A little over a month ago Andrew and I hopped on an airplane without looking back, finally taking a much needed vacation from the farm. I have only spent one season on a farm so far, but I can already say I don’t know how people who farm year-round in more temperate climates do it. Visions of our imminent winter vacation are what kept me motivated during our busiest times; times I otherwise might have folded myself into a fetal ball and wailed the days away.
Our first stop was a mini-family reunion in Tucson where we celebrated my grandmother’s 90th birthday. You’ll be happy to know that Grams is in excellent health after all that happened last year. She looked gorgeous in her black evening gown, and everyone was excited to celebrate her life with good food, fun music, and family camaraderie. We had a whirlwind few days there, taking in all the sights the desert afforded us. It was fun to watch my brother-in-law Jonathan experience the Sonoran desert for the first time. Having been raised there I forget how alien and unique the saguaro-filled landscape can seem.
Our next destination was Hong Kong, where my sister Meghan, Andrew, and I had an extended layover on our way to Australia. My mom, stepdad Dale, and his daughter Liana flew in from Australia so we could explore Hong Kong together. We rented a tiny little apartment from a local, where we camped out in bunk beds when we weren’t busy tromping around the “world’s most vertical city.” Hong Kong is a very lively, bustling place, but it doesn’t feel exactly foreign. A lot of the signage is in Chinese, but English is also spoken so it was really easy for us to find our way around. Many of the people who live and work in Hong Kong are from countries around the world, but aspects of Chinese culture pervade. The street markets, and especially the meat vendors, reminded me of being in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It was more interesting to see the hanging meats and live animals on display having spent a season on the farm. I can happily say our animals definitely have the good life by Hong Kong standards!
Most of the time we spent in Hong Kong was spent on our feet. We walked everywhere, and when we didn’t walk we took the incredibly clean and efficient subway system. In fact the public transit in Hong Kong is amazing, and it’s a good thing too because the only cars we saw on the roads were obviously owned by the wealthiest inhabitants. Mercedes, Audi, Jaguar…these were the models that whizzed by as the rest of the population walked or hopped on the copious busses, trains, and trolleys. Escalators are another unique mode of transportation in Hong Kong. We visited a neighborhood that was built in levels on a steep mountainside, and pedestrian escalators are used to access the various streets.
Hong Kong is known as a financial powerhouse, and you can see the influence this has had in the downtown district. The streets are clean, buildings are tall, modern, and impressive, and people whisk their way from office to office in tailored suits and fancy shoes. On the other hand, there are parts of Hong Kong that clashed with this aesthetic, and my overwhelming impression of the city was one of beautiful contradictions. Many of the side streets throughout the city offered glimpses up hillsides covered in old banyan trees, and it’s apparent that much of the construction in these areas was designed around these ancients. Old temples are sprinkled throughout the city, and it was an amazing experience to walk inside and smell hundreds of incense offerings burning at once. The natural and meditative spaces in Hong Kong offer a welcome respite from the never-ending clamor of commerce.
One of our days in Hong Kong was spent at the “world’s largest bronze outdoor seated Buddha.” What seems like it should be an ancient marvel was actually built in the 1980s, and after a really cool gondola ride up a mountainside you land in a mini commercial district complete with a McDonald’s. Once you pass all this nonsense you climb a million stairs with a thousand other people to take pictures, and if you’re especially unlucky (as we were), construction will prevent you from entering the actual temple where the actual Buddhists practice. I felt like this was one area where Hong Kong officials really tried in earnest to bridge the gap between commercialism and introspection, and unfortunately they failed. After all, there’s nothing quite like buying souvenirs and meaningless trinkets under the watchful gaze of the man who obtained enlightenment by giving up earthly desires for a life of poverty and meditation.
On our last night in Hong Kong, Andrew, Liana, and I took the advice of some local Germans (yes, locals!), and headed into the craziness of Lan Kwai Fong. This neighborhood, affectionately referred to as LKF, was the equivalent of Mardi Gras, but on a standard weeknight. The streets were flooded with young drunk people from all corners of the world. Bottles rolled down the cobblestone-paved roads, and women walked around selling novelty glow-in-the-dark items. It was a sight to behold, and while I’m glad we experienced this bit of Hong Kong nightlife I can’t imagine how anyone could make it a regular habit. Of course 19-year-old Liana probably disagrees!
If you’re looking for an exotic locale, but want the peace of mind knowing that if you ask for directions in English you will likely get an answer, Hong Kong is definitely worth checking out. Most things are priced slightly lower than in the US, but you won’t save oodles of money like you would if you went to Thailand or Vietnam (or mainland China for that matter). While we were there we made sure to spend some time off the beaten track and explore lesser known gardens, temples, and sanctuaries. This helped give us a real sense of Hong Kong’s soul: a unique combination of throbbing city life and peaceful tranquility.