Walk on the wild side, along paths less trod­den

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SUNDAY KALEIDOSCOPE - By RE­BECCA LO in Hong Kong sun­dayed@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Wong Nai Chung Road is known for be­ing the path to hap­pi­ness: It sur­rounds Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Happy Val­ley race­course where, ev­ery Wed­nes­day, pun­ters try their luck at a ticket to fi­nan­cial free­dom.

Many peo­ple on their way to watch the races are obliv­i­ous to the four ceme­ter­ies along the western side of Wong Nai Chung. Here, in the Mus­lim Ceme­tery, St. Michael Catholic Ceme­tery, Hong Kong Ceme­tery and Parsee Ceme­tery, the his­tory of the city is writ­ten across crum­bling grave­stones and mau­soleums, for­ever hushed next to all the rac­ing ac­tion.

Walkin is hop­ing to change that by bring­ing lo­cals and visi­tors seek­ing in-depth knowl­edge of un­usual sites. Founded this sum­mer by four friends who love and know their city well, the group of­fers 120- to 150-minute themed and dis­trict-based walk­ing tours.

All the founders dou­ble as guides and have day jobs through­out the week. Walkin is cur­rently op­er­ated only over the week­ends, with a ro­tat­ing sched­ule of dif­fer­ent tours.

From Mon­day through Fri­day, Paul Chan works in fi­nance; Chow Chung- wah writes for travel pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Lonely Planet; Dora Choi is a tele­vi­sion pro­ducer; and Haider Kik­ab­hoy is an ed­i­tor and trans­la­tor.

Once Satur­day dawns, the team turns into walk­ing and talk­ing ves­sels for ob­scure facts and did-you-know com­men­taries, un­veil­ing hid­den cor­ners of the city to bud­ding his­tory buffs. In just a few short months since their in­cep­tion, Walkin has risen to be­come TripAd­vi­sor’s num­ber 12 of 98 ac­tiv­i­ties in Hong Kong.

I joined Walkin’s in­au­gu­ral ceme­ter­ies tour, held on a sunny Satur­day af­ter­noon. Our group as­sem­bled in the lobby of the Cos­mopoli­tan Ho­tel at the very end of Queen’s Road East, and Chow was our guide.

“Happy Val­ley isn’t happy be­cause of the race­track,” she be­gins. “It is a eu­phemism for our fi­nal rest­ing place.”

Our group con­sisted of tourists, ex­pats and lo­cals who trouped af­ter her as she led us to Hong Kong Ceme­tery’s en­trance. Once within its gates, the sounds of nearby traf­fic along Wong Nai Chung and Canal roads re­ceded and we were sur­rounded by the peace and tran­quil­ity of its well-man­i­cured gar­dens.

That couldn’t be said about the ac­tual grave sites. Many of the older ones were sadly ne­glected, as the ceme­tery housed ex­pats in­clud­ing tai pans and mis­sion­ar­ies from Hong Kong’s in­fancy. There were women who died dur­ing child­birth or who fell dur­ing the plague of 1894. I spot­ted a few fa­mil­iar names like Pottinger and pointed them out to Kik­ab­hoy.

“It’s an un­usual sur­name, so he was most likely re­lated to our first colo­nial gov­er­nor Henry Pottinger (1789-1856),” agrees Kik­ab­hoy.

“The Hong Kong gov­ern­ment takes care of the ceme­tery’s grounds, but it is up to the de­ceased’s de­scen­dents to take care of the graves them­selves,” Chow notes, as she con­tin­ued the walk. “You can see that many of the headstones have eroded over time — many of th­ese peo­ple prob­a­bly don’t have rel­a­tives who live in Hong Kong any­more.”

On another tour, the theme was ur­ban myths and aimed to ex­pose some of the city’s most pop­u­lar le­gends. “We use the term myth loosely,” Kik­ab­hoy says, as he pro­ceeds to tell tall tales about how pop­u­lar cul­ture re­lates to each of the sites we’re vis­it­ing.

We started at the Hopewell Center and moved onto places like the 1937 Wan­chai mar­ket with The Zenith, a new res­i­den­tial tower, grafted on top of it. We moved onto the neo­clas­si­cal 1920s Grade 1 his­tor­i­cal build­ing Blue House be­fore climb­ing up the hill to Pak Tai Tem­ple.

“This tem­ple in­cludes a cham­ber that pays ho­mage to Bao Zheng, an 11th cen­tury Chi­nese gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial who still stands as a sym­bol for jus­tice,” says Kik­ab­hoy, draw­ing con­nec­tions be­tween the ar­chi­tec­tural gems we were look­ing at to how we live our lives to­day. “As re­cently as last night, he was be­ing de­picted on TVB se­ri­als.”

Haider Kik­ab­hoy (right) leads a tour of Wan­chai.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.