A Hong Kong Life To Be Thankful For…

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For me, it is the memory of crawling out of bed for the pre-dawn hunt, returning home to the aroma of love via my mom’s baking and preparation of a meal that could last a lifetime…  All together it makes Thanksgiving my favorite holiday of the year.

Strange thing is, I have not had such experiences in almost two decades as work and logistics never quite synchronized, thus keeping me in Asia.

Yet, sitting here in my Hong Kong flat once again reminiscing about the Thanksgiving holiday, I could not feel any better.

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The beginning of the holiday season is always accompanied with a feeling of wonder, reminding me we all have a lot to be thankful for: memories of the past, moments of the present and thoughts of the future.

While enjoying this holiday in Hong Kong, it is true that distance makes the heart grow fonder and the memories made, more sweet.  While the spirit of the holiday season will always rest in the ‘Pendleton dreams’ I have, there have been enough Thanksgivings out here in HK to have their own place in my memory.

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Looking around Hong Kong, I see how my years here have accumulated…and what this city means to me.

The first impressions of glistening skyscrapers, hustle and bustle of designer suits and beauty of the Hong Kong life is what initially captured my imagination.  It was invigorating and I vowed to “own part of this city”; to have it become part of me.

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The city did become a part of me, but not in the way I initially imagined.  The outlying islands, the peaceful nature of the water and the wonderful people I have met made it home, and make me thankful.

Watching pieces of Hong Kong history mingle with the modern society that engulfs life here in the Fragrant Harbor (香港) continues to fascinate me.

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The other day, I went down to the southern end of Hong Kong Island, to the Aberdeen district, a vibrant fishing village that in the 19th century was one of the pillars of the Hong Kong economy.  Today Aberdeen still holds around 600 junks and boats, many still acting as homes for families who have lived there for generations.

The life of a fisherman has always been romanticized for me, from Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea to my adventures as a kid.  This makes the walk along the boardwalk and through the Aberdeen fish market a bit surreal…

While Aberdeen is more commercial than it has been in the past, there is no denying the strong spirit of this place: a holder of secrets of fishing life & lore of the city.

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While walking around, I met Mr. Lam who agreed to take me on his skiff out past the mouth of the Aberdeen Harbor so I could photograph the sunset.  During the ride out, he told me how his father & grandfather spent their lives fishing and living on their boat in Aberdeen Harbor.  He loves the place, and while he spent some time in this industry, he seldom goes out any more.

“In the past, my Grandparents would begin their day much earlier than we do…as we are spoiled by use of electricity and motorized boats.  They had it simple back then…but I guess simple also means more difficult if you think about it in today’s terms.”

Aberdeen Harbor Sunset-1

His discussion stretched over generations, and he was clearly proud of his parents and grandparents who created this iconic part of Hong Kong folklore.  Reflecting on his life during the drive out, he proudly spoke of his daughter, how she attends an international school and describing her as a bridge between the old of Hong Kong and the generation of her grandparents versus the new Hong Kong and limitless opportunities waiting ahead for her.

“She is going to look back at Aberdeen her whole life and remember where we came from, and she will be proud.”  He smiled.

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As we headed back to Aberdeen, we talked about how quickly Hong Kong changes, a perpetual cycle of adapting to the new and modern.  He added something that I think personifies the culture in large Chinese cities:

“It is a little strange, but my first real dream was to own a ‘beeper’ in the early 90’s…I figured that would mean I had made it.”  He laughed loudly at that thought, and added “of course by the time I had a beeper, everyone had a mobile phone…I guess I should have dreamed bigger, huh?”

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That is when I realized no matter where or who we are, people are always chasing a dream…and it isn’t the actual dream that matters, but the path taken from the moment the dream is dreamt until it is realized.

Through his words, it was clear that Mr. Lam was thankful of how his life has worked out:

  • Able to reflect a bit on the past, and be thankful.
  • Focus on the present, make due, and be thankful.
  • Then offer a bit of a dream for the future so those who follow will have greater opportunities than the generation before.

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While the modern skyscrapers and seductive beat of the city gives Hong Kong the aura it is famous for, it is only a slice of Hong Kong.  The food stalls, life on the water, the hills and sea are the pieces of the city that hold the true spirit and culture of the locals.  It has become a home.  A place where many answers lie…and for that I am thankful.

Hong Kong reminds me of Pendleton, which when considering my hometown’s population is only 16,000 (on a good day), it seems silly.  But in my mind it does.

