In pur­suit of bal­ance in Hong Kong.

How Sarah Laing found “well­ness” in un­ex­pected ways and places in Hong Kong.

ELLE (Canada) - - #Storyboard - By Sarah Laing

ou know those “top of the moun­tain,” Oprah-es­que “aha” mo­ments peo­ple have? Well, do­ing one of the most no­to­ri­ous hikes in Hong Kong wasn’t quite one for me. For starters, I only made it up about, uh, 750 of the 1,000 or so con­crete stairs that scale the first of the two peaks called “The Ter­ri­ble Twins.” But I can as­sure you that the rev­e­la­tion I had after climb­ing that stair­case to calf­burn­ing hell was as wor­thy as any­thing any­one has ever re­al­ized on the sum­mit of Ever­est.

But first, a bit of back­ground. On this par­tic­u­lar late-spring morn­ing, I hiked up the ver­tig­i­nous slopes that over­look Hong Kong’s scenic Repulse Bay with a group led by a tour com­pany called Sam the Lo­cal. (Our guide was ac­tu­ally named Wil­son.) By hour three, we’d al­ready climbed Vi­o­let Hill via a rocky, scrubby path that switch­backed up from just out­side one of the city’s ritzi­est apart­ment build­ings and through dense bush that seemed so far re­moved from the bus­tle of Kowloon, a 20-­minute metro ride away.

It was chal­leng­ing, yes, but man­age­able in a just-put-your-head-down-and-get-it-done way. After all, nothing makes you re­cover your breath quite like ar­riv­ing at the sum­mit to find a group of sweat-free se­nior ci­ti­zens en­joy­ing the breeze and point­ing out var­i­ous things to see—Happy Val­ley Race­course, the view out across the turquoise Stan­ley Bay—with no dif­fi­culty speak­ing at all. I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber ask­ing Wil­son if it was (lit­er­ally) all down­hill from here. “Other than a few smaller hills, the worst is over,” he replied.

And for a while it was. Then a few of us pulled ahead (while some of the avowed fit­ness en­thu­si­asts in the group stayed be­hind strug­gling—oh, how smug that made my seden­tary soul!), and we slowly de­scended the moun­tain, sun on our faces and the sea be­fore us, kept com­pany by a pair of ea­gles lazily drift­ing on the ther­mals. We came to a fork at the bot­tom of the hill and, after not nearly enough de­lib­er­a­tion, mer­rily took off in what we thought was the right direc­tion, sure that a cold drink and maybe an ice cream were in our very near fu­ture.

Fast-for­ward 45 min­utes and I was liv­ing my life in in­cre­ments of 10—10 steps, that is: It was all I could man­age, in spurts of des­per­ate de­ter­mi­na­tion, be­fore catch­ing my breath in great heaves, so thirsty and so, so sweaty in the nearly-100-per­cent hu­mid­ity. After that fork, we’d come upon a gen­tle path through the for­est, which turned into a stair­case. Be­cause of the way it wound up through the trop­i­cal scrub, we couldn’t quite see where it ended. After an­other 30 min­utes of slow, painful climb­ing, we met the first per­son we’d seen on this sec­tion of the trail—a very fit-look­ing, very out-of-breath French­woman.

Long story short, she told us that we had taken a wrong turn and were ac­ci­den­tally climb­ing the most dif­fi­cult hike in all of Hong Kong—so ar­du­ous that she, clearly a sea­soned ath­lete, had only man­aged to com­plete it twice be­fore. Awe­some.

I’ll spare you the de­tails of my jelly-legged de­scent, but I will never for­get the re­lief I felt when we stum­bled out of the for­est and onto a quiet sub­ur­ban street and spot­ted a red-andyel­low taxi idling nearby.

But that big rev­e­la­tion I men­tioned at the be­gin­ning? Well, that re­ally only came about an hour later while I was sip­ping a brac­ingly sweet iced cof­fee on a pa­tio near Stan­ley Mar­ket and star­ing out at the ocean.

