Back to Nature, Part V

As a holiday winds down, the sadness of its impending end can temper the joy of the remaining days. Not having anything to look forward to can rob one of living in the moment of the experience. For this road trip, I wanted something to anticipate. I wanted to end on a "bang".

And I found it. 

The Black Swan Inn in Pocatello, Idaho is one of the most amazing hotels I've ever stayed at. It is themed and the attention to detail in each unique suite is truly impressive. For our penultimate stay, we booked the Mayan Rainforest Room which included a walk-in shower in the base of a "tree trunk", the branches of which hid the second floor jacuzzi tub. Next to the leopard-print bed was a 15-ft waterfall with a live koi pond. Even the bathroom was painted in murals that made it seem like one was deep in the jungle. I cannot recommend this place enough and am definitely going to plan future roadtrips to navigate through the area so I can return. Whether one's stay is for a romantic evening or honeymoon, it is a gem. 


Fun fact: Pocatello, Idaho, is also home to the Museum of Clean


Our final night was spent getting back to nature again - comfortably - in a deluxe cabin at another KOA campground in Great Falls, Montana, where we used our fleeting holiday time to wine and dine on a barbecue feast while watching the golden tones of sunset pour over the vista of prairie and mountain laid before us. I felt contentment in the moment. I felt renewed from the journey, despite its brevity. I was born to explore. To learn. To live. I am so thankful my father instilled this curiosity and love of travel within me. I thought of him often on this trip; in solitude I've shared the details with him, hoping my whisper carries on the air to wherever his spirit resides. 

As the evening came to a close, I tried to enjoy the ambient noise of the whirring overhead fan while fighting the urge to turn on the television to catch up on world events. While my partner showered, I figured sneaking in ten minutes of numbing my brain wouldn't do too much damage and searched for the remote. The only channel with reception was showing a wrestling match but it wasn't WWE; in fact, I didn't recognize any of the characters on screen ... until I did. 

"Holy shit", I said to myself. 

Years (and years) ago, when I was a teenager, a colleague had taken me to watch her boyfriend wrestle in a local Winnipeg league called Top Rope Championship Wrestling (TRCW). Growing up with Hulk Hogan and the like on Saturday afternoons, I immediately got into it. The skill, the theatrics, the swagger all appealed to this shy girl who was looking to break free from her high school rep of being a wallflower. So when I was asked to valet their tag team, I took up the offer. It might not be a Toastmaster event, but the experience definitely instilled a confidence in me to command a crowd and not be so self-conscious. Anyway, there was one person who always stood out at TRCW. A curly-haired teenager armed with a steely resolve (and an apparent closet full of Hawaiian shirts) who could maneuver around the ring with technique that was lightyears beyond his older, more seasoned opponents. I recall even mentioning to others that if anyone could make it in the big leagues, it would be him. 

So to my surprise and delight, there he was—on the tiny television in my cabin in Montana— Kenny Omega, Heavyweight Champion for New Japan Pro Wrestling and Sports Illustrated's tap for next big thing in sports entertainment. 

One never knows where the journey in life will lead. 

 The awesome Mayan Rainforest suite at the Black Swan Inn, Pocatello, Idaho (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

The awesome Mayan Rainforest suite at the Black Swan Inn, Pocatello, Idaho (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Mayan Rainforest Suite at the Black Swan Inn, Pocatello, Idaho (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Mayan Rainforest Suite at the Black Swan Inn, Pocatello, Idaho (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 15ft waterfall with koi pond at the Black Swan Inn, Pocatello, Idaho (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

15ft waterfall with koi pond at the Black Swan Inn, Pocatello, Idaho (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Treehouse jacuzzi at the Black Swan Inn, Pocatello, Idaho (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Treehouse jacuzzi at the Black Swan Inn, Pocatello, Idaho (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Shower in a tree trunk, Black Swan Inn, Pocatello, Idaho (©2018, Deborah Clague).

Shower in a tree trunk, Black Swan Inn, Pocatello, Idaho (©2018, Deborah Clague).

