One of the clearest and best memories I have from Hong Kong was taking a hike.
I took many hikes in Hong Kong, mostly solo, or with one other person. This hike was the only one I took as part of a group (save for a memorable day on Lantau with the Filipino Mountain Club).
A bunch of Lingnan friends and I planned to hike the “WWII Trail,” that connects all of the relics from the war — from old pillboxes and bunkers, to gun emplacements, to a part of an old plane — where soldiers from England, Scotland, India, and Canada, as well as professional and volunteer soldiers from the city, fought the Japanese invasion force in 1941.
This plan, like most plans I made in Hong Kong, didn’t really work.
First, I hadn’t counted on the fact that the trail wouldn’t be completely connected. So even when we found part of the trail, we realized another whole section was totally missing. Wandering between the Cricket Grounds, beautiful stretches of highway lined with forest, mountains thick with trees, and even the “Riviera” of Hong Kong…we never found the trail. So, we improvised.
The “Riviera” is an area of Hong Kong known as Repulse Bay, and it was here we could see how the “other half” live, or really, how the 1% live. Mansions lined azure waterways and were nestled into tropical hillsides, dense with vegetation and money. A smugness pervaded the area, but, maybe due to the public beach or the walkways leading right to their homes, the area felt welcoming. They wanted to impress you with their wealth by letting you see it up close. It was a unique experience, one you’d never get in America, with our gated communities and irrational fear of those outside our circle.
It was to this neighborhood that my friend and I rode a bus, stuck in the back away from the rest of the group, and overheard what we thought might have been a hit man speaking, a man with a huge scar across his face…and yet he was willing to give us really complex directions for the trail.
Complex, and wrong.
As I mentioned, they didn’t work, and we never found the trail connecting the 1941 battle sites.
But we did find other places to hike, settling on the “Wilson” trail, since anyway, some members of the group felt it was a less strenuous hike.
They were wrong.
The top of this mountain, the dividing line between Hong Kong Island Central/Downtown, and the rest of inhabited HK, gave us a stunning 360 degree panorama of the city. Victoria’s Peak is touted as the best view, but that’s wrong. The best view is from on top of this random mountain. We looked down on Victoria’s Peak, hundreds of yards below us. Kowloon stretched out before us, and Hong Kong Island of course. We couldn’t see Shenzhen from there, but we could see all the way to the other half of Hong Kong Island, and see the South China Sea. It was there I saw the largest ship I’ve ever laid eyes on, so big I thought it was part of the Island. And then I noticed it’s wake. This ship could’ve held all the other ships I’d seen prior to this and still had room, it was incredible.
The defining moment was when we reached the top, and had this view — we were seeing Hong Kong from up high, giving us a view that few in Hong Kong, and even fewer foreigners, would ever see. And it helped me to see Hong Kong in it’s true form — from up high the sounds and smells died away and I saw only the dreamscape of the city. I could see from one end to the other, so I saw how thickly packed it was, and how tall, and how this seemingly endless city was really only a tiny part of the Island.
The idea of traveling and studying abroad is to gain perspective. Having a new way of thinking, which you gain from conversations with locals, or what you see, or how you feel. This day was literally a new perspective — standing on top of a city and looking down. I also took this hike at one of the biggest moments of self-change in Hong Kong, when I began to question everything and wonder about the world, my world, and myself a lot more. And then this reset my mindset quite literally.
The day was perfect. Often, in Hong Kong, I loved the city-feel, but wouldn’t consider myself to be elated moment-to-moment, as I dodged millions of people on cramped streets, and even when I enjoyed myself I often found myself wondering, how can anyone live like this?
But on this day, those negative feelings were gone. Perhaps cause we weren’t in the crowds — we woke up early to get to Repulse Bay and Stanley districts for the hike, walking in a beautiful and pristine wilderness part of the city, almost like being somewhere totally different than Hong Kong.
We ended the day by eating in Wan Chai, one of my favorite districts and the least visited due to it’s location (with my schedule, I tended to avoid going to HKI more than parts of Kowloon or the New Territories). While we were in Wan Chai, we ended an amazing hike by eating on a streetside restaurant, everyone grabbing green plastic chop sticks and devouring delicious Shanghai and Singapore noodles, sitting on small stools outside of a smoky restaurant. We sat curbside, below the street level.
I found this ironic — one minute we were literally on top of the city, and our view was better than the penthouses of any of the towering buildings below us, and the next, we’re sitting at a table with people’s feet above our heads.
I think I was the only one who had the energy to notice the absolute flip in perspective — my less-fit friends all being too exhausted and hungry. Admittedly, I just slurped down noodles and didn’t ask them if they saw the irony of our new perspective, but looking around, I saw only the look of sheer tiredness from the climb, and now a pervasive contentment from the meal.
As we took the train back, soaked in sweat and with our stomachs full, I thought, this had to be the best day in Hong Kong. It wasn’t THE best, but it remains one of my fondest memories.