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I think back to the words of the fisherman about his daughter: “She is going to look back at Aberdeen her whole life and remember where she came from, and she will be proud.”

For me, those simple words sum up Thanksgiving: to be thankful for what we have, and for what is possible and to all those who have helped along the way.

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The Hallelujah Mountains of Hunan

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Sitting in my comfortable chair with a nice cup of coffee in my hand, I can’t help but wonder “what lies around the corner?”

Curiosity cannot help but push us towards this unknown.  It may be a quick look or it may be the beginning of a long, new adventure…  The one thing I am sure of, we cannot help but take a look.  Humans by nature are curious creatures and the desire to learn and obtain wisdom in life lies deep within everyone’s heart.

天子山 ~ 武陵源-1

This desire to learn is a gift children have in abundance.  Differences (be it culture, language, food, religion, etc…) can be eerie for the young; frightening if not so compelling.  There are times when children cannot help but to stare at someone, often with mouth agape, as they try to register what it is they are now experiencing.

Often a turn towards their parents to understand how they should proceed follows.

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In my experiences, parents let children explore differences with “the mind of a child”, open and questioning.  When that something strange is someone, all it takes is a glint in the eye, break of a smile, warm laughter or something similarly simple to cross all boundaries and all cultures.  We are one.

The ability of children to focus on the newness that triggers questions is what fascinates.  A child’s mind pursues answers to understand how “differences” fits into their world, and they grow.

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Not a bad lesson to learn from little ones: never cease expanding the mind for if we do not grow with all the changes the world brings every day, we’ll be lost.

It is crazy to think of all the opportunities that lie around in today’s world.  Places to explore right around the corner: a neighbor, friends or a new restaurant with an exotic menu that opens an opportunity to jump into a new world.

What is most beautiful to see are parents who push their children forward with curiosity instead of pulling them back with fear.

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“Pushing forward with curiosity instead of pulling back with fear” 

It was this last sentence that caught my attention while staying in a small home on top of the Hallelujah Mountains in Hunan province, China.  Huddled around a small stove with a couple in their mid-30s from Beijing, they told me they grew up restricted by fear, in part due to the chaos of China in the 60s and 70s that lingered in the minds of the people through the 80s.

The couple contrasted those fears of the past with what has replaced it in today’s society: healthy curiosity.  Civilizations thrive when the people are pushing forward with confidence instead of pulling back in fear.  Chasing after the answer, pursuing curiosity, can lead to places that never before have been envisioned.      

Zhangjiajie - 黄石寨 袁家界-629

How we found ourselves together in this small cabin was a result of curiosity.  As the family whose house we were staying were members of the Tu-Jia minority (土家族), the couple from Beijing enjoyed Tujia food very much, and wanted to experience it on the mountain, while I came for the photography…a perfect match.

As our conversation ended, the lady from Beijing asked me to join her along with the old couple, to go out back to their smokehouse.  There I witnessed a 30-minute discussion over what piece of smoked meat would be used for our meal.

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It was amid questions, stories, more questions interspersed with laughter that “the best piece of meat” was found and preparation of a traditional Tu-Jia meal was confirmed.  We would have 土家腊肉 (Tujia Bacon with Wild Vegetables).

Wild vegetables, tofu, rice and A LOT of Hunan spices made for a great meal.  Standard for all such meals is a glass of their homemade ‘moonshine’ which after a long day of hiking went down smoothly.

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The experience of Hunan and Hallelujah Mountain was unforgettable.  The photography ended up being a bit of a disappointment, as the weather did not cooperate on top of the mountain… after one clear night, the cold rolled in along with a light rain, which meant a bland, grey fog blanketing the area.

I had hoped for heavy rain, followed by small weather breaks, which would have given perfect conditions to record the rare “peaks above a sea of clouds” scene, but instead Lady Fate gave me a another great reason to return here again and search for that elusive shot.

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Getting the urge to explore, to let the curiosity get the best of us is a good thing.  Whether it is taking a small trip, or listening to a story from someone next door that contains wisdom that people would normally have to travel around the globe to collect.

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Some of the best memories I have, are of growing up and learning about things: wheat, cattle, sports and nature from people around my home town.  Yet, I also learned about China, the Middle East and the world from those very same people…as I was curious and they were eager to tell me a story and share with me the mystery.

As an American, it excites me to see such diversity around the world and in our communities.  Opportunities right next door just waiting to be tapped for the wealth of experience and wisdom to be shared.

It impresses me to no end how easy it can be to invite yourself into a new culture, a new life just by following your curiosity and allowing yourself to be swept away into mystery.

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