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Hong Kong is Home Sweet Home

Blast San Francisco Bureau

Kowloon, Hong Kong - It hit me as the doors leading out of the airport opened. I had arrived.

The differences were immediate. First the 94 percent humidity and 90 degree temperature slapped me across the face - fogging up my glasses. Then, riding away from the airport in a taxi, I noticed the traffic congestion and throngs of people. Every building is 20 stories tall with hundreds of apartments. Each building crammed next to each other. Imagine San Francisco or Manhattan with 10 times the people, pollution and traffic.

We dropped our luggage at the family friend's apartment we were staying at. I looked around and realized that a family of four lived here and the place wasn't much bigger than my studio back in San Francisco.

We went to a tea house to have dim sum. The walk seemed long in the humidity even though we were going just two blocks. I felt out of place without a beeper and a cellular phone clipped to my waist like everyone else. "Even people working as street sweepers carry a cellular phone," quipped Jung, a friend and our guide for the day.

When we got to the tea house, the place seemed small and cramped. We had to walk up two flights of stairs to get to the dining room. We started eating and I reached for my napkin without thinking. But I stared across the table and noticed there were none. I checked other tables and nobody else had napkins. No one seemed concerned either, except me.

I wasn't sure what to expect in Hong Kong and China. Part of me wanted to see the "homeland." But I'm an ABC (American Born Chinese) and had only visited once before in 1979, when I was 11. My parents left Hong Kong for the United States in 1966, two years before I was born.

But the people, sounds and smells in Hong Kong are really not that different than what you'd see strolling through Chinatown in San Francisco, just magnified. The coffee shops have the same pastries I enjoy and the tea houses serve the same dim sum (you just have to provide your own napkins or wait until the waitress brings a hot towel when you're ready to leave).

Stepping into the friend's apartment, it looked no different from any other Chinese home I'd been to in the United States (just a bit smaller). Sure, there's humidity in the United States as well, just spend a few summers in New York like I have and you'll know. Living in San Francisco, we are blessed with great weather (one of the reasons I moved back from New York).

This is Hong Kong and not the United States. But it's not the "Far East" or the "Orient" or any other mysterious sounding place. Just home to people like anywhere else.