I was in Nicaragua when I received the call. “Hey! This is Zach. I just wanted to formally invite you on behalf of Passion Passport to be a participant on the Passport to Asia experience.”

Excited, I barraged Zach with a million questions I didn’t even realize I had and then hung up the phone. I couldn’t even tell you if our conversation ended with a proper and couth farewell but nevertheless, as I sat on the end of the bed I felt it: A smile the size of a Texan’s pride of Texas crept onto my face.

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A participant. Heck. Yeah. An incoming wave of excitement washed over me which receded, as waves do, into an unexpected sigh of relief. Last September, I had the privilege of being invited to document the Passport Express cross country train experience as the staff photographer. I witnessed the alchemy of travel and shared experiences between 32 strangers brought together under the banner of creativity and mentorship. I watched time and vulnerability disarm, stretch, inspire and knit together a community of people that became a family. I was in the midst of the magic but by the nature of my role, couldn’t help but in a way feel outside of it. I struggle most with feeling present when I’m juggling shot lists, expectations, and ironically, documenting.

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I’ve learned that the framework of a house can be constructed, but it’s the people who fill it that create the sense of “home.” Having been given a peek behind the scenes last September, I learned Passion Passport can only curate an experience and create an opportunity to show up. It’s on the participants to breath life into what the experience has the potential to become. A participant. This time, my sole job was to simply show up.

Show up with an openness and willingness to help create that sense of “home.” I gave myself permission to “Be present.” We walked along the Wan Chai financial district in Hong Kong. The streets felt like valleys as we moved toward the revolving restaurant that sits atop the Hopewell Centre. The sounds of traffic, a universal language, buzzing like bed music beneath our group chatter and the intermittent beeps from car horns reminded us to stay alert. We ducked onto a side street to wait for the rest of our team. I caught my reflection in a storefront window and I pulled my camera to my eye to snap a photo. Out of habit, I immediately chimp the display on the back of my camera and smile considering the irony of the capture; a face obscured, separated by a barrier. It’s disconnect connectedness. Or is it a connected disconnectedness?

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“Be present,” I remind myself. When casually asked to recall the itinerary activities and length of time we’ve been here, I was surprised by the reality that it’s only been a couple of days. It doesn’t seem possible, but that’s the “magic” of it all; that’s the “magic” of being present. The experience has already been rich, and full. Conversations are beginning to slope toward vulnerable and late night chats and drinks encourage the shedding of layers. Together, we’ve hiked and tamed the wild vistas of Dragon’s Back, wandered, and navigated various forms of public transportation. We’ve shared some of the most extravagant meals, and both laughed and applauded one another’s attempts at shaping the perfect dim sum dumpling. We’ve learned from watching one another create. We’ve sheepishly voiced insecurities to find that we’re not alone in the struggle. We’ve poked, prodded, challenged, and inspired one another.“Be present,” I tell myself. It’s of utmost importance.

Related:  A Day in the Life of an English Teacher in Colombia

This is the second of a four-part series on our time in Hong Kong during the #PassportToAsia trip in collaboration with Cathay Pacific Airways. Images by Adrienne Pitts.

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Sionnie LaFollette
Sionnie is a visual storyteller. Her mother, a native of the Philippines, and her father, a perpetual nomad, instilled in her the value of story, adventure, and connecting with people in diverse cultures around the world. She carries those values into her work, bringing a unique, authentic perspective to the human experience, both at home and around the world. See more at www.sionnie.com or on Instagram @whereissionnie.

1 COMMENT

  1. Great article! It’s amazing how the joy of being present and mindful actually seems to extend time. It is amazing how much occurrs in a day when you slow down to take it all in.

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