The things I take for granted
It’s a common sight on my way to and from work: wide-eyed visitors toting cameras around their necks, and backpackers who stop to capture the busy street scenes with their smartphones. I often turn around, surprised to see their attraction to a grimy world of exhaust fumes, dripping air conditioners and ageing metal pushcarts, combining to form a less than photogenic whole.
But once in a while the haze clears, enough to admire this hyperactive city from a distance. Just last week I met up with Alex from travelwithoutborders; our mission was to reach a viewpoint not covered in the guidebooks, known only to local hikers and photographers. For me, there was also a deep personal connection with the area, for the trailhead lies just steps away from the school I attended for 14 years.
In those days we sometimes went cross-country running, turning off the main road down an unmarked concrete path, up a wide set of stairs and along a dirt trail carved along the dry hillside. Checkpoint One was a small pavilion, beside a bridge crossing over a slender waterfall; Checkpoint Two a sizeable boulder spray-painted with its eponymous number. Both were to the left of a junction at the top of the stairs, but this time Alex and I were headed the opposite way, down a route I rarely took.
Soon the view opened up between the foliage, and we scrambled up the slope into a bald patch amid the long grass. Below us the roar of the city was clearly audible, occasionally amplified by the booming horns of ships in the harbour. To our backs the birds and insects – in close quarters but often out of sight – brought balance to an otherwise man-made cacophony. We waited as the sun dipped lower and lower toward the horizon, its golden orb turning a deep, Japanese red.
This expansive view of the impossible city, hemmed in by mountains and graced by the arms of the sea, was one I grew up taking for granted. Throughout my school years I had witnessed the skyline grow and evolve, clusters of high-rises across the harbour sprouting like bamboo shoots after the airport was moved away. I remember a time when only the Peninsula Hotel – with its twin helipads – rose above the 13-storey height limit imposed over much of Kowloon; today the hotel tower is dwarfed by many of its newer neighbours.
We continued to wait in the grass, wiping the sweat from our brows in between shots. Then Alex uttered the one word that spoke to our shared sense of wonder as the clouds turned crimson and violet while a multitude of lights flickered on below. “Beautiful,” he said. ◊