I felt as if I had been sucked back into the past.
It was early evening and the air blowing over the city of Kowloon and out across Victoria Harbor was still hot and humid. The setting sun squinted down blearily through a thick layer of smog. My sister-in-law and I, exhausted and sticky with sweat from a day traipsing around the city markets, sat on a bench at the land end of a large dock, sipping silently on cold milk tea. After a day of commuting, haggling and fighting my through hordes of people, constantly jostled and brushed up against by thousands of strangers, the cool sweet tea was reviving. The muted din of conversing voices on the dock felt like a haven from the roaring city streets. From where we were sitting, I looked down the long, covered dock and out across the harbor to the city of Hong Kong. The tall, industrial office buildings on the edge of the water were glinting in the fading sunlight. We were planning on meeting my brother in the city for dinner, but feeling in the mood for a nostalgic adventure, we decided to forgo the hot, dingy bus and take a traditional ride on the Star Ferry to cross the harbor. We chatted and waited for a few more minutes before the giant, wooden ferry pulled up along side the dock.
We bought tickets for 6 Hong Kong Dollars and boarded the ferry. We took two seats on the edge of the boat so we could enjoy an unobstructed view of the city and harbor. The wooden seats and floor were scratched and worn, instilling the ship a pleasant, comforting feeling of antiquity. The seats around us filled up quickly, and after fifteen minutes, the men on the dock threw the boat’s enormous, snake like ropes from their tethers and the ferry slowly pulled away from land. We moved at a lazy pace, gliding peacefully across the harbor. A worn recording started speaking out over the ship, detailing the history of the ferry. Before the tunnel had been dug underneath the harbor, allowing cars to drive from the Kowloon side to the Hong Kong side, the Star Ferry had been the only way to cross the water. Entirely uninterested in the history of the ferry, I tuned out the dull, droning voice and looked out across the water towards the mouth of the bay and the open ocean.
The murky ocean water sparkled in the evening sun, the rolling ripples shining orange and gold. The entire experience, being on the old wooden ship, looking out over the warmly hued water, had an antiquated aura. I imaged the Hong Kong of the 19th and early 20th centuries, when it was under British rule. In my mind, I conjured an image of wooden ships with billowing white sails carrying exotic goods out of the harbor, headed for Europe; British men in manicured western clothing walking through the markets, surrounded by the bustling native population going about their daily lives. I felt as if I had been sucked back into the past. The images in my mind conjured an unfamiliar sensation; the mysterious and yet promising aura of an unknown and foreign land bubbling with industrious energy and potential. The air on the water was salty and fresh and carried the jubilant enthusiasm of promise and progress.
The boat began to slow as we approached the dock on the Hong Kong City side of Victoria Harbor. As people began to collect their belongings and stand up, preparing to disembark, I remained seated and still, gazing out over the water and back towards Kowloon, wishing the journey was not drawing to a close. I reveled in my visions of the time gone by, loving the innate ability of traveling to place you in communion with the past. There is something about the old and antique that inspires hope. It holds the comfort of the past and the mystery of another time, but carries the promise of progress. It is a concrete sign of where we, as a people, have been and how far we have come; it reminds us that we cannot dwell in the past; whether we like it or not, we are caught in a permanent forward motion, and although we may not know where we are going, we are getting closer every day by leaps and strides and the journey will be worth whatever we are leaving behind. As the boat was tethered to the dock and the gang plank was stretched out across the gap, I accepted that every close, every finishing point or destination, is simply the start of a new journey. I grabbed my bag and headed off of the boat, ready to continue my journey and explore the new and exotic city at my feet.
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