From gangland to great outdoors

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 September, 1998, 12:00am

Several friends and I met up last Sunday to do something we rarely find time to do. Something bold. Something adventurous: we went to the New Territories.

Unlike many Westerners I know, who spend their weekends trotting up hills and hiking in the intense summer heat and humidity, Hong Kongers love exercising in a more congenial environment, such as a karaoke cubicle.

For us, the great outdoors exists only in karaoke videos such as Climb Every Mountain.

To us, any outdoor pursuit in this weather is torture. Why sweat it out under a scorching sun when you can achieve more or less the same effect sitting in a sauna or jacuzzi and watching the Hang Seng Index? That might explain why we decided to visit the remote parts of the New Territories in an air-conditioned car. Well, it was air-conditioned until the battery went flat in Tai Po. It was then that we made a collective decision on where exactly we wanted to go.

This is how young urban minds work these days: we know we want to go somewhere remote and cheap - we are in a recession after all - but do not know exactly where.

For $50 (everything comes with a price tag in Hong Kong), a taxi driver jump-started our car and we had to turn back to my friend's place at the Chinese University to pick up another car, which regrettably had no air-con.

But that did not deter us from venturing on.

'Where to?' I asked, after having spent most of the afternoon lunching inside an air-conditioned restaurant in Tai Po and mulling over where we should go from our friend's air-con home.

We looked through the local travel section in a newspaper and decided (finally) to head off to Pak Nai which, according to the article, is a great place to watch the sunset. Armed with a couple of maps, we set off in search of the sunset - and a famous sweet shop in Tai Po en route. We had this 'romantic' notion of savouring the glorious twilight with the best grass jelly pudding in town.

But while looking for the shop, we got stuck in a traffic jam. At this point, I thought: 'Will we ever get out of Tai Po?' Luckily (and perhaps surprisingly), after we headed out of Tai Po, we managed to take all the correct turns and reached the western coastline of the New Territories just before dark.

We were so excited it mattered little that it was overcast and we could barely see the sun.

Pak Nai is beautiful but a bit smelly; there are several pig farms in the vicinity. We were surprised to see a number of local tourists also wandering around. They must have read the same travel article.

Anyway, a friendly man approached our group and asked what we were looking for out there in the wilderness.

'The sunset,' my friend replied - which we all thought was rather poetic.

I was just looking for the public toilet.

As a city person, the trip to Pak Nai was an experience. I am more accustomed to watching the sun slip behind concrete blocks rather than the horizon. It was very peaceful just sitting on the waterfront and trying to figure out whether it was Shekou or Shenzhen across the water.

The place is worlds apart from my neighbouring districts, which these days look more like the location for gangland movies. For example: To Kwa Wan. This is where I grew up. A great neighbourhood with plenty of kai fong restaurants serving up cheap meals. But I think it was here that we dined alongside a group of gangsters who had $1,000 notes falling out of their singlets.

Mongkok/Yau Ma Tei. Also an area I grew up in. An equally great neighbourhood with plenty of pirated CD and VCD shops. The area does not have as many gangsters as it used to but is still buzzing with activity, such as chopper attacks.

Ho Man Tin: This is where I live now. 'Big Spender' Cheung Tze-keung used to live on our street before he was detained in Guangzhou. I remember seeing his yellow Lamborghini parked outside our supermarket. And I am convinced we have stood in the same queue in the supermarket before. Lucky I have not picked up the bad habit of queue-jumping or else I might have had my head blown to bits by one of the AK-47s he allegedly owned.

Mind you, Faye Wong also lived on our street for a while, as did a string of showbiz personalities so our neighbourhood did, for a time, look like a film studio.

But back at Pak Nai we pondered life, the universe and how we were going to make our way back to the city.

The funny thing was, we never saw the sunset. The grass jelly was too good to be distracted.