Yesterday, we visited Kam Shan County Park to hike a portion of Hong Kong’s famed Maclehose trail. Aside from the trail and beautiful scenery, we were looking forward to seeing two attractions in the park: monkeys and World War II era relics.
The monkeys are macaques (both long tailed and short tailed); while the species is native to Southern China, these monkeys are believed to be the descendants of pets that were released into the wild. The population has surged, mainly due to the fact that they can’t get people to stop feeding them. And, judging from what we saw in the park, it seems that people here really enjoy driving through the park, feeding the monkeys as they go along. This, as you can imagine, leads to all sorts of ill-effects, which we would soon experience. The monkeys, which started out as adorably cute, soon became, well, creepy as we walked on. When we first entered the park, we were so excited by seeing all of these monkeys in the wild. They were walking down the street, hanging out in the park rest areas, and lounging around grooming each other.
While we avidly checked them out, they mostly ignored us, although one of them did saunter over and stick its butt out at us – much to the delight of the boys. Climbing up through the park, we encountered dozens of groups of monkeys. At one stop, Berkley sat to rest, and a monkey wandered over to check him out. Berkley named his lactating friend “Nipples.” All was good until she showed her teeth in response to Berkley smiling at her – nothing aggressive, but still a bit creepy.
The situation got creepier as we crested a hill. As we paused, surrounded by at least a couple dozen monkeys, one sauntered over to check Doug out, who was simply standing there with his hands in his pockets. That monkey was joined by another small monkey; they both sat, staring at Doug. We’re not sure if they thought he had food in his pockets or what, but what seemed cute at first took a turn for the mildly alarming as the body language of the monkeys subtly shifted from “hey got any food?” to “give me my food already.” One monkey stood on its hind legs, and then the dominant male came over and started making noises. We quickly decided it was time to leave.
As we walked down the hill, though, we turned a corner to find a van surrounded by close to a hundred monkeys. The van couldn’t move, and we were a bit scared to proceed. I mean – there were so many monkeys, they totally could have taken us, and who knows if the people in the van would have let us in if things went south. Luckily, there was a small bit of space between the van and a rock wall with only a monkey or two sitting there, so we were able to squeeze through without having to confront the pack.
I don’t know if the people in the van were actually feeding the monkeys (we didn’t see any food come out), but clearly the monkeys had been conditioned to equate slowing moving machine on paved path with easy fixings. In fact, once we left the main road in the park, we rarely saw any monkeys. No – they just liked to hang out where the stupid humans feed them. I say stupid as there were signs EVERYWHERE you looked; despite this fact, there were people everywhere, tossing food to the monkeys, right in front of said signs.
Now, I don’t want this to sound too scary. I mean, the whole thing was pretty cool – seeing packs of monkeys, out in the open (I don’t want to call it the wild as the monkeys were essentially begging for food and had clearly been conditioned to humans), and up close and personal. But clearly, there were some strange dynamics going on, and while we were happy to have experienced it, we were glad to move off the road and onto an actual hiking trail. Doug had read that this trail went by a World War II British defense line, but we didn’t really know what to expect. We certainly didn’t expect to find a whole network of trenches and rooms, open to exploration to anyone who hiked by. The boys, Berkley in particular, were thrilled with the prospect of exploring a series of ill-lit underground passages, and Doug and I really enjoyed the sense of history that pervaded our exploration. The trenches aren’t preserved in any way, so there were really no explanations or interpretations to stand in our way of experiencing that history. Wandering through Oxford, Piccadilly and Charing Cross, I couldn’t help but think of the soldiers who were stationed there (at least two who died there were from the UK), trying to making a connection to home.
All in all then, it was really one of those perfect Hong Kong days. Beautiful scenery, engrossing history and entertaining, albeit slightly creepy, wildlife. As our time here winds down, I find myself looking forward to moving on, but I know that it’s days like these that we will remember for a long time.
* Title taken from one of the boys' current favorite songs: Christmas is Creepy. Note: I do NOT recommend listening to that song, unless you want bad schlock stuck in your head. Since it was stuck in our head all day, we spent all day making up monkey lyrics to the tune of that song. Think - if a monkey stuck out his butt, that would be creepy.