Retracing my steps in Hong Kong two decades later


hong-kongHong Kong is a special place for me. I moved there for a year when I was an innocent, introverted 19-year old college student and returned a few years later for what I thought would be a very long time. Things don’t always turn out the way we expect, and I left Hong Kong for good after four more years.

Hong Kong
Susan in Hong Kong, 1996

When I left, it was  half a year after the Handover. I was married and pregnant with my first child. That was quite a change from when I first arrived as a college student.

It took me fourteen years to return to Hong Kong. I was married to a new husband and had had two more children. But that trip was only four days, as was my next trip back a couple years after that. Since I left Hong Kong in 1998, I hadn’t been back alone apart from a 36-hour layover last year. And I hadn’t been back for more than four days at a time.

Until last month.

A week in Hong Kong on my own was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My kids stayed with my mom and my husband was on a business trip to Florida where he’d be in class 12 to 15 hours a day. At first I thought I would wander around myself, revisiting places from my twenties. One of the things I love most about Hong Kong is its architecture. The rounded corner buildings are my favorite and it seemed I saw them wherever I went.

I had seen this gorgeous Art Deco watchtower on another visit back to Hong Kong and was thrilled to see it was still there last month. When I was in my twenties, I was in a language exchange with a man from Beijing who lived in this neighborhood. I don’t remember the street where he and his family lived, but the flavor of the area has been preserved, although it’s gentrifying quickly.

Hong Kong
Watchtower in Sai Ying Pun

Also in the same area is this beautiful building.


In Wanchai, also on Hong Kong Island, I found this Flatiron-esque building while riding a tram.

Hong Kong

Up in the Mid-Levels, where I would visit friends when I lived in Hong Kong 20 years ago, I found this gorgeous house. The rounded corners are simply stunning.

Hong Kong

This rounded corner cafe was near my hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui on the tip of the Kowloon peninsula. I ended up going out to breakfast, lunch, and dinner with almost two-dozen friends so I wasn’t on my own for any meals when this kiosk was open.

Hong Kong
Under Vacuum restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui East

Not too far from here, I wandered up Nathan Road, the main artery of Kowloon. I loved walking on this street when I lived in Hong Kong. It’s so full of flavor with different types of shops, charity offices, hotels, and restaurants.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Another thing I love about Hong Kong is the plethora of neon signs. They are quickly being replaced by sterile LED signs, so it’s always a treat to see neon in Hong Kong. I found this one in Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon.

Hong Kong

And this one in Sai Ying Pun on Hong Kong Island.

Hong Kong

I also love this view from Sheung Wan, just adjacent to Sai Ying Pun. The red pawnshop sign in the center right is iconic in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong

Here’s a final one from Wan Chai. I was near this area one night, but so busy chatting with friends that I didn’t have time to take out my camera.

Hong Kong

I did get plenty of opportunities to walk around Hong Kong alone, the first time I’ve done so since 1998. But I have to admit it wasn’t always easy being by myself in a city that was so pivotal to my young adult years, including the turbulent marriage I write about in my memoir, Good Chinese Wife.

Fortunately I have many friends in Hong Kong and was able to see them when I wasn’t in the mood to be alone, which turned out to be more often than not.

Is there a city from your past that keeps pulling you back?


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