Long Obedience in the Same Direction


I am packed to leave Hong Kong.

My thoughts throughout my six months in Hong Kong have been shaped by a phrase that I heard in a sermon when I first arrived.  It drew on the words of the Christian writer Eugene Peterson, who differentiates tourists from pilgrims, describing the life of a pilgrim as one of long obedience in the same direction.

What does this have to do with my time in Hong Kong?  This phrase–a life of long obedience in the same direction–has become a prism through which I have analyzed my experience here.

Certainly, I have tried my best to be a pilgrim rather than a tourist, joining others here in their attempt to recreate the higher education system, in hopes of building a strong civil society and place of innovation, with the full integration with China looming in 2047.  On a personal level, I have formed strong friendships and walked with others facing difficult issues as they have done the same with me.

But I’m now going home–I am merely a pilgrim, which means I am not permanently grounded in Hong Kong.  I’ve only walked with them for awhile.  And here is the question I contemplate:  Who IS rooting themselves in Hong Kong, building for the changes that are in process?

Hong Kong is a place where people have their feet in multiple places, always hedging their bets.  If you can, you have two passports or more–Canada and Hong Kong,  United States and Hong Kong, UK and Hong Kong, Australia and Hong Kong.  If you can afford it, you send your children abroad to school, making sure that their options remain open.  You own homes in two countries or more and bank accounts in several. 

I’ve been asking people how they feel about the future of Hong Kong.  I usually put this question in the context of a fellow graduate student I knew in the 1980s.  He and his wife were from Hong Kong and as they neared the finishing of their graduate degrees, I would ask–are you going back to Hong Kong or are you afraid of the return of Hong Kong to China?  He was quite firm that they were going back to Hong Kong.  But by 1995 I was visiting them in Toronto where they had immigrated with their two sons.  He had begun to feel the pressure of political conformity, they were Christians, and they were concerned about their sons.  So I’ve asked people–did my friend make the right choice?

I have gotten a range of responses and most are quite sobering.  The election of the Chief Executive while I was here created another round of fear of the demise of rule of law.  So keep your feet in two places to hedge your bets.  The most heartfelt response I have gotten was from one older man who said he had a love/hate relationship with his Chinese heritage and China in general, but that he had hope in God performing a miracle. 

It is all so complicated.  Even top university administrators are from elsewhere and will go back to yet someplace else–Taiwan, Canada, United States, German, or some other piece of the world..  They are not rooted in Hong Kong for the long run, yet they are asked to care about its young people, the majority of which do not have the resources to plant their feet in two places to hedge their bets.  On my cynical days I am quite certain that these administrators only care about setting themselves up for their next career move.  But are they any different than me?  When I return home I am moving to a new state and new job, pulling up my roots and leaving my daughters and my mother behind.  Have I used this pilgrimage to merely set myself up for my next career move, or is it part of a larger journey of obedience in the same direction with those I have come to love in this place?

It is an 8!


 The winds have picked up and within the next 30 minutes we are supposed to have the warning level raised to level 8, at which point everything closes.  The malls are putting metal frames in place to keep the doors closed against the wind.  Everyone is going home and settling in for the night.  You can watch it at:

Bulletin issued at 23:10 HKT 29/Jun/2012

Tropical Cyclone Bulletin

Here is the latest Tropical Cyclone Bulletin issued by the Hong Kong Observatory.

The No. 8 Northeast Gale or Storm Signal

is in force.

This means that winds with mean speeds of

63 kilometres per hour or more are expected
from the northeast quarter.

At 11 p.m., Tropical Storm Doksuri was

centred about 100 kilometres south-southeast
of Hong Kong Observatory (near 21.4 degrees
north 114.4 degrees east) and is forecast to
move west-northwest at about 30 kilometres per hour moving closer to the Pearl River Estuary.

Under the influence of Doksuri, local winds continued to strengthen, reaching gale force

in Hong Kong. On the present forecast track, Dorksuri will be closest to Hong Kong in the
next few hours, passing within 100 km to the south-southwest.

Typhoon Dosuri–will I be able to get out tomorrow?

>Maybe I didn’t want a typhoon just as I was trying to leave Hong Kong for home.  It is the topic of all conversation–the local manager of my apartment says:  Dr. Curry–maybe you will be staying with us for an extra night.  My friend Polly says:  Can’t you feel it?  It is typhoon weather.  It is still, hot, and humid.  Brenda says:  If it is level 8 then the CityU van will not come to take you to the airport so I’ll arrange for a taxi.  Everyone is speculating on Typhoon Dosuri.  But they are a bit disappointed that it won’t come on a work day–typhoon level 8 means everyone stays home.  Sounds like a snow day in June to me!

