When traveling starts at home

To flit…
From high to low, from low to high, yet still
Within the bound of this huge concave; here
Must be his home, this valley be his world.

– William Wordsworth, The Recluse (1888)

Who doesn’t love traveling?

I honestly don’t know anyone who doesn’t. From the anticipation of jetting off to another place to the experience of seeing and tasting new things, there’s no denying that traveling is one of the greater joys in life.

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As travel writer Paul Theroux points out in Deep South:

[Most people] travel for pleasure, for a door-slamming sense of ‘I’m outta here,’ for a change of air, for edification, for the big vulgar boast of being distant, for the possibility of being transformed, for the voyeuristic romance of gawping at the exotic.”

(p. 20)

IMG_6965And yet, he questions the authenticity of modern travel, which he characterises as a kind of “dubious achievement [that sees people] enduring the persistent nuisance of a succession of airports in order to arrive at a distance place for a brief interlude of the exotic, maintaining the delusion that it is travel.” 

Ouch, but touche.

People are often surprised when I tell them my favourite place in Hong Kong is its airport, because the paradox inherent in my answer is that, well, my favourite place here is what takes me elsewhere. Like many globe-trekkers nomadic souls of my generation, I’m plagued with an incurable case of itchy feet (the figurative kind, mind you, nothing to do with my city’s namesake dermatological condition)

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Love this place… (cue choruses of ‘But whyyy?!’)

Whenever I used to think about travelling, what would immediately come to mind is the idea of flying away to another country, but in the past month, I’ve realised that there’s actually plenty to explore in my own city, which has much to offer by way of natural scenery and interesting attractions, as I made some forays into the more rural, idyllic parts of Hong Kong.

 

Green spaces in Hong Kong, where art thou?

Whenever foreigners ask me how I feel about Hong Kong, an urban cradle that I have called home for more than two decades, William Cowper’s description of London in The Task always comes to mind:

Oh thou resort and mart of all the earth,
Chequered with all complexions of mankind,
… in whom I see
Much that I love, and more that I admire,
And all that I abhor

In a nutshell, HK and I share a love-hate relationship, much like the one between children and parents. Whenever I visit England or other European countries, I would marvel at the sheer amount of green spaces there are, even in cities like Edinburgh, London and Madrid, where there’d be big parks in the middle of a bustling area, like St James and Green Park in Westminster, a central district in London, El Retiro Park in Madrid’s Plaza de la Independencia, and Arthur’s Seat, a hill that’s just a 15-minute walk away from Edinburgh’s city centre.

In short, I am perennially amazed by the comfortable coexistence of the urban and the rural in these cities, especially by the fact that they are juxtaposed in such close proximity.

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St James Park, London

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El Retiro Park, Madrid

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Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh (yes, that’s me)

Well, what about Hong Kong Park in Central and Kowloon Park in Tsim Sha Tsui, you ask?

To be honest, and I’m guessing those of you who have been to these two spots would be inclined to agree, I find the former to be more of a structural compendium of ‘things to include in what people would expect in a park’, and the latter to be little more than a designated area where more trees are concentrated than usual.

Neither strikes me as being organically developed green spaces, where people can stroll in and leave the metropolitan hubbub behind, even if only for a lunch break.

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These are the first images that came up when I googled ‘Hong Kong Park’ and ‘Kowloon Park’ #seemypoint

But then again, there are plenty more places in Hong Kong to explore by way of the truly rural, and I must admit that I’ve not exactly left enough tracks over my city to qualify for criticising its ‘lack of greenery and/or space’.

This month, however, my experiences of visiting Sai Kung Country Park and Nam Sang Wai in Yuen Long, made me realise that not all verdant areas are lost in Hong Kong, and just how much more there is in this city to explore.

 

Green places in Hong Kong, I found you

As my beau and I walked along the trail in the Sai Kung Country Park, I noticed tiny mudskippers scuttling about, while flocks of butterflies would gravitate towards us as we passed by low-tide mangrove areas.