 Tesla-charging stations in the middle of nowhere, Montana (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Tesla-charging stations in the middle of nowhere, Montana (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 "Roughing" it in Great Falls, Montana (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

"Roughing" it in Great Falls, Montana (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Firing up the grill, Great Falls, Montana (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Firing up the grill, Great Falls, Montana (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 BBQ, Great Falls, Montana (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

BBQ, Great Falls, Montana (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 View from cabin in Great Falls, Montana (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

View from cabin in Great Falls, Montana (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Top Rope Championship Wrestling, circa 2000 (©Deborah Clague).

Top Rope Championship Wrestling, circa 2000 (©Deborah Clague).

 Top Rope Championship Wrestling, circa 2000 (©Deborah Clague)

Top Rope Championship Wrestling, circa 2000 (©Deborah Clague)

Sin City, Part IV

Bright light city gonna set my soul
Gonna set my soul on fire
Got a whole lot of money that's ready to burn
So get those stakes up higher


Las Vegas, Nevada, is an unremarkable four-hour drive from the Grand Canyon. Remaining in one's air conditioned vehicle is a comfortable way to pass the time, although it gives a false sense of just how excruciating it is outside. Sure, I saw the external temperature listed as 44 degrees celsius but it's easy to remain oblivious to what that actually feels like until you step outside and have it bearing down on your person. It feels like being smothered in an invisible weighted blanket that just came out of Hell's dryer.

This would be my third trek to Sin City, a place I normally would avoid as I am definitely not a Vegas-type person, but I thought it would be interesting for my partner who is from a communist state in India to see the trappings of capitalism at its grandest form. The bougie in Las Vegas is incomparable to anything he grew up with (although he has experienced Dubai which is absolutely the Vegas of the Middle East). This would also mark the first time I had a vehicle while visiting, previously only exploring a limited tourist area on foot. Driving down the glittering Strip at night, next to Lamborghinis and other pricy Italian sports cars, owned and rented, was a truly memorable moment. But it was also fascinating to see the side of Vegas beyond the glitz and glamour - it's nondescript suburbia. 

Our hotel room wasn't ready when we arrived, so we spent a few hours shopping at a few stores along Tropicana Avenue including a grocery store that had slot machines within it. It was around 2:00pm and people were playing them. Naturally. We then hit up a Wal-Mart to pick up some essentials. Perusing American big box stores is a fun experience for me. I like seeing all the stuff they don't sell up in Canada (and there is a lot of it). I've always been the type to want to try everything, although with my recent evolution in eating habits I've become a bit more discerning. Nonetheless, the candy and chip aisle had me twitching like a junkie needing a fix. I permitted myself a bag of Doritos in a flavour I'd never encountered before as well as an Almond Joy. The following day we shopped like the wild rock stars we are at both Whole Foods and Trader Joes where I bought a number of healthier groceries including different types of flour and spices that I've been incorporating into my cooking since returning. Sidenote: dark moscavado sugar from the island of Mauritius is legit changing my life. 

Our hotel room at the Luxor still wasn't ready when we returned, leaving us to loiter around the casino and adjacent properties where I became so parched after a ten-minute walk outside that I didn't bat an eye at spending $6.50 U.S. on a small bottle of water. During our excursion, my partner could not believe that all of these giant hotels had giant casinos operating twenty-four hours a day. He didn't see a point to it. Admittedly, neither do I. But one of the pillars of the American business model is the belief that a fool and their money are soon parted. Nowhere has this belief gained more efficiency than Vegas. 

It was July fourth and crowds were to be expected but our hotel appeared to be a disorganized mess. It took an additional three hours before we could check in. I was relieved when we finally got the key, only to be disappointed upon entering the room. The upgraded suite that I assumed would have a decent view overlooked a roof, while the only recognizable landmark visible was the Mandalay Bay tower looming in the background in which the deadliest mass shooting in United States history occurred less than a year ago. 


There's a thousand pretty women waiting out there
They're all living devil may care
And I'm just the devil with love to spare
Viva Las Vegas

 


We didn't gamble. We didn't see any shows. We did, however, have an enjoyable history lesson one evening at Vegas' Neon Museum. Yes, I'm a nerd who would rather be feeding my mind than drinking it into oblivion at a nightclub. No shame in that. I've always been fascinated with the art of neon signage. I feel it is a legit form of advertising that is lost in modern society, at least in the Western world where it is unfairly considered kitsch. In parts of Asia I have traveled it is as much a part of urban identity as, say, a park with entire blocks (even neighbourhoods) bathing in their glow. I personally akin it to an illuminated garden that magically comes alive as the sun sets. I admit, it might not be for everyone, but in an era of branded homogenization, imagine how much more interesting the world would be with less golden arches and more unique visual design morphing our streetscapes into public galleries. 

