Hong Kong is a city of soaring skyscrapers, gleaming shopping centers and noisy, jam-packed streets. Not far away, however, are quiet, scenic escapes from the urban jungle.
I took a bus tour along the southern coast of Hong Kong Island, a route that passes by beautiful beaches, lush golf courses, posh country clubs, green mountains and an old fishing village. Though you’re only 10 miles or so from central Hong Kong, the hustle and bustle of the city seems light years away.
I skipped the stop at Stanley, a popular tourist town best known for its pristine sand beaches and thriving marketplace. It’s also the home of Murray House, a three-story, Victorian-era colonial building that was once a barracks for the British Army. It was originally located in the Central district of Hong Kong, but was dismantled in 1982 and later rebuilt on the Stanley waterfront, where it now houses bars, restaurants and a maritime museum.
I got off the bus in Aberdeen, a fishing village in the southwest part of the island. The harbor is crowded with ramshackle fishing boats and houseboats, but the main tourist attraction is Jumbo Kingdom, a pair of giant floating restaurants designed to look like an ancient Chinese imperial palace.
I ate lunch at the larger of the two restaurants with a couple from San Antonio, Texas, who I met on the bus. We shared fried crab, sliced pork and a rice-and-vegetable dish. The food was mediocre and overpriced, but we enjoyed the setting and took a bunch of tacky pictures posing with the “ancient’’ scenery.
The Texas couple, Gerry and Carol Lawrence, told me that two of their three sons died of a rare neuro-muscular disease called Friedriech’s ataxia. It’s a progressive, incurable disorder that eventually leaves its victims in a wheelchair with little or no use of their arms and legs. Their other son, who doesn’t have the disease, is an Army veteran now working as a scuba-diving instructor in Thailand.
When I expressed my sympathy for the loss of her two sons, who died at ages 25 and 41, Carol said she actually felt lucky because she had an especially close relationship with them. “They always lived near us because they needed our help,’’ she said. “And you know that mothers like to be needed.’’
Meeting people like the Lawrences is one of the joys of traveling. When a woman who has seen two of her sons die of a terrible disease tells you she’s lucky, it’s hard to complain about anything.