“We’ve been down here before.”
“I know but it might be around that corner?”
“What, by the toilet? Should we give up, I don’t think we are going to find it?”
We kept going, it felt like we were in a movie. Searching floor to floor, following shop number after shop number and back again, in one of the most expensive shopping malls in Hong Kong. We couldn’t ask for help, it was meant to be hidden. We were searching for our Hong Kong speakeasy…
Hong Kong was a whirlwind. After an early morning train ride in Sydney, a bacon sandwich at the airport, a flight delay, a chat with a lovely English backpacker, an empty middle seat, 8 episodes of sex and city (season 4) and a couple of thousand miles, we landed to the night lights of Hong Kong. It was loud and bright and the train was immaculate, if not expensive. We found our hotel. A free upgrade and 27 floors high. And breathe, finally, we could relax.
Travel days are hectic and stressful, but they are my favourite days. When else do you get to sit for 8 hours, with no wifi, a good book, drinks on tap and an abundance of films? It makes life pretty simple, there is only such much you can do, only so much you can worry about when your 30,000 feet in the air.
I’m not sure we really did anything you were ‘supposed to do’ in Hong Kong, but sometimes, I think that’s where the real city is – the real adventure. With a city break, you can either rush and tick things off your list, or you can accept you will never see everything and you may as well really experience the parts of the city that you do see. It’s taken me a while to get this point, but after years of exhausting myself on city breaks, running from guide book to ‘must see’, to TripAdvisor top recommendation, I’ve learnt it’s always better to have a reason to go back. To save something, until next time. We don’t have to do everything, it’s better to just be, to soak up a city and it’s people. To slow down.
And that’s how we ended up somewhere between Gucci and Ralph Lauren, at the bottom of a 4 story shopping mall right in the middle of Hong Kong, searching for a speakeasy.
“Shall we go? It’s not here.”
“It must be, the shop numbers are just muddled, it should be right here…”
“Oh wait, I think this is it?”
Yep. We found it, a tiny door secretly labelled as a Doctor’s office, but on closer inspection, a Dr of Gin (the best kind of Doctor).
Well, we were too bloody scared to open the door! It turns out that a hidden bar in a designer shopping mall has expensive drinks. Yeah, ridiculous. So we pushed on ready for the next bar.
Not far from our failed first experience, across the concrete city, we waited at the side of the grey and dirty road, taxi after taxi streaming past, for the green signal to turn red, it was then safe for us to cross. We walked up a small one-way street, filled with scaffolding and large rubbish bins, then to the right an umbrella shop. This looked promising, it was everything you would hope for in a speakeasy – down a dodgy road and completely unassuming. It looked like a shop. Braver than before we went in and waited in the shop front. And waited. It turns out that a hidden bar up the road from a designer shopping mall, not only has expensive drinks but also a dress code. And that was our second speakeasy.
We pushed on.
As the city lights grew brighter and the sun faded, we caught a tram a few blocks north and soaked up the city skyline. Like a photo time lapse, the city came to life in slow motion as the light left it was as if a new filter had been added to every street scene, it was beautiful.
Down a graffiti-decorated alley, with old posters and litter, we found our bar, the speakeasy we had been looking for all along. Popcorn and champagne, no dress code and a new tradition established. What an afternoon. We’d seen parts of Hong Kong that aren’t on your usual map. We’d missed the light show and the Bruce Lee statue but we added a new ritual to our city itineraries forevermore.
Sometimes when you find what you’re looking for it’s not what you expected and often, it’s not even what you wanted. But the point is to keep looking, keep searching and pushing on, you’ll find your way eventually. You’ll find the place you were looking for and won’t be how you imagined, it will be even better. You’ll find that bar, that job, that person, that life, and it will be when you least expect it. When you’ve given in, not given up. When you’ve given into the rushing and ticking things off a list, there it will be in amidst the hum of the city or the murmur of your daily routine, hidden in plain sight.
After all, the best bit about a speakeasy is finding it. It’s usually just an expensive bar with great cocktails. But the journey is what makes the adventure. The hard work, the walk to get there, the unknown.
A bit like life really.
Anticipation and looking forward to things can often be a huge part of the adventure, a huge part of what makes the experience. It’s our journey and who we are travelling with that really counts.
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