 Atrium of Luxor hotel, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Atrium of Luxor hotel, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 The iconic Las Vegas sign designed by graphic designer Betty Willis (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

The iconic Las Vegas sign designed by graphic designer Betty Willis (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

The Neon Museum, Las Vegas (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

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Northern Idiocy, Part III

I woke up in the middle of the night absolutely frozen and in a tug-of-war over blankets. I'm from Canada. I believe I am an expert in cold. I don't need to make up stories for my grandkids, I actually do walk to work when it's below -40 degrees celcius. So it's simply naivety that I, of course, knew it got cold in the desert at night but I didn't realize exactly HOW cold it got. It is downright bone-chilling! Having said that, I'm from Winnipeg so naturally I won the battle for the comforter. 


If you've never been to the Grand Canyon, let me describe the experience: if visiting the South Rim—the most popular location to view this natural wonder—you will start your day, preferably early, driving in from either Flagstaff or Williams. The journey will take just over an hour on a single lane highway in which not a single vehicle will pay heed to the posted speed limit. There are few places to stop. You will, however, pass a Flintstones campground that looks like it was constructed in 2018 B.C. (it might be enjoyable to visit for nostalgic purposes if it weren't so damn depressing). As you near the national park entrance, the landscape will change from desert to thick forest. Afterwards, you will be met with several supersized parking lots. Even if you arrive early, like we did, they will all be near capacity. 

I managed to park in the last row of the last lot which was near some trees that I hoped would provide a bit of respite from the blazing sun. HA! Northern idiocy redux. Both my car and myself would feel like they were set on fire at the end of the day, the non-covered parts of my skin turning a hue comparable to Pantone 186. What you might not realize is how few amenities there are next to these giant parking lots at the Grand Canyon, just a visitor centre and a scenic overlook. To get to the township and other points of interest, one must get on one of several bus lines that takes visitors around the park proper. Of course, during the summer these have longer line-ups than Disneyland. It makes for a long, sweltering day of mostly just standing around. I did about an hour's worth of hiking, took a few selfies to prove I was there and then left with a souvenir bottle of Canyon Cutter white wine

The Grand Canyon is, undoubtably, spectacular. But I did not feel relaxed there or in touch with nature. I felt hurried. I felt stressed. At the end of it, I didn't feel any deep connection. For me, it paled in comparison to the isolated, howl-at-the-moon wild of highway 89A from the previous day. That was very much the highlight of my trip. 

The evening was spent back in Williams, Arizona, only this time at a hotel rather than a teepee.  Williams is a small town located on historic U.S. Route 66., also known as the "Main Street of America". It is, perhaps, the most iconic highway in all of the United States, previously acting as the main thoroughfare for people who migrated from the midwest to southern California during the Great Depression. The town of just over 3,000 citizens definitely caters to tourists with a nod to Americana; there are more classic fifties-style diners within its boundaries than any major city I've visited before. As well, the imagery of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe appear to still resonate, symbolizing a feeling (or idea) we collectively aim to capture. 

We walked the streets as sunlight transitioned to dusk, conversing about what America was and what it's become. We later returned to our hotel room to drink. 

 Me at the entrance to the Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Me at the entrance to the Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Interstate 15, Part II

I like Montana. I like the mountains and crisp air and postcard panoramas. The first night of our road trip we stayed in its capital, Helena, which has less than 32,000 citizens. This statistic nicely details just how sparse the population is within the state. It's very ... breathable. Outside the natural scenery, the capital is somewhat nondescript in appearance; being two hours delayed from the unexpected detour, we made our way to a wood-fired pizza place and then just retired to our hotel room for the night not feeling like we missed anything. For future trips, I feel Butte would have been a better overnight destination. With snow-capped peaks framing it in the distance and historic architecture steeped in legend, the word "majestic" seems well-suited to describe its beauty. 

One can take Interstate 15 all the way from the Canadian border to the Mexican one. It's a nice drive with lots of rest stops, fuel stations and, within Utah at least, numerous billboards reminding people that God is watching and you should atone for your sins. 

