Scientist who wants to rock the world
The man who helped bring geoparks to Hong Kong says history and identity are written in stone
Young Ng is into rock. Not the fender bender, Rolling Stones, raise the rafters, wah wah guitar, screaming groupies kind of rock. No, he’s into the hard stuff. The granite, Jurassic, volcanic rock that’s really old – even older than Mick Jagger.
Ng, the president of the Hong Kong Association for Geoconservation, is a firm believer that rocks are integral to giving people a sense of identity and affinity with where they live.
“Mount Fuji is a natural icon in Japan,” he says. “People have a sense of belonging with this icon. It’s like the Lion Rock in Hong Kong. They last forever, unlike man-made structures such as the IFC [Mall].”
Ng’s love of rocks began as a boy.
“I first became interested in geology when I was in Form One because we had a geological trip,” he recalls.
“Also, I was a cadet with the Civil Aid Service, one of the disciplinary volunteer services. We would go hiking every week and camping several times a year. I learned mountaineering and became very interested in the natural landscape.
“I later studied geology at the University of Hong Kong. Rocks really are the foundation of all ecosystems.”
Today, Ng gives lectures about sustainable tourism at Chinese University and advises internationally on all things geological. He is an adviser on geoparks in Hong Kong, on the mainland and in Australia, where he spoke to South China Morning Post on the phone from Sydney.
“I’ve been working as a consultant on geoparks,” he says. “There’s only one at the moment in southern Australia, which crosses two states – Victoria and South Australia near Mount Gambier. It’s one of the largest geoparks in the world.”
Ng’s work concentrates on the conservation of geological heritage. It’s not an area many people talk about in terms of conservation, which often looks more at heritage buildings or flora and fauna.
Ng says the school curriculum should devote more time to teaching geography, with a particular reference to geology.
“Geography should be taught as a core liberal studies subject because it touches on our natural environment and people,” he says. “I don’t think the government takes it seriously enough. We have so many interesting geological features in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong’s geopark, which Ng played a key role in establishing, is in the eastern and northern part of the territory.
“There are two main geological areas: the eastern Sai Kung area, which has world class geology; and the northeastern part of the New Territories, north of the Tolo Channel near Sheung Shui and Fanling,” he says.
“Near Shau Tau Kok, there are very interesting sedimentary rocks that are from 400 million years ago. In that area, people used to use the rock to build their houses and make household appliances, such as creating containers for their water. So the geology is also related to a rich, local, Hakka tradition.”
Hong Kong’s geopark became a national geopark in 2009 and part of the Global Geoparks Network.
China is also keen to get geoparks noticed, and Ng has been advising on that. But sometimes his role involves making sure the park guides are well-trained so they can educate others.