From my apartment, I can take a 10-minute bus ride down to Causeway Bay, one of the busiest commercial hubs in Hong Kong. It is home to spacey restaurants, air-conditioned cinemas, a glass-covered Apple store and countless other shops.
A 2-minute uphill walk from my front door, however, takes me to very different places: a running trail named Sir Cecil’s Ride, the serene Tai Tam Reservoir, the 435m-tall Mount Butler. The path even connects to the 50-km, 8-stage long Hong Kong Trail, which ends at Big Wave (not Causeway) Bay, a beautiful beach from where I can take a minibus to the nearest MTR station and, lungs full of fresh air and clothes damp with sweat, return to civilisation.
Hong Kong is my favourite city, but also a place where I can escape it. At the top of stairs near Sir Cecil’s Ride, a clearing reveals the harbor below, a silver sheet between sharp skyscrapers. A junk boat usually graces the water’s surface, itself a red-sailed vestige of the past. Here, I admire the city from a distance. Other times, I abandon it completely for tall, prickly grass on Lantau Peak, squinting to spot the Big Buddha (not so big from up there) and letting the wind do whatever it wants with my hair. Since childhood, I have loved the mountains: home to small black beetles, stairs that lead to the seashore, mist that hugs every hiker. In the summer heat, old men sit under green-tiled pagodas, fanning themselves and playing checker games on a round stone table. During cooler months, we take on the next hill, warming up as we climb higher.
70% of this city is comprised of country parks, and I recently shared that fact with a park ranger in Montana when he asked me whether I was used to seeing so many mountains there. “Wow, I had no idea,” he responded, pleasantly surprised. I smiled and told him the truth, “Most people in Hong Kong don’t, either.” And then our truck sped onwards while I sat inside, surrounded by trees and thinking of home.