Outside of having an ultra-conservative religious base that practices polygamy, I didn't really know anything about Utah. Ignoring the influence of creed and instead seeking enlightenment from mother nature, I was completely in awe of the rock formations in the southern portion of the state which includes a number of protected areas, national and state parks such as the breathtaking Grand Staircase National Monument. Eventually turning east off of Interstate 15, we were in the thick of it while enroute to our next stop: the biggest tourist destination of them all – the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  

Highway 89A in particular, a scenic route that runs through a Navaho reservation in Arizona, was the highlight of my entire trip. Driving through it was a showcase of some of America's most iconic landscape; landscape which has featured in many a Hollywood western to represent our storied, brutal history. I half-expected the ghost of John Wayne to manifest on the horizon as we drove this isolated stretch of roadway. Or perhaps hear the distant call of the roadrunner. Meep Meep.

Our adventure-filled day ended on a magical note as we slept in a teepee under a galaxy of visible stars. Living in a city with constant light pollution, this reminder of the scale of the universe (and my place within it) was a cathartic ending to a long, tiring, immensely memorable day. 

 Start of Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Start of Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Hiking off Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Hiking off Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Our accommodation for the night, a teepee in Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Our accommodation for the night, a teepee in Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Interior of teepee, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Interior of teepee, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Teepee selfie, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Teepee selfie, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Also the first BBQ of the season, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Also the first BBQ of the season, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Hong Kong X

Every morning after waking up, I would open the curtain from the window and flood my room with light from the rising sun. I wanted the view of the city—my impeccable view of Victoria Harbour—to be the first thing I saw. It was a sight that would fill me with motivation and gratitude. And as my trip was nearing its end, I wanted to soak up every minute of it in hopes that the feeling would carry forward long after I left Hong Kong. 

Beyond the view, there was something else at the window that elicited wonder from me daily. A bird would often circle around my window, perhaps able to see movement behind the glass and as curious about me as I was about him and his urban adventures.


A bird wouldn't be the only creature that I held silent conversation with. 

Visiting Buddhist temples and pausing in the presence of their serenity was a most welcome respite from the constant traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. Outside, people just stared at the screen of their phone (like most everywhere else, just amplified here amongst 7+ million citizens). While inside, one couldn't help but take stock of their surroundings as the feeling of peace carried over the air with the wisps of incense. Man Mo Temple was a highlight but I also wanted to return to Wong Tai Sin, the "good luck" temple. I wanted my trip to start, and end, there in the hopes that its myth might rub off on me. 

On my second visit, I had a strange encounter. One that I should preface with a brief story because I know it's going to sound strange and unbelievable but is not, perhaps, entirely unprecedented. A few years ago, my best friend was on her own spiritual journey and found herself delving into the world of crystals, even attending a conference to learn about their supposed healing power and other mystical properties. One strange experience she shared with me was participating in a breathing exercise circle. As she paced her exhalation, eyes closed and deep in thought, she felt the sensation of someone poking her stomach. Immediately exiting her zen-like state, she darted her eyes to see who it was. And there was no one present. Admittedly, I thought she may have, ahem, also been researching other "natural" ways to seek enlightenment during this period but it turned out to not be the case and she swore by the story.

And now, back to mine. 

On my second visit to Wong Tai Sin, I again paid respects at the alters, each representing one of the five geomantic elements—metal, wood, water, fire and earth—and ended by pausing in the Good Wish Garden. It was here that I took a few moments to reflect on my newfound love for the city of Hong Kong, the hardships I've experienced over the past few years and my hope that the future would continue on a path of light ... when I felt a poke. It DISTINCTLY felt like someone's finger poking me near my ribcage. I, like my friend, immediately exited my trance and looked around to see who it was. 

But there was no one there. 

I looked down at the pond, at the koi swimming around, and for the first time I saw a turtle perched on a rock staring at me.  


At Wong Tai Sin, I returned to the same fortune teller I visited ten days prior. On this occasion, he had a line of two women awaiting his seer services. I joined them by sitting patiently on a stool outside his tiny storefront and recollecting back on the futurities he previously shared with me. After involving myself with some dubious characters over the years, that initial inquiry specifically related to my love life. People these days act like love is an archaic concept and feelings don't exist but I am not wired that way. I value honesty, integrity and respect and lament how rare they increasingly seem to be as people treat the emotions of others like commodity to be traded for ego. This toxicity can, unfairly, also taint future relationships as well and while I have met someone who possesses the strong character traits I desire in a partner, I don't want my past to hold any influence on my view of who they actually are. 

