I have never liked attention that involves strangers just looking at me. I’ve always felt like I am being judged and looked upon negatively because of my disability. In fact, when I was a young girl, I would tell myself that people were staring at me because they thought I was beautiful. Deep down I knew that wasn’t the case, but it gave me some sense of comfort at the time. Today I recognize that people’s curious eyes are just that, curious. And while I try to be patient with their wondering eyes, it still brings back those uncomfortable feelings I had for most of my life. And being in Hong Kong did not change this. So my experience at “The Peak,” the highest point in Hong Kong, was a bit unsettling.
The Peak is on top of a mountain and has a clear 360-degree view of the city (if it’s not foggy). To get to the top of the mountain, you can either hike or take a tram. The tram is a straight path to the top at roughly 60-degrees. And the tram has no safety mechanisms in place. None. Not at all like The States. They fill these trams full of people. A few will sit on the wooden benches and the rest will stand, packed in like sardines. As the tram takes off and goes up, people quickly scramble for a post or handrail and the sounds of clambering footsteps are inevitable.
There are about three steps to get onto the train. They load me up before the other passengers (which is pretty typical for events such as these). I insist that crawling up the measly three steps is much easier and faster, but they don’t hear anything I’m saying and precede to get out a ramp. The ramp is two long pieces of metal, each about eight inches wide. They spread them apart on the steps and I question if they have them spaced just right. But lo and behold, they have them set up perfectly. I guess they’ve done this before. Up I go, take a quick and tight left, and have a seat on one of the wooden benches. The getting off process is the same. They made it incredibly smooth and attention free.
Once we get to the top, we take a few escalators and an elevator to the very highest point we can get to. We wonder around for a while, taking in the scenery and the sereneness that surrounds us. There are people everywhere doing the same thing.
And then there was the photographer. He was a paid photographer. It was obvious as he was standing on a ladder and had a slew of props and a fancy camera. He asked if we would like to have our photo taken and told us that it’s free unless we buy the picture.
And then the shouting begins…
“Everyone here at The Peak, please take a look at this beautiful couple having their photo taken.”
“Please do not stand in the way of this picture!”
“Everyone clear the way!”
He was loud. And it drew the staring eyes that make me so uncomfortable. I just wanted to get this over with, so I faked a smile and put my hands up in the air as he had loudly ordered us to do. Just when I thought we might be done, a young woman stepped up to the ledge to take a photo.
“Ma’am, can you please step out of the way? We’re trying to take a picture.” He yelled at her.
She glared over at us and all I could do was laugh. The ridiculousness of the entire process, the whole 15 minutes it took to get one photo, became hysterically uncomfortable. And as I laughed the final few minutes of our photo session, I realized that it didn’t matter who was staring at me. I was having fun, and I let myself enjoy it.
We ended up purchasing that touristy $25 picture. It hangs proudly in our apartment where I am reminded everyday that sometimes it’s important to just laugh it off.
Once we finished our adventure at The Peak, we headed to the water so we could ride the Duk Ling, a Hong Kong famous boat. I think we were the only passengers, so it was a quick line. Getting on was a treat though. The boat pulled up to a very old dock and was held there with one rope. As the boat rocked back and forth, it would drift away from the edge of the dock. How was I going to manage this? I closed my eyes tight as four men grabbed my chair and lifted it over the foot wide gap between the dock and the boat. All I could think of was what would happen to me if I were to fall in between the boat and the dock.
Once on the Duk Ling, which I should point out is listed as one of the top 10 things to do in Hong Kong, we have a seat and begin sailing around. It’s peaceful and we are worn out from our morning activities. As we begin sailing, we find ourselves dozing off quickly. At one point, one of the workers even asked if we would like blankets. It was a refreshing hour-long nap. But I will tell you, if you’re ever in Hong Kong, I would forego the Duk Ling.
After the Duk Ling, we headed to dinner. We had ridden the train a few stops and were on our way up to the street. There was not an elevator or an escalator at this particular train stop. There was, however, a chair lift to help me up the several long flights of stairs. A chair lift is simply a platform that I wheel onto and it moves up a pre-installed railing system to the top. They are extremely slow and cause a lot of attention. And this particular one made a loud and painful beeping noise the whole way up. However, I had no other option, so I bit my tongue and told myself to be kind and patient to the woman who would operate the mechanics of this particular chair lift.
The worker was kind, but demanded that every rule be followed. The process was painfully slow and I hated every minute of it. There was another man using a wheelchair who had gotten to the chair lift before me. He kept pointing at me and giving me a thumbs up. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to communicate, so I just politely smiled back. Once he finished his journey up and I started mine, the worker told me that he really liked my chair and wanted to know where I got it from. I told her I had purchased it in The States and that it was very expensive. She just smiled and nodded. I wasn’t sure if she was happy for me or upset. Did the Hong Kong people have a choice in what type of wheelchair they could get? I had hundreds I could choose from, and will spend months picking out the perfect chair for me. My only hope was that the same was true for their people. I may never know though.