A Hong Kong Life To Be Thankful For…

LoFu Peak - Hong Kong-14

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.

Lamma Island Sunset-30

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.

Shek O Hong Kong-135

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.

Aberdeen Jumbo Restaurant-606

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.

LoFu Peak - Hong Kong-81

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.

Aberdeen Fish Harbor-522

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.

Fisherman of Aberdeen-537

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?”

Aberdeen Fisherman Goin' Home-573

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.

Aberdeen Fisherman Life-353

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.

LoFu Peak - Hong Kong-28

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.

Shek O Hong Kong-182

Aberdeen Fisherman Junk-2

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79 Comments on “A Hong Kong Life To Be Thankful For…

  1. So much in your posts, Randall… depth in words, life in your photographs, warmth in the stories you share. An amazing amalgam. I am both grounded and encouraged when people acknowledge the value of the path; the journey. I ‘get’ how HKG can remind you of Pendleton; that’s a beautiful mental linking. Thanks for crafting and sharing vivid reminders for we who will be celebrating Thanksgiving and reflecting on your thought filled prompts.

    • Thank you for the nice compliment Eric, HK is an amazing and creative place…really feels like home.

  2. We have a lot to be thankful to you for, posting such wonderful pictures from such a fascinating part of the world. Happy Thanksgiving Randall!

  3. I was wondering if you ever invited your family to HK for Thanksgiving, what an adventure that would be!

    • Have some of my family coming over for Christmas…and it is going to be an adventure! Cheers Greg, enjoy the holidays.

  4. Gorgeous Hong Kong through your lens! I’ve been there several times but never saw it this fascinating way. Great work!

  5. Very thoughtful, meaningful post! We definitely should be thankful everyday for the things we have around us, and one thing we can do to show our appreciation is to tone down complaining and adopt a more positive perspective to each situation we are in.

    In my opinion, it’s always the journey, not the end of the journey or dream that bears the sweetest fruit of labour. I agree with you that we should be thankful for those who help us along the way to our goals as it is these people whom we learn from and these people who shape who we are today.

    • Thanks Mabel, yes I think a positive perspective and appreciation makes life much more enjoyable for everyone. I’m always the optimist. I figure that the journey in life is tough enough, and karma seems to keep pretty good tabs 🙂 Cheers!

  6. Love the photos- they remind me of my trip to Hong Kong at the end of the Nineties.
    Thank you also for your encouraging comments re/ the writing on my latest post.

    • Thank you Candia, great that you have been here…you need to come back and see the changes.

  7. Thanks for sharing your photos. I’ve only been in Hong Kong briefly for a few days once, a few years ago. It was on a business trip (so its not as if I had the mayor chance to see tons of places nor speak to loads of people), and taking into account that it was well into already about 10 days of a business trip – one of those where every couple of days you get up at 4am to catch a plane… – you can imagine I was incredibly tired and cranky by the time I got to Hong Kong. Even so, I was completely in awe with the skyscrapers and the beauty of the mountains, the gorgeousness of the water… Oh, and the food! 🙂 I hope I’ll get to visit Hong Kong again one day, and getting to see more of it next time.
    Lucky you as you get to enjoy so much. I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving. x

    • Thank you Sofia. Yes, it is incredible how the skyscrapers and scenery put me in a state of awe every time I return from a trip back to HK…I’ve seen it a thousand times but still awe-inspiring. Wish you a return trip back here soon, and you can see all that you missed ~ and most important enjoy the incredible food here. It is like heaven on earth with all the great culinary choices. I can show you a few new ones, as well as the old food-stall classics. Take care!

  8. You always manage to add more beauty to the photographs with your words Danny 🙂
    I hope Thanksgiving was calming and wonderful for you, I thought you were home. As always the photos reach far beyond eyes as each frame captures a little of the things which makes this place home to you.

    I totally understand the feeling of HK like Middleton, I think it’s more to do with your mind and those things you find endearing in these two clearly different environments.

    The joy of this awesome American celebration is in family,friends,love and life. These we gather and create wherever life takes us and the
    amazing power of remembering and preserving both past and present memories; helps us human savor the joy of belonging somewhere.
    Like your old fisherman friend rightfully said, we look back always with gladness in our hearts that we do belong and come from somewhere.

    It’s lovely to be read from you again. I was unwell Thanksgiving week, but still had the blessing of sharing the day with family.

    • Thanks Dotta, I hope you are feeling better ~ sharing the day with family is a good start 🙂 You are right, while we may call another place home now, there is always a large part of where we began that sticks with us until the end. Cheers.

      • True words!

        I nominated you for the Most Influential Blogger Award, http://wp.me/p2AARC-JY

        Everything you post captures the raw beauty and essence of China, Through your eyes many travel to places we would otherwise not behold. Thank you

  9. All amazing photos, Randall. You make me miss Hong Kong. It *is* such an interesting combination of old and new. How long have you lived there now?

    • Thanks Jess. I’ve been over here for 18 years…hard to believe sometimes. Kind of nice to have HK and the USA as my two homes, a nice balance.

      • Wow. I didn’t realize it’d been that long. No wonder you can speak Chinese!! And what a wonderful balance that is. Ooooh, I’m jealous. Still looking for that balance of my own… It’ll come.

  10. Beautiful essay Randall – having just visited Hong Kong I enjoyed your shots all the more. Would have liked more time to explore the outlying islands but maybe next time. I especially liked the sunset shot with the junk and the pagoda. It really speaks to the Hong Kong of yesterday. Wonderful photography!

