When Andy Met Nathan

“Life is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote upon realizing the value of getting out of what you consider familiar and therefore, comfortable.  Up until last month, I have not really paid that much attention to the wisdom that grounds this exhortation of sorts from St. Augustine.  At least not to the same extent that I have learned to appreciate it as the month of April comes to a close.

You see,  I have never really been a big fan of traveling. I would rather stay at home, spin some records, play the guitar for my wife, play board games with my kids, read the latest from James Patterson  and attend to the endless tasks that are crying out to be done.  In fact, this is precisely why  I have always delegated the task of arranging our family travels to my wife who has been as passionate about it as the first day we met.   But a recent surprise rendezvous of Andy with Nathan in the city of Hong Kong made me take a long hard look at St. Augustine’s reflection.

Andy is the name of the tour guide who was assigned to accompany  my family. It also happens to be the name of my father in law who has been an exemplary  father to me and to my wife as far back as I can remember.  Like my father in law, Andy was a very jolly person who loved his job with passion and dedication. You could sense this in the way he carried our conversations and the way he  conducted himself  from day 1. We were like repeat customers he has had the privilege of serving over the years.  He would regale my kids with magic tricks and impress my wife and me with interesting trivia you would not   find in travel guides about Hong Kong.

Nathan is the name of the road in Hong Kong which served as our temporary home for the 4 days that we were in the city.  It also happens to be the name of  my youngest nephew who is based in Canada. Like the kaleidoscope of  possibilities that await Nathan given his having been born in Canada, Nathan Road kick started my fascination with the many engaging chapters that comprise the book that was  our trip to Hong Kong. Here are 10 of them.

Despite the fact that the Philippines is no longer the sick man of Asia and is, in fact, poised to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world today, we clearly have a lot to learn from the world-class airport of  Hong Kong.  Their airport and the attendant services you could enjoy within its premises – from its awe-inspiring architectural design to its WiFi for everyone provision, from its  walkalators to its dining areas, from its connecting trains to its well-paved  roads,  – remind me no end of Singapore’s   Changi Airport.

If Paris is the City of Blinding Lights in Europe, Hong Kong could easily qualify as Asia’s answer to Paris.  Its myriad of electronic marquees, giant vidiwalls and neon signs that are lit up practically 24 x 7 have a way of making you forget that you have an itinerary to follow.  They seem to be saying, whatever it is that you have scheduled to do for the day, it can wait.  Stop, look and wonder how they could have put all of these blinding lights and kaleidoscopic colors together.  Which I guess is also why for tourists like me, the idea of walking for hours in this great city  is a very enjoyable experience.  There is so much to gawk at, so much to marvel at, and so much to sample. Alas, there is not that much time.

To be sure, there is also traffic in Hong Kong.  Its public transport system is so efficient, however,  that its daily traffic is not as unnerving  as the one you would experience on weekdays in the major roads  of Manila. We got to experience this first hand when we boarded one of the double deckers plying Nathan Road. Unlike our buses in Manila which bus conductors normally fill to the rafters like canned sardines, the double deckers of Hong Kong are never standing room only affairs. There was also no need for conductors as you paid either by way of a reloadable card or by paying exact fares via fare boxes next to the driver.  Buses here have fixed loading and unloading areas which you would know about before you board the bus because it’s indicated in the loading and unloading areas. Drivers appear to be more disciplined even if you could hardly see traffic enforcers on the road.

Techno thriller writer Tom Clancy used to wax poetic about Disney being the happiest place on earth.  You’ll never really get to appreciate where Clancy was coming from until you actually set foot on Disneyland. The one in Hong Kong may not be as sprawling and as massive as the one in Orlando but it definitely is much more awesome as our Enchanted Kingdom in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. The devil as they say is in the details and the creative minds behind the original Disneyland in the U.S. went to great lengths to ensure that the magical experience we associate with Disney would ring loud and clear even in Asia.  I lost count of the magical experiences that our trip endowed my family and me but my  top 3  would have to be  the Iron Man 4-D aerial tour of Hong Kong, the Mystic Manor musical ride, and  Mickey’s PhilHar Magic. Of course, if I were the thrill-seeking type, rank 1 would have to be the Star Wars HyperSpace Mountain Ride, the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars and the  Toy Story RC Racer Ride.

