When Hong Kong gets a little too much, just look at the view

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 9:21am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 9:38am

In Hong Kong, I am often reminded of Anna Quindlen and her encounter with a homeless man on New York’s Coney Island

He told the write-from-the-heart columnist, who lost her mother to cancer when she was in college, to look at the view.

When the box-apartment living, the poke-you-in-every-part-of-your-body-with-umbrellas crowds and the language battles with cab drivers get to me, I follow the sage's advice: I go out and look at the view.

I can leave my breadbox abode and follow the winding, uphill streets to the hiking trails. Within 35 minutes, I do have an incredible vista. On top of the city overlooking Victoria Harbour, I watch the cruise ships, tankers, cargo vessels, yachts and fishermen boats go about their daily business. Commerce and the pulse of life with all its economic disparities from on high.

I also stare at the architectural marvels across the water and the mountains behind them.

At night, to an American, the daily flashing light show that takes place on both sides of the harbour is part Vegas, part San Francisco, part spectacular wonder. It would sparkle the eyes of any of us.

On Sundays, it is the view from the windows of my on-the-street apartment across from Victoria Park that stirs my heart.

By 8am, dozens of domestic helpers have already staked out their spot for the day's picnic, with blankets, newspapers and cardboard. As the day progresses, thousands of their fellow maids – from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and elsewhere – have joined them.

They share the day and their stories and whatever food and drink they can afford with their friends in this and many of the other public places in the congested city – a sentimental scene familiar to anyone who has wandered Hong Kong Island on a Sunday.

Some of the maids will sing songs of their homeland together; others will recite verses of the Koran or braid and comb each other's hair. The laughter and the smiles shared among those who have very little is a weekly wake-up call of what is really important.

That reminder came in a different fashion during my first Chinese New Year in the city.

As I got off the elevator one morning in my apartment building, the entire watchmen staff and cleaning crew greeted me with “Kung Huey Fat Choi”. Of course, they were expecting a red envelope, a seasonal tip for their good nature and work done.

When I asked a local how much he gave, he said about HK$20 each, because there were so many of them and the amount would add up as most people in the building gave.

My simple donation to that Lai See tradition would only buy a meal or two for the recipients. But by sharing in the spirit of the season, I had enriched myself in ways as priceless as the Coney Island or Victoria Harbour postcard pictures.

Here, as elsewhere, taking time to look at the view – of the scenery and humanity – is the gift we give ourselves.