    • Thank you Rakhi, many beautiful places to shoot out here…a bit spoiled by it all. Cheers!

  11. The statement “I guess I should have dreamed bigger” juxtaposed with your photographs makes for a breathtaking pause. Thank you!

    • Thank you, you picked up on the exact feeling I had when he made this comment…and I looked around at HK.

  12. Amazing and Thank you… @ ^_^
    kindness blossoms in your heart

  13. Stunning photos, my gosh, so stunning. Heaven on Earth, it just is.

    I love their faces (in the boat), I just do.

    • Thank you…the photo you like is one of my favorites of the year, the smile & warmth rings true.

  14. I feel like I could spend hours getting lost in your blogs with your passionate writing that accompany’s your outstanding imagery of a place. I love seeing Hong Kong through your eyes – you’ve made me want to explore it at some point for sure! I’m looking forward to your next post 🙂

    • Thank you Lizzie, what a great comment to usher in the New Year for me! Wish you the best in ’14, and to make it the best year yet…

  15. Enchanting atmosphere but you are still down to earth which make these pictures real. They are a pleasure for the eye.

    • Thanks Camelia, that is very well said…HK really is the place of harmonious chaos. My favorite city in world 🙂

    • It is exciting to see how close the world is becoming, and how easy it is to explore…and with your inquisitive mind, you’ve got many years where it will happen. Look me up when you get here, I know a great dim-sum place 🙂

  16. I have always enjoyed Hong Kong whenever I had a chance to visit the city. And you have captured some stunning images of the beauty and the diversity of Hong Kong. All the pictures are spellbinding.

    • It is a beautiful city, with the diversity of people/places creating the heart of what HK is about. Thank you Otto for your kind words.

  17. it’s true, we are genetically built to ever chase a dream… it’s amazing how you have managed to capture this dreamlike atmosphere in people’s everyday life… beautiful, Randall…

    • It is funny, how big some changes/dreams appear to be until you undertake it…and then as you say, we realize that it is just a part of who we are. HK will always be the most fascinating city to me…if you are ever in town let me know (if not in Venice!).

      • it’s a global world we live in… who knows where we might meet, chasing our dreams 🙂

  18. I appreciate the time and thought behind your posts, R. Your reflections are as beautiful as the vibrant photos. I love how you distill lessons we all can take out of your journeying and the fusion of boundaries is so interesting here:

    “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.”

    The man who spoke so proudly of his daughter could’ve been my father. Across oceans and ethnic borders, many parents have the same dream of a big future for their kids.

    Keep up the lovely art.


    • Thank you HW, you took the one thing that impresses me most about Hong Kong and the people: their pride whether it is a fisherman or a daughter who is now a titan of business. They know where they came from and will do anything to help the next generation…and it is such a healthy pride . Cheers and thanks again!

      • “They know where they came from and will do anything to help the next generation…and it is such a healthy pride.”


  19. Some years ago, I worked for an acupuncturist from China – I asked her one day, “I read in a book once that in ancient China, if a doctor lost a patient, he was required to hang lantern outside his house – that if his patients became ill, he was held responsible – is that true?”

    She told me that it used to be that the doctor was responsible for the health of the whole village – that he/she was to make recommendations during the year on what the villagers should eat, clean their house with, tonics, etc., and that if they failed to follow the dr’s advice and became ill, it was their own fault, but if they followed the advice and became ill, the onus was upon the doctor – –

    She then told me it was still that way in the rural village where her grandmother lives. Near her village is an annual Wolfberry festival – which I believe occurred sometime in late July/August – since that was around the time of each of our birthdays – I told her, “Maybe someday, we can take a ‘birthday trip’ – visit your grandmother and the festival – ” 🙂

    I was never intrigued about visiting Hong Kong or any other cities, but her stories and your photos here make me wish I could visit rural China! 🙂

    • That is a very intriguing story…I have never heard of it, but I can see such things in their culture. You’d love it over here, so much to see & learn ~ and as with everyplace I have visited just great people acting as teachers along the way.

  20. Your pictures make me feel nostalgic for home. The photo of Jumbo in particular caused some heartache. You have probably not heard of the fire in 1971.

    • I’ve heard of the fire, but really just a superficial account from some local friends when we were in Aberdeen. HK holds so many great stories, lives and a history that is so rich for such a relatively short time in existence.

      • I am going to pass this onto a couple of friends here who I’ve shot with in HK (and Aberdeen). Wish you a great day ~

      • The Song Emperor fled to Kowloon from the Mongols so HK ‘existed’ long before the Opium War, or the English wouldn’t have had their eyes on it.

  21. Reblogged this on Thoughts&Things and commented:
    Another amazing post from an amazing photographer and writer… your work is jaw-droopingly good. It makes me grateful to know Hong Kong is now part of your life and you celebrate it in the best way you know how… Love what you do. You deserve even more publicity than this. Phenomenal.

  22. Loving your capture of the more simple and rural life of Hong Kong. I always imagine this to be an extremely modern city full of skyscrapers and a hurried lifestyle. Your story is also a great reminder to me that every place has so many sides to it.

    • Just yesterday was talking to a friend about this very thing. Between the Kowloon side (mass of traditional Hong Kong) to Central (modern skyscrapers) to the Islands (little patches of paradise) to the countryside…so much to see. The reason I love it here. Thank you and cheers!

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