Shortly after the birth of my second daughter Freija, I fell very sick. I was later diagnosed with a chronic auto-immune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Within less than a year after her birth, I had been hospitalised several times with serious flare-ups. I knew something had to give. With SLE, there is no cure and oftentimes you become a guinea pig that doctors experiment on with a concoction of drugs.
However, the one thing doctors do know is that a stressful lifestyle can exacerbate the disease. Knowing this, there were a few clear solutions I could take into my own hands, and one of those was improving my quality of life. Thus, letting go of my fast-paced lifestyle, slowing down and being more present became my top priorities.
I grew up on a farm chasing lizards and cows till sunset. Entertaining myself in the beauty that Mother Nature provided. I had barely any toys or friends for that matter. I lived in a very small country town where I believe my mother was the first Asian or ethnic person to live there, so it was difficult for kids to accept me, yet my childhood memories are only happy ones, for most part. My days would end with my coming home with my best friend and Labrador, Abby, covered in dirt and hay. We would be stained purple from eating wild berries and fruits right off the trees. I collected frogs, lizards and creepy crawlies, and let them wiggle around on my bare belly. That, to me, was pure happiness.
I wanted this life for my children and for my health. My first thought was to immediately leave Hong Kong. My husband and I considered moving everywhere from upstate New York to LA and Bali, but each time we weren’t convinced. I was heavy-hearted upon returning to Hong Kong, afraid that we would be trapped in this hectic time warp of a city for what would be the best years of our children’s lives, in which time the only nature they had ever encountered was our dog Roxy and poodles being pushed around in strollers.
In my desperation, I started to explore more of Hong Kong. Although a favourite of mine, Lamma Island was quickly crossed off for its reliance on the ferry, as well as the weekend surge in tourists. Lantau, however, ticked all the boxes for us. It wasn’t Australia but it gave our children an environment we felt they needed with nature, wild animals and the great outdoors. Shortly after moving there, we found out just how wild it could be when we encountered a king cobra right in our back yard. Before we built a fence, we also had pet buffalo that we would feed apples to from our living room window in the mornings.
The village we live in is quite eclectic. It’s a wonderful hotpot of all nationalities, but at the same time it’s very local. There is a strong sense of community there, so much so that we even know the postman’s name. When we run out of eggs, flour or milk, we just knock on our neighbour’s door (or send them a WhatsApp). I don’t know how many years we lived next door to the same person in the city and never even knew their name.
We can walk to the beach from our house in 7 minutes, a walk which takes us through old rice fields filled with grazing wild buffalo. There is even a little place hidden within the fields owned by this amazing hippie called Jason (only locals know how to find it) that is made of garbage washed up on the beach. He teaches the local kids how to play drums and to build everything from lights to furniture using trash.
Our afternoon play dates have become sunset picnics, our kids dancing on the beach while we watch the sky change its colours. It’s truly magical. I don’t know many places in the world where you can walk out your door and be by the sea in ten minutes, have mountains under your feet in 15, and be in the heart of the bustling city within 45.
Of course, living here poses its own challenges and it’s not for everyone. For example, the buses don’t run regularly, not to mention the ferry schedule! At first I hated the ferry trip – which sometimes takes up to an hour – but now I embrace it as me time, when I catch up on some Netflix, read a book or send emails. The closest supermarket is a 15-minute drive away. There’s no Uber, taxis are difficult to get, and your friends on Hong Kong Island will think you’ve moved to an entirely new country, but if you can cope with these things, life on Lantau couldn’t be better.
I’m happy to add that my health has greatly improved living the slow life here. My heart is full watching my children grow up chasing buffalos, admiring sunsets with sand beneath their little toes, running wild and free.
An Australian native of Swiss, German, Irish, Thai, Chinese and Arabic descent, Cara G is a multi-hyphenate in all senses of the word – model, TV host, co-founder of juice brand The Genie Concept, and soon-to-be mother of three. Follow her at @caragmcilroy.