Friday, 25 May 2012

Hong Kong Skylines or Why Travel is Important

On the way back from my trip to the Philippines, I had an eight hour connection in Hong Kong. When booking the flights, I had tried to avoid a long stop there, but when a friend confirmed that, thanks to a fast and efficient airport train service and an easy visa process, it was possible to nip into the city for a few hours before heading back to the airport, I was over the moon. Visit a glamorous international city with a dazzling waterfront skyline, at sunset, in the ultimate of foreign countries, with the added cool of just dropping in on the way to somewhere else? Who wouldn't?


The amount of preparation I did for that little trip was ridiculous, mostly because, in addition to a bit of internet research beforehand, at Harold's Mansion, our hostel in Dumaguete which made up with its guidebook library what it lacked in indoor toilets, I was able to borrow, read, and inwardly digest most of the Lonely Planet guide to the city before I went. And, reflecting on why I did this so obsessively as I waved goodbye to the Philippines and set off for my mini-adventure, I reminded myself of why travel matters.

Because sometimes I feel guilty about my addiction to travelling. Going to the Philippines, I asked myself how I could justify spending one-fifth of the average annual income there on one flight. I fret about my carbon footprint. And more than anything, I worry that travel has become consumerist, with the number of exotic places you've ticked off a list and can boast about to your friends being more important than what you  did there or how much you learned.

All of these are legitimate concerns. But the revelation that came to me somewhere over the South China Sea was that travel matters because it makes us care. Visiting a new country makes me want to learn about its language, its geography and its history. Deep down, I want to know things that before were only theoretically interesting. Most importantly of all, it makes me care about the people. I want to know their life experiences and understand the choices they make. And, because they are real to me, I care about their destinies in a way that may ultimately change the choices that I make in my own life, perhaps, in some small way, paving the path to a better world.

That's why, superficial as my snaps of my 4 hours in Hong Kong may seem, they are more meaningful than they look.

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