I have always been fascinated by dolphins from the first time my kids saw their first dolphin show in Subic to the first time we were accompanied by Bohol fishermen as the dolphins pranced and danced along our boats.  Ocean Park did not disappoint as it presented an ecological conservation-centric dolphin show to an auditorium filled with stars truck visitors. From their characteristic sing-song sound to their graceful aerial jumps, the dolphins of Ocean Park held our attention like iconic rock stars we’ve been waiting to visit the country.  An unexpected bonus which was just as compelling as the dolphin show was my family’s very first cable car ride.  Partly thrilling, partly scary, it was a ride like no other we’ve taken.

Prior to our trip to Hong Kong, I was warned by well-meaning friends and relations that most of the people at Hong Kong are not as engaging and as warm as the Filipinos. To be blunt, they even warned that a number of them are openly hostile if not rude.  Not true if our 4 days in Hong Kong were to be used basis.  On more than two occasions, smiling Hong Kong nationals who were passing by would offer to take our pictures as they saw how we fidgeted with the selfie button of our mobile phones. During our night market explorations, quite a number of the merchants were nice enough to engage us in small talk and even allowed us to haggle. The tour guide who accompanied us on our last day was just as cordial and as pleasant as Andy.  He even knows about the best diving places in the Philippines as he is a frequent visitor of our country.

This trip, of  course, would not be complete without the obligatory sampling of the vinyl stores of Hong Kong. Thanks to the internet, 3 of the top 10 vinyl stores of Hong Kong were practically walking distance from Nathan Road.  The 3rd and last store in our list rewarded me with almost a dozen vinyl titles that have eluded me in Manila.  Due to budget constraints, I settled for two albums that I’ve been looking for for the longest time: the original sound track of Forrest Gump and the debut album of  Two Cellos.

Thanks to the Bull Runner blog, I was able to zero in on a tried and tested running route near Nathan Road. I am, of course, referring here  to Kowloon Park. Turns out it’s also connected to an elevated promenade which offered early morning runners with  a breathtaking view of the Hong Kong harbor and its  spectacular skyscrapers.  But I was not prepared to be further mesmerized as I accidentally discovered yet another promenade along the Hong Kong harbor when I ran from the Avenue of the Stars to as far as the running path would take me. Consequently, my target 5km for the day eventually ended up as an 11km run.

Two boat rides representing the factual and the fictional all the more made this trip memorable.  The former was by way of Hong Kong boatmen who made their living from the sea.  They gave us a tour of  the Hong Kong harbor which included the floating restaurants, the houseboats of real-life fishermen and the  yachts of the rich and famous of Hong Kong.  According to Andy, before Hong Kong became a first-world commercial hub, it was at its core a fishing economy. The fictional ride was courtesy of a funny Disney boatman who took us on an imaginary tour of Tarzan’s home at Disney.  Despite the fact that Tarzan’s treehouse was undergoing a renovation, the said boatman’s funny antics made the boat ride enjoyable and engaging.

I also have this trip to thank for educating me about the premium that many tourists place on buying jewelry from Hong Kong as we toured what is possibly the most famous jewelry factory in the city. I was surprised to see autographed pictures of famous Filipinos who have actually set their foot in the factory.  We were welcomed by a veteran sales man who gave us a very fascinating overview of their company. He was so good that even if I was not looking forward to the tour, I actually almost forced my wife to buy a jewelry or two from them.

Two decades ago,   my first corporate supervisor shared how traveling to  other countries have a way of putting to question how you currently live your life.  You get to inevitably  realize that you need not live the life that you’ve known all your life.  There are, in fact, numerous alternatives to what you’ve gotten familiar and comfortable with. And travel is the surefire route to get to know about those alternatives.  So to my wife’s surprise, I now  find myself  competing with her in plotting the dates of our next travels together. New York, London, Tokyo, Berlin, Boston,  and Chicago, we just might actually visit you even before we hit pay dirt with those lotteries.

This blog is lovingly dedicated to Elaine.