California light

Sunset towards Malibu

Sitting in the hills north of Los Angeles, looking over the Pacific, the light seems both too harsh and too perfect. My eyes struggle to adjust to the brightness of air without humidity, or a sky without clouds. Along the horizon to the south the smog of downtown shades the air brown. In all other directions the sky is the particular light blue of southern California. As usual, it is both hot in the sun and cool in the shade. After two months of summer sweat and air conditioning in Hong Kong, leaving the patio doors swung wide is a glorious feeling.

We are once again on the move. For the first time in twenty twenty one we have crossed a border, boarded an airplane. For the first time in twenty twenty one we are in the company of old, old friends. For the first time in twenty twenty one we are on vacation. The combination is a wonderful feeling. Driving up the coast last night, working hard to do simple things like lane changes correctly after a year and a half abroad, we marveled at how comfortable we are here, on the southern coast of California, where neither of us are from and where we have never lived. We are comfortable here, on the PCH, precisely for that reason: it’s always vacation.

There’s a glory to returning to a vacation spot, to well-known restaurants and streets, to old friends and familiar beds. It’s an easy trigger for the body, which relaxes so quickly in these comfortable surroundings. Arriving, we chat with our hosts in the quiet dark of the house before all heading to shower and bed. We are so much more comfortable than we’d been, two dozen hours before, still exhausted from the work day and barely finished cleaning and packing.

Fishing for peace

Harbor view

On the edge of a block of concrete built to support a highway, they fish. It’s Sunday, and the sun is going down on the weekend, out to our left behind the island. These concrete chunks would already be in shadow were they not perpetually so because of the highway above. In Hong Kong some shade is a good thing, and these are regular fishing spots. The fishermen, for they are all men, seem to know who sits where without any spoken interaction, which points to a long established tradition. People have been fishing these blocks on the shore of Quarry Bay for years, probably since before there were concrete blocks to fish from.

The real joy from this spot isn’t the fishing, though. It’s the water, and the view across to Kowloon, Lion Rock, and Kwun Tong. That far shore is still lit, a beautiful shimmer of golden hour glory and the bay’s moving reflection that emphasize how much Hong Kong is a city of the ocean and the mountains. And so there are photographers here too, both casual and more serious, trying to capture this light. In so many ways the city, the dense urban towers that are home to eight million people, appears the smallest part of the view. Perhaps this is why so many people are able to live so tightly; the water and mountains are often in sight and rarely out of reach.

The story of density is told frequently as a sacrifice, but rarely as a comfort. Here, watching the fishermen sit on their blocks of concrete, rods out and down and lines into the bay, less than a dozen feet from each other and mostly silent, is a reminder that company without conversation can bring peace. In many ways the stories of dense urban areas are not of individual apartments but of shared spaces. Whether Central Park in New York or along the rivers of Paris and Rome, the spaces we share are what builds the fabric of the city. In these spaces we see each other, and are not alone.

In Hong Kong as Sunday ends I am so happy to walk the shoreline and watch all those out, like me, to find some peace. Fishing, jogging, taking photos, or just wandering, we’re all here together, part of this island and this city.