Pointless & Fragile & Beautiful

In Hong Kong, my friends and I spent an afternoon hunting for pineapple buns, also called sweet buns/bo lao bao. We’d been promised they would keep up raving for days, and that turned out to be true (it’s been weeks and I’m still not over them).  

An almost-brusque-but-not-quite-off-putting woman guided us to a booth, which she indicated would soon be unoccupied. She accomplished this for us herself by forcing the two guys sitting there move to the next booth, shoving another couple into half of the space they had just been occupying. We sat down a bit gingerly. My friends felt so awkward that they almost convinced me to leave, but I was determined to have my pineapple buns and would not hear of quitting the restaurant. 

We had so much incredible food in Hong Kong, but it was the pineapple buns from Kam Wah Cafe in Kowloon that won. Hands down. We ate, we drank, we were conquered by Kowloon.

Becca and Steph overcome with joy bc pineapple buns

Becca and Steph overcome with joy bc pineapple buns


That’s all set up for my favorite part of the afternoon though.

Right outside the restaurant was an open air corner store that sold fish. No, not the kind you eat. There was a wall full of air tight bags of live fish all trapped in their own little bubbles. The goldfish and mollies I recognised, but there were so many more that I didn’t, each hanging from a wall in their own neat little bag-world. I was thrilled. There were so many different kinds and colors, and I just wanted to stand and stare at all the frantic little creatures. 

I want one.

I want one.

My friends laughed at me for just standing and watching the fish, some exploring every corner of their tiny habitats and some just seeming to watch us quite nonchalantly. I felt like a little kid at the zoo, wishing I wasn’t travelling so that I could take one home with me.

I have always loved animals. But I think that was only part of my fascination with what was, by any local measure, a pretty standard stand. In the states, the pet stores are fun, but they are so much more isolated and impersonal, full of huge tanks with unindividuated blocks of fish in them. Here there were singly wrapped little lives saying ‘pick me! take me home and love me!’ And they were just dropped in your way. 

I loved this stand for the delicacy of it all. There was me, full and content, and there was this wall covered in all these bright little lives. These little dependents who would die without care (sure not if they’d been in the wild, but that was probably many fish generations ago?). I loved them for their fragility, and I loved that the stand was both crowded and only one of many such stores. I loved what it said about the crowd of people also looking over the fish; that they cared about these little lives. Apparently goldfish are good luck in China, but still.

It’s probably silly, but I couldn’t help thinking that anyone who elected to care for something as pointless and beautiful and fragile as a goldfish couldn’t be all bad.

C U R I O S I T Y & W O N D E R

I can't stop asking questions.

I have an annoying habit of turning to my phone as soon as someone asks a question. Are toucans and hornbills the same bird? Is it pronounced “Poo-khet” or “Fooc-it”? How long does it take water to boil? Do lady walruses have tusks? Friends have gotten mad at me for looking up the answers to some of these exact questions, because they assume that I’m just trying to prove that I’m right. I’m not at all actually. I just want to know. It's what gets me moving. I can’t stop asking questions along the lines of ‘but what is life like over there?’ How do they view the world differently than I do? How does that manifest itself in their art/culture/personal interactions? Sure, this information is probably pretty easily accessible over the internet too, but gaining some small understanding of a place and its people instead of just assuming, or worse, not knowing, is worth any sacrifices I’ve made to be there. 

I love curious people. I love people who keep asking questions that aren’t answered in one sentence. I love people who want to keep learning forever. These are an abundant breed in hostels.

Definitely take the bus into Hong Kong from the airport. 1/3 the price + you get to actually see things!

Definitely take the bus into Hong Kong from the airport. 1/3 the price + you get to actually see things!

I think I remember best my first taste of every country from this year. 

It was dark when I landed in Manila, and I was left to navigate the ridiculous amount of luggage I’d brought on my own. Out the airport, across the road, and down a ramp waited an American, an Australian and a Filipino whose name I avoided saying, because I thought it couldn’t possibly be Kuyeahpoyong. It was Kuya Puyong, who is now my Filipino dad, and he drove all of us to my new home through a city I couldn’t imagine ever navigating. I remember it feeling oppressively humid, even at night. 

On the raised train from Suvarnabhumi to Bangkok, I saw my first rice paddies. That the world would be so definitively divided, a pattern of impossibly green rectangles, stilt houses and roads all delineated by strict little walls, kept me staring out the window of the train for the full hour. 

There was the night bus into Taipei, and me trying to make out the shape of the city in the distance until it was everywhere, surrounding us with buildings shaped by the light pouring out of their windows. And there was me forgetting to remember that I was reading a book.

In Vietnam, our hotel sent a van that smelled so intensely of smoke that I had to keep the window open for the full hour’s drive. The air was cool on my face, and I’d found a forgotten playlist on my phone. I listened to the angsty music of my early teen years until we reached the old quarter of Hanoi. I remember stepping out of the bus and standing in the middle of the street to get a better look at the way the buildings seemed to lean in to meet each other above us. There was a tree growing in the narrow walkway between hotel and street. It stretched all the way across the sky, and I couldn’t wait to see it the next day. 

There is a deep, dark green that I’ve only seen in the trees outside Narita airport, which makes the magic foxes and crane maidens of Japanese myths seem possible. I had a podcast playing for the ride into Tokyo (Embedded, an NPR podcast which might be my favorite of all the podcasts), and I was trying to journal, but that was not happening. Japan shifted from fairy tale forests to overpasses that showed off a perfectly designed city full of parks and water, and there was no way to think about myself with all of that happening. 

On the bus from the island of Chek Lap Kok to the island of Hong Kong, I had the same song repeating through broken headphones, and I tried to trace the way the ocean changed colors below us, until the city of Hong Kong, and the mountains on either side of it, shot up out of the water.

This is what keeps me travelling. To be so floored by the novelty of the world that I have to construct a new understanding of it. This is when my curiosity is as close to satisfied as it might ever be. 

Hanoi, Vietnam the next morning. Did not disappoint. 

Hanoi, Vietnam the next morning. Did not disappoint.