Return To Kowloon, Part 5: The Pilgrimage of Saint Teresa

PREVIOUS POST: Return To Kowloon, Part 4: Finally Returning to Kowloon

As my mother pointed out when we arrived for the first time at this hospital, Saint Teresa is the patron saint of headache sufferers and writers.

Holy Kowloon, I couldn’t have picked a better hospital!

So it made sense to go back.  They saved my life, they treated me well, they had really good fried rice, and they cut a few grand off the final bill so I didn’t have any hiccups with my insurance.  Overall, a five star hospital in my book of hospital ratings (which only includes 2 hospitals, both of which have 5 stars.)

So as I walked up Argyle avenue, for the first time in two years I could see her standing above me– exactly as I had remembered her:


Those are little bits of brain tumor she’s scattering down from the wall…

And as soon as I got inside, she was right there to greet me!  Even holding a pink rose for me– one of my favorites.  I’ll you, that St. Terry really knows how to make a guy feel welcome.

St Terry


So we chatted for a few minutes, talked about the new season of Downton Abbey, and I thanked her for watching over me all this time.  She chastised me for not blogging enough, but she’s really psyched about the movie project I’m working on.  She said she wants “that chick from Avatar” to play her.  And I couldn’t disagree.

But anyway, she had to get back to work so I ran upstairs to the 8th floor with a lump in my throat, and there I saw it!

HK hospital hallway

My Home Away From Home!

This is where I lived for a couple of weeks, where I would try my best to sneak past the nurses station in running sneakers and shorts and if caught try to convince them I was just going down to Starbucks for a cup of tea.  (Saint Teresa has her own Starbucks.)

And guess what?!  Many of them were there!  MY nurses!  The absolutely wonderfully caring and compassionate and professional women who made me feel at every instant in this place that I was being cared for.  That all the very best things were being done for me.   Although they didn’t allow me to sneak beers in.  OK wait one time they did.

AND THEY REMEMBERED ME!  AND I REMEMBERED THEM!  And I even got to see one of my favorites, who was so shy she wouldn’t let me take a picture of her.  (But I got one anyway.  That’s her on the right with the red hair.)


And here are two of the other wonderful women who kept my head in one piece way back when, and who i owe for even being able to think about a Return to Kowloon…

NUrses 2

So now, after all that walking, I found myself  conveniently hungry.  Fried rice!
So I bolted to the cantine. (Somebody was occupying my room, so I couldn’t eat in bed like the old days, unfortunately.)

3:08pm – St Teresa’s Cantine

At the cantine, just ate some delicious rice with pork that is almost as good, but they don’t have the friend rice ready until 5pm.   Good news is I don’t have a brain tumor.   And I’m allowed to leave here whenever I want.  And if I don’t get the fried rice this time… I can always come back!  I love this place– all they do is treat me nice and save my life.

not mushroom fried rice, but not too shabby!

Not mushroom fried rice, but too shabby.

And right there, from the widow in the cantine, I could see that mountain out the window… that one I always wanted to climb, every single day I lay in my hospital bed.

Lion Rock - it's the highest bump on the right side

Lion Rock – it’s the highest bump on the right side.

I already have my sneakers on…
and I bought those cheap shorts and  backpack…
all I need is a bottle of water and maybe a cold beer and…

I think I’m gonna go climb up that mountain right now.

Because I am HERE.
And I am ALIVE.
And I CAN.

lion rock distance

Here I go. Up to THERE.

5:56pm – Several Hours Later — Lion Rock Park

After about a 4-5 mile run/walk/hike through the city from St Teresa’s, you reach a Buddhist monastery at the edge of the park.  Just walk up this last excruciatingly steep block, and make a left on that cement staircase up there at the end…

buddhist monastery

And from there, you hit jungle.
Like real, dense jungle.  On a 70 degree incline.
But it’s beautiful.  And quiet.
Suddenly the city of 7 million people below disappears into a faint whisper.

Just follow the fuschia ribbons…  (Every time you think “Am I really doing this?” or “Am I going the right way?” you’ll see another one.)

ribbon 1

And once I was about halfway up the mountain, at least 1,000 feet above Saint Teresa’s, I saw another sign:

dont go sign

Little did that sign know, those are the same sneakers I used to run a solo marathon in Newfoundland.  (Did I really run a solo marathon in Newfoundland?)  This hike wasn’t a marathon, but with the hills and the views and the emotional subtext it kind of felt like one.  So there was no way me and those sneakers were gonna get stopped by a sign.

So we looked for the next ribbon (there it is! right up there!) and up we went!  (“We” being me, my sneakers, and my t-shirt.  And Dutch the Dog, in spirit.)

up to there!

Up to THERE!

And when we got there, this is what it looked like:


Which was pretty great.  So I drank a beer.

mountain beer

And four bottles of green tea.  (I was thirsty.)

