Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Green Space: the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail

Prior to moving here, we worried about the lack of green space in Hong Kong. (Ashamed, Phil and I remember how Baby Tori did not know what grass was while we lived in Romania. She fell in love with it once on vacation and asked us the name for it over and over again). Here, we do find it hard to get outside and throw the ball around or ride a bike. Hard in the sense of packing up, riding the elevator down and then find a space in our common areas big enough to accommodate us. But oddly, it is not hard to find green space to explore. Our views here on the south side of Hong Kong island are pretty much only of rolling green hills and sea. And these hills are covered with trails which we are finally trying out.

This past weekend, with continued “fall” weather in the 80’s, we all hit the new Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail. Open just over a year ago, this is the first real battlefield trail in Hong Kong, marking pivotal points of World War II’s Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. The trail has 10 stations of interest with signs in English regarding key aspects of the fighting. The trail slopes downwards the entire way, which quite frankly makes it very appealing to us and our four year old walkers. Starting from a nearby apartment complex, we walked along a catch water drainage system, which apparently past British Governors of Hong Kong used to ride their horses along. Phil and I tried to understand the fighting that took place here while the kids gathered pinecones. We brought home about 50 pinecones. I couldn’t say no as they were our first pinecones ever seen in Hong Kong! And the kids had specific craft projects in mind for each and every pinecone.

Along the trail, we often came across cement structures that were marked to have some WWII significance. Mostly, these structures were overgrown and hard to imagine in their original purpose. Eventually however, we came to two pillboxes, machine gun strongholds, in the hill. It was immediately understandably how the pillbox, a concrete bunker with a periscope, functioned. As the kids climbed over the pillbox, I read that the Japanese invaded from Kowloon across Victoria Harbor on the night of December 8, 1941. This particular pillbox was attacked with Japanese soldiers coming up the hill and then on top of the pillbox, trying to drop grenades down the periscope. The fight over this pillbox lasted close to 24 hours and almost all involved died. But the site was marked, kept clean with some flowers planted nearby.

As this trail looped down the hill, we were able to look out into Central and down immediately to the Happy Valley racecourse and the cricket grounds. A little further along, the trail went behind an apartment complex. This complex had an exercise area for elderly people, with a few pieces of typically Chinese equipment (and benches and chairs with armrests for the elderly us). The kids played at this area for hours. We all enjoyed being outside and oddly, listening to the bagpipes being played at the cricket grounds. It was hard to reconcile this peaceful afternoon with the horrors seen here decades ago but clearly, Hong Kong and cricket have both survived.


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