Thursday, March 8, 2012

13 Best Things About My Five Days in Hong Kong

I went to Hong Kong to take my first dan examination for kendo. I did not pass the exam. And while I took comfort in the protests and surprise of my friends and my kendo seniors, I also have a pretty good idea why I didn't make it, something that only really sunk into me when I was already there, trembling on my bare feet on the cold floor of the dojo.

I believe that trip was meant to teach me something else. The exam was a ruse of the Universe to get me where it wants me. Because maybe I was just way too stubborn. And also I needed the perspective by being far away from all my comfort zones. I also got reminded of many simple joys that I may be neglecting to appreciate in my daily life.

I learned that I needed to trust myself more. I cannot be the first person to limit myself ---- that just because I am female, only five feet tall, no longer in my twenties, no previous history and never been adept at all in any sports or martial arts, non-skinny --- that I can only do so much and that I will just always be average or mediocre in my kendo practice. I have to trust in my own inner power and strength, as well as my own strategic skills because kendo is not simply a physical contest. I need to trust myself to find the harmony of body and spirit that will make me worthy of being sent to the tournament in Hong Kong.

Matcha and Hokkaido Milk Ice Cream with Mochi can make up for all the shopping I could not afford to do. I was on a very strict cash only budget and the beautiful vintage-y items and craft materials in CitySuper almost destroyed my resolve not to use my credit card for anything. But with almost superhuman strength I resisted to purchase anything beyond my means. So when I spotted the ice cream stall I did not hesitate -- and the taste of the ice cream simply soothed all the material wanting away. No kidding.

If I am meant to have something I want, even if I let it go, it will find its way to me. Or, multiple obstacles and delays along the way do not necessarily mean never. This is the story of my Instax camera which I have wished for oh-so-much since before Christmas last year. I almost purchased it online but then the money had to be re-channeled to something more urgent. Then there was supposed to be a contact who can get it for me much cheaper and it didn't pan out. Then my sister was planning to give it to me for Christmas but then it ran out of stock. Then I started saving up for it but at the last minute before I left for Hong Kong, I had to re-channel the funds again for necessities. At that point I just thought : what the heck, forget it.

Second day into Hong Kong, I came across a shop selling a whole Instax package with 2 free boxes of films, a close-up lens, batteries, bag, and photo album for a highly discounted price. It was the perfect package.

My kendo is not that bad. I am not at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak. This is related to item #1 because given my self-limitations I really felt that there wasn't much point in going 100% because my chances of doing decently are really low, like too much effort for little gain, and I will never catch up with those who started playing younger. But when I went out there and even had a chance to face a younger, faster, opponent, I realized that the very things I thought were limiting to me actually became strengths - I played differently, I strategized differently. As my sister put it, we played unexpectedly because we could not match them in speed and stamina. As a result, I got a few good hits in. I wasn't too bad as I thought.

I could live on pies and tarts for breakfast for days. Especially if they are from the Pie And Tart Specialist. Each for HK$10 or less. Ultimate favorite is the Cheesy Milk Tart.

Soaking your feet in a bathtub half filled with hot water while eating ready meals from 7-11 after a long day of walking is bliss. This is what my sister and I did. Feet hurt more when you walk around for a whole day without buying anything. Empty hands have their own weight.

So we got tuna onigiri and salmon rolls and spicy noodles and fizzy drinks. Arranged them for easy access around the tub while we figured out which side to sit on. Added bubbly gel to the hot water. And we slipped our very sore feet in. Happiness!

When the universe presents you with a perfect setting, you get on the stage instead of walking away. Our daily life is filled enough with routine and responsibilities that we often just plod on and rarely go off the well-beaten path. But once in a while there is a chance to play other roles, or to give other aspects of ourselves a few moments to stretch out in the sun.

