Finding Home in an Urban Jungle
by jonathan esty
Natural Splendor Alongside Urban Density
Before I got to Hong Kong, I imagined the city as being solely composed of built-up urban areas -- and I knew that it had the highest number of skyscrapers in the world, as well as being one of the most densely populated areas on the planet.
You can imagine my surprise when the taxi from the airport delivered me to my new home, and I found that the campus where I would be living and working -- the Chinese University of Hong Kong, or CUHK -- was situated on top of a mountain surrounded with views of the sparkling sea and jungle-draped peaks in the distance. On clear days, I can even see the Buddhist monastery on the other side of Tolo Harbor! This is the curious aspect of Hong Kong:
for an extremely developed city, it has an immense amount of green space:
three-quarters of the city's land is taken up by "country parks,"the nature preservations of which Hong Kongers are justifiably proud.
Although I've spent my fair share of time wandering the thoroughfares and alleyways of Hong Kong Island (the part of the city that most tourists never leave), I've come to appreciate the quieter, natural beauty of Hong Kong.
I'm lucky enough, living at CUHK, to be immersed in this nature 24/7: where I've found archways in traditional Chinese architectures, or little bridges over mountain streams...all of which I stumbled across while simply walking from my apartment down to the train station! I hope to find many, many more of these hidden gems over my next two years in Hong Kong, including on hikes with local friends.
"I need to go downtown today."
"I NEED TO BUY A SWORD."
Encountering a Corner of Hong Kong's Martial Arts Scene
This is how my weekend began: with my friend Christina, a fellow English teacher at CUHK, informing me of her need to purchase weaponry. Of course, I thought she was kidding -- yet, a few subway stops later, I found myself at a martial arts specialty store. The store was chock-full of silk vests embroidered with dragons and flowers for use in wushu competitions (武术 or 武術 in traditional Chinese), therapeutic shoes studded with rocks and gems for improving circulation and activating certain centers of qi, and even bamboo spears tipped with a variety of blades.
Striding past the entrance, where you could buy the two-person costumes used in the traditional lion dance (often seen in parades celebrating traditional Chinese culture), Christina headed straight for the corner: the weapons section. There she examined a variety of daggers, cutlasses, butterfly knives (all of varying weights, and levels of flexibility and sharpness) before finding the straight sword, suitable for wushu competitions, that she was seeking, as well as a bamboo staff. My fellow Yale-China Fellow, Sarah, got herself a flexible cutlass.
On the way out, the store owners asked us if we were in the market for a sifu (师父, the martial arts term for mentor). After swapping phone numbers, we continued to our next destination: Kowloon Park, where in the middle of a tiled courtyard, I joined Sarah and Christina in trying out the new weapons, while learning a few basic wushu forms, including the proper angle at which to thrust a cutlass.
While my understanding of the wushu scene in Hong Kong is still extremely rudimentary, I can't wait to see spectate on a competition -- or, who knows, start taking some lessons of my own!