When I arrived in Hong Kong I was heavily pregnant and relocating from the Solomon Islands. We had, for the previous three years enjoyed the benefits of a tropical paradise – full coral beachfront, wide palm fringed garden and unobstructed views of the ocean. And we had a gardener!! My home finding at the hands of a local agent had left me in tatters. How could I survive in a 30th floor apartment with no balcony, and planes whizzing past the windows near Kai Tak Airport? I knew people lived in places like Clearwater Bay and the Southside, but we had a budget that wasn’t going there. I was excited when an expat agent suggested I visit Discovery Bay. At last someone who understood. I didn’t even view the rooms of the house when I walked into my first Hong Kong low-rise, and glimpsed a long strip of green grass with a white sand beach beyond. I had found HOME. I had no idea how my husband would get to work but we had a BEACH and a GARDEN! Almost 24 years later, as an agent now myself, I recently leased the same home (with no improvements) for double our budget of 1993 and wondered to myself if the eager tenants really understood what owning a garden in Hong Kong means – I certainly didn’t and I wonder now if I would reconsider if I had.
As a keen member of the HK Gardening Society I moved on – to the New Territories and 4000 sf of unkempt scrub which we stoically built up with composting and cuttings to a sizeable oasis of fruit trees, ponds and contemplation corners. Along the way I made friends with people who did the same. Gardening people tend to hang together, even in the face of growing doubts that they are sane. Mosquito breeds and snake species came to be part of my vernacular and we fought on, chopping our way out after typhoons and euthanising chickens in a birdflu epidemic, to retain the country lifestyle. Our kids grew up rock climbing and stream hopping and we entertained in the garden and had annual bonfires and luau’s – until we got a divorce.
I had never lived in a high rise – and I had no idea what that meant. It certainly meant less room and certainly didn’t involve garden furniture, but it did involve free time, clean floors and a strange sensation of not quite ever being alone. I’d never even had curtains! The first night I didn’t sleep a wink as I listened to lift bells dinging and chairs scraping on all four sides of my flat. And so for the last three years I have lived without a garden. Let me tell you how that feels.
I miss it.
I miss the smell of plants and fresh cut grass and I miss the sound of plopping turtles. I miss the cool evenings having a glass of wine under the trees and admiring the days effort. I miss the fun of kids running amok and chasing puppies, but I don’t miss all that comes with it – hours and hours of pulling weeds, repositioning hoses, clearing drains and smacking bugs.
Leasing a home with a garden is a bigger noose around your neck than adopting a dog. You will enjoy a garden for about three months a year – in between the rain and the cold. If you are here in October, November and March it will be wonderful. The rest of the year you will either be watering or baling. Now don’t get me wrong – as a Real Estate Agent with some knowledge of HK’s greener sides, I still lease homes with gardens, and some are magnificent, but seldom to people who are seasoned expats. Nowadays, we have so many options to enjoy gardens – public gardens – that owning one yourself is hardly necessary. A few herbs in pots and you are done. A palm in the living room and you are positively transported. Honestly – having a garden is for the birds but this is just my opinion. Now I don’t have a garden! I am happily enjoying running, and exploring areas of Hong Kong I’ve never really appreciated – Hong Kong IS a garden. A wonderful garden of Eden in all seasons and I love it!
Few areas exhibit the good, the bad and the ugly of Hong Kong in such a distillate as Shek Kong, Kam Tin. Nestled in the bowl of the ‘ring of fire’ surrounded by ridges in a stunning caldera like valley, this whole area drew little attention since the weekly Shek Kong market disappeared with the British Army and Gurkha regiments in 1997 along with the tailors ( for mess kit you understand) the Pakistani Shaffi’s naffi and the paddy fields seasonally yielding up gladioli, and cabbages. It remains low key due in part to the Shek Kong Airfield and PLA military camp carving up the centre of the valley, but licking at its fringes are the telltale signs of encroaching development – swamplands, home to endangered Painted Snipe and water buffalo, are being drained, and the lowlands no longer flood thanks to extensive run off canals which have effectively brought drought to the basin. Mid-rise apartment buildings are studding the landscape towards Yuen Long, and the massive carpark of the Kam Sheung Road Rail line daily fills with commuter cars. Quiet little Kam Tin Village is a bit of a traffic jam which affords a birds eye view of village life from your car and the one traffic light even buys you a stop at the centre!
I lived in this valley for the majority of my 24 years in Hong Kong and got to know it intimately and now I’m back for a short stay rediscovering places that haven’t changed and those that have.
Working ‘from home’ this week, I have had time to do a little exploring. I have wandered the villages where orange rinds are laid out to dry, laundry lays flat on iron roofs so low you would have to stoop to enter the house, and wild passionfruit rot on the paths where they drop. I have poked around in the back lanes that are now jammed with car yards and scrap merchants carrying bags of cash gather container loads to ship to far off developing nations. I’ve squeezed up lanes where its artful to dodge Pakistani’s in kurta pajamas on bikes and black as pitch Nigerian sunnis with white as snow smiles, heading to makeshift mosques.
