Lessons Learned Walking Alone In Hong Kong At Night

By Sarah Cavar

I like to pretend the glowing, yelling chaos of Hong Kong’s night market was responsible for my getting lost.

My 15-year-old-self made her way through crowded market stalls on that hot night, slipping through the gaps between sweaty bodies.

I bought fresh kumquats from a barrel and savored a sweetness I would never taste back in Connecticut.

From one vendor I purchased a muscle shirt that I still wear as an adult, adorned with planets and asteroids and accompanied by the hot-pink word “COSMIC.”

I was pleased with my food and fashion choices and now ready to return to my hotel bed, beside my certainly already-sleeping roommate.

Getting lost in Hong Kong ignited a love of #travel in this young traveler #solotravel #hongkong Click To Tweet

alone in Hong Kong

Lost in Hong Kong

Tired and overwhelmed, I made my way out of the crowd and into dark and relatively empty streets.

I was alone in Hong Kong.

The signs above shops were unfamiliar and indecipherable. Panic rose in my chest — I feel it viscerally as I write today — as I looked in every direction, hoping that somehow, a member of my group would swoop down and rescue me.

That this was a game or simulation and not the real world; a world in which I was vulnerable to all manner of assaults.

No end-screen showed up, nothing to say I passed to the next level. I remained alone in a very real world. This was quickly becoming one of my worst travel horror stories.

Our kind tour guide, I suddenly remembered, had given us his phone number. When I called, my voice was steeped in shame. “This is Sarah, from the school tour. I was at the night market and now I’m lost alone in Hong Kong. Please help.”

I was near tears — more out of embarrassment than fear — which was only amplified when I heard him speaking to our chaperones. Their concerned voices in the background made my stomach tighten while he gave me the address of the hotel.

His instructions were to hail a cab on a busier street. “You’ve hailed a cab before, right?”

“Plenty of times,” I lied.

alone in Hong Kong

Humbled in Hong Kong

I considered the movies that depicted hailing cabs. Typically these were set in New York, with someone yelling “TAXI!” (drawing out the “ee” sound), whistling and waving a hand. I was not comfortable yelling and did not know how to whistle, so I simply stuck my arm out.

And waited.

Taxis sped by me. I was not properly hailing them, but I refused to call our tour guide and humiliate myself once more.

Turning around I spotted a laundromat behind me — with a sign in both English and Chinese — and staffed solely by a youngish man. I explained my situation to him, concluding with a sigh that I had never hailed a cab before and, clearly, was terrible at it. He put a hand on my shoulder and walked me to the front of his store, before promptly running to a cab and putting that same hand on its hood. He yelled in Cantonese at the grey-haired driver, who replied in kind.

With a sympathetic smile, he gestured toward the car. “Get in.”

I could not fully express my gratitude at the time; but if I could return to that laundromat today, I would give him a hug.

Read how this young traveler turned a negative experience into a positive one #travel #wanderlust Click To Tweet

Lessons For The Future

My elderly cab driver was extremely cranky. He yelled at me as he drove, but I was immune. I grudgingly acknowledged the hubris and impatience that had gotten me into this — best illustrated by my unwillingness to wait with members of my group at the market and instead venture off alone — and understood that it could very well have gotten me hurt. Or worse.

Suddenly, I was hit with a retroactive pang of fear that I was not, in that cab, ready to face. I buried it for later, at that time simply filing away a promise to myself: Never travel again.

I broke that promise two years later, when I visited the U.K. and Republic of Ireland, a trip in which I frequently explored alone and never became lost. I began to humble myself as a traveler; allowing myself to make mistakes, but never placing pride over safety.

alone in Hong Kong

When we finally arrived at the hotel, the cab driver demanded of me far more money than the ride was worth, but I gave it to him without comment. Shaking, I walked through the doors and explained myself to the chaperones as quickly as possible. I bought kumquats and a big, juicy orange from a fruit stall across the street from the hotel, and this time, easily found my way back.

Sarah Cavar is a writer and contributor to Odyssey. You can read more of their work here.

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Sky Fisher

Sky Fisher is a small-town country girl with a passion for travel. She has a love affair with Central America and currently calls Costa Rica home. Follow her adventures at Sky vs World.

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