“Pick up a stick, Jennifer, pick up a stick!” said the normally jolly Dutch woman through clenched teeth. We were walking swiftly down a far-flug hiking path on rural Lantau Island in Hong Kong while four dogs jumped, growled and nipped at our heels.
Despite her stern plea, I found that while I could continue walking using her as a human shield, I was not brave enough to bend down and pick up a stick. The thought of one of the aggressive, teeth-baring dogs lunging for my neck while I stooped down, paralyzed me.
“Will you just pick up a goddamned stick before these devil dogs rip out my right calf muscle?!” must have been her last thought before grabbing a stick herself while I cowered.
Friends and I have been hiking Hong Kong’s Lantau Trail this winter, biting off a few sections at a time out of the trail’s 70 kilometer length. On this particular day, we were near the beginning of Section 7 (and had not yet encountered any dogs) when we noticed an odd sign:
After a bit of head scratching, we consulted Peter Spurrier’s famed Hong Kong hiking guide. He states that back in 2004 or so the Yi O villagers had sought to block access to the trail and had put up a fuss about the trail crossing their village. Since then things had apparently simmered down and his published advice seemed to be to proceed down the original trail. So we did.
And then we encountered the above mentioned dogs.
And then we encountered this sign:
The sign combined with memories of the four dogs and fears of additional dogs, convinced us to turn back and take the detour.
So what is going on in Yi O Village? Having hiked many trails that pass through many Hong Kong villages, I was stumped as to why they sought to block the trail.
So I have been looking around for clues.
Yi O is an enclave within a designated country park, so the villagers have long time use rights to the village land (all land in Hong Kong is ultimately owned by the Government), but are surrounded by protected country park land.
Snippets from this or that article have made clear that an organic farm has been established in Yi O and that some villagers have applied to set up an eco-tourism hostel or similar. Apparently this is very controversial as environmental groups are concerned about potential ecological damage from further development.
This still doesn’t really explain why the villagers have blocked access to a beautiful section of a public walking path. Especially if they have aspirations to make money from eco-tourism.
Gives me the same cagey, back-door-property-dealings feeling that I get from watching the 1974 film Chinatown about 1920s land and water rights in Southern California.
Circling back, we followed the (far more vertical) detour and eventually re-joined the Lantau Trail near the sea. We were rewarded with this view:
A view that tempts one to attempt the full coast-huging Lantau Section 7 on another day. Perhaps with hockey sticks, heavy duty leg padding and a court injunction in hand?
Still feeling unwelcome in Yi O, I have strangely found the Yi O Village website which gives rather welcoming instructions for how to visit the village — “use the Lantau Trail”! — and provides a list of upcoming public events this spring including picnicking and white radish picking!
I’m as confused as ever.
I suggest the Yi O villagers align their PR messages. Are you welcoming or not? I’d be happy to pass through your village and buy a radish and a Coke.
For those curious about the issue of property rights, development and conservation in Hong Kong’s country parks, take a look at the following (3:25 onward is on Yi O specifically):
Officials ‘out of touch’ in dispute over future of Hong Kong’s country park enclaves (South China Morning Post, Post Magazine, Nov 9, 2014) provides a thorough discussion of development within Hong Kong country parks and the issue of village enclaves.
The Real Threat to Hong Kong’s Country Parks (HK Magazine, Nov 26, 2013) is also on development within the country park enclaves.
Lantau’s Yi O development plan raises ecological damage fears (Hong Kong Economic Journal’s online EJinsight, Feb. 23, 2016) discusses the specific issue of Yi O development.