Lantau is Hong Kong's largest island and houses the airport, Disneyland, and more than a few shopping malls. The ferry that took me there on the early morning of New Year's Day embarked at a pier that looked quite a bit like a beach community in southern California, complete with lattes. But my friend Jennifer had promised me a hike with light and silence, so I suspended my disbelief and followed in her wake.
In a surprisingly short time we were on a coastline that was filled with fishermen's cottages and small well-tended vegetable gardens. This, Jennifer explained, was where the Filipina maids who worked for island families lived, and as we passed open doorways, we saw young women cooking, chatting, primping, as cd players blared music onto an ocean view. I thought of the Hong Kong Filipinas who take to the streets in search of their own space on Sundays and holidays, giving each other manicures while sitting on cardboard-covered pavement and began to understand the advantages of island living.
As we left the houses behind, Jennifer stopped still and whispered, "Listen." An echoing whisper was the only sound as waves washed onto rocks and then whooshed away.
A road led us past a Trappist monastery and then into a forest dappled with light. A narrow path took us along the edge of a towering hill and the cool, clean, sharp odor of berries and dew-moistened leaves hit my nostrils like a drug. The whisper of waves had been replaced by a soft rush of wind moving the surrounding trees and for a minute I greedily longed to stand in this place during a storm.
A steep staircase with concrete steps and a well-anchored railing led straight down the hillside to the water, a small town that had once been a silver-mining community, and ferries and buses back to the city. A Turkish restaurant there was the spot where Jennifer took me for lunch and I tore into the fresh bread that was brought to our table with the sort of appetite that only comes after lungs tarnished with urban grime have been thoroughly bathed in fresh air.