Breathing in the pungent aromas of the forests I have rediscovered one of my favorite walks along the Kap Lung Catchment, where Birdwood vines meander beside the path and monkeys occasionally get drunk on the nectar of their flowers – and reconnected with a road sign still telling confused pedestrians “When wig-wag sign goes stop”
I have discovered that despite the behemoth of the Guanzhou fast rail line operation centre laying waste to a large part of the local village land, (incidentally it will take just 14 minutes to shoot from Hong Kong to Shenzhen when it is completed) there is still a wonderful hodge-podge of Cantonese, Hakka, and all manner of ethnicities tilling out a fairly humble existence just yards from the high tech Kam Sheung Westrail line that will take you back to Hong Kong in a relatively leisurely 30 minutes. If you think that you can handle the ‘local culture’, I happily recommend a visit.
Some local treasures:
1. The Sum Ngai Brassware factory http://www.sumngaibrass.com/
2. Kat Hing Wai – one of Hong Kong’s last walled villages complete with a moat https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kat_Hing_Wai
3. The 300 year old house with the tree growing through the middle of it http://annatam.com/tree-house/
4. The Kap Lung Ancient trail http://hiking.gov.hk/eng/trail_list/country_trail/Kap_Lung_Country_Trail/introduction.htm
5. The walk around the Ho Pui Reservoir – this was my children’s favorite walk http://hiking.gov.hk/eng/trail_list/family_walk/Ho_Pui_Family_Walk/introduction.htm
6. See some real soldiers guarding the now PLA compounds up Route Twisk and head to the summit for a bit of hide and seek around the huge boulders on what my children have always called ‘Misty Mountain’ – Tai Mo Shan
7. Have a great curry at the Shek Kong Park dai pai dong bus stop and live to talk about it being the cheapest meal you have ever had in Hong Kong.
8. The weekend open air market at the Kam Sheung Road MTR
Bring a little courage and a willingness to be amazed and you will not be disappointed. This area may not have changed alot on the surface in the last 20 years but by the look of the new monument being built outside the PLA Shek Kong airfield I don’t think that will last, so visit now – before its all turned into history.
Kat Hing Wai (吉慶圍) is a famous Punti walled village in Yuen Long District of Hong Kong. It often mistakenly believed to be Hakka, whose people have similar traditions. However the Punti people were from Southern China and the first to settle in Hong Kong. Kat Hing Wai’s residents speak the Cantonese dialect Weitou dialect, rather than Hakka. Popularly known as Kam Tin, from the name of the area, it is home to about 400 descendants of the Tang Clan, one of the “Five Great Clans” in the territory, who built the village back in the 17th century. Three other walled villages, Wing Lung Wai, Tai Hong Wai (泰康圍), and Kam Hing Wai (錦慶圍) are located nearby and were built around the same time. Kat Hing Wai was established during the reign of Chenghua (1464–1487) of the Ming Dynasty. The walls enclosing Kat Hing Wai were built by Tang Chue-yin (鄧珠彥) and Tang Chik-kin (鄧直見) in the early years of the Kangxi reign (1661–1722) of the Qing Dynasty. In April 1899, the residents of Kam Tin rebelled against British Colonial rule. They defended themselves in Kat Hing Wai. After several unsuccessful attacks by British troops, the iron gates were blasted open. The gates were then shipped to London for exhibition. After the demand of the Tang Clan in 1924, the gate was eventually returned in 1925 by the 16th governor, Sir Reginald Stubbs. (sourced from Wikipedia)
Its that time of year again. The annual flight of the expat species that finds itself in a place that isn’t home, roosting in lofty heights, succumbing to social habits it had to first learn and eating a diet that just isn’t what it grew up with. So the annual ‘go home’ journey is a chance to reconnect with family, friends, food habits and breathe the air of familiarity. Or is it?
My personal ‘home’ is no longer where I came from 23 years ago, and while I relish a bit of Kiwi fare I no longer need it to feel comfortable.
This summer I have already taken a trip across from Siberia to Beijing on the train, and for a few days that monotonous humm and jiggle gave me pause to reflect on exactly what part of home I miss.
Beijing – Family, comfort and food. Mongolia – sheep and green. Siberia – clear skies and fresh lakes.
Done, recharged … and all on my doorstep a little north of Hong Kong.
I wish all of the home travellers a happy summer and safe travel back to Hong Kong refreshed and ready to tackle the flurry to find a house, get kids settled back to school, make up for lost time and get ready to plan Christmas and Thanksgiving travel. I’m home for the summer if anyone is passing through.
We are very busy at Locations – so many families coming and going over summer.
Let me know if you need our help with finding a new home to roost in !!!
Baikal Uzbek Buns
Selenge overlooking Russia
Beijing Wall at Mutianyu
Beijing Peking Duck
Beijing Forbidden City