of the things I appreciated most about Hong Kong was its beautiful
landscape (shan shui íV
'landscape' íV means 'mountains water' in Cantonese).
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is justly proud
of its 23 Country Parks, which cover roughly 40 per cent of
its entire land area. While
I was in Hong Kong I enjoyed hiking through three different Country
Parks: Tai Lam (with the school Geography Club) in the New
Territories, Pok Fu Lam (with a fellow-student from Australia) on
Hong Kong Island, and Lion Rock (with a group of students) in
Kowloon. I was
impressed by both the beauty of these places and the care and
respect lavished upon them by the people of Hong Kong.
I would have liked to visit more, but two months just wasn't
long enough to hike every weekend and still have time to experience
the many other attractions Hong Kong has to offer.
two months passed too quickly.
I kept in my pocket a list of things I wanted to do in Hong
Kong, but towards the end of my stay I realised there just wasn't
time to do everything. My
last day in the S.A.R. was a Monday, and I had already said goodbye
to the students and teachers at my school.
The flight to Australia was to leave Hong Kong International
Airport that evening, and a car had been booked to pick up the
Australian students from our accommodation at 3.30 p.m.
By the time I had packed and done all the other necessary
tasks at C.U.H.K. it was midday, and I had three and a half hours to
spare. Without looking
at my list I knew there was still one thing to do.
since I can remember I have been fascinated by the story of a Rock.
It is a rock that crowns a hill in the south-eastern part of
the New Territories and which, viewed from certain angles, resembles
a woman, staring out to sea, with a baby on her back.
An ancient legend tells that this woman was the wife of a
fisherman, and whenever her husband was at sea with the fleet she
would climb the hill with her child to watch for his safe return.
One night, during a terrible storm, the husband didn't
return, and the woman, waiting on the hill with her child, was
struck by lightning and turned into stone.
parents had a copy of a book based on a movie based on this legend.
As a child, I was fascinated by the book and the story it
retold. The pictures in
the book evoked beautiful images íV of Hong Kong and its people, of
the grandeur of nature, and of the power of story-telling.
The actress who played Mei Ching was Nancy Kwan, who in the
1960's was popular in both Hong Kong and Hollywood, and the movie
was called The Magic Stone. As a
child, I particularly liked looking at the pictures of Mei Ching on
the hilltop with her baby, and then the lightning, and then the Amah
I came to Hong Kong in 2002 I looked at several different guide
books about the S.A.R. I
was surprised to find one which, when describing the Amah Rock,
mentioned that according to the legend the fisherman's wife took two
babies with her to the top of hill íV a girl (the elder child),
which she carried on her back, and a boy (the baby), which she
carried in her arms. I
was surprised to read this because the book I had grown up with
mentioned only one baby íV the boy, which Mei Ching carried on her
back. On my last day in
Hong Kong I decided I had to solve this mystery and see the Amah
Rock for myself. Was
Mei Ching carrying one baby or two?
some complicated reason I no longer had my guide book, and I did not
like to ask my fellow-students to lend me one of theirs, since they
were all busy packing their books into their bags.
I realised therefore that I was going to have to find the
Amah Rock by myself: I would just have to take a chance and hope
that my adventure would be successful.
I also hoped that I would be able to achieve it within the
limited time frame of three hours. Although I had spent all my money and was returning to
Australia a poor man, I still had an Octupus card with enough credit
on it for two trips on public transport íV and, if I was lucky, a
bowl of fan.
the University, I walked to Tai Po Road and caught the first bus
heading south in the direction of the Lion Rock Tunnel.
I got off the bus at a place where I had seen some stairs
leading to a public walkway crossing over Lion Rock Tunnel Road.
At the top of these stairs was a path which led away from the
road and civilisation and onto the natural beauty of the hillside.
It was a warm December day, and I was soon sweating as I
hiked higher up the hill.
the path branched into two, and I was uncertain which fork to
follow. While trying to make up my mind, a man approached from the
eastern fork, walking briskly as though he were hurrying for the
bus. I excused myself
(in English) and asked if he could tell me which path to take for
the Amah Rock, and he was kind enough to retrace his steps a short
distance in order to point out to me a sign post íV a sort of mile
post about a metre high, like an oversized cricket stump, with a
picture of the Rock, an arrow pointing in the direction to walk, and
also (I think) the number of kilometres to the Rock.
I thanked the man, and again when he told me to take care of
my safety because I was walking on my own.
distance to the Rock was further than I thought, and I knew I would
have to walk quickly if I was going to return to C.U.H.K. before
3.30. I pressed on,
walking further and higher up the mountain.
Every time the path branched into two there was another sign
post to show me which fork to follow.
It was amazingly quiet, and I seemed to be the only person on
the path. Exhilarated
by the fresh air and mountain scenery, I was soon singing a silly
song, and I forgot to watch where I was going.
the path took me through a tiny village of perhaps half a dozen
houses, but although an unfriendly dog barked, and some startled
chickens clucked at me, there seemed to be nobody about.
I passed through this settlement and along the rim of a lush
green valley and eventually came to another settlement íV perhaps
just two or three houses íV further up the hill, also apparently
through this second village I then came to a small stream where íV
suddenly íV the path came to an end.
was very surprised. I
tried to find a connecting path on the other side of the stream but
encountered only thick undergrowth and overhanging branches.
Confused, I returned to the row of houses, and, hoping that I
would not wake someone from their midday sleep, I knocked on one of
the doors. There was no
reply. After knocking
several times I called out íV 'Hello!
Is anybody here?' Still
there was no reply.
then returned to the village with the chickens and the dog, and
called out again, 'Is anybody here?'
