- Monday, 21 November 2016 12:08
Setting foot on the Poles is, for most people, something extremely remote, but Wilson Cheung, a young man of the post-1980 generation, is a regular breather of polar air.
His footsteps have covered the entire European continent and he has trekked one mountain range after another. On the day of this interview, he had just come down from the mountains in Switzerland and, nine thousand kilometers away from Hong Kong, he talked to me on the phone about his life as an explorer.
Wilson is deeply grateful to the HKBU for the opportunities he found at the University. While his Hong Kong Advanced Level examination results were not impressive, he enrolled at the Sport and Recreation Studies programme at the College of International Education at the associate degree (AD) level, but through his hard work and being placed first and second in the AD examinations, he articulated to the Undergraduate programme within a year's time. "The facts speak for themselves: the results of public examinations are not the most decisive factor. During my four years at HKBU, my greatest reward was the 11 scholarships that I won, and the numerous opportunities for international exchange." Wilson thinks that young people should cast their eyes on the whole wide world, as those whose vision is focused only on the narrow confines of the present will miss a lot of chances.
Wilson's interest in exploration began early while he was still a student in Sports and Recreation Studies at HKBU and, 10 years ago, when the University celebrated its 50th anniversary, he and a number of like-minded schoolmates formed the HKBU Climbing Club and marked their inauguration with a successful ascent to the Mount Qizi in Tibet.
After this initial success he was thinking of joining a South Pole expedition organised by the California-based environmental group 2041, and for this purpose put himself in contact with the famous Hong Kong explorer, Dr Rebecca Lee, for her endorsement. The result was that he was chosen from among over two thousand applicants, and was the only representative of Hong Kong at the event.
After graduation Wilson experienced a six-month period of unemployment, which prompted him to go abroad to see the world. He went to Switzerland, where his first job was "just to clean the toilets and prepare meals." However, opportunity soon presented itself when someone asked whether he could speak Putonghua, and if he was interested in working at the South Pole. He took up the offer without a second thought.
During the past six years, Wilson made home all over the world as his activities took him, and is now resident in Germany. Before that he also spent time in Norway and Britain. Nowadays he stays only for 30 days in Hong Kong every year but 180 days in the two Poles, because he is the only ethnic Chinese who is an accredited polar exploration docent.
Being a polar docent has given him a lot of unforgettable memories. "When I was canoeing alone in a canyon in Alaska, a 15-meter whale upset my boat, and I fell into the freezing water of a polar lake. It was really a frightful experience." But then, in the South Pole, he has the penguins as his good friends! "The penguins have an intelligence like a 12-year old human being, and can recognise me, walking around me as I go about my business."
Every episode is an inspiration to Wilson. He observed: "Life is brief. We must learn to know ourselves, and do the things in which we find pleasure and delight."