Inside an art gallery tucked away in a dimly lit alley in To Kwa Wan, Hong Kong, Ho Ka-yee Kaka was running a pop-up shop. Every wall in sight was covered with Turkmen fashion clothing and printed blankets, while visitors lounged on Persian carpets and silk pillows. On a hot September night swept by breezes, Ho dolled up in a red Indian Kurtis and a bejeweled headband. As a 24-year-old travel blogger, Ho’s writings and photos had gained her over 18,000 followers on Facebook, but she struggled to please her audience, including her mother.
A blog to tell it all
Eager to share her journeys to countries that were less popular among Hong Kongers, Ho started blogging two years ago, in the summer of 2015. But Ho’s adventures soon drew the attention of internet trolls. They called her reckless and foolish to travel to “dangerous” countries such as India and South Africa. Their taunts were jarring to the ear — “they told me the reason why I wasn’t raped in India was that I’m ugly”, Ho said calmly. “The media has brainwashed many people in Hong Kong, they think they know everything about these countries and their cultures”, Ho added as her friends nodded in agreement.
A sociology major during her college days, Ho recalled feeling dumbfounded during a lecture when the professor gave an introduction to Islam. “Islam is one of the three major religions in the world and I knew nothing about it back then,” Ho sighed. From then Ho developed an interest in learning about cultures across Asia and began her travels in 2014.
Ho was determined to do away with stereotypes on outsiders and young women that permeated the beliefs of Hong Kongers. But her undertaking was impeded by her family and numerous online trolls that were instilled with the city’s conservative values.
Let the travels begin
For years, Hong Kong boasts about its status as Asia’s international financial center, while the city continues to hold a traditional view on developing countries and where “unacceptable behaviors” of young women are frowned upon.
Since her first trip to Tibet and Nepal in 2014, Ho had been to 18 countries including Russia, the Baltic States, Sri Lanka and more. As a petite Chinese woman with round, brown-eyes, Ho was fearless, but she was also far from affluent. Ho managed to travel with a low budget by resorting to cheap transport options, such as night buses and couch-surfing. But she was not the average jittery, low budget tourist, Ho went prepared. “If you do your research, you’d know that many places aren’t as unsafe as the media portrays them,” explained Ho as she passed homemade Iranian ice-cream around. “I’ve made connections with people in a way that is impossible in Hong Kong. The friendliness of the people in India and Central Asia has rubbed off on me too.”
Ho’s claim is supported by the fact Hong Kong is an overwhelmingly homogenous society. As pointed out by the results of 2016 Population By-census—92 percent of Hong Kong’s population was Chinese. The local secondary school curriculum puts little focus on the history of Central Asia and the Middle East, leaving generations of Hong Kongers ill-informed on the history and cultures of those regions.
To avoid mean-spirited comments, Ho admitted she had turned to self-censoring her content recently. “I’d post more on my travels to Central Asia, because the haters know even less about these countries and would stop bothering me,” Ho let out a mischievous laugh.
Although Ho could keep her poise under the attacks of “keyboard warriors”, it was the reaction of Ho’s mother that truly upset her. Periodically, Ho’s mother would send her news about foreigners being assaulted in countries Ho frequented. “She’d call from time to time to let me know she’s displeased with my travels,” said Ho while she checked her phone. “Over time my mother has softened her attitude, but it’s an ill-feeling knowing that your family disapproves of your work.”
One of the reasons why Ho began to blog was because she wanted to shatter stereotypes of women and developing nations. But Ho had become increasingly pessimistic when she was asked about the influence of her work on her readers. “Some readers would send me messages saying they enjoyed my content, but they are too worried about their personal safety and decided not to go. When I see those messages, they make me doubt my influence as a travel blogger,” said Ho.
A reader and friend of Ho, Yanni Wong objected, “I volunteered to go to Iran with Ho because I was fascinated with her blog. That journey had expanded my horizon, all thanks to Ho.” But nowadays Ho focused most of her attention on operating her online store—Fiery Fort, which sold cultural fashion clothing and jewelry sourced by her personally
As the night wore on, visitors began to leave the art gallery. Putting aside a colorful, hand-sewn throw, Ho stood up and said farewell to a group of TV reporters. She returned to her friends and said with a bright smile, “did you know the Indian crew member knows a great friend of mine in India? Isn’t that what traveling is all about?”
Ho’s blog functioned as an alternative source of education in society. Her passion for traveling had produced an online blog that left many readers hungry for adventure. However, as Christie Wong, a friend of Ho put it— “Ho’s story can only make a limited amount of impact, to challenges these stereotypes we need more people to share their stories aboard.”