My recent hike to one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands was uneventful and I didn’t feel engaged by it. I think this is because hikes, without companions, do not usually have stories attached to them. I walked into the middle of a hidden park in Hong Kong the other day, entering by way of old carved steps littered with debris and disuse, esconded behind a temple on a busy street, and something clicked. It immediately felt right. There were old ruins that told of something which once was but now was not, and there were stories everywhere, surrounding me. Right in the middle of a city, that a place like this could exist – I was mentally speechless, elated! A sudden inward contentment, like a sigh from the soul. I didn’t have to take a ferry or conquer a hill – it was right here all along! There were worn old staircases and crumbling banisters, the sweet smell of fallen flowers, the buzzing of insects and the sting of their bites, moist trees to duck under and vines to maneuver through, arches to support the weighty history this place surely contained. It whispered, longing to tell its stories and to have them be heard with awe, yearned to be part of new stories and to join in the mirth, a character in some young exploration, an expedition led by a small one, who probably wore a funny hat.
What were you, the young one would ask, when you were not ruins, but were grand?
It is a foregone conclusion, to the young inquirer, that such a place would be made for grandeur, designed for some special part in the beautiful story. Lately the idea has been refreshed to me that it is not a bad thing to go back to the years when imagination had the reigns, when what Was dutifully and joyfully submitted to What Could Be, and supposed reality deferred to what the eyes of a child saw. What place would not submit to such a wonder, not long for it, when the eyes of a child so effortlessly adorn the world with a beauty that is at once matchless and breathtaking, and yet of an easy, unassuming spirit? A beauty that cannot be matched by even a thousand artists or dancers, architects or musicians, poets or writers? For the eyes of children see something of kingdoms, and adventures. (Does not the kindgom itself not belong to the young ones?) If we were to look at pictures of our old places, the playgrounds and the trees and the woods and the waters, what would we see, now? Tired old creeks, crumbling shells, simple playthings, knotted and stubby trees. And that is why these places care little for us, show little to us, we whose eyes are hazy. Such majestic places are made for children, who see them for what they truly are – places for wonderful stories and hidden treasures and laughing together. Places which are a piece, an echo, a shadow of a beautiful kingdom that sings, like the eternity set in the deepest part of our heart, as a murmur in the silent, still cave behind the roaring of a waterfall. The kingdom, O! that sehnsucht, for which we long without ever having known, of which we thirstily hear news from the whispers of beauty and her sisters; that country for which we yearn and deeply know as home though we have never been, though our eyes have beheld only the thinnest shadow of its wonder and majesty, and our ears have only just caught the briefest echo of a single strain of its eternal chorus.
In that old place my eyes were wide like they were when I was young. Hong Kong had unexpectedly told me something of the faraway lands to which I am heading, and in doing so, the city had begun to feel more like home.