Think about walking down a street in your neighborhood. Whether you live near the bustling stores and streets of downtown or in the more tranquil neighborhoods of residential D.C., there are familiar buildings, businesses and homes you inevitably picture. The nearest pharmacy, coffee shop and grocery store are all familiar places that you visit quite often for your daily necessities. And having lived in your neighborhood for some time, you know exactly where to go for a quick bite before a meeting or to pick up a light bulb. We hardly ever stop to think about these little parts of our communities, but when we do, it is easily apparent how much a specific CVS or Starbuck’s can feel like home.
With this in mind, think about traveling to a new place. Your first glimpse of the stores, restaurants, plants and even street signs as you approach your hotel all seem new. After a few days, these foreign landmarks become more and more familiar. By the end of your trip, the ones you visit the most and make a connection with will be part of a small home away from home. In short, we familiarize the places we love with the landmarks they hold.
I have been experiencing this process first hand over the past ten days in the crazy city of Hong Kong. From my first drive up the tiny, curvy, highly-trafficked street that leads to my building until now, the same billboards, flower shop, road barriers and trees have all become homey and familiar. Although there are thousands of tiny details on my street and the greater city of Hong Kong, the landmarks I have subconsciously familiarized myself with all differentiate themselves by unique aspects I can relate to.
One specific business I made this connection with is located in one of the more local and secluded communities on the small island of Peng Chau. While absorbing the automobile and English-free atmosphere of this local Cantonese village, a sign in French caught my eye. I was drawn in by the familiarity and surprise of seeing French in such a seemingly random and far away corner of the world. As I approached the building, I made out the words, “Les Copains d’abord” next to Chinese characters. Written on a mural-covered building with an open sitting area, the restaurant looks like a slice of Europe was placed in this Chinese community. With no other Western businesses in sight, I assumed the business to be Chinese. However, a closer examination showed otherwise.
A friendly Hong Kong native greeted me at the open front of the small café. Notes from an accordion filled my ears as I noticed the wine and cheese menu written in French on a large old-fashioned chalkboard. The Hong Kong native told me that the owner was a French man who had immigrated to Hong Kong for the love of Asian culture. He started the café for tourists to comfortably enjoy wine and cheese while absorbing the calm and quiet atmosphere of Peng Chau. In the warmer weather, Les Copains d’abord puts on wine tastings, jazz concerts and pétanque tournaments. Hong Kongers often come for the unique French culture amidst the small Cantonese village. As I bid the man farewell, a great appreciation for my small discovery came over me because of the unique connection I had made. This little slice of France located in Peng Chau will be part of the home away from home that I, and I’m sure many others, will hold onto among all the other memories from visit to Hong Kong.
What you have left of past homes and vacations are the memories. The small connections and bonds you make with people and places are what these memories are made of. Like any good francophile, it is always exciting to find my love for French culture can be enjoyed in the most unexpected places.
By Samantha Cohen, American University, AFDC Blog Ambassador