The MacLehose Trail Is Hong Kong's Great Escape
By Mike Ives
Gauzy lights flicker in the fog, outlining a summit. Otherwise, darkness. The only sounds I can hear are my breathing and the rustling of my windbreaker. A rocky chasm yawns below me, just steps from the trail. For a moment, I imagine that I'm watching a search party traverse a remote wilderness.
But no, I'm solo hiking in Hong Kong, and the lights are the head-lamp beams of three other travelers on the MacLehose Trail. Beyond them, through occasional breaks in the fog, I can just barely see some of the blinking lights on the apartment towers—the edge of a global financial center where 7.4 million humans squeeze into an urban area roughly the size of Boston. Soon I'll be pitching a bright-orange tent on a seaside bluff, as far from that madding crowd as possible.
Hong Kong, a former British colony and now a semiautonomous Chinese territory, has some of the world's densest urban districts. But less than a quarter of its total land is inhabited. Another 40 percent—a noncontiguous area twice the size of Seattle—is divided into 24 country parks that receive more than 11 million visitors a year. The parks' peaks and ridges are known for their panoramic views of skyscrapers, but that's only part of their appeal: They also ease the stress of living in a crowded city wracked by soaring inequality.
It's hard to survive here without a generous corporate salary. Every month, my wife and I, both of us journalists, stretch our budget to rent a tiny walk-up apartment. The price of food and basic services always makes us cringe, and we never manage to save money. Our standard of living could be far worse: One in five Hong Kongers lives below the poverty line, and the affordable-housing crisis is so severe that some locals live in stacked cubicles called "cage homes" or "coffin cubicles." Hong Kong's extreme wealth disparities get under our skin. In our neighborhood, Ferraris and Lamborghinis whiz by a welfare office as the poor queue around the block.
Which explains why I often feel like escaping the grid for a few hours, to a place where trees outnumber people, the cellular signal can be hit or miss, and the Darwinian struggle is mainly waged by other species.
Map by Steve Stankiewicz
The future of the country parks is uncertain, however. The British established many of them in the 1970s, often on lands that bordered streams or reservoirs. Now, as Hong Kong's property market soars, a few local politicians are beginning to talk of carving up some of the parks to make room for housing. The initial cuts, if they ever occur, would likely be modest. But the mere suggestion has rattled conservation groups. Cutting into the parks would set a dangerous urban-development precedent, they warn, and the authorities should focus instead on developing idle sites near existing skyscrapers.
A key feature of the country parks is a nearly 200-mile network of four hiking trails. The longest is the MacLehose Trail, which runs for 62 miles and is named for the British official who governed Hong Kong in the 1970s. I like it because it takes me furthest afield.
The trail begins by edging along the South China Sea, darting through scrubby forests and along sandy bluffs. The air here is heavy with humidity and sea salt, and the location—the far corner of a vast country park—is free of condominiums. One summer afternoon, the only human presence I see from a bluff is an oil tanker cutting through whitecaps. Otherwise it's just me, the breeze, and a sea the color of my wife's engagement ring.
Farther on, the MacLehose passes through a village with surfboard rentals and open-air restaurants that smell of seafood and garlic. Nearby lies a white-sand beach that's tucked into a rocky cove and partially sheltered from the wind. Some local surfers say that the best break in the territory is here, though only in the winter typhoon season, when the swell picks up and the crowds of fair-weather weekenders thin out.
After its seaside leg, the MacLehose hooks west, brushing past the 2,303-foot summit of Ma On Shan (Horse Saddle Mountain) and across a miles-long ridge dotted with graffiti-spattered concrete pillboxes. British soldiers built this so-called Gin Drinkers Line of fortifications in the 1930s to protect nearby Hong Kong Island from invasion. Japanese forces seized the territory anyway, in 1941. Britain regained control after World War II, and the pillboxes still bear London-inspired names like Charing Cross and Shaftesbury Avenue.
"Artillery observation post," a sign on one of them says. "No playing war game."
The artillery is long gone. Today, high-rises, power lines, and cellular towers hover in the not-too-distant background along nearly the entire sweep of the trail. An "unspoiled" wilderness this is not; I'm never more than about 90 minutes from a bus stop or train station. Yet the juxtapositions of urban life and natural scenery are beautiful in their own right: A mountain view framed by a halo of smog, say, or packs of elderly joggers who blare Cantonese opera on handheld radios. Who am I to ask them to turn down the volume? Sometimes, and in some places, it's easier to appreciate wildness if you are reminded of its limits at practically every turn.
