WITH A PINK HOTEL, A BOTIQUE AND A SWINGIN’ HOTSPOT It would appear the mutant virus successfully became the Grinch that tried to take away our holiday fun, and like many people I had to break it to my family that I wouldn’t be listening to Driving Home for Christmas on the radio in the rental on my way from Heathrow airport this year. But we are all finding ways to hang onto something of the festive season’s cheer: Hong Kong’s Central district was buzzing with people buying gifts last week, and online seafood and swanky meat deliveries are selling out fast. It’s clear we’re not letting this nasty coronavirus bug stand in the way of the tradition of exchanging presents and stuffing ourselves silly, even if we may not always be in the company of those we originally planned to do it with. So, what can an over-lunched lady or gentleman do to walk it off this year? And who can we hang out with in groups of more than just two? I propose taking a trip to see what’s left of the fantastic wildlife and scenery that Hong Kong has to offer , before it is concreted over and the beachside eateries become as landlocked as Fenwick Pier! Under the watchful eyes of a couple of cowboys, a part of Hong Kong’s unique cultural heritage – feral cattle and the indigenous buffalo – roam the wetlands, beaches and rural streets for all to enjoy. The herds in Lantau are just a part of the bovine population in Hong Kong, but possibly the most accessible to city folk. With Mui Wo a short ferry ride from Central, visitors are all but guaranteed to see the moo cows walk the rope-line daily outside the chintzy Silvermine Beach Hotel. HERD ON THE STREET The swamps that provide food for the herds of South Lantau have largely dried up since August, so there is little new vegetation growing and the days of grazing and filling up their little tummies with lush grass and sweet bauhinia are over. With their shrinking habitat, the cattle and buffalo are having a hard time finding food, and they’ve got to survive till spring on what little there’s left. This usually means that discarded cardboard boxes become sought after; it doesn’t sound particularly appetising, but they somehow make it work. As the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) categorises these original residents as a public nuisance, the numbers need to be controlled. Baby calves are removed from their mummies at a very young age, sterilised, tagged with a number and then returned to the herd – presumably in the hope that they will have largely died out by the time Mui Wo looks like Sha Tin so the bureaucrats don’t have to deal with them any more. There have been no baby cows this year. I went out to have a chat with someone who has a passion for my neighbour’s garden foliage, a young bull we have named Wallace – known as 582 to the AFCD – to ask for his view on life, Lantau and big buildings. If you come across him, say hello! He does respond to being called “582”, loves a belly rub and, being a bit of a cow-median, he also loves puns. Neil : Hello 582! Merry Christmas! 582 : Moooee Christmas to you too! Do you have those Bauhinia pods you promised my tummies? Neil : Later. Tummies? 582 : Yes, I’ve got four so I can eat tough cardboard and moos-papers. Can I lick your leg? It tastes better than the SCMP . Neil : Later, no, yes, whatever … So, how are things in the herd? 582 : The herd heard that someone called lamb and her sheep are going to take the swamp and eat everything. We are very worried. Sheep don’t baah-preciate how tough it is here each year, with less grass and more buildings that we don’t like. Last year we took a look inside one in Mooee Wo and although we didn’t find any grass, there were yummy oranges and apples. So we tried the fruit, but the people were not happy and pushed us out. Neil : Yes, they don’t give anything away for free in Hong Kong supermarkets. You have to share the swamp with the buffalo, right? 582 : Yes, there are two herds: us moo cows and the buffalo take turns to eat the greens and the paper rubbish. Using my cow-culator, there are about 23 of each, cows and buffalo. The buffalo are covered in mud and smell horrible, so if they are in the swamp, we go somewhere else. They say we smell funny too, but cow Pat says we don’t, otherwise birdy band “Eddie and the Egrets” wouldn’t play around us. Neil : Eddie and the Egrets? 582 : Yes, we cows arrive to the sound of moo-sic. They play Joni Mitchell really well. Neil : So you don’t think the redevelopment of Mui Wo, making lots of new islands and turning Lantau into an attractive leisure destination is a good idea? Thailand’s animal parks taking strain as visitors stay away 582 : Udder nonsense! Just ask the pink dolphins, they see no porpoise in it either. And it costs too much mooo-lah, according to 314, who is good at maths. Have you met 314? He’s a cow pi. Neil : What do you think would be a better idea? 582 : Disney is about as popular in Hong Kong now as the new movie Moo-lan; nobody goes there. Send Mickey back home and put your big new buildings in Sunny Bay. And when the big ships stop coming to the harbour, pave their parking lot. Neil : Well, I best be going. It’s getting dark and I guess pasture bedtime? 582 : How udderly amoosing. Would you like some genuine Lantau bull***t? I just made a nice warm piece from an Amooozon box, take it home for your tomatoes. 2021: YEAR OF THE COW Two weeks ago, we were reminded of the return of Legco HK$550 million (US$70 million) funding study and the plan to embark on the Lantau Tomorrow Vision that will dump half the city’s financial reserves in the sea, and it was déjà moo all over again. I am no tree-hugger, but I join the sceptics in doubting that filling in the gaps between the islands off Silvermine Bay and demolishing Hong Kong’s nest egg to build 260,000 residences that won’t be available till 2034 is the best way to solve the current housing shortage. 2021 is the year of the cow, so spare a thought for the long-time residents of Hong Kong, as by the time the first passengers roll off the new MTR to visit the tree museum, the cows and the buffalo of Mui Wo will be a distant memory. Meet them before they pave paradise. Neil : Before we say goodnight, what would you like for the year of the cow, Wallace? 582 : A girlfriend.