Wilson Cheung: To Conquer the Unconquerable
01 Oct 2018
Towards the extremities of the planet
For more than eight years Wilson Cheung, the young man in front with a wide grin on his tanned face, has been working at opposite ends of Earth, at the North and South Poles to be exact. As a result of following this unusual career path he has become the world’s first – and so far only -- Chinese polar exploration docent. As if that were not enough, he has also equipped himself with a rich array of skills that qualify as an international mountain guide, a pilot, a polar ski guide and a sea kayaker. And more.
In his role as polar exploration docent, Wilson’s main duty is to lead visitors throughout their journeys to the Artic and Antarctica, sharing with them his knowledge of the unique wildlife and helping them to observe the exotic polar animals and fabulous scenery. He also provides consultancy services for polar scientific research teams. He says his core duty is more than just making sure that his customers reach their destinations. “Our prime mission is to ensure they enjoy a secured trip and return home alive.”
Every year, Wilson spends over six months in the polar region, while the rest of the time he bases mainly in Europe where he plans and prepares for the worldwide expedition services for his clients. He returns to Hong Kong once or twice a year, but even then he does not take a break. Shortly after joining a brief family gathering, he sets out to visit Asian cities like Shanghai and Taipei where he gives talks, attends interviews and meets with clients.
Embarking on his exploration journey
Wilson was brought up in a rural area adjacent to Fanling. During his childhood, he made the mountains his playground, and the trees and flowers his playmates. “I always feel at home when I am being mesmerised by nature. I am so at ease and acquainted with it. What’s more, I like interacting with animals. They are just as inquisitive as we are.”
While covering Hong Kong’s outskirts on foot, Wilson never gives up the idea of exploring much farther afield. In order to expand his horizons both mentally and literally, as a university student Wilson grasped every opportunity to go overseas. During his four-year studies at HKBU, he won 11 scholarships and joined international exchange programs, gaining overseas exposure in places like Indonesia, Taiwan, Kazakhstan and the United States.
He first encountered the polar region in his first year in the Department of Physical Education at HKBU. Having seen on the campus billboard that an Antarctica expedition being organised by a US environmental group 2041 was open for applicants, he touched base with famous Hong Kong explorer Dr Rebecca Lee and asked her to endorse him for this opportunity to explore the world. He was eventually chosen from a pool of over 2,000 applicants and won sponsorship for his first polar expedition.
Before that opportunity arose Wilson spent much of his time searching for information about the Antarctica on the internet. But he felt he was like the blind men and the elephant: with second-hand information he couldn’t get a proper picture of what the Poles are really like. So Wilson decided he had to feel and experience this place in his heart instead of just capturing the scenery with his eyes.
When Wilson first set foot on polar soil, he was immediately enchanted by the vast expanses of whiteness and serenity. He immediately recognised what his life’s goal was: to be an explorer discovering every inch of our planet.
Asked about his feelings towards the polar region, Wilson says, “In a place with just the boundless white landscape and clear blue sky, I can clear my mind totally and reflect about myself, have a deeper self-understanding, and recognise the goal that I wish to pursue. It is a fact that human beings are part of nature, but because we have become used to urban lives we have separated from nature. Amidst all the hustle and bustle of the city, we can easily get lose our way. It becomes difficult for us to re-think and reflect about our life.”
Home is meaningless without journeys
Over the past few years, Wilson has chosen to base in Germany, as it is in the heart of Europe and provides easy access to other countries on the continent. However, he has not settled there permanently; whenever he returns to Germany, he just stays in a friend’s home. When asked about where is “home”, he says, “Home is meaningless without journeys. If you just stay in the same place without going out to explore, ‘home’ is meaningless.” Such a belief motivates him to explore further. “Someone has to take on the role of explorer to bring in the new ideas that propel society forwards. People never cease exploring, pursuing new things and fostering social development.”
Wilson shares with us a quote from a German professor: “One should take the chance to explore whilst young; when we grow up, the experience we earned becomes our wisdom; and then it turns to civilization of mankind after our death.”
Set no limits in life
Since childhood Wilson has aspired to be a pilot, and recently realised this dream by completing pilot training. But having achieved that goal he has no plans to slow down. “In this ever-changing world, no jobs are available for good. We should not set any limits on our career development. We are open to endless possibilities in the future.” Today, Wilson’s new goal is to set off from the home planet that he knows so well and enter outer space to explore the universe that is unknown.