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Archive for July, 2008

On Saturday, F and I ventured out to the New Territories, a chunk of mountainous land between Hong Kong and China’s border. To get to the heart of the new territories is only a roughly 30 minute taxi ride from Central Hong Kong. The majority of ex-patriot residents who live there do so because they prefer a more suburban setting, fresh air, less traffic. Here you see more green than upright concrete. The mountains are not very tall but they are steep and thick with sweaty trees. Families with older children have more room to move here. Dogs like it too.

F and I met Alison and her son Jeremiah, 14, on Hong Kong Island and took 3 trains up to Tai Po. One hour total. F insisted on being in the backpack, starting an hour before we left the apartment. The locals on the train all looked at us funny. I can’t tell whether they were admiring the back pack; or maybe they were making fun of the American with such an intricate pack for such a small child; or maybe they were wondering what the heck I was doing hiking with a three year old. I only attracted more attention when I tried to take the pack off and found that I’d tied the straps to my waist.

Our friend N who lives in Tai Po met us at the train station with her family’s dog, Kofi. The six of us set off for a hike around 11 am, in an area called Plover Cove Reservoir. A park ranger warned us that the weather could be a factor, as the sky was heavy with clouds. It never rained.

The trail we took near the reservoir heads straight out to the ocean. We passed a village of tin shacks with men sitting around, chatting. Not far from there was an abandoned village of roughly a dozen, two to three story square structures all in a single row. The main house had a sign over it that read: 1969. As the story goes I think, the government told the farmers here they had to go and so they did, leaving behind their cows. The cows never left, and so wild cows now hang out in the nearby pasture, leaving large piles of turd conveniently on the hiking path (”Why did they poop there?” F asked. “Cows, don’t poop there!”).

We followed a river that grew louder and stronger the deeper into the forest we went. At one point, a massive wild cow with horns and a large hump behind his neck stood on the hiking path before us. I was afraid he’d react to Kofi but he didn’t. He just stared at us for a bit and then meandered into the forest.

Perhaps my favorite part, aside from the cow sightings, was the butterflies. There were tropical butterflies of all shapes and sizes and colors fluttering around. One had a set of wings with a smaller set attached at the bottom. It was grey and white and unlike any butterfly I’d ever seen. About an hour into the walk I got the “I’m tired” from F. I told her to close her eyes but she wouldn’t. A snack helped but then I got an “I’m itchy.” Flies were everywhere. Past a set of old rice fields, we came upon a dried up river bed with only a trickle of water. We waited for Nao to scout ahead, and that’s when F said “I miss T.” Very cute. Hundreds of tiny crabs ran around our feet, and that kept F interested. But then she said, “I want to go home.” I did too, actually. Her fatigue was only going to get worse. Thunder rolling behind us made me aware of weather issues too. Nao appeared about 20 minutes later and said the trail ahead was washed out and we’d miss our ocean view. We headed back the way we came. F never complained again.

She did, in fact, get about 25 minutes of the “rhyme game” in. It goes like this. “Dad, Dad, Dad…Dad…Ahmm…I know, I know. Rock…Sock!!!” Then I’ll rhyme one. And then. “Hey Dad, Dad. Dad. I know. I know. Water…Flotter!” (most of the rhymes are made up words). The game then took on a Cantonese addition. After the first rhyme word, Jeremiah would tell us what it meant in Cantonese. It distracted us from the thick humidity and uphill climb. Before long, we were back at the wild cows. They and their friends the White Herons hadn’t moved. We got to the car around 2:15pm.

We will do more hiking in the New Territories. It’s an amazing place for that, and we’re lucky to have so close by. And not to forget that Hong Kong Island has some good hiking as well. 7 million people are crammed into a place one-quarter the size of New York. And 90 percent of it is hills, dirt, and grass.

(Image: New Territories)

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Hong Kong was transferred from British rule to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997. Beijing’s thumb, it seems, does not press too hard on this city (something greatly feared prior to the handover). But when Beijing wants to, it can really push.

Every year on July 1, a protest march begins at Victoria Park and ends a few miles away at the Hong Kong Central government building. Its organized by an outfit called the Human Civil Rights Front and its meant “as a channel to demand for democracy, universal suffrage, rights of minorities, protection of freedom of speech and a variety of other political concerns,” according to Wikipedia.

There hasn’t been a real Hong Kong vs. China hot-button issue since we’ve arrived, but that didn’t stop several thousand people from gathering in Victoria Park this past July 1.

The most famous march was in 2003 when half a million people gathered to protest a law under consideration that smacked of Beijing suppression and manipulation. It was known as Basic law article 23, and it was meant to keep political order–i.e. restrict groups that dared to challenge Beijing. Two legislators stepped down after the protest. The law was immediately shelved and ultimately killed.

Above is a picture of this year’s pre-march gathering. Although some news sources said 20,000 people turned out, it looked more like half that. The picture is taken from the south western end of the park looking toward Tin Hau. Note the Tin Hau high rises embedded within the hills of Hong Kong island in the background. The speakers were trying to rally the crowd and to be honest, it didn’t have a very electrical feeling. But people braved the heat because they know how important standing up for democracy is in this part of the world. Several people were being treated for heat exhaustion when we arrived.

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yoga kids

Recently I’ve befriended another mother whose daughter is the same age as F and we’ve done a few things together as the girls get on nicely and they live across the park. She’s a teacher and has lived in Hong Kong for 8 years or so and is pretty dialed in as to what the good activities are (we’ve gone to some clunkers). One she introduced us to is yoga kids. We’ve gone twice now and F loves it. The woman who runs it is excellent and each class is organized around a theme and the poses are modeled after animals related to the theme – keeping the kids interested and entertained.

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