Where: MacLehose Trail, Hong Kong
Getting there: The trail traverses a total of eight country parks, mainly in the New Territories, a vast area north of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Most trailheads can be reached by a mix of bus, train, or ferry. A taxi or private car will often, though not always, get you there faster.
When to visit: The best time to hike Hong Kong's country parks is late fall through early spring. From late spring through early fall, bring lots of water if you hike on especially hot or humid days.
Camping: There are 41 campsites in the country parks, and a few are scattered along the MacLehose Trail. The campsite at Ham Tin Wan, on the second of the trail's 10 sections, is especially popular because it sits steps from a pretty beach.
Pro tip: Consider a varied range of hikes. The MacLehose, Wilson, Lantau, and Hong Kong Trails are all spectacular in different ways, with offshoots connecting back to the city.
Further reading: The Serious Hiker's Guide to Hong Kong by Pete Spurrier (FormAsia Books, 2007)
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Ashutosh Pandey
Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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What Is PTSD?<p><a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">PTSD</a> can occur when someone is exposed to extreme exposure traumatic experience. Typically, the trauma involves a threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Along with war veterans, it happens to refugees; to victims of gun violence, rape and other physical assaults; and to survivors of car accidents and natural disasters like earthquakes or tornadoes.</p><p>PTSD can also happen by witnessing trauma or its aftermath, often the case with <a href="https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd" target="_blank">first responders</a> and <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-many-faces-anxiety-and-trauma/202006/invisible-wounds-the-frontline-heroes" target="_blank">front-line workers</a>.</p><p>All this adds up to tens of millions of Americans. Up to 30% of combat veterans and first responders, and 8% of civilians, <a href="https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/epidemiology.asp" target="_blank">fulfill the diagnostic criteria for PTSD</a>. And that criteria is not easily met: symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive trauma memories, difficulty sleeping, avoidance of reminders of trauma, negative emotions, and what we call "hyperarousal symptoms."</p>
Fireworks Can Trigger Flashbacks<p>Hyperarousal, a core component of PTSD, occurs when a person is hyper-alert to any sign of threat – constantly on edge, easily startled and continuously screening the environment.</p><p>Imagine, for instance, stepping down the stairs in the dark after hearing a noise; you're worried an intruder might be downstairs. Then a totally unpredictable loud sound explodes right outside your window.</p><p>For people with PTSD, that sound – reminiscent of gunfire, a thunderstorm or a car crash – <a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">can cause</a> a panic attack or trigger flashbacks, a sensory experience that makes it seem as if the old trauma is happening here and now. Flashbacks can be so severe that combat veterans may suddenly drop to the ground, the same way they would when an explosion took place in combat. Later, the experience can trigger nightmares, insomnia or worsening of other PTSD symptoms.</p><p>Those of us who set off fireworks need to ask ourselves: Are those few minutes of fun worth the hours, days, or weeks of torment that will begin for some of our friends and neighbors – including many who put their lives on the line to protect us?</p>
Who Else Is Affected?<p>Millions of others, though not diagnosed with PTSD, may similarly be affected by fireworks. <a href="https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics" target="_blank">One in five Americans</a> have an anxiety disorder, many with symptoms of hyperarousal. Also impacted are those with autism or developmental disabilities; they find it difficult to cope with the noise, or just the drastic change from life routines. Then there are people who have to work, holiday or not: nurses, physicians and first responders, who have to be up at 4 a.m. for a 30-hour shift.</p><h3>How to Reduce the Negative Impact</h3><p>There are ways to reduce how fireworks affect others:</p><ul><li>For those with PTSD, the unexpected nature of fireworks is probably the worst part. So at least make it as predictable as possible. Do it in designated areas during designated times. Don't explode one, for instance, two hours after the designated time window. And avoid setting them off <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/04/fireworks-ptsd-fourth-of-july-veterans-shooting-survivors" target="_blank">on the 3rd</a>. People are less prepared then.</li><li>If you're aware that a veteran or trauma survivor lives in the neighborhood, move the noise as far as possible from their home and give them prior warning. Consider putting a sign in your front yard noting the time you'll set the fireworks.</li><li>Remember, it doesn't have to be super loud to make it fun. Consider using <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504964-its-time-for-silent-fireworks" target="_blank">silent fireworks</a>. And you don't have to be the one who lights the fireworks. Simply enjoy watching while your city or township does it safely.</li></ul>
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