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.