Bulletin issued at 13:45 HKT 29/Jun/2012

Tropical Cyclone Bulletin

Here is the latest Tropical Cyclone
 Bulletin issued by the Hong Kong Observatory.

The Standby Signal, No. 1 is in force.

This means that a tropical cyclone now centred 
within about 800 kilometres of Hong Kong may
 affect us.

At 2 p.m., Tropical Storm Doksuri was estimated to
be about 280 kilometres east-southeast of Hong Kong
near 21.0 degrees north 116.5 degrees east) and is
forecast to move west-northwest at about 30 kilometres
per hour towards the coast of Guangdong.

In the past few hours, Doksuri moved at a higher
speed towards the coast of Guangdong. According to
the present forecast track, Doksuri will be fairly
close to Hong Kong tonight and tomorrow morning and
local winds are expected to strengthen significantly.
The Observatory will issue the Strong Wind Signal,
No. 3 shortly.

Under the influence of the rainbands of Doksuri, local
weather will deteriorate later today with squally showers.

There will be swells over the sea. Members of the public
should stay away from the shore line and not engage in water sports.

(Precautionary Announcements with No. 1 Signal)

1. Listen to radio, watch TV or browse the Hong Kong.

2. Some precautions against damage should be taken now,
gutters and drains should be cleared of obstructions.
Hinges, bolts, locks and shutters of windows and doors
should be checked.

3. People living in wooden huts and in low-lying areas
should take necessary precautions against strong winds
and flooding.

4. Those who have definite duties during a tropical
cyclone should now remain on call or contact their
control centres from time to time.

5. If you are planning to visit Guangdong, Macau,
any of the off-shore islands or remote parts of Hong Kong,
you are reminded that changes in weather may affect your

6. All small vessels including low power vessels and
fishing vessels in open sea should seek shelter as soon
as possible. Please take any precautions necessary for
small vessels and secure them properly with moorings.

7. Owners of shop signs, advertisements and TV aerials
which overhang public thoroughfares or which are situated
on tops of buildings should make sure that the fastenings
and framework of these structures are secured.

Ping Shan Heritage Trail–the Past Subsumed by the Present


In Hong Kong it takes a great deal of effort to try to image what is underneath the layers of concrete, high rises, pavement.  Most of the time I cannot even image what the natural landscape really looked like.  You only get a sense of it through walking into a building on the ground floor on one side and finding that you are on the 5th floor on the other side.  You have to use your imagination to reconstruct the top of mountains that have been taken off in order to create flat playing fields, or to imagine vegetated hillsides where now there are now cemented slopes, each with a registration number.  And, given the hard rock underneath, the slopes have pipes going down the sides.
Discerning the cultural landscape layers underneath Hong Kong also takes work and imagination.  The Ping Shan Heritage Trail helped give me some sense of the much earlier times.  As with many former villages, the cultural landscape of this area is tied to one particular clan–the Tang clan. The trail is in the western part of the New Territories and begins at the Tin Shui Wai rail station.  The first stop is the Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda which was built by Tang Yin-tung more than 600 years ago in the 7th generation of the Tang clan.  Today the pagoda is dwarfed by high rises, but as recent as 1968 it was surrounded by rice fields and wetlands.


Shrine to the Earth God

The Kang Yung Study Hall is one of the important features restored.  It reflects the prominence of the Tang Clan in the New Territories, going back to around 1000 A.D.  Such halls were built to reflect devotion to education.  And of course, within the Chinese civilization, passage of the rigorous exams to become part of the civil service or bureaucracy brought great honor to your clan.

The original layout of the village

Temples and Ancestral Halls mark the route

We found the route to be difficult to find at times just because of the hidden nature of these structures in terms of the buildings around.  We finally found the remnant of the old village wall with the gatehouse and some of the old houses.  This finally looked familiar and similar to other Chinese walled villages with their narrow passageways.

Highrise buildings and other massive works of recent origin so dwarf the past that it takes work to find it. 

