Beloved rituals

March unfolded quite busily, and all signs said April would be, too, so while they were not looking, we snuck off to Hong Kong. There were five of us tired bodies, the promise of being in such an always happy place enough to make us feel instantly less so. I can’t speak for the others but personally, I love the place. In a big way. I keep a postcard of the Hong Kong skyline on my desk, just because it makes me smile, just because looking at it makes me feel all warm inside.

I love that it feels far from home but is actually near enough to escape to. I have so many memories attached to it, first as an almost-teenager walking the streets with my sister Caren, cousins John Paul and Johanna, and Lola Carmen and Tita Liclic  the latter two have both since passed. I miss them. Lolawould stop at almost every jewelry store (she was a jeweler, by the way), which we could not quite understand completely because the wares of one looked very similar to that of the next, and it was only when we became adults that my sister, cousins and I realized it was probably because she was too tired to keep up with our boundless energy. She needed to sit and breathe, literally, but did not have the heart to tell us. Caren, Johanna and I experimented with black eyeliner during that trip, feeling like the adults we were not yet. I will dig up those photos one day, and probably laugh at how we looked with so much liner piled on.

As a married woman pregnant with Juliana, it was at the Shu Uemura shop at Pacific Place that I learned concealer had to be warmed in the hands before application (I had a great acne breakout on my face then which I could do little about because of the baby in my womb), and that lilac eyeshadow and curled lashes could be so pretty. Twenty plus years later, Hong Kong would still be the backdrop upon which I would finally learn, from a lady who stood behind a makeup counter in a big mall, how to do winged tips on smoky eyes.

Hong Kong was also the first place my sister and I traveled to, without parents and only relatives as chaperones, and for that trip headed by Tito Nick and Tita Susan we would leave the hotel in clusters, adults in one group and us cousins in another, where the older ones were cautioned to look after the younger ones (there was no one under 10 anyway) and we all would meet up with the adults at the end of the day for a big meal together. I fell in love with honeyed pork and suckling pig on that trip, and rice sealed its fate as my forever love. It wasn’t until many years later that I would learn to like roast goose and Peking Duck, which I was never fond off at the onset.

While we were there for this most recent trip, Richard celebrated his birthday and the hotel staff gave him a cake. For a moment there it felt like his own Lola Lydia was not gone, she who baked him chiffon cake and/or pineapple upside down cake from scratch, because this one was like a combination of both, light and fluffy with pineapple bits and nata de coco.

When I am in Hong Kong, I feel like background music follows me, just like in the movies. It is perfect each time. I like riding the MTR, the ferry that takes us from Ocean Terminal to Central. It feels so Old World, getting on and off the Star Ferry, the smell of salt and sea in every smile, the beautiful skyline to foster thoughts of a good life and a beautiful world. There are many rituals I take to that tie me down to the place  embroidered linens from Chinese Arts and Crafts, Shanghai Tang in IFC mall, the fruit juice stand that occupies a corner near Nathan Road where I get this creamy coconut drink that is saccharine but wonderfully so, the pork and chicken coins from Bee Cheng Hang that is best munched on mindlessly while walking the streets and coming across funny signboards (my brother Matt actually bought one that said “You talk like angel, walk like model, but your body like buffalo”). There are shops selling brand-less clothing, and souvenir wastelands that might just delight still, no matter how many times you’ve seen them. I’m sad that See’s Candies is no longer in Ocean Terminal, I loved their chocolate almond clusters, so I have since turned to orangettes, which every other chocolate shop seems to have a version of. We always go back to the same restaurants we love even as we venture into new ones, stay in more or less the same hotels even as we vow to try the newer ones that have mushroomed thus far. Always we fill the room ref with favorites we can snack on  Dove chocolate and the creamiest milk from 7-Eleven, Scottish shortbread cookies from Marks and Spencer, foie gras and bread from City Super.

These are not great rituals. They are very mundane and personal. But these are rituals you share with the ones you love, and that makes it special. These are the very things that make any place beautiful in your eyes.

The many times I have gone back and forth taught me the art of packing and in terms of shopping, weeding out quantity in exchange for quality. It also taught me to fall in love even more with all things Chinese  the cheongsam, brocade that I always try to bring home from every trip I make, fortune cookies, acupuncture, tea, dim sum, angpao (red envelope), lucky charms, the Double Happiness sign.

Hong Kong is my reward. I think that as I devour Hokkaido soft ice cream from a cone, sold in a shop near Toys R Us. It is even better than the dessert I hold in my hand.

A vacation is when everything you do is what you want to do, not what you have to do. That is how I feel always feel whenever I am in Hong Kong.

Some days, everything just falls into place. And some places never fail to feel like a very happy space away from home. That trip made me recover from the busyness of March and geared me up for what April has to offer.


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