It was 4.16am when I last checked the time. I struggled to fall asleep, for I was afraid of missing the alarm clock set to 4.45am. Not going to lie, I thought of giving up. Leaving a warm bed, a cloud-like duvet and a room warmed thoroughly by the heater wasn’t the easiest decision to make in this kind of weather. But I made a promise to myself. Swiftly slipped out of bed, I put on a thermal undergarment, layered it with a navy cotton pullover and then a down vest zipped up all the way to under the chin; and, for the bottom, the thickest yoga pants and socks I owned. I made myself a cup of black coffee out of cheap instant powder – no time for a moka pot brew I usually like – and a slice of toast heavily spread with Nutella for an extra sugary boost.
The world was still sound asleep, so as the young doorman in the lobby. In my sneakers, carrying the backpack prepared last night, I made it, I stepped out of the buidling. Air cold and crisp, I tucked my hands into the side pockets of the vest and then started the hike. Alone, in the dark, on a route I had walked numerous times but the first time in this hour and by myself, it wasn’t scary at all. Occasional rustling of leaves in the bush would put me on edge though since the neighbourhood lives a lot of boars, clans of boars. I once saw a mother boar leading 6 piglets, walking orderly in a line, in search of food.
Shone over by the bright moon, the path was clear, and the trees were rimmed with a silvery beam. I could make out the way easily without a headlamp. I stopped by the notice board at a junction, where normally the map of the country park would be displayed but here, we had couplets and a messy doodle drawn with a black ink marker pen. I always had this habit of checking out the couplets because that calligrapher-hiker updated them from time to time.
A couple was on the way of return when I arrived at a park mid-way – there was a boar of the size of a small cow at the entrance to the stairways to my destination. An old man came, spitting and stamping his feet hard on the ground, trying to scare the boar away. The boar howled and looked ready for a head-on battle, but it hushed back into bushes in the end. I walked forward, exchanged a glance with the old man, and the boar was nowhere to be seen. I took out the headlamp from the backpack and switched it on. I shone it over the bushes, still, the boar wasn’t nowhere to be seen or heard. When you knew it’s out there, somewhere close, in the dark, but couldn’t pin it down, it was the most terrifying part.
After pacing about at the entrance for a good few minutes, I mustered the courage to step in the dark and walked into a tunnel of trees where no moonlight could peek in. It was a space of complete darkness that one could imagine all sorts of danger. But I chose this path. I had to finish it even in the dark, alone. When lights could not enter, a pity headlamp didn’t help much in this tunnel of trees. I dashed as fast as I could to leave the tunnel, and as loud as possible to scare wild animals away. Perhaps no lives were scared but me in this open yet confined dark pace. Not sure for how long, I walked through the tunnel and came to a clearing under the moon, then it came the stairways. Surely underestimated the cold and fear, I arrived at the peak in 40 minutes from the moment I left home, which was way faster than my last hike of the same route.
It was wuthering. If there were any tears in the eyes, it would have vanished as if it had never existed.
I walked pass the fences, off the main concrete road and down to the rocky path. Instead of heading to the cape where we watched sunset, I picked a place in the middle of west and east to settle down. Not the best spot for watching sunrise but it was away from other hikers. Teeth chattering and my body quivering, I put on the windbreaker I brought along and sipped warm water from the thermo. I could have used a beanie and scarf really.
There was one star particularly bright and considerable twinkling on the eastern sky where the dawn would later break. In the dim and vast skies, the star was so prominent that one couldn’t leave the eyes from it. I wondered how many light-years it was away from us and how long it took to travel to our eyes. Seeing something beautiful faraway was always romantic. I kept looking at it as if it could help me forget the bitterly cold chilled to the bone.
Time passed in stillness unknowingly, the eastern skies slowly turned from pitch dark into a wash of indigo and amethyst. The star was still twinkling in the dark where the light hadn’t yet reached. Having the blonde moon on the west and the waking sun on the east, I found myself in the middle of day and night. Day and night – an opposite notion, an oxymoronic circumstance in my witness. The first time I saw this was on my flight from Heathrow to home. I could never sleep on flight despite how much champagne I had. While watching my 4th movie, a glaring beam distracted me to move my eyes off from the screen to the window. I pushed up the blind and saw a magnificent burning sky with a sea of dark cobalt above. Above clouds and above all, it was where day and night met.
It was New Year’s Eve when I arrived home. I was glad I did. We watched the last sunset of the year on a ferry, strolled along the waterfront, walked into a crowd of people heading to count-down parties, and had our dinner at a random Korean restaurant where I had seafood pancakes and you had braised beef ribs and soju. Nothing was planned, but I loved how the last moments of the year were spent.
Years gone, now looking at the first sunrise of the year, I wasn’t as exhilarated as other hikers. In fact, knowing the fact that the sun rises and sinks, and that the moon rises and sinks, perpetually, whether you see it or not, soothe and calm me. There is so much in life we can’t grasp but there is still the rising sun and sinking moon, right? Life makes no promise, but sunrise does.
新鮮蜆 20 隻，約取100g克肉
中筋麵粉 ½ 杯
木薯粉 ½ 杯
雞蛋 1 隻
水 ½ 杯
魚露 1 湯匙
海鹽 ½ 茶匙
芝麻油 1 湯匙
Fresh squids 152g
Fresh shrimps 100g
Fresh clams 20 pieces, yield about 100g meat
Spring onion 20g
All-purpose flour ½ cup
Tapioca flour ½ cup
Egg 1 piece
Water ½ cup
Fish sauce 1 tablespoon
Sea salt ½ teaspoon
Sesame oil 1 tablespoon
Oil As needed
- Remove the soft bone and skin from the squid. Cut it into strips of 2cm long.
- Deshell and devein the shrimps. Cut into small pieces
- Soak the clams in salted water for 2 hours. Drain and steam them until the shells are half-open. Remove the meat from shells and half it.
- Half the spring onion lengthwise and cut it into strips of 2cm long. Peel and shred the carrot.
- Sieve in the flours in a big bowl, add salt and mix well. Crack an egg into the flour and mix until you get dry lumps.
- Add half of the water, mix well. Gently fold in the remaining water until you have a smooth batter without lumps. Do not over-mix.
- Gently fold in fish sauce, sesame oil and the ingredients of step 1-4 to the batter.
- Heat up a pan over medium-high heat. Add a generous amount of oil and scoop 2 dollops of the pancake batter into the pan.
- Pan-fry it until the side down is golden, and then flip it, gently press down. Add oil if the pan is dry and pan-fry the other side until it is golden and edges crispy.
It’s raining outside, crisp and bleak. Three chubby sparrows took shelter on my balcony and I gave them the baguette bits left on my breakfast plate but they flew away. I stayed in, played Damien Rice on vinyl and made apple crumble. Repeat.