Hong Kong is the most compressed big city I've ever seen, filled with layer upon layer of buildings and a spiderweb of crazily intersecting streets. Kowloon has more space, which I love, but both places are crammed with more opportunities for conspicuous consumption than I feel comfortable with over the long haul. My antidote for this has been street markets that sell fresh food and utilitarian clothing to local residents, until the day I got on a bus near one of those markets, that took me into the hills and beyond.
The area beyond Kowloon stretches into mainland China and is still called the New Territories. Satellite communities to house the overflow from the cities are sprouting up here, in the middle of dazzling natural beauty that still gives the impression of wilderness. There are hills behind the highrises that are dramatically shaped and gloriously green. There are islands within spitting distance of small coastal towns that are vacant--some of which are just slightly bigger than a postage stamp. And in front of the Hong Kong Heritage Museum on the banks of a sparkling river, there are trees full of white egrets, watching the nearby fisherman reel rather unimpressive catches up onto a bridge.
In Sha Tin park near the river, old ladies ballroom danced to outdoor karaoke while old men watched from a vantage point on the hill above the dancers. Suddenly I was in Beijing again, until I found a foodcourt on a busy street where all of the food was Japanese. In Sai Kung I scrambled onto a bobbing sampan from a steep staircase with the help of people I'd never met before and was carried to a silent island with rocky beaches that took me back to my Alaskan childhood. I needed this kind of time.
This beauty is a quick ride on the MRT or in the case of Sai Kung, an MRT ride and then a spectacular bus trip that winds across the hills. The journey is so brief that it's hard to believe it transports me to another universe, where a child's lost festively pink balloon floats along a grass-green river as egrets watch it speculatively, or to a pier that will take me to an island that I can almost believe once sheltered Robinson Crusoe.
I've learned in the past few months that places like this and I aren't meant for longterm relationships but are quick restorative flings to sustain me when I go back to my crazy crowded kinetic city that I love and leave and always return to. They stay with me as small places of quiet and beauty, to be remembered when I most need them, gifts of light and silence.