this trip to Hong Kong marked my first time traveling solo. the internet is full of wonderful people who will tell you the benefits of this experience. I'm not going to be one of those people. I'm not going to tell you it's awful and unsafe, or that you can't gain a sense of self or independence by traveling solo. I'm just going to tell you what my experience was, and that I didn't really like it.
I'm an introvert, so this surprised me. but I'm an introvert who still needs to feel connected [if you couldn't tell from the mass amount of #HKvisavacation that showed up on twitter and instagram during my trip.] outside of speaking to waiters and the lady at the visa office, I had only 3 semi-conversations while in Hong Kong.
the first was a chance encounter in the elevator of my hotel. a woman stepped on, looked at me, and asked "American?" I said "was it the backpack that gave me away?" and she laughed and told me she was from California before we stopped at her floor.
the second was later that afternoon when I went up to Victoria Peak. it's a big tourist spot, so I didn't think I would stick out much there. I found a seat in a coffee shop overlooking the city, and a Chinese man sat next to me and kept asking questions, in English, to no one in specific. finally I answered him. I know that at least 80% of the people around me could understand him and speak English, but everyone else was ignoring him.
he wanted to talk to me about the protests happening in Hong Kong, what America was like and what we thought of China [where he was from] and I just wanted to enjoy my coffee and 30 minutes of free internet. I was annoyed [I hate talking politics] and a little insulted by some of what he said. having lived in Taiwan the past 3 years means my point of view is different from both his, and the typical American's. eventually he got the hint I didn't want to chat and put his head down on his arms to take a nap. he was harmless, but I was just trying to enjoy a quiet moment.
wandering by myself on the streets of Hong Kong, not really knowing where I was going and not having a reliable ally in google maps [especially after dark] was not a comfortable experience for me. I have a fairly decent sense of direction, and a considerable amount of self-reliance. I lived in New York for six months and navigated my way just fine, but New York is a grid system. Hong Kong is a blend of Asian and European influences that makes it full of curves and stairways and alleys that are all too easy to get lost in.
I made my way around alright, but I think the backpack and the constant glances at my phone made it all too obvious that I was a tourist. there were plenty of other white girls around, but they were dressed professionally for an office and I was not. like it or not [and I didn't] I stuck out.
on my second day in Hong Kong, I had some time to kill before picking up my visa. I visited the Avenue of Stars area of the Victoria Harbor waterfront intending to sit and eat my lunch with a view. unfortunately it was another hazy day, and the view is not as impressive by day as it is by night.
the most interesting part of this stop was the old man who approached me asking if he could take a photo with me and then buy me a drink. I declined, he persisted. I was eating my lunch, he said he would wait. he actually walked away and left me for a while and I thought I was in the clear. I considered scampering away, but damn it, I came down here to eat my lunch and see the view and take pictures. he returned with some woman who snapped our photo on his phone while he put his arm around me too tight for my liking. I felt very uncomfortable with the whole situation. I left as quickly as possible, hiding out in the nearby starbucks for some a/c and wifi.
this is not the first time I've been approached by an Asian tourist while traveling through an Asian country and been asked for a photo. it was probably closer to the hundredth time. I've expressed my feelings on this phenomena before - I don't like being singled out and made to feel like an exotic animal escaped from the zoo. I don't understand how a person of any race, especially person with the means to travel internationally, can think that taking a photo of someone just because they are of a different race is acceptable. maybe it's my white privilege talking, maybe there is some strange cultural thing I don't understand, but I don't think it's appropriate.
in Taiwan, I am stared at, but for the most part I am accepted [or at least ignored.] Hong Kong with it's British history was the last place in Asia I ever thought to be singled out as "look I found a white/blonde woman, I'm going to take a picture to prove she's real and show all my friends." like I said, there were plenty of other women who looked like me around the city. it was extremely frustrating to feel like I had been singled out from all those women - why me?
I made my escape, and not five minutes later, the guy walks into the starbucks and sits down at my table. and asks for another picture. I told him no as politely and firmly as I could, while still being rude enough that he would leave me alone. I had to practically shout at him in the middle of starbucks. but finally he left, while everyone sitting around me gave me funny looks.
I realize that in my mind this whole situation has been dramatized, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth about traveling solo. my retrospective reactions range from "he just wanted a picture" to "that could have been really dangerous." obviously it turned out ok, but I can't help but wonder what I could or should have done differently. having another person with me would have made things feel safer, but probably would not have deterred this man from approaching me. maybe I'm just upset that I didn't enjoy traveling solo as much as the internet seems to think I should?
it's one bad experience in one trip, and I know I shouldn't let that color my feelings on the entire concept of solo travel... but it's difficult. [so much that I considered not writing about this, but of course that means it's one of those things I really do NEED to write about.] am I the only one who has experienced something like this? how would you handle this kind of situation while traveling alone?