On our third and last real day in Hong Kong we headed out to the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Park. The walk was long and the weather was hot and our feet were already still sore from the day before but it was Mayday or HongKong Labour Day so we saw a procession of some kind, possibly a protest (we were ushered away by police while we were looking) and gaggles of womenfolk (Emily thinks all southeast Asian) collected in walkways and parks across the city for picnics. One huge gathering at St. Josephs church was divided into teams which we saw competing in different kinds of simple team games involving balloons and screaming.

The park was nice and it was a pleasant surprise to see jacaranda trees in bloom in may. The zoological element of the park was a tribute to monkey diversity with many different types on display including orangutans and lemurs. It also had a reptiles section which was all tortoises, a racoon and some frogs.

Next we visited the Hong Kong park which had an awesome walk in aviary which though high up (the stairs nearly killed Emily who’d worn jeans) had plenty of lovely birds on display who were all very friendly including a parrot who would only say half of each Cantonese word the staffmember tried to coax from it. Then we visited the Fighting SARS memorial which was beautifully designed and sobering. We summoned the energy to ascend the tower which we’d spotted previous days while wandering and wondered about. The view from the top was lovely. We then visited the conservatory and then the restaurant for lunch. Unfortunately the teaware museum Emily wanted to see was closed for the public holiday so we decided to brave the line and ride the tram to the peak.

Heading to the peak was a great idea ans an excellent adventure. After a fair wait in the line we boarded and the tram ascended at a speed and angle that completely astounded us. The views of the city and passing jungle as we climbed the slope we beautiful but fleeting as the peak itself was covered in cloud so the view from the top was of the surrounding mountain buildings sheathed in varying degrees of grey which was beautiful anyway. The peak is a kind of Hong Kong Hollywood. A community for the abusively rich and the shopping area at the tram station and the nearby houses certainly showed it.

We headed up the hill towards Victoria Peak Gardens. The road was narrow and surrounded by forest moistened by the cloud. After a small way we rounded a corner and came upon a magical playground area with beautiful open lawn and shapely trees and gazebos nestled in the mist. There was a map that played an incredibly quiet gentle tinkling piece of music an lovely vintage style streetlights all around. The playground itself was of to one side leaving the rest of the area to play at being a Studio Ghibli set. After a while we tore ourselves away and continued up the hill. We became more unsure of ourselves as we climbed the winding way often getting confused and distracted by the entrances to the grandiose homes of The Peak but by regularly checking the map we made it to the garden entrance.

I’m sure that Victoria Peak Garden is a lovely place in the day but at twilight, shrouded in mist it is was a dramatic, mysterious, magical experience. We came across the Gatehouse and read that the gardens were once the Governor’s summer getaway so we decided to follow the path marked “Governor’s Walk”. The path skirted around the lawn with its golden lamp posts which shone through the trees scoring beams of light through the mist. Emily was at this point already been very brave on the ascent beginning to show her tension in the eeriness. We continued on past bamboo thickets and something that scurried in the shadows when we approached before rounding a corner and ascending into a wide open area with flower beds surrounded by small hedges and a gazebo in the middle; orange light streaming down from the lamp in its eaves. We sat for a minute in the cool haze and marvelled at the strange beauty around us and wondered what the large stone structure to the north of the area was. After a while we headed off to one side of the thing and then up some stairs to investigate.

Atop the walled area was a huge beautiful white pavillion guarded by imperial lions in marble. We marvelled at the little kiosk that was closing up shop and I explained to Emily that if she went and spoke to the man inside he’d grant her a wish but he’d be grumpy about it because he wanted to get home and Emily would eventually learn an important lesson about earning the things you want through hard work.

We then had to decide which way to go and I stupidly said that we should keep following the Governor’s walk even though it looked dark because “otherwise the Governor’s ghost wont be set free.” Ignoring the silliness about trapped ghosts we followed a better lit path as it was starting to get dark.  The path was however a dead end terminating in a lookout with a compass on the ground. We each gave a blessing to the four winds and headed back. Trying to take the shortest path now we headed down a more densely forested and shadier path. After walking a few hundred.meters though it stopped abruptly, walled off in concrete complete with metal poles and barbed wire sticking out. I approached it and examined the holes in wall and, finding I couldn’t see through them, leaned out and peered round the wall itself. My eyes followed the ground, open and covered in a light grass up to a bamboo truss of sorts from which a scarecrow returned my gaze. Made of an old t-shirt and a plastic bag filled with meat or cloth or vegetation of some kind and sagging mennacingly in the vapourous air, it struck terror into my heart in an instant. Looking away I found my face mere inches from a humongous centipede climbing the wall. I froze, and then slowly moved back and beckoned Emily to come and see. Though she only saw the centipede she was as keen to leave that path as I was. Having returned to the pavillion we realised our bad luck had been due to our abandonment of the Governor’s Walk and so we steeled ourselves and descended into the darkness. Had it just been dark or steep or unpredictable or foggy it would have been fine but it was the culmination of these things that made walking down the cement path into less than a few meters near pitch black visibility absolutely terrifying beyond all belief. The path went on for near an age, light and dark, up and down all varying, though the impenetrable fog was relentless. At one point Emily began to whimper in fear as shapes leered out of shadows IN shadows and leaves flickered in the wind and sprang onto the path. I’m glad she did, it stopped me from doing it. When we finally emerged back into the park entrance there was nothing more relieving than the comforting safety of the warm light from the lamps. We went up to the Gatehouse and used the wish we’d earned to set the Governor’s ghost free before scurrying down the hill as quickly as we could without risking injury.

Afterwards seemed strange to do normal things. We ate dinner at a HongKongese restaurant, got some rich people priced gelatin, struck up conversation with some other travellers in the line for the tram and headed back down to the main city.

The walk home was hell. My feet by this point were so shot that I took two panadol and still had to stop some four times before we got to Muji to buy a last minute hongkonginabox and then the hotel. But we did pass through the totally-not-a-red-light-district so that was entertaining.


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