Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 May, 2009, 12:00am

While I am now a totally urbanised citizen, I have not always been so. I've had the privilege of experiencing the rural way of life - rounding up cattle on a farm the size of Belgium from a helicopter, learning about the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef first-hand from marine biologists, diving to survey the destruction of the reef from our planet's overheating. My life as a veterinarian has exposed me to situations rarely experienced by urban folk. This has given me a perspective that aids me in making day-to-day decisions based on the bigger picture.

My assimilation into the urban fabric has pushed me away from my rural roots. I now find myself swimming against the currents to hold on to them.

Today I am going to tell you a funny story that could only happen in another world and another place. It could not happen in Hong Kong. I tell this story to remind everyone that there is an ever-shrinking rural world out there.

It was about 14 years ago and I was on a regular farm rotation. It was a very alien environment for a city dweller with aspirations to become a small-animal veterinarian. To complete my training I had to know and experience life on farms and be competent, upon graduation, in the medical treatment of large farm animals.

So there I was, out of my element and trying my hardest to adapt. It was not just the ungodly early hours that farmers keep, or the hard sweaty work that is required to keep a farm running. No single thing made it difficult to adapt, rather it was the whole change in lifestyle that went with living on a farm.

For me it was just a passing experience and soon I would be back in the noisy surrounds of my urban home. But for the children who lived on the farm, this tranquil place was the only place they knew. For them the city was too polluted for their liking, but I could see that they longed for the excitement that a cityscape could provide. The grass is seemingly greener on the other side of the fence.

During my stay on this particular dairy farm, two teenagers were intent on impressing the newly arrived and rarely seen Asian boy with some farm shenanigans. They were kind to me but full of mischief. One evening they woke me and asked if I wanted to go 'cow tipping'. I had no idea what they meant but agreed to go along.

I grabbed my jacket and followed them quietly out through the back door. It was eerily quiet and I could hear every creak from the wooden floor boards. The back door opened and I was blasted in the face by an icy wind and biting cold. It was near freezing outside and, with the wind-chill factor, it was well below zero.

We walked to a field about 2km down a track, with fields to the left and right and the whole of the Milky Way blazing in all its glory above us. I felt so insignificant under that starlit sky.

The boys would not tell me where we were going. Eventually we stopped on the edge of a field scattered with sleeping cows. One of the boys whispered: 'You are going to tip one of those cows.' I asked them to elaborate. They told me: 'It is possible to sneak up to a sleeping cow and with one swift push topple it to its side. Don't worry, you won't hurt it.'

I seriously doubted I could hurt a half-tonne cow no matter what I did with my bare hands, so I went along with their dubious plan. They explained that if I pushed on the right spot near the top and centre of its back, the whole cow would topple on its side.

So I climbed over the fence and began to creep towards a nearby cow. I had a brief thought of how stupid I must have looked sneaking up on a cow in the dark. I justified my actions by thinking: 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do.' Then another thought popped into my mind: I had never seen a farmer do this before.

I knew it was a trap, but it would have spoiled the joke if I didn't go along with it. So I eventually reached the cow. It didn't move and was looking the other way. I gave the cow an almighty push - and it didn't budge, even a little. She just turned around and gave a surprised moo - and I heard the distant laughter of the brothers.

Then I heard a stomping noise and felt a rumble through my boots. I didn't stop to look, and ran as fast as could straight towards the closest fence and the stunned expressions of the boys. Chasing me was a raging bull, protecting the herd. I leaped over the fence, tearing my shirt. There was a loud crack behind me as the bull crashed into the fence.

I was sprawled on the grass for a few moments before I turned to face upwards and found the two boys looking down at me. We laughed all the way back to the homestead.