You see, as we were hik­ing, I had two par­al­lel things run­ning through my head: 1) the mind­less ear­worm of Zayn Ma­lik’s song “Pil­lowtalk,” specif­i­cally the sec­tion where he belts “see­ing the pain, see­ing the plea­sure,” and 2) a med­i­ta­tion on what an irony it was that this tor­ture was hap­pen­ing on a trip that had “well­ness” as its fo­cus. But as the sweat started to turn cold on my body, the two ideas sort of merged. (Also, the loopy en­dor­phins kicked in.) I thought maybe “well­ness” isn’t all aro­mather­apy can­dles, ex­fo­li­at­ing fa­cials and yoga mantras and that, just maybe, the best kind of well­ness is hard-earned. Cer­tainly the ac­com­plish­ment of climb­ing that hill—and knowing that I had it in me to do it if I re­ally wanted to—has stayed with me longer than the ef­fects of the (ad­mit­tedly sub­lime) foot mas­sage I had the next day.

Not be­ing able to go down stairs with­out winc­ing for at least a week after­ward? Well, that I could have done with­out. n A HAPPY MEDIUM The con­cept of yin and yang is central to tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine and es­sen­tially trans­lates to liv­ing so that the “light” (yang) bal­ances the “dark” (yin) in one’s life. Here are a few ways to ex­pe­ri­ence Hong Kong with that care­ful equilib­rium in mind. Yin That 15-hour flight from Toronto. Yang #treatyo­self and fly Cathay Pa­cific’s Busi­ness Class, where, when you’re not sleep­ing like a baby in the lie-flat bed, the hours will fly by in a happy haze of The Great Bri­tish Bake Off marathon­ing on your per­sonal en­ter­tain­ment system and hot cho­co­lates pre­pared on de­mand by your cabin at­ten­dant. Yin You’ve overindulged in (to­tally su­perb) wok-fried wagyu beef, mango ice cream and Pek­ing duck at the two-Miche­lin-starred Yan Toh Heen. Yang Stay in the same ho­tel in which the restau­rant is lo­cated (the über-luxe In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Hong Kong), and make sure you book a ses­sion with its in-house tai chi mas­ter, Wil­liam, who will take you through a restora­tive, di­ges­tion-aid­ing se­ries of moves from the an­cient mar­tial art with the busy Vic­to­ria Har­bour as your back­drop. Yin You’re try­ing to make up for a life­time of avoid­ing ex­er­cise and ram­pant sugar ad­dic­tion. Yang Pay a visit to a Chi­nese tra­di­tional-medicine prac­tice like Bal­ance Health. If you’re ex­pect­ing a shaman-like prac­ti­tioner in a back al­ley, you’re out of luck: This is a modern set-up in a swanky of­fice where you fill out a health ques­tion­naire on a tablet. The meth­ods, how­ever—di­ag­nos­ing your ail­ments by feel­ing your pulse and treat­ing them with a com­bi­na­tion of acupunc­ture and herbs—are an­cient and scar­ily on-point. Yin You’re wor­ried about bad feng shui, the an­cient Chi­nese be­lief that a del­i­cate bal­ance must be achieved in one’s liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment to ap­pease the spirits. Yang Hang out in the In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal’s lobby. Not only does it have a su­perb view of the water but it is also one of the best feng-shuied spa­ces in Hong Kong. Ac­cord­ing to le­gend, nine dragons (rep­re­sented by the moun­tains around the har­bour) come down each morn­ing to drink from Vic­to­ria Har­bour. Be­cause of the big win­dows in the lobby, the myth­i­cal crea­tures can fly right through the ho­tel to get to the water...and con­ve­niently drop wealth on their way past the re­cep­tion desk. Yin That 15-hour flight back to Toronto. Yang Arrive early for your flight and spend time in the jade-coloured oa­sis that is the newly opened Cathay Pa­cific First Class lounge. When you’re not or­der­ing from the sit-down restau­rant or lath­er­ing your­self in Ae­sop prod­ucts in the shower, book your­self a free foot or hand mas­sage.

Hong Kong from above; the steps go­ing down Vi­o­let Hill (be­low)

Look­ing out across Repulse Bay

A view of Stan­ley Bay; Stan­ley Mar­ket (right)

A scene on the Peak Trail; the In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Hong Kong’s lobby bar (be­low)

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