A Walk on the Wild Side, Hong Kong
The café owner looks at me long and hard, his eyes almost piercing beneath a full head of silver hair.
“I remember you. Didn’t you come here as a young boy?”
Astonished, I manage a simple “yes”, wondering how he could have recognised me after all these years.
“I think I may know your father.”
The man speaks with the familiarity of an old friend, his beaming smile a striking contrast to his sun-drenched skin. He exudes the quiet satisfaction of a lifestyle few can boast of in this city of seven million people.
I am here, on the rugged Sai Kung Peninsula, with my brother and two friends from out of town. At the next table a small handful of other hikers brood wistfully over a flag-sized map. Close by the owner’s dogs lie dozing in the shade.
We sink blissfully into our chairs, listening to the sound of waves blowing in from the bay. A tidal creek – crossed by a worn, rickety plank bridge – is all that separates us from the white sands of Ham Tin Wan.
I jab at my drink with a spoon, digging out the pineapple wedges buried under a mass of shaved ice. The swirling concoction reminds me of a semi-forgotten part of our childhoods, involving winter hikes, bumpy rides in the back of a livestock van, and grilled cheese sandwiches on the mountaintop.
It has taken us nearly three hours to navigate the 15 miles between the centre of town and Ham Tin. Perhaps a third of that was spent on foot; the rest was done via 10 stops on the metro, a double-decker bus, and a taxi for the final leg to the trailhead. Even on a weekday, the remoter parts of Hong Kong are well served by public transport.
When the conversation slows I turn around and scan the horizon. In its battered state, the plank bridge leading down to the beach seems unlikely to survive the next typhoon. But it’s been there for as long as I remember.
Soon enough the café owner returns, hands full with steaming plates of Sweet and Sour Fish and Yeung Chow Fried Rice – two of our childhood favourites.
The fish is perfectly fried, coated in a layer of crispy batter but still moist and tender on the tongue. I can’t help tattooing my rice with the reddish-brown sauce. Infused with hints of chili and vinegar, it yields a delicious, unexpected kick.
Behind a modest hut an unsuspecting flight of broken steps lead us onto an unmarked trail, rough and eroded but ripe with the promise of a shortcut over the headland. The path is a tangled web of exposed roots and loose rocks, tempered by a chain of ropes attached to the nearby tree trunks.
On the other side we are rewarded with an entire beach to ourselves, vacant except for a herd of feral cows sitting placidly by the water. This is Tai Wan, a surfer’s haven and the centre of an untamed stretch of coastline. Its name is Tai Long Wan, or “Big Wave Bay”.
Decamping in the middle of the beach, we hurriedly strip down to our swimming trunks and run headlong into the rushing waters, surrendering ourselves to the power of the sea. The wild cows linger for a while, disappearing into the scrubland with a trail of hoof prints.
Hours pass and the sun begins its slow descent over the mountains. I lie motionless on the sand, arms outstretched, feeling the water sweeping gently through my fingertips. It’s hard to imagine that just fifteen miles away stands a proud, pulsating metropolis – its streets jammed with people and the sounds of incessant traffic, all amidst a shimmering forest of skyscrapers.