My first trip was when I was one year old. My family moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from Colorado for my Fathers work. I don’t remember anything of those days so let us leave it.
We moved and traveled quite often but the first time I traveled solo was flying from San Francisco, California to Miami, Florida. I believe I was fourteen years old. Perhaps older, perhaps younger, but fourteen is close enough. My Father was a pilot for United Airlines, and I could fly for free. So I decided to take a day trip to Miami. I cannot tell you why I chose Miami but there I was, a boy dressed in Khakis and a nice shirt flying across the country. No hotel reservation, no car, no friends or family waiting, a few dollars in my pocket and a small backpack. I was ready for the world.
I wish I could tell you that the city is imprinted in my mind. That the bright lights, beaches, and people are all shining memories in my head. But it would be a lie. My memories consist of riding a city bus with vague impressions of colorful buildings, and of walking into a hotel lobby that was on the beach. Why I walked into that hotel or what I did in there is as unknown to me as it is to a perfect stranger. I have no desire to ever go back so let us leave it as well.
Around this same time my family took a trip to Hong Kong. My father, mother, two brothers and myself flew across the beautiful Pacific ocean to a strange land. Of the flight I remember nothing save the landing, but oh how that will be imprinted on my mind until I am dust.
Kai Tak airport was famous for it’s approaches, and rightfully so. I remember looking out the window, as I always had to have the window seat, and seeing buildings on both sides of the plane rising higher than we were. A tunnel of buildings big enough to swallow an airplane is not something a young boy will forget.
Our hotel had a doorman, and the lobby was extravagant, but details I cannot give. I believe all five of us stayed in the same room, but I must have had a cot, because early the next morning I couldn’t sleep and got up before the sun. I quietly escaped without waking anybody to see what this city had to offer. I bowed to the doorman and set off on my adventure with no directions or idea where I was going. I had no money, mobile phones were still unheard of, and had not told anyone where I was going. I was an American child walking alone in a strange new world.
Nobody was out at this hour, save a garbage truck and two men cleaning under a bridge. My feet lead the way as my mind admired the sheer number of gigantic buildings that seemed to go into eternity. Soon enough the shops began to open and people walked about. When I got tired I sat down on a bench. I picked up a newspaper next to me and pretended to read it, as that would somehow fool the people that I was one of them.
I walked on, passing electronic shop after electronic shop until I stopped dead in my tracks. Next to me was a shop full of grotesque items hanging in the window. They looked to be animals, but my mind could not accept it. This was a boy that had once been served a chicken leg for dinner by his mother. He started crying and naively asked, “Where is the rest of the chicken?” as if the rest of it could be found, it could somehow be put back together and walk and live again. They looked like ducks, chickens, geese, dogs, and all sorts of other animals. Strung up by their necks or dangling from hooks in their back. It was a scene of red and white butchery this man wishes he could forget. After staring for some time I put my head down and walked on in a trance.
Somehow I crossed a bay that separates two parts of the city. If I sneaked on a ferry or somehow paid I do not remember. What I do know is that I got to the other side where there was a steep hill. A tram followed the road up the hill but I decided to walk, perhaps to show these people how strong an American boy is, but more likely the reason being that I had no money.
At the top of this hill was a shopping area, and an anciently old man pulling a rickshaw came up to me, talking some crazy made up language and pointing to his transportation device. I tried to wave him off but he was having none of it. He took my hand and put me in the passenger seat. Off we went around the market. One simple loop and then I was to get out. His palm opened up hoping for money. I was willing to fill it, but lacked the means. As it was I just turned and walked away. Back to my hotel I went, having seen all of Hong Kong I needed to see. A towering city where foreigners of all ages can sight-see unmolested.