Look mom!  You can see Saint Teresa’s from here!

Look Mom!

And that is why I came back here.

I came back  to go to a place I’d never been to before.

And now that I am here, on top of Lion Rock Mountain, standing on the very place I had stared up at every day those two years ago–  what do I do now?

I scream at the top of my lungs.  To that guy down there with the bandages on his head.  To tell him that he can get up here one day, if he just tries.  Really hard.  If he doesn’t give up.  And if he keeps up doing all the things that feel like they’re important, no matter what stands in his way (clouds, nausea, diminished cognitive capabilities, deep daily existential crises, etc.).

I told him he could– he WOULD– get up here on this mountain.  All he has to do is keep going.  Because here we are.

And then, we decided (me and that guy, 2 years ago, looking up at me) that we should leave something behind.  Something for us to mark the fact that we made it back.  On our terms.
And it was beautiful, and sun shiney, and it felt fucking great.


So I pulled off my (very sweaty) I FLEW TO HONG KONG AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY BRAIN TUMOR t-shirt (which I actually designed in that hospital bed that I can see from here).  And I tied it up with a fuschia ribbon, and I buried it.
On the top of Lion Rock Mountain.

I flew all the way back to Hong Kong, and all I left behind was my lousy brain tumor t-shirt.

shirt ribbon

It’s still there, under this rock, in case you ever want to find it.

And that is why I came back here.

I came back here to leave something behind.


NEXT POST: “Escape From Hong Kong 2: Leaving Things Behind.”

9 thoughts on “Return To Kowloon, Part 5: The Pilgrimage of Saint Teresa

  1. A very touching memoir of your trip back. Tears in my eyes knowing you made it up the mountain and, more importantly, you’re alive! Keep writing. I’ll keep reading!

  2. Your writing is incredible. Look forward to reading every time I see a new post! Thank you thank you thank you. Enjoy the rest of your amazing adventure!

  3. My friend died 2 years ago, on April 1st. She was 20 years older than I. So, let’s see, she would’ve been 85. Wow, I didn’t ever think of her as old. Ever. Theresa had been the director of nursing at a mental hospital. She would be so pleased with your outcome. And she would love the fact that nurses still proudly wore the full uniform.

  4. I don’t even know you and I feel deeply the love and joy you experience being able to return. I just had my second craniotomy for a “spot” that turned out to be a “sack of poo,” as my nephew calls it: just dead cancer cells, showing treatment is working, and I am again able to imagine my own “Return to Kowloon,” whatever it might be. It’s a quiet rather than a dance a jig in the streets kind of happiness, but very deep. I have three trips set up–two work and one pleasure (although being able to work is pleasure!) in the next two months, and I am SO HAPPY to be able to do them. Joy to you.

  5. Love this. And yes, I think someone is cutting onions in my office….
    I hope whoever was in your hospital bed then, gets to hike Lion Rock and find what you left behind.

  6. Hey Chad, I just caught up on your posts as I have missed several of them and glad you are feeling a bit better. Boy are you busy with the Cancerful Cards and movie. I just knew you would start and finish the movie. You are such an incredible writer and love the blog posts so much that I know I will love the movie. Notice that I did not use the dreaded “amazing” word that everyone is sooooo…..obsessed with? Obsessed is the word that drives me crazy in addition to amazing.
    As I re-read some of the blog posts I was wondering if you forgot to write the post about leaving Kowloon and leaving two things behind? I know I have no right to ask why or where it is, especially since you’re cancerful at present, but you have weaved this story that has captured my attention for the last three years (yeah you) and I was wondering what happened and what you left behind besides the shirt in the dirt on the mountain. Not that leaving the shirt in the dirt tied with a pink bow isn’t a nice thing to leave behind. I think you should have left a note with the shirt for the next brain patient to find once they left the hospital. A treasure hunt of sorts, plus some motivation from one cancerful patient to the next. So when the patient is in your hospital room they will be inspired by Mr. Peacock who made it out of St. Theresa’s Hospital and up the mountain despite the ominous sign warning you against it. Next time you visit the hospital you should bring a photo montage of you in the hospital and the mountain stuff and have them post it in the room you were in for the next patient to see so they stay positive or at least amused. Crazy Americans!
    Thank you for being so positive and beating the odds and living with a cancerful purpose. You completely inspired me when I was taking care of my brother with pancreatic cancer last year. He never felt cancer and as much as I tried to find ways to make him happy or try and take him some place with beauty and inspiring vistas I failed. I did make sure to be loving at all times but two when he was telling me how to drive. I was reading your blog long before my brother received his stage 4b diagnosis, so I feel I had a wee insight in to the mind of someone diagnosed with something awful and how one can treat the cancerful in a more meaningful way. Thanks Chad!
    Have a wonderful day and lots of cuddles to Dutch the dog who kinda stole your commercial. It happens, dogs are cut and Dutch, well he is super cute!

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