In the summer of 2014 I travelled with Mashiat Rabbani and Jeffrey Wong to Dunedin, New Zealand for what would be a mostly unremarkable debate tournament. We didn't come first and we didn't end up last. A day of rest was scheduled mid-way through the competition, and as our team would proceed no further, we had the luxury to do whatever we wanted. Mashiat said she wanted to hike up to Larnach Castle, on a mountainside overlooking the city, and I agreed to go with her.
Mashiat and I had known each other for around a year, and we had just started to team up regularly. Her approach to debate was technical, not egotistic, and for that I have great admiration and respect. She was also singlehandedly responsible for educating the team on Islam—this was back when the feminist argument in favour of hijabs was less prevalent—and why Shiekh Hasina was absolute trash. Earlier that year we went to another tournament in Tokyo, and there is a photo of our team standing underneath cherry blossoms, smiling, which I have since taken to mean something else. It all went downhill from there.
The day was perfect for hiking: cold, bright, and everything awake. Neither of us was especially athletic but it turned out to be a gentle climb. Dunedin was sheep country, and Mashiat and I walked alongside low fences that marked the grounds for grazing. We met no one on the trail. Later our path was blocked by a waist-high gate: it had a "no entry" sign, and we couldn't decide if we were meant to cut through or go around. What if the gate was electrified? We pushed and it swung open. (This was New Zealand.)
I don't recall exactly what we discussed during the hike, but it probably had something to do with anxiety. I hope my friend doesn't mind my saying this, but we are both anxious people and there is a measure of solace in worrying together. Mashiat came to Hong Kong for her bachelor's degree and a nagging question was where she would go next. I had reassured her that, one way or another, she would be running Bangladesh in twenty years. Or perhaps she had been telling me about her family, as she liked to do: her father the retired revolutionary, her mother the hospital administrator, and the cat.
Suddenly distant figures caught my eye. Mashiat told me she wanted to see sheep, but she didn't spot any on her ride into town. Now there they were, silhouetted against the blue sky: "Look, sheep," I said.
"There, along the ridgeline."
"I don't see them."
"They're right there."
"Oh," she replied. A beat: "They're brown."
Both of us broke down at the same instant, hysterical. There was no one for miles and the two of us laughed our heads off like the idiots we were. Sometimes I found myself returning to this—to a joke that is barely a joke—to enjoy that senseless laughter. Much of my six years at HKU had already been forgotten, but I'm happy this remained.