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Typhoon Mangkhut

‘I have feelings for the trees’: Typhoon Mangkhut aftermath sparks bizarre harvest as Hongkongers saw off and collect fallen camphor bits

Trees coveted for fragrant wood and sentimental value for residents who grew up in area

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 8:48pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 10:24pm

Some Hong Kong residents flocked to two fallen trees in the aftermath of Typhoon Mangkhut on Monday, armed with saws to remove trunk sections and leaves, but they were not there to contribute to clean-up efforts following the monster storm.

Instead, residents near Tak Shing Street in Jordan were intent on collecting souvenirs from the two toppled camphor trees, which were among some 1,500 that did not survive Mangkhut’s wrath.

The unusual scene was sparked by the sentimental value of the aged trees, and their fragrant wood which served as a natural insect repellent. The bizarre post-storm harvest lasted until police arrived and shut down the area in the late afternoon.

Preschool teacher Valeria Chan, who was off because classes for children were suspended amid the traffic disruption, was among those wanting a piece of the trees. She managed to collect wood chips with her mother, saying putting them in wardrobes would ward off insects such as cockroaches.

“It smells really good,” Chan said. “A lot of people had their own saws. So they were sawing the wood. Some of them even had electric ones.”

Sisters Joanne Cheung and Sandra Cheung, who grew up in the area and have lived there for more than 40 years, were among other residents who turned up.

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They collected leaves and wood chips on their way to lunch, saying the trees were part of the neighbourhood’s collective memory, and that they were sad to see them go.

“We do not have a garden here. The trees are like our garden. Not many streets around the district have such big trees,” Joanne Cheung said.

Not many streets here have such big trees
Joanne Cheung, resident

Sister Sandra said the trees had played an important part in her daily life, especially in summer when she would stand under them and wait for taxis.

“Whenever I bought a new phone, I would take pictures of the trees. Because at different times they looked different,” Joanne said. “I really have strong feelings for the trees.”

The scene lasted for hours until two officers arrived and cordoned off the area at about 4pm. Police said the trees were government property.

Patrick Lau Hing-tat, a landscape architect and member of the government's Urban Forestry Advisory Panel, said trees in public areas were indeed government property and it would be messy or dangerous for people to saw off parts of a fallen tree themselves.

He said it was understandable that people wanted the wood as camphor wood was firm and had attractive bark patterns. Wood from the tree species have long been used for furniture.

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The wood also gave off a strong smell and people used them as insect repellent, placing them in wardrobes for their clothes, Lau said.

Lau said the two trees in question appeared to be about 70 to 80 years old and their roots were obviously not in healthy condition.