It is one thing to consider oneself humble before G-d; it is quite another to take the ferry into Victoria Harbor at night and feel the glowing sentinels loom all around.
Hong Kong is perhaps most famous for its endless electric nights, but to my mind, discovering it is like discovering the dawn. The Rebbe says we feel hope in the morning because it is a time transparent to the constant renewal of creation, the fact that the past has no particular bearing on the present lest G-d make it so. This is a humbling thought, and a joyous one, and it filled me as one evening right before the sunset I found the Peak.
“The Peak”, normally considered, is an observation deck reachable by tram that gives you a staggering view of Hong Kong. It is however not the actual peak of the mountain, which I found unacceptable. And so, with the sun dangerously close to the horizon, I hiked further. After an hour of getting lost (it is impossible not to get lost in Hong Kong. It is as if MC Escher painted Manhattan on a slinky and gave it a Chinese name. It runs on a grid system if the grid exists in non-Euclidean space. It is often impossible to cross the street on HK Island without retracing your steps, and going out the wrong subway station exit sometimes leaves you, blinking and confused, approximately in Belgium), with only fifteen minutes of red sky left, I found myself coughing and gasping on a tiny, sandy grass field with three Western tourists and four Chinese schoolchildren and the entire world beneath my feet.
I pulled on a sweater against the biting wind and stared like an idiot.
This is what I saw:
Hong Kong is not the work of man. Hong Kong is a handful of pebbles tossed in the river. I could count them, from the peak. It is a resistance, friction against the flow of nature, a locus in space-time where the mindstuff and ambitions of strutting man met the islands G-d had kept for them and the ripple of their clashing threw a city up upon the shore. The city struggles with those green islands, holds the beaches, rages in place, while the hills above roll into the Pacific sunset, implacable.
All this I saw, and I thought — I did not create it.
An odd thought, all things considered. I did not create New York, or Jerusalem, or even my own home. It seems a late time for me to come to this earth-shattering realization.
But there is knowing, and there is knowing. There is that which we easily conquer and assimilate, and there is that which we cannot grasp, which one flashing vision shows to elude us entirely. These are peak moments, when we stand on that narrow plank between us and eternity and stare it in the eye and feel ourselves vanquished.
Just for a moment, I wondered:
If I did not make it, where did it come from? How can this heavy, gleaming tangle swim into view as if it has been here a hundred years? How, in fact, can there be anything at all on this side of the globe? How is it not here because I’m thinking it here, but here because it is? I never could have made shopping malls that are actually pedestrian streets, or the shocking green Hippodrome like a slice of lime in the speckled rum of the city, or the preposterously narrow ting tings that carve through the city like packed, wandering hallways. Never could I have made them, and even now I barely know them.
If Hong Kong has really been here all this time, known to G-d and men, and I have only met it today, then who am I? What is one man before this brooding beast?
So I descended the peak and picked my way back home and packed myself into a warm corner where the wind could not reach me, and, all wrapped up in that which I did not make, embraced sweet oblivion.
Originally posted on Hevria.