Dear Lyla, Scenic Hikes and Urban Hustle

Dear Lyla,

The picture I painted of Hong Kong in yesterday’s letter–that of unending forests of high-rises, hills of highways, and seas of people–is only part of the picture. There are also real forests, real hills, real seas, and all within just a crow’s fly mile or two of the busiest urban epicenter!

My mom and I have both been surprised immensely by the fact that, in conjunction with (and stark contrast to) the mesmerizing urban scene that is Hong Kong, there is so much natural beauty that’s so accessible. The breathtakingly dense downtown, commercial, and residential areas are interspersed by gorgeous green hills, many of which are replete with hikes of many different lengths and intensity levels. Our outdoor exploration yesterday took us to Dragon’s Peak: one of the most popular hikes in the Hong Kong area, and less than a half-hour from the city center. After about 300 stone steps, winding up the hillside, we ended up on a ridge, with views of the full surrounding area: ocean meeting land, incomparable city meeting fleshy, unpopulated rolling hills. We walked for several hours, ending up at a quaint fishing village (complete with a big sandy beach!) called Shek-O. It was utterly beautiful, and amazing to be transported to an energetic space so different than the dense, frenetic urban world we were overlooking.

And Lyla, I often think of you when I go on hikes. You and I have both had our fair share of foot challenges–it was barely a week after you gifted me those fabulous roller skates that I had my motorcycle snafu, and ended up with a break that kept me from walking for several months (and physically impaired for many more). I wonder how your foot is doing now; the occasional updates I’ve seen indicate that it hasn’t been a straightforward recovery period, and that you’re still healing. I understand how challenging it is to not have the physical capacity you desire–what a blessing to be able to walk unencumbered, which so many people take for granted! Whether or not you’re currently able to walk the paths of your beloved Mount Tabor, I imagine you walking trails with me: Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, the rough path to a hidden beach on the Seychelles, the ridge trail of Dragon’s Back here in Hong Kong. Together, you and I soak up the medicine of nature; drink in the luscious green and animal life and trees. I hope you can feel the nourishment from afar.

I’m going to wind away from the theme of hikes, now, to speak a little more about my experience here in Hong Kong. There’s been an overarching theme that’s come up related to the order in the culture here. Here’s an example:

The way folks line up for the buses is totally amazing: they literally line up in a single-file line at the bus stops, waiting patiently and so orderly for their bus to arrive. I’ve seen lines of 25 or 30, that snake down the block, and somehow retain their tidiness. (Actually, when on our hike at Dragon’s Back yesterday, I came across an amazing natural parallel: a line of ants walking in a single-file line, which looked so similar to the line of people queuing at the bus stop that I hollered to my mom to come look. “It’s just like the people here!” I crowed. The ants processed slowly and methodically, out from a hole underneath a rock, between several tufts of grass, before disappearing again. I watched for nearly 10 minutes, and these sweet marching insects showed no signs of stopping. What a stunning display of order, indeed!)

It’s not just the ants and the people that are orderly. Everything seems to have its right place. My hotel room is a good example: a tiny space with room to take only a few steps between the entrance and the bed. But everything is so immaculately placed that, rather than feeling crowded, it feels cozy and comfortable. The drawers in the closet fit perfectly over the rack to hang slacks and blouses; the light turns on automatically when the door opens, and there’s a mirror on the exterior. The queen-sized bed nuzzles perfectly in front of the floor to ceiling windows, lining a busy Hong Kong street and filling the room with natural light; there’s just enough space behind the toilet for towels, washcloths, and other accessories and accoutrements, and the asymmetrical shower allows just enough space to navigate the bathroom unencumbered and with ease.

Also: they’ve got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty, which I expect in a place like Tokyo but wasn’t prepared for the level that I’ve encountered here. Using my hotel room as another example: it’s equipped with a dock for my iphone (which serves triple-duty as a charger, speaker, and alarm clock that can be synced instantly with my phone), alongside a wireless landline phone that’s available to use for local phone calls and also to call reception. Next in line is a tv remote, that operates their satellite tv. Last but not least, there’s a bonus smartphone, which comes with every room, and is available for the duration of each guest’s stay! The phone can be used as a remote hotspot, to browse the web, whatever–and is even already loaded with city guides, maps, lists of upcoming events, etc. Smartphone on loan for the week? Don’t mind if I do!

I mentioned the value placed on efficiency in my letter yesterday, and here’s some more proof: the wifi here runs faster than any I’ve experienced before. I was able to upload 15 30-second videos in literally less than 5 seconds! For comparison, at home I run CenturyLink on their fastest speed available for apartments, and it often takes upwards of two minutes for each 30-seconds. In yet another way, Hong Kong leaves me filled with wonderment.

And just to be clear: this ain’t no schmancy hotel I’m staying in. This is a typical downtown budget hotel, with 27 floors. No luxury amenities that often show up in US hotels, like a pool or kitchenette. The room is truly tiny. There’s street noise, and no view. But there is every gadget I could ever need, and internet that’s speedier than I knew was possible.

Dearest Lyla, thanks for being such a sweet, grounded, soulful role model for me. It’s really fun to think of a piece of your spirit traveling here with me, and exploring a land that’s so different than the one we live in. I hope the new year has been treating you well, and look forward to an occasion to get wild with you before too long. Much love!

PS Today’s cover photo is a shot taken from Dragon’s Back, overlooking the Hong Kong area. Hard to believe that’s the same landscape that houses such a writhing, dense mass of people!

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