Max discovers Hong Kong

Max Behrend is doing a short mission at the Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre in Hong Kong. Here he is seen with the center's director Wing Sze Tong.

"Hong Kong, a metropolis of millions in East Asia that once belonged to England." With about that in mind, I, Max Behrend, 19, took off from Zurich Airport on September 2, 2019. But anyone who travels as I do will be surprised by Hong Kong. Because Hong Kong is not just another mega-city in Asia: Hong Kong is a country within a country, if that makes sense.

I am here at probably the most formative time, perhaps since the Opium War, that started Hong Kong's journey here. The protests, which have been going on for more than 100 days now, have accomplished little in terms of their stated goals, but they are nonetheless changing this small world on the edge of China. Water cannons, tear gas use and street battles are becoming a daily occurrence. And yet, many believe they are "just'' demonstrating for their freedom. As a European running a hostel in a monastery, it feels like revolution, the kind we've seen many times in Europe in the last century. The revolution permeates through everyone. You feel the frustration and despair on the part of the police and the demonstrators, and you feel compelled to feel empathy: for the police officers, who are portrayed as merciless thugs, and the demonstrators, who are portrayed as destroyers of Hong Kong values.

You are probably wondering now why I am telling you about the demos and problems of Hong Kong and not about my sightseeing and eating. I told you this to create a scene: a stage set in front of and in which I move. I live in an oasis of contemplation and tranquility called "Tao Fong Shan-Christian-Centre." The center is located in the hills above Sha Tin, a growing city barely 20 minutes away from the Kowloon region.

I arrived by cab on September 2, 2019, was handed over to the Ascension House team and was immediately shown around. I got a short tour and introductory course from Joseph, a mainland Chinese in Hong Kong. He explained Daoism and Taoism with a lot of enthusiasm to a "jetlagged" Max, which was certainly not easy, because I kept nodding off, so that he had to wake me up again and again by raising his voice. So it was a good start!

The next day Joseph took me to Sha Tin and showed me the HUGE mall, which was so big that it is connected to several residential buildings. I still can't find my way around it after a month. And I've been there many times... But moving on, after a week of settling in and fighting jet lag, I began to venture out into the world. Slowly I got braver and it went from mall explorations to visits to "Hong Kong Island". I rattled off all sorts of tourist traps, of course: Central, Victoria Harbour, Hollywood Rd, PMQ and so on. I love this city -as huge and partly ugly as it may be. Kowloon with its magnificent waterfront with the Avenue of Stars was just one of the many highlights I visited. The biggest highlight so far was a rooftop bar from which Kowloon was at my feet. But I do not continue this now, not that you are still envious at home.

However, the exit is a tricky thing here in Hong Kong. You have to be very careful which areas you go to, because you may well get into a street fight if you are not careful. Fortunately, the staff at the Tao Fong Shan Center will ask around for you and you can tailor your plans accordingly.

Tao Fong Shan Center with its people is the true treasure of Hong Kong. One can find peace here through courses and retreats or simply through the nature and tranquility that is omnipresent here. I stay at Ascension House, the hostel founded by the parent organization Aeropagus in the 1980s and run exclusively by European volunteers. I stay here with four Danish volunteers sent by Aeropagus. Together we master cooking, cleaning and hosting guests on the mountain.

We have a work schedule that shows us the tasks for each day. The A person has to run the household while being assisted by the B person, but who also has to do the short prayers in Christ Temple - our modest contribution to monastic life. The C person has time on her day to devote to her project (is a day off for me, since I'm not here long enough to get one). The D and E persons are off and can do whatever they want. The weekends are distributed a bit more liberally; i.e. that everyone is supposed to work, but if someone wants to do something, the others take over any tasks.

Some of you probably know Hans Lutz, a missionary who has lived in Hong Kong for over 30 years. Originally he was sent by the Basel Mission, but now he is enjoying his retirement. He is an extremely friendly person who has taken me to devotions twice. These were in Chinese and he had to translate for me. Despite my lack of language skills, the Chinese in the respective churches welcomed me with broad grins and strong handshakes and made the effort to make me feel as at home as possible. In general, the people here are very warm and happy to show interest in their culture and 'lifestyle'. Many speak English, but the standard is usually quite low and the accent doesn't necessarily make it easier to converse. But so far it has always worked!


To conclude, I like this country very much, as foreign as it is. I have rarely experienced the openness and friendliness of the people. Nevertheless, nothing is perfect and Hong Kong has, for me at least, a few unpleasant sides that I do not particularly like:

The pressure on people here is very, very high and you can feel that people rarely come to rest. I also feel this and it is amazingly difficult for me to feel calm. Nevertheless, in order to find peace, faith plays a big role for people, because faith here is firmly connected with meditation and going into oneself. I think this is one of the reasons for the high number of believers - be they Christians or others. I think many use faith to find their peace and tranquility in a world that is spinning at the speed of light.  

Greetings from Hong Kong


Text & Photo: Max Behrend

Short assignment in Hong Kong for young adults

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This text is a personal experience report and reflects not necessarily reflect the view of Mission 21.


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