Street Talk: Bosco Hong Tsz-ling
Adventurer and writer Bosco Hong Tsz-ling spent 363 days walking from Hong Kong to London to raise money for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. He tells Isabelle Hon about dating difficulties, tips for backpackers and coping with loneliness.
HK Magazine: Why walk from Hong Kong to London?
Bosco Hong: To say “thank you.” My father’s family members were refugees from China in the late 1960s.They were rich landlords but at that time, it was hard to stay in China [due to the Cultural Revolution]. One night, they realized that they had to escape, and they swam more than 10 hours from Guangdong to Hong Kong with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. The British Hong Kong government gave them everything: food, a house, education, jobs and money. If the British government didn’t save my father’s family, I wouldn’t be here breathing the oxygen of freedom and I wouldn’t have had a good education. I thought that walking like a refugee to London would be a good way to say a big thank you. The second reason is to help raise donations for UNHCR. People helped my family before, so now it was time for me to help other people—especially refugees.
HK: How long were you gone?
BH: I was walking from October 5, 2013 to October 3, 2014—almost one year. My walk took me through Hong Kong, China, Mongolia, Russia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland, England and France.
HK: Did you really walk all the way?
BH: Unfortunately I’m not Moses: I can’t part the sea! Also I’m not David Copperfield: I don’t know how to fly. So I took ferries or trains to cross bodies of water.
HK: How much did you spend?
BH: Actually, I didn’t use any money in Europe. Money is not an excuse for you to stop exploring the world. The most difficult thing was to find a place to stay: Every day I had to knock on someone’s door and hope they would offer me a bed and food, like a refugee. In Finland, it was quite easy—I just went to a school or church. But in Sweden, Denmark and Germany, it was extremely difficult. They’re quite afraid of strangers and you need to give them time to warm up.
HK: It must have been hard sometimes.
BH: It is very difficult to have a girlfriend when you’re traveling around the world for more than a year. The other difficult thing is that you are alone, even with people around you. One day in Belgium someone offered me a hotel room—but I was very sick with a fever, alone in the room. It was very hard.
HK: Any tips for backpackers?
BH: Don’t put too many things in your backpack. One kilogram lighter is one easier step to walk. Don’t worry about language too much: you can use Google Translate, draw or use body language. If I didn’t have Google Maps and Google Translate, I’m quite sure I couldn’t have walked from Hong Kong to London. Or at least I’d have died on the way.
HK: How much did you raise?
BH: Unfortunately not that much: only around $50,000. People had to donate online with their credit cards. I was stupid because I set up the website for people to donate in Hong Kong dollars, not Euros. People had no idea what [the value of] dollars are, so they didn’t donate. But I think the most important thing wasn’t how much I raised. The most important thing was to raise awareness about the situation of refugees.
HK: So, what‘s your plan for the future?
BH: I’m planning to stay in Sweden to be
a Chinese teacher and learn Swedish. I got tired of traveling—not because I’m homesick, but because I just want to feel stable for a little while. And I’m planning another adventure in 2016!
Find out more about Bosco and his walk at hongtszling.com. Donate to the UNHCR at donate.unhcr.org.