(Yangshuo, Guilin, China)
We escaped the cold and drizzly din of Hong Kong in February/March via an overnight train to go to the equally cold and drizzly, but wildly beautiful Guilin province in China. The odd thing about trips like these is that the bulk of stresses preceding it, and even during it, never seem to exist in retrospect when I flip back through the hundreds of photographs I snapped.
Much like the Yunnan province of my previous China sojourn, Guilin is also a mountainous province, and where there are mountains, there exists a different sort of spirit surrounding the people, one rooted in the rivers and the sky. Unlike Yunnan, however, much of Guilin’s original beauty has been ripped to shreds by the greedy hands of commercialization, and we had to venture quite a bit off the beaten path (via biking, hiking, and motorcycling) to seek out what many of our wanderlustful predecessors had found. Never before have I hiked so extensively through bamboo forests, trekked down irrigation canals in countryside fields, and biked across rivers.
Returning to HK from China, as always, was hard. But this time, much less so with someone who is a lot more than just a travel companion to share it with.
I spent my Valentine’s Day in the refugee center, reading to my favorite four-year-old child for hours straight. Her hunger for books was insatiable, as she pulled one after another off the shelf, begging me to read to her. There was no way I couldn’t acquiesce gladly, and I could not possibly think of a better way to spend an afternoon.
The minds of children are pure, clean, unconstrained, untainted. The minds of adult refugees on the other hand, and adults in general, are plagued by anxieties, traumas, worries. They weigh costs and benefits of how they spend their time, fret over how to make an extra dollar, constantly think about work that needs to be done. As a result, the hundreds and hundreds of books that are donated to the center each month are untouched on the shelves, growing dusty and yellowed, except for the large, colorful ones that the energetic child in my arms snatched eagerly off the shelf.
Yesterday was tiring for many reasons. Hong Kong’s frigid, heaterless buildings have made it impossible to sleep for the past week, and I’ve been trying to stay balanced around the Damoclean nature of new and still uncertain relationships. But if you’d asked me to skip my Valentine’s Day date that night to continue reading to this beautiful child, I wouldn’t even have hesitated.
"Trapped in Hong Kong"
Or should I say, “Project Part 1.” The irony lies in the fact that as we go to the belly of the city to research refugees who are trapped in Hong Kong, we find that we, too, are “trapped” in Hong Kong, surrounded by the noise of an ever-industrializing city, flanked by highrises, suffocated by consumerist sterotypes. The plight of mankind seems always to be that we face parallel types of challenges, just in very different contexts.
The past two days have been hazier than usual, both atmospherically and otherwise. The outlines of the mountains are hidden by day, but the city lights shine crisp at night. Sunrise brings one set of challenges; sundown brings another. The mystery of not knowing in which states I will wake and sleep propels me forward.