It’s 8:30 pm on Friday. I step out of Maxim’s, a fastfood place near the office in Hong Kong. I flew in to HK the morning of the day before, and had given a presentation over a conference call on Thursday night. This was the only free time I had during the entire trip since I had to fly back the next morning. I decided to take a walk for maybe an hour or 30 minutes, to savor the cool night’s weather before going back to hot and humid Manila the next day.
I remember the view from the 22nd floor office that the harbor was nearby. I figured I should get a closeup view of the harbor, something I had not done before. So I walked in the general direction of where I thought the water would be. The chilly wind of fourteen degrees bit against my cheeks as I navigated the North Point side streets.
Eventually I found myself following a road of decommissioned cars and abandoned taxis underneath one of Hong Kong’s many flyovers. I was certain this road would lead to a view of the bay from the ground. As I approached, I saw that the walls nearby were filled with colorful graffiti, reminding me of gangland streets in old 80’s shows. A faint whirring sound could be heard and as I got nearer I saw there were two middle-aged men towards the entrance of a small yet brightly-lit cul-de-sac at the end of the road. One of them was holding something in his hands and seemed to be controlling a nearby device. The source of the whirring sound had been a model helicopter, and he was flying it around at a low altitude. The two men glanced my way as I passed, but otherwise paid me no heed.
I watched their helicopter for a few minutes, fascinated. I’ve never seen one of these in action back home, and I wondered why these men participated in their hobby in these abandoned corners. I shrugged and headed to the end of the cul-de-sac. There, near a metal railing bordering the asphalt and the water’s edge, another two men lounged lazily on wooden benches. Standing against the railing were two twelve-feet long steel poles. Ah, they’re fishing, I thought to myself. They didn’t look like they did this for a living, so I assumed they were hobbyists who only had this time of night and no other nearby source of fish. I watched them for a while, amazed that the harbor actually contains catchable fish. I wonder if Manila Bay has any fishermen?
It’s 9:00 pm. I’m walking along a sidewalk following a metal railing tracing the water’s edge. Above me, the same flyover carries numerous vehicles to and from Hong Kong’s busy districts. But around me, it’s dead quiet. Mostly. The only other people nearby are a young couple walking ahead of me obviously taking an enjoyable moonlit stroll along the otherwise abandoned road. The girl, wearing a vivid red sweater laughingly teases the young man and they rush ahead. I hope I didn’t scare me.
As I follow the coast I begin to see boats. Dozens of them, some no larger than an automobile. Most made of wood and apparently barely floating. Some have people sleeping in them and I wonder whether they live in those boats by choice or maybe it was difficult to find somewhere to live on Hong Kong’s streets? One of the boats has a lantern and is moving in parallel to where I’m walking. I wave to the grizzled old man manning the boat and he waves back.
I walk some more, and the sounds of busy city life are slowly catching up. In stark contrast to the lonely sidewalk I had been following, the lights of one of the commercial districts had come into view and I could catch the names of several familiar companies atop tall buildings in the distance. I step onto the sidewalk beside a busy coastal road and find myself welcomed by the lights and sounds of fast-moving vehicular traffic.
As I crossed the bridge, I passed upon a fenced-off section at the water’s edge and inside spied something mounted upon an elevated stone platform. It was covered in a blue tarpaulin but once I was close it was obvious what it was: it was a cannon! A nearby marker told me it was the Jardines Noonday Gun, a relic from the olden days that was still occasionally fired for charity. I wanted to see what it looked like, but the metal gate leading into the area was locked. I tried to push the images of FF7’s Mako Cannon out of my head.
I walk past a large dome-shaped building near the coast. The sign at the gate tells me it’s the Police Officer’s Club; I guess the police are well off in Hong Kong. Beyond that there was a lot filled with ships hulls partially built and mounted on elevated rails. Some sort of shipyard I guess. Perhaps the police officers liked to ride yachts. I walked around to the other side of the fenced-off building and I saw inside a strange thing: there large, parallel beams inside a lowered area perhaps some fifteen feet below, and bright lights were emanating from the cracks in between. I peered though the metal link fence and recognized the sounds of cars whizzing by below and I realized that I was looking down at the Cross Harbour Tunnel. If I jumped down below I could cross into Kowloon!
It’s almost 9:30pm and I’ve been walking for an hour. I thought I should start looking for a way back, yet I didn’t want to merely retrace my steps. I was already near a commercial area that seemed to be quite far from where I started. Eventually I came upon a cemented footbridge that would let me cross to the other side of the busy highway, and I figured that was the way I would go back.
I climbed up the steps and found myself crossing a quiet yet well-maintained walkway, well above the busy traffic I had left below. I saw the AIA tower in the distance and figured I could use it as a guidepost to find my way back. I stepped down at the other end of the footbridge and find myself crossing a familiar looking road underneath yet-another flyover. My suspicions were confirmed when I followed some lights and saw that I was in the middle of one of Hong Kong’s famous commercial districts – Causeway Bay.
I’ve been here before, but not at this hour. I’m walk past the crowds and follow the lights, eventually finding myself in the midst of a street market in front of the Sogo department store. The signage and lights in this area are impossibly bright for the time of day, making you wonder whether they had received the memo that dusk had already come. A lady carrying a microphone and wearing a neon green jacket was glancing around at the crowds, accompanied by a cameraman. Some TV reporter perhaps? In any case I didn’t feel like giving an interview. I walked on.
Exiting from the World Trade Centre building, I found that I had been walking in the wrong direction, away from AIA tower. No doubt distracted by the bright lights of the commercial district, I resolved to make my way back as I was now getting the urge to take a leak. >.<
It’s 10pm now and I’m close to getting back. I cross some streets and find myself walking through some sort of large park. I pass by several clusters of teenagers, busily chatting away on park benches and also a number of old people, apparently taking their night-time jogs. A lot of people are also walking dogs (I wonder why they do all these things at night), and I pass by a smallish lady with a gigantic St. Bernard, perhaps larger than me were he not on all fours. I considered petting the beast as I passed, but wasn’t sure if I could afford being pounced upon by such a huge canine.
I stop to watch some kids playing on swings nearby, and beyond the cluster of treetops inside the park I spotted the familiar glow of the AIA tower, now closer than ever. I realized that I must have been walking through Victoria Park, the only large park near North Point, and I was close to getting back to my quarters. Sure enough, crossing a few streets later I found myself raising my hands in triumph. Fortress Hill!
It’s 10:30 pm and my feet are killing me. I manage to get back to my room at YesInn, dead tired. Yet slightly amazed that I was able to walk so far in the dead of night; I’m not sure I would have dared all those side streets I wandered through had I been in Quezon City. The nights in Hong Kong feel safer somehow, for even the loneliest alleys were brightly-lit. I was also a bit disappointed that nothing more exciting had happened during my walk, perhaps that’s the tradeoff for the safety on the streets.
I was dead tired and prepared for bed. Still, I was glad for the chance to walk and be distracted and not having to think about life’s worries. There’s a lot to be said for aimless wandering that many people would not understand.
The next day I would return to Manila, back to the grind of everyday life.
Author’s note: I wish I did have something more interesting to write about, but it was really a short, uneventful two-night stay in Hong Kong. Still, I felt I needed to blog about it, so that I have a record that I was in HK at this time. For more small details on my trip, I’ve been posting on twitter.