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Towards Sai Kung Country Park

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People canoeing in the river

Another time, we drove past the Kam Shan Country Park in Shatin, where we stopped to see monkeys prancing about in the open parking lot. It was the most hilarious thing, watching those simian gremlins prancing about on Toyota minivans and dangling off windshield wipers.

I saw for the first time how agile monkey mothers could be even when carrying their children; as the latter would cling onto their moms’ inner torso with all four limbs, while the mom would jump from one ledge to another, from car boot to meter post to tree branch to hill slope, as if mom and son were putting on an acrobatic show for human onlookers like ourselves.

There was, I felt, no better representation of urban-rural juxtaposition than the sight of wild monkeys making their mark (and scratches, lol) on SUVs.

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Earlier this week, we went to one of the most iconic rural landmarks in Hong Kong – Nam Sang Wai, which is famous for its idyllic scenery, lush fauna, and natural wildlife. There were flocks of white cranes on an almost dried-up Kam Tin River, some of them fishing for food, others just hanging about and having fun (I guess). As we reached the sandbar between Kam Tin and Shan Pui River, I saw fiddler crabs jumping around massive potholes, as the odd bird would waddle about, ostensibly minding its own business but also peacocking to attract attention.

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Cranes on Kam Tin River

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The sandbar between Kam Tin and Shan Pui River

It’s not quite autumn proper yet, but the way dried leaves cracked under my feet as we walked along the tree-lined path reminded me of one of the favourite things I used to do back in England – stepping onto piles of dried leaves just to hear the crispness of that friction between the sole of my shoe and the surface of a leaf-lined pavement.

Yum.

Save for the weather, there were moments when I felt like I was back in Port Meadows in Oxford, which is not something I would ever have thought possible in what I’ve always thought to be a concrete jungle.

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An especially verdant path in Nam Sang Wai

All of this brings me back to my original question:

At what point does traveling start? 

Does traveling necessarily entail passports, customs and foreign lands?

Or can traveling begin at our own doorstep, requiring nothing more than a pair of comfy shoes, a genuine desire to explore, and a great companion – whether that be yourself as a confident solo traveler or a loved one as part of a team?

Now that I think about my travels in the past few years, I find it ironic that I’d always be so eager to fly away to another city, be it Ho Chi Minh City, Lisbon, London, NYC, or Shanghai, but have never really considered my own city to be a place ripe for exploration and discovery.

#greener #pastures #catch22

I suppose this is why, when people say to Paul Theroux that he’s “been everywhere” in the world, he calls it a “laugh”:

Yes, I had been to Patagonia and the Congo and Sikkim, but I – an American – hadn’t been to the most scenic American states, never to Alaska, Montana, Idaho, or the Dakotas, and I’d had only the merest glimpse of Kansas and Iowa. I had not travelled in the Deep South. I wanted to see these states, not flying in but traveling slowly on the ground, keeping to back roads, and defying the general rule of ‘Never eat at a place called Mom’s, never play cards with a man called Doc.’

Nothing to me has more excitement than the experience of rising early in the morning in my own house and getting into my car and driving away on a long, meandering trip through North America. Not much can beat it for a sense of freedom – no pat-down, no passport, no airport muddle, just revving an engine and then ‘Eat my dust’.

(p. 22)

I can’t agree more with Theroux. That’s some traveller’s wisdom right there. 

Ironically, though, as far as my travel bucket list goes, the prospect of going on a road trip across America, a country 8000 miles away from my home, remains and will always be – the ultimate goal and dream.

By the time I’m able to make it happen, though, I suspect that there will still be plenty of places in Hong Kong that await the gracing of my footprints.

Priorities, priorities, priorities…

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Nam Sang Wai ‘ferry’ – a boat ride of approx. 30 seconds

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Sai Kung pier

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Meadows in Nam Sang Wai

* * *

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “When traveling starts at home

  1. Thank you for writing. I enjoyed reading this post immensely. A true happiness emanates from it.

    I also think that traveling starts at your own door step and wish I could find pearls in my city that’s rather grey-brown and dull…

    Might take it upon myself to travel to the more central Tel Aviv Jaffa and look for more nooks for the catching.

    Liked by 1 person

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