According to Triumphs & Tribulations X, on this very day in 2010, I was supposed to make my Macau debut with a 1-day sightseeing tour during my last full day in Hong Kong. The trip didn’t happen because 14 hours earlier, I experienced the worst moment I’ve had in traveling…internationally or domestically. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the Victoria Park incident.
How I first came across this moment? In April 2010, I made my debut trip to Hong Kong. Leading into the trip, I decided against staying at the hotels in Kowloon even though they offered spectacular views of the skyscrapers across Victoria Harbour. I chose to stay on Hong Kong Island instead, opting for the Metropark Hotel Causeway Bay. I had a room on the 26th floor of the hotel, which offered me a fantastic view across Kowloon Bay amongst other areas. It also provided a bird’s eye view of Victoria Park. On Day 5 of the trip, I found myself sitting out on the balcony of my hotel, enjoying one of the best room service lunches ever. I could see people on the basketball courts hoopin’ it up. Having been greeted warmly by the locals in my attempt to blend in when I participated in the tai chi class in the park, I figured I’d get the same reception if I played a few games of basketball with them. As I headed out for my afternoon sightseeing on the Avenue of Stars along the Tsim Sha Tsiu Promenade, I took my gym bag with me with the intent of stopping in for a few games after I was done in the early evening. And I did just that. In a rarity for me, I was both the tallest and most talented person on the court. Mind you, I’m only 5’11” tall and, at best, I’m probably the 7th or 8th man on any organized team I’ve ever played on. While I was putting in work on those cats, somebody went into my bag and snatched my wallet. I didn’t notice it until after the 3rd game when I saw my bag open. Naturally, I called the cops…and it took them 30 minutes to respond. When they did come out, they were acting standoffish about the matter, which pissed me off. I ended up going to the Hong Kong Police Headquarters, where I raised enough hell until a detective met with me. He took a statement and actually went as far as to look at footage from video cameras in the park around the time of the incident. Though we saw who swiped my wallet, we couldn’t make out anything that would’ve identified them. I returned to the hotel, where I counted my blessings to still have my passport and plane ticket back to Tokyo. Basically, I knew that I’d get home as long as I could get to the airport. Notice those italics? The issue was me getting to the airport. The theft of my wallet left me without any money whatsoever…and I was 1800 miles from home. All of my bank cards, a lot of cash—$510 USD, $2200 HKD, and ¥11500—as well as my driver’s license, military ID, and my Suica card were all gone. I was particularly pissed at losing my military ID, driver’s license, and my Suica. The cash loss wasn’t a big issue though I had to figure a way to come up with at least $50 to get from my Hong Kong hotel to my residence in Fussa…the combined price of all train and taxi fares. The American consulate was closed at the time and I couldn’t understand what the voice recording was saying. Even today, I have a hard time understanding why an American embassy facility had a person with a strong Chinese accent speaking on their voice recording in regards to services for English-speaking American citizens. The Metropark Hotel stepped up big time. They allowed me to make a free international call—where I was able to get my mother to send me an emergency wire transfer—and loaned me $70 HKD to make a train trip to the nearest Western Union. With the emergency $200 from my mother in hand, I was able to make it back to Tokyo without further issue.
What it meant to me then? Going through it at the time, it cast a dark cloud on my perception of Hong Kong. Keeping in mind that I’ve visited Mainland China, Singapore, and Thailand and that I lived in Japan and South Korea, someone stealing from me in Asia was unexpected. I mean, not even a month prior, I left my $1200 Nikon D90 DSLR camera on the Ōme Line and it made its way back to me…with the ¥5000 I kept in the sleeve of the camera bag. I was really disappointed with the initial efforts of the Hong Kong Police. Those beat cops did absolutely nothing. They gave a $#!+ effort…didn’t take my name, didn’t write a report. All those cats did was look in 2 trash cans for my wallet before scurrying off back to their police car. The detective at Headquarters, I’ll never forget him. If we could’ve identified the person on the cameras, I sincerely believe he would’ve brought me justice. The Metropark Hotel staff was a godsend. Though my money can now afford the very best hotels in Hong Kong, I’ll always choose that one because of what they did when I was in a bad spot. Aside from the shock of the moment and the unprofessionalism of those beat cops, I was pretty calm about the situation…my hellraising in the Hong Kong Police Headquarters, notwithstanding. I was calm up until I remembered that my Suica had ¥11500 on it. Do you know how many train rides a Suica card with ¥11500 can get you? Though I could’ve still gone on the Macau trip, I decided not to: I didn’t have any extra money to blow in the casinos or the tourist traps nor did I really feel in the best of moods after what happened in Victoria Park.
What it means to me now? In Life: The Juan Thomas Story, I ripped Hong Kong to pieces in my travel review…exclusively because of the Victoria Park incident. I boycotted the entire special administration region. It had earned my enmity alongside New Orleans and Jacksonville as places where I had been tremendously wronged. That boycott lasted for a little over 2 ½ years, ending when I visited the city just before Christmas in December 2012 to see The Nutcracker Ballet. I forgave the city and whoever the culprit was. And to show there were no hard feelings, I decided to make Hong Kong a part of my bucket list…at least 2 and possibly up to 7 items can be accomplished there. A whole 10 years later, the experience in Hong Kong has given life to words my father always told me: “watch your back at all times”. Nowadays, I’m always watching when I’m traveling. I’m more alert than ever when I’m on the road.