Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Traveling, part three

I need to get to the top of Victoria Peak.

This was the first thought on my mind as I woke up in my small hotel room on my first morning in Hong Kong. If nothing else, I needed to take in that spectacular view of the city myself. So, I set out early that day.

I was surprised to find the climate muggy and humid. I knew that Hong Kong was quite a bit further south than Tokyo, but had not expected this. I was also disappointed to see gray skies--that would make it tougher to have a good view of the city.

I poked around Kowloon for a while and took a lot of pictures before I finally boarded the ferry for the short ride across the harbor. After walking through a maze of tall buildings, I finally found myself at the base of the hill that would eventually lead to the cable car up to the peak. I reached Victoria Peak at lunch-time... just in time for the rain to start. The rain poured down in sheets and a heavy fog settled. By the time I reached the observation deck, I could not see more than 10 feet in front of me. My heart sank, and as I considered how short my stay in Hong Kong would be, I realized that I likely would not have another chance to see the view.

For lunch, I ate at a rather nice Indian restaurant that, I'm sure at any other time, would have enjoyed a panoramic view of the city. Feeling somewhat glum from the ill-timed rain-storm, I decided that I needed something spicy to brighten my day. So, I ordered the spiciest curry on the menu. The fact that this curry actually included a disclaimer advising people with various health conditions against eating the curry did not deter me one bit.

I had been walking all morning and I was hungry. I attacked my meal much too fast, and took several large spoonfuls of curry before I realized that the warning on the menu was not just decorative, the spice rating no mere boast. It felt as though a spark had ignited on the tip of my tongue and spread into a wildfire that now devoured the rest of my tongue, the roof of my mouth, my lips, my esophagus.

Hastily, I chugged my iced tea. The waiter asked if I wanted a refill and I nodded, shaking off flecks of sweat as I moved my head. I quickly finished that glass of iced tea. Then another. Then another. Then another.

I never really put out the fire, but at the very least I reduced the flames to embers. A slow burn, uncomfortable but not demanding urgent attention.

When the waiter rang me up, I was surprised to see that the meal cost the equivalent of $25 USD. After all, the curry had only been about $10. It was then that I realized the chilling truth: refills at this restaurant are not free, and I had been charged full price for every additional glass of iced tea that I had drank. So, a lesson here: If you eat at a restaurant outside of the U.S., do not automatically assume that they offer free refills. You may sound dumb, but it is better to ask than spend $15 on drinks.

The rest of the day was a blur; in part because I was tired from so much walking (and was developing some brutal blisters), but I think mostly because I was still in somewhat of a stupor from the curry. I bought an umbrella and walked back to my hotel in the driving rain. At one point, a very persistent street vendor tried to sell me a suit, and apparently did not care that I told him I neither had the money with me, nor the luggage space. Apparently most suit vendors in Hong Kong have similar approaches. I finally got rid of him by telling him I'd pick up more money and come back later. I didn't. Does that make me a bad person?

That evening, I stepped out of the hotel to find that the rain had stopped, and there were breaks in the clouds. The sun was beginning to set, so I hurried out to the dock. Already, the lights on the skyscrapers had been turned on, and I could see the buildings on the other side of the harbor standing out vividly. Maybe I'd even have a decent view from Victoria Peak, if I tried again? I took the ferry, and again hiked through the city streets to the cable car.

In total, I put in more than 7 hours of walking on that day, all on concrete. However, it was worth it when I reached the observation deck for the second time that day.

This is the photo I took, and the photo doesn't even begin to do justice to the view, to the atmosphere:

Finally, years after seeing that picture in TIME, I could say just what it was like to stand and look out over Hong Kong, what it was like to walk those streets again and again. I'd done what I thought I'd never have an opportunity to do, gone where I thought I'd never had an opportunity to go. The feeling of peace, contentment and gratitude to God was almost overpowering as I stood as looked out over that vast city and I said a short silent prayer of thanksgiving.

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