Out and about

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 May, 2010, 12:00am

Once about the furthest it was possible to go in Hong Kong and still remain in the territory, Lo Wu is only one of the several border - or boundary - crossings in use today. 'Boundary' is the politically correct word to describe the points of entry and exit to the Middle Kingdom - after all, we are part of 'one country' now and borders only exist between separate national entities. Nevertheless, the last time I went through Lo Wu, the passport and ID checks and customs and immigration officers still resembled a border-crossing checkpoint anywhere else.

Just beyond Lo Wu railway station, seemingly abandoned on a piece of waste ground, is the historic railway bridge. Maintained for some reason but completely inaccessible to the general public, this piece of history was crossed by virtually everybody - from visiting politicians such as British prime minister Ted Heath to hundreds of thousands of refugees - who walked into Hong Kong from the mainland until the through train service from Guangzhou, discontinued in 1949 when the communists assumed power, recommenced in 1979.

Lo Wu cemetery - the final resting place for many unclaimed bodies - can be glimpsed near the railway terminal. Those on border patrol duty have said that they've felt a strange, unseen presence around this area - perhaps it's the unmourned roaming the hillsides at night, or simply the grass rustling in the wind. Whatever the case, let's hope some of Lo Wu's ghosts help scare off a few illegal immigrants.

Crest Hill, the steep ridge to the west of the railway line, has numerous links to the past that can only be seen when the autumn grass has died down, or hill fires have exposed them. During their off-duty hours, British army units based on border patrol created prominent depictions of their regimental cap badge from locally scavenged stones, which were then whitewashed or painted.

Badges from the Coldstream Guards, The Black Watch and other famous British regiments can still be seen scattered across the hillside. Like other significant if fragmentary aspects of the local past, these silent reminders of an earlier garrison presence seem destined to crumble into oblivion due to official indifference. How much would it cost, on an annual basis, to keep the grass cut and the paint maintained? Would the commissioner for heritage care to comment?