Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wong Nai Chung Gap: history with pedal boats

After a quiet day of apartment cleaning, Adam suggested we all head out to the pedal boats. This is a good outing for our family, really a mini-outing and perfect for a Sunday afternoon. The beloved pedal boats are located in Wong Nai Chung Reservoir, about a 15 minute drive from our place. Typically, the pedal boats are used by us as incentive to get everyone out to the grocery store. The pedal boats are located right by (as is almost everything) a large housing complex and a very large, almost American-size, grocery store. But today the refrigerator is stocked, things mainly in order and the afternoon is free to pedal in the murky waters of the reservoir unhindered by chores.

The reservoir runs a little business with a snack shop and a café but it is mainly there to rent pedal boats to outdoor minded folks. The place is never crowded and boats are always available. We load precariously into two boats and set off, slowly and without full steering ability. And the kids just love it. They feed the fish and turtles who are flinging themselves out of the water to eat whole slices of bread. We explore the little coves of the reservoir. Invariably, someone drops something into the water and someone else has to perform a rescue. We watch huge kites (some sort of water bird of prey) swoop overhead. And we do all this while gazing at many high rise apartment complexes just outside the little pedal boat area.

Prior to the pedal boats and the Taste grocery store, Wong Nai Chung Gap, between Mount Nicholson and Jardine’s Lookout, was well known as the connecting point via multiple roadways from north Hong Kong Island to the southern part of Hong Kong Island. Now there is the Aberdeen Tunnel which runs through a mountain and is the main connection between the north and south island. Wong Nai Chung Gap is still used by some commuters wary of tunnel traffic, including Phil.

In December 1941, the Japanese invaded Hong Kong on December 18th and reached Wong Nai Chung Gap on December 19th. There Hong Kong and Canadian troops defended the Gap until December 23. In fierce fighting over 600 Japanese were killed there. After the loss of the Gap, the Battle of Hong Kong quickly ended with Hong Kong’s surrender on December 25 and the start of the Japanese Occupation. Last year, the Wong Nai Chung Gap World War II Trail was opened, essentially leaving from the pedal boat area and looping through various relics to an end point at a former bunker complex. We have not tried it yet but hope to as soon as I figure out the trail signs (which are slightly complex here).

For today, the pedal boats were just the pedal boats. The kids know a number of hikes start from that area and are too savvy to be tricked into a hike before or after the boats. We simply fed the fish and turtles and enjoyed it. As I maneuvered clumsily in for a closer look at a large turtle, Tori exclaimed with joy, “This is the closest I have ever been to a turtle in the wild!” It might seem like a detour on the way to the grocery store to me, but to little people we were out in the world and exploring it. All in all, a good reminder that there is more than one way to look at anything, even a little reservoir off the side of a major highway.

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