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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 22.33, 114.18
Two days ago we arrived in Hong Kong. We are here for three days, and then we'll all fly apart, separating back into our own individual lives. I hate this part of any group trip; we get to know people for awhile, intensely bound together in our daily activities, beginning to love or avoid those who don't mesh with our personalities or philosophies, and then, abruptly, we're torn apart simply by the turning of the calendar. For me it is always a painful ending. And here we are.
Hong Kong is noisy, colorful, crowded, full of frenetic energy, hot and humid. Even for me it is HOT. We all take several showers each day, to refresh and cleanse ourselves from the constant sweating. It is said to take three days to acclimate one's body to any climatic change, but this is our third day, and all of us were still soaking through our clothes, drinking tons of water, and seeking air conditioning whenever possible. On our first day I could not understand why people--including my youngest daughter--absolutely love Hong Kong! The noise, the heat, the inability to walk quickly down crowded sidewalks all made me think that our three days here was going to be a sad ending to our trip together. I missed the relative quiet of Tibet, the less humid days in mainland China. But by our second day I was beginning to look forward to the bustle of this city, and to also enjoy not being stared at wherever we went. Hong Kong is very cosmopolitan; you can see many different races and faces here and no one seems to be excluded or so unique that anyone stands out as foreign. It's lovely being able to walk anonymously again, especially in Asia.
So by day two I was happy to be here, enjoying exploring this really beautiful, vibrant city. By day three I didn't want to leave, but part of that, I knew, was tied up with not wanting our group to disband, to see this trip ended. Intellectually I pushed aside my discomfort at facing this transition, and focused on what was at hand: this was our chance to explore Hong Kong in the few short days we were here. So we rode the subway, and the squealing old streetcars (first built in 1904 but still running over 100 years later), the Star Ferry; we rode to the top of Victoria Peak to see the city by night (even a few stars were visible on this perfect night); we visited the refreshingly air conditioned Peninsula Hotel's wonderful bathrooms -- but could not stop for high tea; some of us went to the Botanical and Zoological Gardens; with hushed awe we walked through the ManMo Temple; we bought trinkets at the Temple Street night market; everyone gorged on a sumptuous dim sum (well, I was served a surprisingly boring plate of bok choy even though I had ordered dim sum); we visited an Aberdeen fishing village and sailed around the harbor there. Mirroring the tightly spaced buildings and population here, so much was crammed into our stay that my initial perceptions were totally changed; I now understand why millions of people love being or living in exciting Hong Kong.
Even today, our last day on our tour, our last day in China, the same intrepid five of the fourteen of us who bravely banded together to explore the Lama Temple in Beijing on our very first day set out on this last day to go see the Giant Buddha on Lantau Island. This was something I especially wanted to do, and, luckily, these few friends also wanted to see the largest outdoor Buddha in the world. Instead of riding up the mountain in a cable car, after navigating the subway we took the #23 bus. This in itself was an adventure! The driver was either crazy or a Nascar racecar driver; he sped up and down the narrow switchbacks, past stunning scenery on our way to the top. Hairpin turns did not seem to cause him to think to slow down; we just hung on and, living in this clear-eyed moment, enjoyed the ride. And what a ride it was! Forty minutes of twisting and turning road, traffic both ways, sudden stops that nearly threw me from my back row middle seat. What fun! And, at the top, there was the enormous Buddha, peacefully sitting, awaiting our arrival. It seemed there were hundreds of steps to climb up to see him at close range, but we were no longer at a high altitude, so climbing was not difficult. Up close at the top we were still looking far up at him: we were encompassed by his quiet, peaceful countenance, graceful hands permanently blessing all he sees. We walked around Giant Buddha, still below his feet, looking out at the islands in the beautiful ocean beyond. This reminded me very much of what we see from the tops of mountains in Acadia National Park, looking out at Frenchmen Bay, very similar vistas even though they are half our globe away from each other, but equally stunning. How lucky we were to be there!
Afterwards we took a different bus to Tai O fishing village where we took a short boat ride around the harbor, unexpectedly sighting pink dolphins. These rare pink dolphins live in only a few places on earth, and we happened to be exactly in one of them. Since several of us love the ocean, instead of returning to Hong Kong by bus, we took the ferry, spending much of our afternoon on the water, blissfully rocking in sunshine and contentment, a delightful way to end our trip together.
So now I also love Hong Kong, although I don't think I'd ever choose to live here. But these three days turned out to be a treat, a precious gift. I am happy and very thankful for this unexpected surprise.
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