I live in a small Utah town, and grew up in an even smaller Utah town. I lived in Milford, Utah for 19 years and in St. George, Utah for over 10 years. Being in such small towns, for such long periods of time allows you to meet and get to know a lot of people. These people appear throughout the day in your normal life. At work, out shopping, at the movies, I can’t go to the Costco in St. George without seeing at least five people I know. I think it is why there is so much pressure to always look good in small town Utah. You never know who you are going to see, your boss, your CEO, in-laws, so you must always be presentable. In Milford, where there are only 1,000 residents, it is a rare day that you go somewhere and run into someone that you don’t know, and not even just knowing them, but it is hard to not run into a relation. Every minute of every day in such a small community is spent interacting with people that you know, and have sometimes known for your entire life. You know their entire story, and they know your entire story.
When I set out on an adventure six months ago, my first stop was a month’s time in Hong Kong, I wondered if a community like I had in Utah would be possible. Would I ever run into anyone that I knew in a city with over seven million people? Would it even be possible, I was only going to be in Hong Kong for about five weeks. Is that enough time to run into your neighbor at the market?
It happened much quicker than I ever expected. Within the first week, I met an Australian guy who was traveling the world for a year. We were on the same ferry from Lamma Island back to Hong Kong and chatted about traveling. Our ferry arrived, and we went our separate ways, not exchanging number, or adding each other on Facebook. Two nights later I was walking around Soho having a beer, just one of many in a huge crowded area, and ran into him and his Australian friends that lived in Hong Kong. We all hung out, had dinner, and carried on with our own nights. A few weeks later, I was at the airport in Hong Kong watching and waiting in the arrivals line for my sister who was arriving from the US. There were thousands of passengers arriving, and I was focused on not missing her in the crowd. We didn’t have cell service in Hong Kong, and I had to make sure we met up here. While I was waiting, I heard my name being called, but it wasn’t my sister. It was the Australian couple; they had just arrived on a flight and were walking out of the arrivals hall.
I joined a work out group that met in the park, and soon started to run into them throughout the city,: on the MTR, on the Mid-Level Escalators, and the grocery store. I was staying with a Canadian couple, and had met some of their friends at a party, and saw them at a bar a few weeks later.
At my favorite bar for happy hour, Stone Nullah, I met a group of guys who were performers at Hong Kong Disneyland. I met them just a few days before I had planned on going to the park, and saw them in them perform in the Lion King performance. I then ran into them in the largest mall in Hong Kong, and later at another bar.
I also had friends of friends that I met and spent time with in Hong Kong. It is amazing how small the world, and how many people I knew had connections with people in Hong Kong. Another random meet up, that was planned, was when I hung out with a guy from Germany who had stayed at my house in Utah using Airbnb. He’d been a guest at my house over a year ago, and had slept in my bed, met my dog, sister, and friends, but I had never actually met him because ironically I was in Germany for work at the time he was staying at my house. We’d kept in touch on Facebook, and it ended up that he was in Hong Kong for work, while I was in Hong Kong. We met one night for beers and dinner, and finally got to see each other in person.
This trend of running into people continued as I traveled throughout Southeast Asia over the next few months. In Phnom Penh, I met a guy sitting by himself having lunch at a food stand. He’d just given up Facebook and his smart phone, so we didn’t exchange any contact info, I told him our paths will cross again if it is meant to be. The next day, I saw him and some friends he’d just recently met at a museum. I said hi, and went on with the day. That night I went to a different food stand for dinner, and heard my name being called, it was the group, and they’d just sat down to dinner at the same place as me. I joined them for dinner, then hung out with them at one of the coolest little gay bars I’ve ever been too. During the day five guys ran a hair salon out of a small building, and at night, they served drinks. They also had five dachshunds. It was a win, win, win location.
It seemed no matter where I went, I was making friends, and running into them later. At a hotel I was staying at in Mandalay, Myanmar I’d met a Swiss couple. We were both later heading to Bagan, but at different days, and they were taking a boat and I was taking a bus. Our plan was to connect on Facebook when we were both in Bagan, and meet up for dinner. I was out exploring most of the days in Bagan and I had forgotten to check my messages on Facebook. I thought I would have missed them and there wouldn’t have been a way to meet up. Then, as I as climbing up my last temple of the day and last temple of my trip to Bagan, they found me. We’d had no conversation about where we would meet or when, it was just chance that we were both visiting the same temple, of the thousands in the valley around Bagan.
After leaving Myanmar and Southeast Asia altogether I went back to my small little Utah town and spent two weeks with my parents. I was back, and surrounded, by people I had known my entire life.
Back in St. George, where I had lived and worked for ten years, I was still running into people I knew. I felt like I almost had to sneak around to go to Costco or the grocery store. No matter where I went I met people, and had to have the same conversation, “I thought you were in Hong Kong” .. “I was, I’m just back visiting for a couple of days.”
After a few months in Utah spending time with family and friends, I headed out on another three-week adventure to Peru. While exploring Cusco for a few weeks I received a message on Facebook from someone I had a class with in college about ten years ago. We’d remained friends on Facebook, and he was Peruvian, but had gone to school in the US and had worked a few years in the US. He was now living back in Lima, and we met up for a weekend of eating and drinking.
During my six month adventure I’ve learned how important human connections are to me. I’ve made friends with so many amazing people from all over the world, and I’ve also grown to value the relationships I have back home in Utah. I’ve met friends from Laos, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Canada, England, Australia, Switzerland, and the list goes on. I’ve also met people from home, while not at home, and have reconnected with friends from the past at home. I’ve learned to place a lot of value on these relationships, because they are truly the essence of life. It is a big world, but it is also a very small world. We are all one big community, and we are all in this together, even if you think the person you are with is just a stranger, you never know when your paths will cross again.
If you want to know why I started in Hong Kong, where I was meeting a lot of friends in Hong Kong, and where my friend in Lima took me to eat and drink, check out these other entries on Austin’s Adventure