"They will travel to meet you. You will meet at an event relating to dance."

And so it was written.

My partner is originally from Kerala, India, but has lived in Australia, South Africa and South Korea performing scientific research. I met him three years ago at a salsa dancing class neither he, nor I, was planning to be at. The chemistry was immediate. All night, I noticed him staring at me (and I'm sure he did likewise). When my friend wanted to leave, I implored her to stay just a little bit longer as I felt I wasn't leaving without his number. Too shy to approach him though, I felt I could will it into fruition. Sure enough, a few minutes later he asked me to dance and the rest was history. While we've had our ups-and-downs, our ons-and-offs, we always return to each other as we are best friends. 

I waited in line for around thirty minutes and then made the decision to leave. The original fortune I received could have been somewhat vague to anyone, but there was an eerie specificity to my life that gave me hope I already found the answer I was looking for. 


The last image of my trip that will forever stay with me is flying over the red lights of a ferris wheel illuminated against the stark countryside of Taiwan down below. Sometimes the perspective you need can only be found at 20,000 feet. 

 Hong Kong sunrise (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Hong Kong sunrise (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Central district, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Central district, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Hong Kong's famous trams, Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Hong Kong's famous trams, Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Central district, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Central district, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Rainy afternoon in the Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Rainy afternoon in the Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Back alleys of Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Back alleys of Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Walking along the promenade at night, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Walking along the promenade at night, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Various amulets available for purchase at Wong Tai Sin Temple (you best believe I now own a "get rid of scumbag" amulet) (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Various amulets available for purchase at Wong Tai Sin Temple (you best believe I now own a "get rid of scumbag" amulet) (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 One last selfie from the top of Hotel Icon (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

One last selfie from the top of Hotel Icon (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Hong Kong IX

This will be a long, photo-heavy post because the day I trekked to Lantau Island, Tai O Fishing Village and Po Lin Monastery was the most memorable of my trip. 

I get anxiety from the small things while traveling, which sounds ridiculous because I feel that traveling solo to a foreign land where you don't know anyone, not even the language, is of itself pretty bold. But things such as my first trip on a local subway or bus cause great stress and I generally put it off for a few days until I familiarize myself with my immediate surroundings (and the temperament of the local populace). During my time in Hong Kong, there were places I wanted to visit that required me to take on this fear so I couldn't put it off for long.

Entering Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station amongst a sea of people during the morning commute nearly made me break out in hives from nerves. It felt like there were more people rushing about than the entire population of the city I now live in. I searched for the least crowded ticket dispenser and felt my breathing increase as I made my way to the front of the line. "What if I don't understand how to use it?", "What if I cause the people behind me to miss their train?", "What if people start yelling at me for being an idiot?", "What if?", "What if?"

When all was said-and-done, I discovered that the Hong Kong subway is the EASIEST to navigate of all the places I've been. It's a complete breeze! And the local populace is more welcoming and patient than other western cities of equivalent size. This realization gave me a new freedom during my trip, broadening my horizon as to how (and where) I could spend the remainder of my days. The confidence these small tasks can instil should not be underestimated. Small steps can lead to great journeys. 

The train eventually took me across land and over water to Lantau Island, home of Tai O Fishing Village, Po Lin Buddhist Monastery and its "Big Buddha". To get to these sights though, I had to take a long—and very scenic—gondola up a mountain, choosing to upgrade to the glass-bottomed version for optimal viewing. On the twenty minute or so ride, I was grouped with a family from New Delhi, India. At first I sat in the corner, looking out into the distance and not wanting to infringe as they took numerous photos of each other and coordinated dance moves for a video they were making. Seriously (at one point I grew concerned at how much the gondola was rocking). The father eventually reached out asking if I wanted a picture taken of myself. After saying yes, I was pretty much adopted into their clan for the remainder of the day and even invited back to their hotel afterwards to feast on my favourite dish, biriyani, which we all agreed was better than the fish-heavy local cuisine. 