Tai O

Tai O is a village on the western shore of Lantou Island.  Car traffic is limited to those who have special permits–indigenous people of Lantou, so the bus is the best way to get there.  I’ve managed to get there two times while in Hong Kong this time and enjoyed the bus ride both times, going through the pass over the mountains from Tung Chung and then along a narrow road along the southern shore of Lantou Island.  The fishing village is known for its stilt homes, but also you can see mangrove swamps in the estuary right next to the bus stop. Mangroves are found in areas where there is a mixing of salt and fresh water.  It is hard to imaging that you are in Hong Kong when you walk through the streets of this village.

Dragon Boat Festival

The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival takes place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.  I went with several friends to see the main celebration activity–dragon boat races in Shatin.  Teams of men from universities or local organizations or businesses form teams and compete in boats that have dragon heads.  A drummer keeps the team together.  Women also competed in the festival that I attended, but they were in boats called phoenix boats with birds rather than dragons decorating the fronts.

The origin of the festival is related to an attempt to rescue the patriotic poet Chu Yuan who drowned on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in 277 B.C.  Distressed that the fish would eat his body, the local people through in rice, hoping to detract the fish, so today you are supposed to eat sticky rice dumplings on the holiday.  The dumplings can be a salty version or a sweet version, wrapped in bamboo leaves.I tried to get some of the rice dumplings after the races, but they had none.  I had to settle for a variety of delicious Shanghai hot and spicy dishes. But Polly brought me one on Monday with instruction.  Boil the salty dumpling with with green beans and pork inside in water for 10 minutes. Then unwrap the bamboo leaves and it’s time to serve.


>A Life List of Extreme Natural Events–Typhoon Warning Level 1

>As a geographer, I am fascinated–and actually study–extreme natural events.  Biologist have life lists of birds, but I have a life list of natural events.  Having grown up in the Midwest US, I have experienced tornadoes, ice storms, the floods of ’93 in Iowa, blizzards, hail (destroyed my roof), droughts, micro-bursts that brought down several blocks of mature maple trees, and lightening (destroyed my VCR).  I even have a hurricane on my list from when I lived in Louisiana.  And I was lucky enough to be on the coast of Massachusetts when a Northeasterly hit–it took two of us to push our motel door closed against the wind.  I was in California when a good sized earthquake hit in the middle of the night near where I was staying.

So it was with great interest when a typhoon warning was posted in Hong Kong last week.  Most typhoons come later in the summer, much like hurricanes.  Both times I have come to live in Hong Kong in the off-season in terms of these storms.  But at least this second time I have been here later in June, when the direct rays of the sun are over Hong Kong, located near the Tropic of Cancer.

This is the first time I have been at a latitude at a time of the year when the sun is directly overhead at noon.  I’ve been watching to see what I can discern in terms of the daily weather.   The Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) is associated with these direct rays–the heating of the earth’s surface causes the air to rise, drawing in surface air from north and south to fill the void left from the rising air.  As the air rises, it cools, causing the very high levels of moisture to condense and give off heat energy in the process, reinforcing the air’s tendency to rise (and low pressure).  Of course this means rainfall and typhoons are spun off in this process as well as fueled by the incredibly warm ocean.  And the ITCZ moves north and south with the seasonal shift in the relationship between the Earth and Sun. 

A satellite image with weather information, produced by Westernpacificweather.com, shows the location of the ITCZ and the typhoons that have been spinning off the past couple weeks.  We have only had a typhoon warning level 1, but the overall daily weather has turned more tropical. Daily I experience both clouds and clear patches.  Everyone is carrying an umbrella to either protect them from a cloud burst or the sun.  This is the daily pattern–showers interspersed with sun throughout.  Most of the rainfall is from convection–rising air from the heating of the earth’s surface by the sun.  Add the high levels of humidity, with ocean temperatures of 27 degrees C or 82 degrees F (!), and it takes very little rise for the air to reach saturation point.

Westernpacificweather.com–map that shows the series of typhoons associated with the ITCZ.

Ocean Temperatures

 This is the process that causes the rainfall to increase over the summer in Hong Kong (pink bars).  January through April are actually quite dry, but once the ITCZ starts to move north, the rains (and typhoons) come with it.  Besides the high humidity–rarely below 80%–the temperatures do not drop at night time.  The past few weeks, the lows have been around 28 degrees C (82 degrees F), with the highs around 33 C (91 F).  The highs don’t seem so bad, for someone who has grown up in the Midwest, except for the lack of cooling in the evening and the high humidity.