In my case, it was a setting to be sweet and somewhat vulnerable. I have always been a self-sufficient, take-control kind of person. I have also often kept myself at a safe distance with an escape route when socializing. But once in a while, when you least expect it, someone gets through to you and then the universe conspires to keep on putting you in each other's path. Don't fight it. Just go with it. Enjoy the moments. Sit on that empty space beside him. Smile back. Accept offers of help. Say thank you. Immerse yourself in the conversation when you're together. Appreciate and savor the little sweet habits that begin to form and that make you smile to yourself when you remember them. Rediscover that delicious state of wonder and joy. Don't over-think. Live it. Enjoy it.

Days without internet access is so refreshing. I've known this for a while but you appreciate it more when the hours you spend online is actually replaced by other activities that you realize are equally, if not more, enjoyable. Such as sitting in a park leisurely eating pie. Or walking around discovering a city. Or having long conversations and getting to know people you never thought you had so much to bond with.

The good ol' spin-the-bottle game never loses its magic in bringing kindred spirits together. It may sound cheesy or corny for some but believe me, it works. It breaks down barriers, breaks through shyness, and opens up new ways of connecting with people. My sister was getting ready to get into her pajamas while I was considering making a trip to 7-11 to get some coffee when a knock on the door brought an invitation to hang out with the guys in their room. It was the first time we actually had a chance to hang out and get to know the other guys in the dojo and we are glad we did. For myself it was a good exercise of opening up and reaching out to meet the other person/s halfway. It was a practice in generosity as well as I shared my time and my presence and participation (I usually hate games except the video kind). The endless laughter gave us tummy aches and sore throats. Well worth it.

Being treated like a girl feels good. Like being helped with heavy things. And having doors opened for you. And having things taken care of for you. Being waited for. Being looked out for while crossing the street. Being looked out for while boarding the train. My instinct has often been to assert my capability to take care of myself. Sometimes it's good to just give in.

Getting out of the usual routine and following your heart can lead to wonderful experiences. I know this already, but the meaning sinks in much deeper when you actually experience it. Now I have a benchmark for how I should feel in my daily life as a kind of guide on whether I am compromising on my happiness and passion or getting trapped in the safety of routine. In those five days I slept for less than twelve hours put together. But in each waking minute I was very much alive. I followed my heart. I did what needed doing. I braved my way through the stuff that scared me. I actually let go of a lot of the things that generally hold me back.  I stepped out of my comfort zone in some cases.

I love cold weather. Even if the cold wind slices through my cheeks. I love how everyone looks nice and warm in their nice coats and jackets and scarves and boots and hats. My hair also behaves very well in cold weather instead of freaking out with humidity.

that's my sister in her really nice jacket loaded with pies and sweets
I fell in love. (Uh-oh)

Had any life-changing trips lately?


  1. Wow, your HK experience seems so much more interesting than mine :p I will just live it vicariously through you :) I miss you Mchit!

    1. I miss you too Trins! But do note na ang wish ko is to be like you with a wonderful loving hubby and a happy family! Hehehe :D

  2. I love this idea, the baker's dozen. So cute!!

    1 - such a hard thing to do, but I've got to believe it feels epic when you get there, good luck!!
    2 - your mochi looks a lot different than the mochi I've had here in the US, I wonder how different it tastes...
    3 - what a cute little camera, it's almost square! I'm glad you finally got it!!
    4 - :) yayy!! nice strategizing :)
    5 - mmmm, I totally know that feeling. I live in Chinatown right now, I'm pretty sure I eat at the bakeries here 2-3 times a week minimum. That's what I did when I went to England too, I just ate at the bakeries. It's cheap and it's good, what else could you want?
    6 - mmm, that sounds good too :)
    7 - I like this advice.
    8 - I believe that. It's like days when you lose your phone or accidentally leave it somewhere. SO refreshing.
    9 - Would you believe I've never actually played a game of spin the bottle? But I've got to tell you... it sounds like an awesome theme for a party. As long as nobody's sick...
    10 - I agree.
    11 - Yay for breaking out of comfort zones!!
    12 - So, I wouldn't say that I love cold weather, but I TOTALLY understand what you're talking about how hair acts better in the cold. As a girl with curly hair.. I concur.
    13 - Can't wait to hear more...