Travelling to foreign places can be an exciting and daunting experience for many, let alone wandering the unfamiliar labyrinths of new cities alone. I was in this situation myself a few times, walking around a city by myself, guidebook and map tucked safely away in my tote bag, hoping that I’d never have to pull them out and risk looking like a fresh-out-of-the-airport tourist. There’s this sense of trepidation, the fear of the unknown, yet at the same time, I felt this rush of satisfaction, knowing that I’m challenging my personal boundaries and building a new me that I never knew I could be.
This story is the first in a series of foreign encounters’ tales I’ll be writing about. Enjoy.
Lady on the Mini-bus in Hong Kong
I was on study abroad at the University of Hong Kong and my hall of residence was 15 minutes away from campus. It was one of the furthest halls away, allocated to me out of a balloting process so I couldn’t complain there. But I must say, those precious 15 minutes that I initially hated ended up featuring some of the most interesting fleeting moments I experienced in the city.
I was, as usual, running super late again, and missed the shuttle bus that I could have taken for only 2 dollars with a student bus coupon. Dang, I thought, as I hurried down to the minibus-stop at the side of the road, frantically tossing back the black and white scarf that was unraveling off my neck. Hopped onto Bus No. 8, eagerly awaiting the bus to move so I can for once get to class before the mid-lecture break. Three stops later, a lady with a heavily-tanned complexion from many happy days in the sun and sunglasses atop her coiffure plopped down on the seat across the narrow aisle next to me and gave me the kind of once-over that would make anyone uncomfortable.
I was happily chatting away on my cellphone with a friend, so I smiled nervously at her and quickly glanced away. After I put down my phone, she started talking to me in a mixture of English and Tagalog, and couldn’t stop for the next 5 minutes while I looked at her with an incredulous expression on my face. Realizing finally that I didn’t quite understand anything she said, she asked, “Are you from Indonesia? Are you working here?”
I wasn’t sure if it’s my brown skin that failed to convince her than I’m every bit as Chinese as the local fairer counterparts (even if I’m not born in HK), or the fact that my English was tinged with a different accent from the Hong Kongers. I protested sheepishly, “Oh no, I don’t work here. I’m a student. I go to school here.” And then I pointed out of the window in the general direction of the HKU campus, as if to prove my point.
“Ohh, you speak very good English. That’s really good,” her Filipino drawl slow and heavy, her kind smile sending tiny spidery wrinkles across her face.
“Thank you,” I blushed, both in acceptance of her compliment and in apology for my sheer rudeness for gaping at her earlier on. I wished I could have stayed longer on the bus to talk to her more, if only I was on a trip heading up to Central and not to school.