Press Club Brussels Europe #WeLoveBrussels - Page 33

So at the beginning of August 1970, when I first visited Hong Kong as part of a larger Asian trip, one of the must see sites was a little park in the New Territories, at the border of this Terra Incognita. From a luscious tropical hill, we could spy on a few fishermen’s huts, past a No Man’s Land that filled us with disquiet. We could make out a few figures, Red Guards or farmers, with a large plain criss-crossed by rivers and streams. And behind the plain, a small mountain range. A quiet landscape, too idyllic, even, considering the country’s isolated and isolationist reputation. Photo, drinks, discussion, and back to Hong Kong. I was a bit disappointed however, because it was obvious that we would not be able to see the whole of China from there. It remained an abstract concept. I had forgotten about that hill in my many subsequent trips to Hong Kong. Until a day in 2008, when I met Huang Gao Qiang, secretary of Shenzhen’s municipal government, during a lunch in the city. I had arrived there by crossing the Hong Kong - China border like a VIP, in a vintage Mercedes with flags on its fenders. Apart from the border check there is a lane exchange with a bridge, as Hong Kong drives on the left and China drives on the right. It’s a very quick process, but looking back after crossing the bridge I could see the hills of Hong Kong as seen from China. Probably including the one I had been on to take that picture. I told the story to Huang Gao Qiang and his interpreter: it made him smile, this era that must have seemed so remote to him. So I decided that I had to find this hill. In 2012, in one of those empty weekends between two connecting flights, I told my partner Francesca that we would have to go find this little hanging garden. We took the metro from Kowloon on a line that I thought went in the right direction, and we got to the border. We had to turn around, no way of getting through without a visa, so we returned to the previous station, Sheung Shui. Outside Hong Kong there are small towns that look like Dutch or Belgian suburbs: cycle tracks, restaurants, public parks and.... a taxi rank. Lucky day - the first in line speaks English. But in order to explain my story I need more than just words... Jin Lian Huo is of the right age and has the guile of the Hong Kong Chinese. His brother in law is a border policeman. In 10 minutes he takes us to the border and takes a small road where a barrier miraculously lifts. A small stretch of mountain road, a 180 degree turn and we get to a car park: my 1970 viewing spot. Nothing has changed. Same drinks stall. Same plants, same view. Except that in front, instead of the plain and the fishermen’s huts, there is now Shenzhen, 2 million inhabitants. It’s another photo. n 33