While lunching on warm afternoon air and asparagus stuffed chicken breast with saffron polenta, I was instructed by my local guide to make sure I took a trip down to the southern coast of Hong Kong Island. The previous day he’d instructed me to take my camera to Kowloon in the evening and watch the laser show over the Hong Kong skyline, and while I don’t typically enjoy doing what I’m told, I conceded. I was not disappointed.
So after a trip to the consulate and further consultation from my very helpful concierge staff, I followed Leon’s instructions and got on the tiny green #40 bus near Causeway Bay Station. After winding through the towering skyscrapers and a long mountain tunnel, we emerged onto the other side of Hong Kong Island. The side that is without skyscrapers and covered instead in flowering trees, tangled vines, twisting seaside roads and pockets of coastal neighborhoods.
Within thirty minutes, we arrived at Stanley Market, an open-air market on the waterfront with pubs, shops, a maritime museum and restaurants. During the bus ride, the clouds had rolled in, but it left a perfect quiet in the air as I wandered around the promenade, snapping photos and soaking up the topaz water and verdant green hills.
This was my third day in Hong Kong, and it was only beginning to seep into my skin. I took in Stanley Market with long, deep breaths. It had been a million years since I’d walked around quietly like this, exploring something new, without somewhere to be or something else I should be doing. Hong Kong, you are vibrant and amazing and have extraordinary imported cheeses. But living in Seoul, you are another bustling, Asian city that makes my heart race and overstimulates me every second. It can take us so long to figure out what we really need, sometimes, and what I really needed was the little town of Stanley. I bought a bracelet, some postcards and a pack of gum and settled in to a little wooden pub overlooking the bay to watch the sky turn dark over a pint.
Riding the bus back to the hotel, I listened to a record I’ve heard a thousand times before, but never like this. The whole way I sat with that familiar lump in the back of my throat and a faint mist in my eyes, the bittersweet kind that comes when you are so happy you could burst, so much that it hurts. And now a song called “Niagara Falls” from an album called Michigan which I bought in Texas will always remind me of the other side of Hong Kong Island.