I learned that they would be moving to Canada in the coming year, seeing it as a clean break from a homeland that they described as being riddled with corruption. This echoed what I have heard from others, including my partner who is originally from southern state Kerala. They inquired as to the best place to settle in my homeland and asked just how cold our winters were. I'm not sure they believed me. But they will find out. As the conversation continued, the men - the father and his two adult sons - excused themselves from the women and invited me for a cigarette. It amused me that they assumed I smoked (I don't). When I asked if their wives would be joining, they informed me they would "never". The youngest son even tried to conceal his habit from his new bride by holding nacho chips in his hand which he felt would eradicate all traces of the smell of smoke. 

I felt a tinge of pity for his naïveté.

How little men know that when a woman wants to find out what her mate it up to, it is with the greatest of ease that she become a Russian-level spy. 


After disembarking from the gondola, I took a bus from Ngong Ping Village to Tai O Fishing Village which is pretty much constructed on stilts overtop of water. It was an amazing sight to behold and offered glimpse into a life vastly different than my own. A life revolved around the ebb of tides versus the whims of head office. I was even invited into one of these traditional homes for a brief tour. Its sparse decoration focused on pictures of family and their history, along with written Buddhist prayers. Another thing I noticed about this place was the number of dogs running about. Maybe it was their freedom, maybe it was the scraps of fish that were thrown their way, but these friendly, happy doggos beamed with contentment. I set out a goal of petting and taking pictures of all of them. 

I also took a boat ride around the general area and saw a portion of the world's longest sea bridge; the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge connects the three major Pearl River Delta cities at a span of 55km. The megaproject hasn't even opened yet and will officially welcome vehicular traffic in July 2018. 

Completing my day-long excursion, I visited Po Lin Buddhist Monastery where I hiked up to "Big Buddha" and contemplated the next steps I want to take in life.  

 Going up the Ngong Ping 360 gondola on Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Going up the Ngong Ping 360 gondola on Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Looking down at Lantau Island—and my filthy Nikes—while looking through the glass-bottom gondola on Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Looking down at Lantau Island—and my filthy Nikes—while looking through the glass-bottom gondola on Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Going up the Ngong Ping 360 glass-bottom gondola on Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Going up the Ngong Ping 360 glass-bottom gondola on Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Taking part in a traditional tea ceremony on Lantau Island (@Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Taking part in a traditional tea ceremony on Lantau Island (@Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Good boy no. 1, Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Good boy no. 1, Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Good boy no.2, Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Good boy no.2, Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Good boys no.3 and no.4, Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Good boys no.3 and no.4, Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Family portrait inside home in Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Family portrait inside home in Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Toilet in house in Tai O Fishing Village. I'm glad I didn't have to go because I don't know how to swim if I fell in (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Toilet in house in Tai O Fishing Village. I'm glad I didn't have to go because I don't know how to swim if I fell in (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Good boy no.5, Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Good boy no.5, Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 What's for dinner? Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

What's for dinner? Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 My new adoptive family, Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

My new adoptive family, Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Good boy no.6, Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Good boy no.6, Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Climbing up to Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Climbing up to Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Climbing up to Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Climbing up to Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Hong Kong VIII

Hong Kong vignette no.1: The rising sun cast a marigold tint over the Central District as I leisurely strolled along Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade. There were few people out at this hour. Joggers made use of the cooler temperature. As well, other sleep-deprived tourists snapped selfies as the neon signage flickered in conclusion to a long night. I paused, taking it all in. At a different time, I would not be afforded the solitude to appreciate the spectacular view I now faced. 

And then, a noise.

The faint sound of music approaching.

As it neared, I recognized the instrumentation and, of course, THE voice. An older woman paused around ten feet from me also to soak in the glorious view of her presumed hometown. On her iPhone, she loudly played Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All". I remained still as well, thinking about how small the world is and how this moment, however pedestrian, would remain near the top of my memories of Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong vignette no. 2: Later in the day, I stood near the entrance to the mid-levels escalator with the intent of taking a picture of this unique urban convenience. As I posited the perfect angle, the siren call of hell's gate opening—or something similar—rumbled. It was loud. It was shrill. It was a tiny, old Cantonese man perched atop the biggest hog I have ever seen in my life as it blasted Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone". The contrast both amused and fascinated me. 

He stopped at the light while everyone in the vicinity stared at him with curiosity and awe. I could tell he enjoyed it. I could tell he was a rock star in his own mind. He revved his motor a few times for the crowd and smiled before driving away. 

"That's how you live life," I thought to myself.