I close my eyes during every takeoff, listening to the humming of the plane, and feeling the jolt as it lifts from the tarmac. I don’t close them because of a fear of flying, but because I have to convince myself every time that my destination is real and that the journey itself is also real.
The flight from Sydney to Hong Kong is eight hours, long enough to feel the transition from nervousness to excitement, inquisition and then reflection. #PassportToAsia is a creative dream, an immersion into a vibrant continent with other photographers, videographers, documentary filmmakers, writers and illustrators from six different countries.
As we gathered one by one through the Arrivals Hall of Hong Kong International Airport in the early hours of the morning, I could see that the others had also felt the same anticipation and mixed emotions. Each of us had a different story, purpose and skill set, yet were ultimately linked by the fact we were here to grow further in our creative abilities. We nervously hugged, shook hands, drank coffee and shared stories as a waking sun unveiled the mountainous peaks and towering skyscrapers of Hong Kong.
We had landed in Asia to not only learn from each other, but to absorb knowledge and skills from a talented group of mentors. It was truly a unique moment exiting the airport on the first day with 16 like-minded people, not knowing what to expect but knowing that this experience was unlike any of our previous journeys.
Growing up, I was always enthralled by my grandfather’s stories of the East. He was one of the first to start importing garments from China to Australia in the 1960s and 70s, often spending half his time between Beijing, Hong Kong and other cities in the continent for work. I have an indescribable connection to the continent for this reason. It is so unlike Australia, and yet somehow has always felt like home.
Asia is where my immersion into traveling first began, at the age of 19. A boy with his backpack lost amongst infinite neon lights, exploring bustling markets and neighborhoods that never slept. Five years later, I’ve touched down in 13 countries in Asia, each one exhibiting extraordinary landscapes, a wide range of people to meet and uniquely diverse cultures.
This is my fourth time visiting Hong Kong, and yet I have found myself again completely lost in the unfamiliar, feeling like I have entered a new city. Facades have been constructed underneath bamboo scaffolding, restaurants have been relocated, walkways redirected, rooftops closed to make way for another row of apartments stacked on top. It is like watching Legos constructed higher and higher, expanding as more and more people are welcomed by the city. That is the true beauty of a city always in transition.
Our group ventured out into our local neighborhood of Tsim Sha Tsui, a district on the cape of Kowloon Peninsula always bustling with activity. We each navigated through the market on Reclamation Street, amongst a collection of stalls selling dried fish, baby clothes, citrus fruits, wonky vegetables and a selection of hanging meats. People shifted in every direction; bartering for goods, pushing trolleys of cardboard boxes, ducking into small alleyways for a cigarette, or pulling out a seat to have their lunch. Just an ordinary day in Hong Kong, but an extraordinary sight for those unaccustomed to the ongoing activity. I was almost unable to fix my sight on a single focal point. There is so much to see and so much changing, that each of us were able to take a different story from a single place.
By afternoon, our bellies were full of dim sum and time zones from back home kicked in, and we returned to our new ‘home’, the InterContinental, overlooking the Harbour before nightfall, to catch the daily 8 p.m. routine of the ‘Symphony of Lights’. It was hypnotizing to stare out across Victoria Harbour and watch Hong Kong come to life at night. I was truly able to see the city as a landscape composed of 7 million stories, from the office buildings full of suits working late to the makeshift stalls on every corner and the many hidden eateries serving bowls of steaming noodles.
On the first night of #PassportToAsia, I found myself closing my eyes yet again, half expecting to still be on a tarmac. Upon opening them again, I was reassured that this experience was indeed real, and only just beginning.
This is the first 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.