to learn that my expected earning power and my actual earning power are two very different things. It means that I won’t be able to afford most of the apartments I have been looking at. So as excited and grateful that I am about the role I am also terrified about surviving in HK.
Speaking of money, my bad luck hasn’t stopped –
Things really hit their peak when I lost my bank card. Yes, I was awoken at 4am to a metal clang that sounded much like a credit card holder falling onto the ground. Except it wasn’t the ground – it was into that tiny (f**king) impossible gap between my bed and the wall!
I couldn’t believe it. I checked the room ten or more times to actually confirm that it really had happened – again.
I don’t think I have ever felt so panicked in my entire life.
After trying the super glue, blue tack, coat hanger trick, which isn’t really a trick since it doesn’t work so it’s more of a “I’ll do it just to make sure” technique, I tried to figure out what on earth to do next.
Please remember: I’m in a strange foreign country with less than $100 NZ dollars cash – and that’s it. Don’t forget of course, that I haven’t been allowed to set up a bank account without proof of address (because I have no home) and I know no one in Hong Kong well enough to ask for money – so there seemed to be no possible way for me to get any kind of funds.
After finally sorting out temporary accommodation for tomorrow, which has been entirely difficult (if not for the place I found I would be homeless) I spent a stressful day trying to figure out how to get money to myself.
I tried using my British card, but I haven’t used it in so long that the pin has completely gone from my mind. I got rejected at the ATM twice and decide not to risk a third. Lloyds Bank could only issue me a replacement pin in the post (as in snail mail – what is this 1995? and why do they have to issue me a pin anyway? This is the precise reason I forgot the pin in the first place) and they could only do this to the address that I have on record – which is some 9000 miles away in London. I’m just not sure I should be trusting my old Landlord Rahad with my bank details.
My next focus was on getting money through my New Zealand bank (the card I had lost). I called ANZ to see if they could grant me emergency international money – they couldn’t. Their hands were all but tied, besides being able to issue me a new card – that I would need to be posted to me in Hong Kong …. and in the meantime I would presumably starve to death.
After a very long and tearful Skype call home I remembered my one saving grace – a link to a place that I have been going on about since I left and have been entirely homesick for… the United States of America. After rifling through all sorts of documents and using just about every swear word there is; I found a miracle visa card for Chase bank and the best part – I knew the pin! There are very limited funds in my American account, but fortunately I have been able to re-stock my cash supply until I can have more money wired into that account once the weekend is over (because of course this had to happen on a Friday) which will hopefully keep me from drowning.
Just when I thought I was getting things on track I became aware that my Airbnb host is none too thrilled about some marks and scratches on the (bastard) wall behind the bed that have come about as a result of coat hangers and various other phone and wallet rescue techniques. My offer of compensation was rejected and the counter offer was double my original offer. Enough compensation to paint the room by my calculations, and unfortunately my hands are tied by something that could be fixed by a $10 test pot of paint, if only I had the authority to fix it myself. It is more than a kick in the teeth to lose your phone, your wallet and then have to pay an extra fine for that loss.
Even though I feel frustrated by this situation, I am also hesitant to end things in bad blood and I have to remind myself that there is another side – someones wall has been damaged by me and I have to meet their request to resolve my mistake. I have always had such great travel experiences with hosts, friends, contacts, work colleagues and even strangers on the street. I have always wanted to leave places better than I found them and people with a better energy for my having been there.
For the most part I think I have succeeded in doing this, but here in Hong Kong I feel like a travel failure. No place, nor person has been improved by my presence.
I’ve failed at being a seasoned traveller in control of her possessions and necessities. I’ve failed at being a polite and low-impact guest (something I’ve always been described as in the past) and I’ve failed at keeping myself healthy.
I don’t know why, but just about everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Far from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel all I can possibly think is why the hell did I move here?