by Ashley Cheung, VPG Principal
I took my first solo international trip in 2009. I had just finished an exhausting trial and was surrounded by intense deadlines and high emotions. I desperately needed to find solitude in a place where I could be myself, in a place where no one knew me, so I booked a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia. I’ve always been a planner, dotting my ‘i’s, crossing my ‘t’s, and allowing fifteen-minute intervals for any contingency planning. But the trip to Vancouver was different. I decided to be spontaneous and not plan anything until I arrived. I wanted an adventure, not just a trip.
On my flight, I sat next to an older businessman who glanced over at a Chinese magazine I was reading, and we struck up a conversation about Hong Kong. I remember that we had a really good conversation. When we landed, we shared a cab to downtown Vancouver. When I reached for my wallet to pay my share of the cab fare, he insisted that he cover it. I thanked him and he wished me a wonderful ‘solo’ trip and encouraged me to take time to learn about myself. This was the first of many positive experiences for me during this trip.
My hotel room view was amazing and overlooked the harbor. For the first couple of days, I visited some of the top tourist attractions, including Stanley Park, Granville Island, Grouse Mountain, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gas Town, Queen Elizabeth Park, and Canada Place. Vancouver has a large Hong Kong immigrant population, and the food scene is very similar to Hong Kong. I spent a day hanging out in Chinatown, going into herbal medicine shops, gift shops, and “cha chaan teng,” a Hong Kong-style café. I also had some of the best dim sum since I immigrated to the States. I was in heaven. It was wonderful to see so many new and exciting things. But there was a comfort I felt in being reacquainted with familiar Hong Kong comfort food. I wanted to experience all that it had to offer.
Naturally, I immersed myself in a hectic schedule, and with only two days left on my trip, I decided to take a bus to visit Whistler and return to Vancouver by train. That year, Vancouver was preparing to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, so I was able to witness the excitement and preparation the Canadians put into getting ready for the international event. I’m not a skier, but once I got to Whistler, I fell in love with the peace and tranquility of the area. Once I spotted the Gondola and realized that it would take me up 1,427 feet high, I immediately got on one by myself. As I looked out the window, I realized how small I was compared to nature. When I reached the top of the mountain, the panoramic view of Whistler was mesmerizing. It was so quiet that I could almost hear my inner thoughts. After an hour, I took the reverse gondola trip with a group of Canadians. This time, I only smiled and said hi, but did not engage in any extensive conversation. I wanted some more time to myself before I returned to civilization. I couldn’t help overhearing a story one of the Canadians was sharing about a hiking accident where a hiker’s body was crushed by a large boulder. The man ended up having his legs and waist completely crushed by the boulder. My curiosity made me speak up and ask what happened to the man. The man telling the story went on to tell me that his tremendous resilience pulled him through the traumatic event. He continued to participate in kayaking and canoeing. As I visualized the image of how someone who experienced such trauma and so many challenges, overcame and pressed on, I gained an incredible sense of peace and it made me grateful for what I had, and hopeful that I too could overcome challenges in life. I found the joy in my journey.
Micro-Learning Moment (MLM): Depending on your goals and circumstances, traveling solo can be a great test of inner strength. It also offers an opportunity to be in touch with your instincts and be responsible for yourself. It’s an empowering feeling to feel like you can conquer the world. This is the reason I travel. To open myself up, to be completely immersed in different cultural experiences, and to be in touch with who I truly am.