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World Story of Hong Kong 02

2018/5/4 — 13:25

【Author:Stephan Ortmann(a local non-Chinese Hongkonger)】

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My name is Stephan Ortmann. I am an Assistant Professor of Comparative Politics in the Department of Asian and International Studies of City University of Hong Kong. My PhD thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg compared the political developments in Hong Kong and Singapore.

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Before I arrived in Hong Kong, I had the idea that there was just a city with endless skyscrapers and nothing more. The idea that there was amazing nature right next to it had never crossed my mind and many of my friends and family at home are still surprised when I tell them for the first time. But when I arrived and saw the beautiful mountains for the first time, I wondered whether it was possible to climb at least some of them. Little did I know that there was a hiking paradise just next to the concrete jungle in Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and the New Territories.

I still remember the first time I went hiking with a colleague who showed me how to get to the gorgeous hills with amazing panoramic views of the city and the landscape. It is likely that some people have never gone hiking because they do not know how to get to the mountains. It is, however, very easy to reach this natural paradise as virtually any place can be a start. A good map of course can be helpful. At that time, however, I did not have one. I still remember we were hiking along a hard concrete road for most of the time, which was quite exhausting to my legs. First we passed by Grassy Hill and then we headed toward Needle Hill, which was our final destination. Here I found the kind of trail that I liked: natural and unspoiled by concrete. I hope this will never change.

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After that, I went hiking more frequently. Eventually, I bought all five government maps to navigate the mountains more easily. The paper maps showed many different trails and allowed for more flexible hiking. At first, I began hiking the official trails that are famous such as the MacLehose Trail (named after Hong Kong’s most popular governor and avid hiker), the Wilson Trail (named after another governor), the Hong Kong Island Trail and the Lantau Trail. As I was doing that, I still remember meeting a European on a bus on the Route Twisk. On that day, I had planned to hike to the top of Tai Mo Shan along the MacLehose Trail Section 8. The European told me that he was bored of the official trails and was hiking along more interesting unofficial tracks. At the time, I already knew that once I had exhausted the official trails, I would do the same thing.

So one day, and I don’t remember when, I decided to leave the main trails and enter a new form of adventure. I still relied on the paper map and the risk of losing the trail was much higher. Depending on the area, the trails were either quite easy to spot or extremely difficult to see. The heavily overgrown trails were and still are the greatest challenge for me. Luckily on many if not most of these trails, hiking groups have left plastic flags on trees and shrubs which guide the hiker. Of course, sometimes these flags have also been placed on trees when there is no real trail by especially adventurous groups. This, naturally, is even much harder to follow, as I usually do not bring any tools to cut the brush.

Later, I would find a great mobile application which is called Hiking Trail HK and which allows hiking with GPS and compass on a map based on OpenStreetMap, the free editable online map. As many enthusiastic hikers in Hong Kong had contributed the trails to the app, trekking through the countryside became much easier. When I lost sight of a trail, I would retrace my steps to go back to the line in the app. This was better than relying only on the flags on the trees. Unfortunately, when I tried to share the app with friends who had an Apple iPhone, I found out that the app has not been developed for that kind of device.

Nowadays, I hike virtually every weekend and all year round when the weather permits. Only heavy rain or storms are not suitable for hiking and make it quite dangerous. Naturally, the fall and the winter are the best seasons for hiking as the temperature is more comfortable and the humidity is not so high. But, I have also learned to hike in the hot seasons when the temperature goes over 30C and the humidity is quite high. This only means I have to carry much more water. At least two large 1.5 liter bottles are required in summer. Also, I must reduce the distance that I want to cover. As I sweat heavily, I still enjoy reaching a mountain and overlooking the area or simply smelling the trees and streams. Hong Kong’s nature is amazingly diverse. Whether you hike in Lantau, Lamma Island, the Castle Peak range, Tai Po Kau, Ma On Shan Country Park, or Sai Kung to name a few, each of these places holds very different views and characteristics. To describe them all in such a short essay would not do them justice. They range from amazing waterfalls to fantastic rocky coastlines, from caves, ancient forts, and abandoned mines to war relics hidden inside the bushes or even accessible to the hiker. Even though I have now seen a lot, I am sure there are many more mysteries to be explored in the future, although the list keeps getting shorter.

Hong Kong’s hiking paradise has made me fall in love with the city, which is why I have settled down here for more than seven years. Despite political problems and the high cost of living, I feel that the convenience and beauty of nature so close to the urban areas is both unique and precious at the same time. As I learned about attempts to redevelop parts of the country parks, I became greatly concerned and joined the movement to protect them. Also the idea of using the Plover Cove Reservoir is shocking to me. Do the city planners not know that water is the most precious resource? I hope that we can all protect Hong Kong’s nature so that future generations can also enjoy it. There must be a more sustainable way to deal with urban development.

 

[April 20, 2018]

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