“What on Earth is your problem?” a lady asked me with much indignation as I told her that I was traveling alone on this particular trip to Hong Kong. We’ve only just met and I offered to help her and her partner with directions.
She continued to ramble, stating that people who travel alone are those who have emotional baggage and are trying to move on from hurtful or even traumatic experiences. She went on and pried about who broke my heart and what I was trying to prove to myself. It was quite a challenge reassuring her that I was good, and that life was great!
As I went about my days and nights in Hong Kong, engaging with the locals, getting friendly with café baristas, hotel personnel and street vendors, and even exchanging Viber details with people I spoke with in bookstores and buses, the airport lady’s questions would revisit me one at a time and I’d echo them to myself.
Was something truly the matter with me? Am I unhappy? What am I trying to escape from? Why am I alone?
Though these questions started to form in my head, I wasn’t necessarily consumed by them. Each day, my hours were spent walking (until my limbs went tingly and numb), taking megabytes upon megabytes of photos, gorging on street food, visiting kooky cafes, and sharing a laugh or two with strangers.
During moments I was exhausted, I let the questions in my head simmer. I remember I was seated by the fountain at Victoria Park when the two cameras I brought with me finally gave up – drained batteries, tsk. So I opted to just sit there, be still and let life pass me by.
An old man in a gray shirt, khaki cargo shorts, white socks and black sandals was staring at the fountain; a couple of schoolgirls in uniform were whispering with excitement by the bench; a lady in a fanny pack and visor was throwing crumbs for the pigeons to eat; a couple of overseas contractual workers were taking selfies – all this, I took in. As I watched them, I drew myself closer to the questions in my head, and I addressed them one by one:
1. Was something truly the matter with me?
I have my quirks and tics, but I’m good.
2. Am I unhappy?
There are circumstances that sadden me. I don’t understand why they had to happen or are still happening, but they are out of my hands. In spite of such, I am at peace and I see joy take root in me in different forms.
3. What am I trying to escape from?
I’m not escaping from anything. I am simply living – thriving, even. Problems are not the sum of me.
4. Why am I alone?
I am alone because I choose to be. I’m secure on my own. Sure, certain things are better experienced together. There is a sense of comfort and joy being with someone or some people. But why rob me of the strength and happiness I find in my solitude?
Whoa, who knew a lady’s prying questions at an airport could lead you to knowing and acknowledging things about your life, eh? It was a surprise for me to realize that in a place where I had every reason to feel insecure, lost and confused, in a place where I knew no one, and in a place where I am far away from the ones I love and care for, I felt safe.
I booked this trip to Hong Kong with the intent of seeing what’s out there in the world. I didn’t anticipate that this 3-in-the-morning-spur-of-the-moment-flight-booking decision would also cause me to look inward and know more about my own world. I didn’t know that I would be able to find the answers to questions I never knew I had lingering in me. I didn’t know that through this solo sojourn, I’d get a tighter grip of my reality. I didn’t know that after all this time, I was, after all, chasing clarity.