Conclusion: Sixty Seconds' Worth of Distance Run

by - June 24, 2014

The Leavers Tram Party
Of all of the blogs that I write, I hope that this is the one that I get right.  So often I read back through what I have written about a place and been frustrated about how I haven’t been able to convey what it was really like to be there - not just the cliché sights and smells, but the elusive essence of a place that makes travelling so worthwhile.  In addition to describing what it was like to live in Hong Kong, there is also the even more complex goal of describing the changes in my outlook that nine formative months have inspired, so I hope that I can do it some kind of justice.  I took part in the year abroad because it seemed like a bit of an adventure, but it morphed into something far more profound and unexpected - beyond the narrow scope of the third year of a degree to influencing my perception of the world, my position in it and my plans going forward.

The iconic junk in Victoria Harbour
It is now approaching over a month since I left Hong Kong.  That may not seem like a particularly long time, but over the period I have backpacked through China, said my farewells to Hong Kong, briefly visited my family in my home town of Hitchin and started a new job back in Bristol where I have been reunited with friends I haven’t seen for a year.  It has been a whirlwind, but I am now back into the routine of a normal life - a position from which I believe I can best look back and summarise.  In quieter moments I find myself experiencing flashbacks of particular places or moments.  Whether its the sounds - the door closing on the Hong Kong MTR, the gentle ringing of bells on the top of a Burmese pagoda, the roar of the Yangtze River running through Tiger Leaping Gorge, the smells - street food in Taipei, incense in Chinese temples, the streets of Mumbai, or the sights - dawn over Bagan, sunset over Hampi, the lights of Victoria Harbour, they are forever etched vividly in my mind. I wonder whether I have developed some kind of reverse-trauma - having experienced such an abundance of powerfully positive memories, I wonder if will now always find them lurking on the edge of my consciousness.

Eight different nationalities at HK’s largest waterfall
To declare a year as ‘the best of my life’ at the age of 22 seems rather defeatist, but I will state (and I know that this is a big claim) that this was as close to an 'perfect year’ as it may be possible to get.  For one year, anything seemed possible and I wanted for nothing - the company was like-minded, my education appeared successful and, most importantly, adventures were regular.  I find myself totally unable to put how wonderful it was into words, both on here and when speaking to friends and family asking “how was it?”.  I felt a little like I was wrenched away in the middle of having a wonderful time and more than any other period in my life, coming home from Hong Kong has been an exercise in mentally accepting that all good things come to an end - but it has also served as a motivation to develop further happy periods (as I am a firm believer in these things being cyclical) in the near future.

A group from UST and HKU at the top of the Lion Rock
As a place, Hong Kong has usurped Istanbul as my favourite city in the world.  The last few years have exposed me to many of the major urban centres that are often quoted as the 'greatest in the world’ - from New York City to Tokyo, Paris to Shanghai, London to Singapore, but of all of these Hong Kong is the one that sticks out as the pick of the bunch.  None of the others have such a dramatic setting - surrounded by jungles, beaches, mountains and with the most spectacular skyline of them all.  In amidst the slightly overawing skyscrapers is a maze representing a cross section of the human race - markets and street food stalls, designer outlets and banks, schools and hospitals, all in the centre of the vertical city.  Having had time to see the lesser known parts of Hong Kong I was privileged to find secluded beaches, challenging hikes, pleasant seaside towns and much more.  It is much, much more than tall buildings and 'east meets west’ - a month of sightseeing would not be enough time to do it all justice.

Dinner in a Turkish restaurant in Hong Kong with a
Russian,an American and an Iranian
The best part of it all, looking forward, is the network of friends that I have developed around the world.  We were all brought, from truly diverse backgrounds, into an environment that was new to all of us and the fact that we were able to bond and thrive is a testament to the human race’s fundamentally shared values.  Against a wider backdrop of global strife and conflict, the friendships I have forged with Americans and Russians, Israelis and Iranians, Japanese and Chinese prove that on a human level, nationalities are nothing more than arbitrary - about as consequential as which football team you support.  As the world gets smaller and smaller I look forward to regular visits to and from international friends and I strongly believe that future generations will be brought up as global citizens.  I am sure that the time is nigh for the Little Englanders who I have followed making such noise on the news back in the UK.

The title of this blog is taken from Rudyard Kipling’s “If”, a poem that in my opinion sums up all that a person should aim to be.  It concludes as follows:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute,
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it
And - which is more - you’ll be a man my son.

For one golden year, I like to think I was able to live up to such sentiment - I don’t think I could have squeezed any more out of my year abroad and will always look back with pride.   Looking back, perhaps the most remarkable part of my year abroad was how easy it was.  Before I left I feared that moving to the other side of the world would be quite an overwhelming experience - practically and culturally amongst other things.  It turned out to not be overwhelming in the slightest, which I like to think is proof of all of our (because I don’t for one second believe that I have some kind of exceptional versatility) ability to adapt to new normals, both for better and for worse.  I do think that you get better at taking things in your stride, but at the same time I would argue that quite often when I have found myself to be comfortable doing things that I would have thought would be 'out of my comfort zone’.  Life is a momentum game and with an array of challenges ahead I hope that this last year will be enough of a shot of adrenaline for me to push on into new adventures. 

To all of you who have read as far as this, I thank you for sticking with me.  This blog has become very important to me - as a way of keeping record of what I have done, of informing friends and families of where I am and (hopefully) of providing a little bit of inspiration for would-be travellers.  I hope that you, the reader, are able to travel and I would urge you to seize every half-opportunity you get to see the world.  There is, in my humble opinion, no better way to spend your own unforgiving minutes.

Until next time, my beloved Hong Kong

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