 On the human behavior level, everyone carries their umbrellas and as you enter buildings, you are supposed to put your umbrella in a contraption that packages it in plastic to keep it from dripping on the floor.  Always people are mopping up puddles along walkways, or just inside doors to keep everyone from slipping.

It has been interesting.  But I really wanted to add a real typhoon to my life list.


Contraptions that allow you to put your wet umbrella into a plastic bag

Ever changing skies

>Windows and Birds

>In our semester in New Zealand, my daughters and I went armed with a New Zealand bird book and binoculars.  I believe in being intentional about paying attention to the environment around you and we did this through searching for birds. To this day I know more New Zealand birds than North American birds!

Last January I returned to Hong Kong for a second time 6 month tour of service.  No longer was each block and day going to hold a new experience, so I had to searched for an intentional activity to help me pay attention and focus the lense of my camera.  What did I choose to do?  I chose to look at windows.  Windows continue to fascinate me in Hong Kong and China because life inside spills over into the outside of windows.  They do not represent that same private-public boundary as they do in the U.S.

As I categorize windows in my mind, they have begun to be separated into:

Windows that are open and windows that are closed
Windows of the rich and windows of the poor
Vertical windows and horizontal windows
Neat window spaces and cluttered windows
Garden windows and storage room windows
Windows viewed from above and windows viewed from below
Exclusionary windows and windows that invite us into the lives within
New windows and old
Windows under construction and windows being replaced
Windows into nature and windows into lives
Walls of windows

>Favorite Images of Life in Hong Kong and Environs


Girls imitating trees
Commonwealth Club Queen’s Jubilee
Tai O

Big Buddha Trail

Big Buddha
Phoenix Mt, Shenzhen

Chung Choi Island

Chung Choi Island

Chung Choi Island

Dragon Boat Festival

Hong Kong Island Store

Shenzhen Tea Store

Shenzhen Tea Store
Dragon’s Back Trail

Macau at Chinese New Year

Macau at Chinese New Year

The view from my bedroom
The view from my bedroom
Dragon’s Back Trail

Big Wave Bay
Chung Choi Island





Foshan Ancient Kiln

External pipes as urban art
The Temple Street Night Market at dusk

View from the peak

>Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail in the GeoPark


The trail was along an island just south of Plover Cove.
Graves on south-facing slopes

On Sunday afternoon we went on a hike organized by Raymond and Polly.  The northeast side of the Kowloon Peninsula is a Geopark.  Raymond and Polly had wanted to take us to a particular trail in the Geopark.  From the village of Sam Mun Tsai New village, you have to walk along a path through the village and then up along a ridge outward along the peninsula.  This peninsula has many grave sites along the hills.  And off to one side is a large dam that creates the Plover Cove Reservoir. 

Soon the tombolo comes into sight!  A tombolo is a sand and gravel spit that connect the mainland to an island.  Often they are underwater during high tide.  This one looks like it has had some help from humans.

Tombolo connecting a peninsula with the island in the Geopark
Walking along the tombolo which leads to an island and the Geopark
Raymond, Karis, and Polly

 The path in the Geopark follows the southern shore of the island and weaves in and out of the forest along the ocean.  Beautiful rock formation are found along the shoreline.

 This is one of the few places in Hong Kong where you can see sedimentary rocks, but there has also been folding and faulting in the area so they don’t lay horizontally.  Typical is to see the effects of differential erosion, there the softer rocks have eroded away, leaving ridge of the harder rocks.

Quarts veins in the rock

Differential erosion leaves a feature called Lung Lok Shui–Dragon into Water

   Among the feature that is called an accretion.  These features, with high iron content, grew in size within the rocks.  Once weathering began, the accretions leave behind a rounded hole in the rock.

One of the things we shared with Raymond and Polly was our skill at skipping rocks.  I have laid down the challenge now–Raymond and Polly are going to come visit me in Boston after Raymond has managed 5 skips with one rock.  Polly only has to master a 3 skip-throw, but Raymond thinks this will demand a very rigorous training schedule!

                We ended the day by going out for a snack and then off to Raymond and Polly’s apartment for a visit.  We were easily entertained along the way–Karis was amused by the bag of candy that Raymond brought along with a name that was a list of ingredients.  We both were confused by the elevator in their apartment building which has so many missing floors–nothing unlucky like 13 or a number 4 in it.   At least they covered unluckiness in both cultures.   And always, signs are always seem to be “not quite right.”  As we entered a pedestrian tunnel the sign commanded the cyclists to “dismount.”  What a great adventure!