Hong Kong Homies is a series where we get real deep real fast with Hongkongers.
William Chan, 27, rock climber
On being a hardcore rock climber
I stay in Hong Kong for six months every year. The rest of the year, I spend traveling and rock climbing. During the six months I’m in Hong Kong, I work to save up money for my travels. I work three jobs, from 6am to 11pm. I have two days off this month. I want to use the shortest amount of time to save the most for rock climbing.
I eat very simply and live very simply. Some people question my lifestyle. A colleague of mine complained to me about why I wore such dirty shoes. I think they’re fine! I respect your lifestyle, I hope you respect mine. This is my choice.
I’ve rock climbed in Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, and China. I do outdoor rock climbing and I specialize in crack climbing, which basically means you’re using your body parts to hold yourself in place. You stick your hand or leg inside cracks. Every step is extremely painful. In Hong Kong, there are many, many good rock climbers. A lot do competitive tracks in indoor centers. I prefer outdoors.
On following a dream
I used to play volleyball in secondary school. I was lost and wanted to find my dream. Volleyball doesn’t really reflect who I am. I like persistence, I believe in never giving up, I like to travel. Volleyball doesn’t do those things for me. It might, actually, but you need six other teammates that think the same.
I was a “cert hunter,” always looking for new things to learn. I met a rock climbing coach, and he taught me the sport. I was in an indoor gym and there were colored routes. I was like, what is so difficult about this? I definitely can do it, no big deal. My coach answered if I could do it, he would buy me dinner. It turned out I couldn’t even properly lift myself up! I really took that to heart. I kept going back and practicing, and gradually, I fell in love.
I went on a working holiday to Australia to rock climb. I ate the same thing every day to save money: tomato, egg, mashed potatoes. Every single day. I saved up AUS$4,000 (HK$23, 405) and used that money for rock climbing trips in Australia, China, New Zealand.
As a kid, I thought about what I wanted to do in life a lot. What was my dream? I think I have finally found it. I have rock climbed for eight years now. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve managed to persist at something for so long. It’s the first time I went so far for something. I don’t mind working three jobs, I don’t mind eating simply, I don’t mind, because this is all for rock climbing.
On wearing jeans while rock climbing
It’s a rock climbing tradition! Those people who changed the history of rock climbing, they wore jeans rock climbing in Yosemite. In those days, jeans were seen as really durable. Wearing jeans is a way to honor those people. I do believe that jeans are the best for rock climbing.
You know how some people buy ripped jeans? I love buying completely brand new jeans and let my rock climbing rip it for me. Also, I often go one month without washing my jeans. There’s this unique scent, haha, of sweat.
Before rock climbing, my life consisted of two things: sports and relationships. I loved dating. I was obsessed with getting a girlfriend. Looking back, it was quite twisted. One year, my girlfriend broke up with me and I really wanted her back. I bought her a bouquet of 99 roses! You know how much I spent? About $10,000! I was in college. And the worst thing was, I DID NOT WIN HER BACK. It was so stupid.
Now, rock climbing is my girlfriend. I don’t want to rush into a relationship. I believe that if you know what you want to do in life, if you’re in a good place, love will come to you.
On what’s next
My rock climbing dream has four elements: traveling, rock climbing, writing a book, and photography. I can already visualize my shop. On the left side, there will be rock climbing and traveling information. On the right, you can buy rock climbing gear. I also want to design my own gear. Photos of my friends will be in the middle. You may think of rock climbing as an individual sport, but it is not. There’s always this person protecting your underneath.
And then a book. I want to write a book out of my experience to tell others that you can achieve your dream as long as you persist.
I want to rock climb in places like Patagonia and Yosemite before I’m 30 years old. Then I’ll settle in Hong Kong. I have to take care of my family. My parents are getting old, and I have to take responsibility for them. I am not that reckless.
But I don’t doubt that I will succeed one day. I’m getting there. I have already achieved 50 percent. I just need to finish the rest in the next few years.
On sticking with Hong Kong
Many talk about leaving Hong Kong and living somewhere else. After rock climbing, I find it hard living in Hong Kong. All the buildings, all the roads, all the noises. But I’ve never thought about leaving. This is my home. Leaving is just avoiding the problem.
Rock climbing has taught me the importance to persistence. You always have to be extremely angry and calm at the same time. You need to be agitated enough to want to keep going, but calm enough to think through your next step. You’ll understand if you try rock climbing. Your heart is beating so hard, and it feels like you’re on the verge of breaking down.
It also helped me to look that Hong Kong issues in a new way. If you want change, you need to keep going. There are a lot of challenges for the city. It will be tough. But you cannot give up.