The dog barked a couple of times and then stopped, and all I
could hear was the steady buzzing of insects in the midday heat.
I seemed to be alone. I
hesitated íV should I go back to the stream, and look once again
for a path which perhaps was hidden from my view?
Or should I go back down the mountain íV perhaps wasting
precious time, perhaps having even to abandon my search?
decision was suddenly made for me.
As I stood in front of the house with the chickens I heard a
sharp CRACK from the other side of the lush valley íV the sound,
perhaps, of an explosion. I
looked across the valley to where another small group of houses
stood, but could see noone. I
called out, 'Hello!', but everything was quiet once again.
Then, suddenly, the same sharp sound.
I do not have much experience with guns or firecrackers (they
are banned for personal use in Australia), but the thought crossed
my mind that perhaps this was what the sound was.
I decided to go back down the mountain!
I'm glad I did, because I soon saw that I had missed a sign pointing
to the right path, which, if I had followed it earlier, would not
have brought me through the two villages.
I still don't know what it was that made that sharp sound,
but I'm glad that I was directed onto the right path.
This new path soon brought me to the edge of a deep cement
ditch, a sort of storm-water catchment which looked to have been cut
along the circumference of the mountain itself. The path now followed the storm-water channel, a trail
circling the mountain in a wide arc.
I continued walking and started singing again, feeling sure
that I would soon arrive at the Rock.
the path was longer than I thought, and as I got hotter I stopped
singing. I was glad that it was December, and not summer, or even
November. I knew that I
would have to find the Rock soon or I would not have time to return
to C.U.H.K. before the car left for the Airport.
I kept on walking, and the road kept on winding around the
I came to a sort of shelter where two men were conversing.
They looked as surprised to see me as I was to see them.
'Excuse me,' I said. 'Can
you tell me where is the Amah Rock?'
But they did not appear to understand me.
'Amah Rock?' I asked. They
shook their heads in bewilderment.
pulled out the list from my pocket and, finding a blank space on the
paper, I drew an outline of the Rock and showed it to the two men.
'Mong Foo Shan!' they cried, and used a stick to draw the
route in the sand. It
seemed that I still had some way to go.
'Doh je,' I said, and pressed on, thankful that I had now learned the
Rock's Cantonese name íV 'Bitter Woman Mountain'.
kept on walking; the trail continued to wind around the mountain,
along the edge of the storm-water channel.
A wooden railing separated the path from the trees which
covered the lower slopes of the mountain and eventually, as I became
thirsty, I stopped to pull a bottle of water out of my bag, which I
drank all at once. I
then leaned against the railing and pulled out a packet of peanuts,
which was all the food I had left.
I heard a swooshing sound, and saw a flash of movement.
A large monkey íV a macaque íV was running along the path
towards me. It stopped
a short distance away, and I realised it wanted some food.
I now know that it is illegal to feed the monkeys in Hong
Kong, but at the time I thought that since I was a visitor it was
best to be friendly, so I threw some nuts onto the path.
I could gasp for breath I was surrounded by monkeys, converging on
all sides from all directions, some even running along the handrail. There must have been about thirty or forty íV some small and
very cute, others huge and hairy and much too close for comfort.
I had been reading the story of Sai
Yau Geh (the 'Journey West' of the monk Tripitaka and his friend
the heavenly Monkey), but nothing I had read about monkeys could
have prepared me for the shock of being the object of so much simian
attention. I realised
they wanted some food and I threw them a few more peanuts. Imagine my surprise when one of the larger monkeys suddenly
grabbed the packet from my hand and ran off with it, spilling the
had nothing further to offer the monkeys, so I wished them 'good
day' and kept walking. There
was now a sign pointing to a path up the hill, crossing over the
storm-water channel and offering two different routes to the Rock
íV one more than and one less than one kilometre.
I took the shorter path, which then led through thick plant
growth and the surprising coolness of overhanging shade.
The path then crossed a flowing stream and ended at a flight
of stone steps carved into the side of the mountain.
Suddenly the sun shone and I was on a hilltop plateau and
standly directly in front of the amazing Amah Rock.
first thing I noticed íV apart from the size of the Rock íV was
the colourful graffiti painted its side which resembled a line of
multi-coloured people (or aliens) holding hands and dancing around
the Rock. I was
reminded of some similar paintings I had seen on a wall of Mount
Beerwah, one of the so-called Glasshouse Mountains of south-east
Queensland and which, according to Aboriginal legend, is the
pregnant mother of the other (smaller) mountains of the Glasshouse
group. I wondered if
there was something about mountains and motherhood that made people
want to touch them and be near them and paint pictures of people on
them. I realised that
this was a place where people had been coming for hundreds and
thousands of years, and would continue to come for as long as the
Rock stood on the hill.
stayed just a short while with the Amah Rock.
I took a photo of the view (the Shing Mun Channel and To Lo
Harbour) at which she gazes, then took a photo of the Rock
surrounded by the people who had painted themselves upon her.
I must say the Rock does not look as human close up as she
does at a distance, and those parts of her which look like her
babies are also hard to distinguish. But íV that's right íV I did say 'babies' because, close
up, I got the feeling that she is carrying one baby on her back
(perhaps a girl) and another in her arms (perhaps a boy) and another
(or perhaps more) still inside her to which she has not yet given
birth. She is a sort of
Rock Mountain Mother, and the stream which runs down the mountain
and into the To Lo Channel is the natural stream of her tears.
Script: Directly beneath the Amah Rock is a path which leads
straight down the mountain to the intersection with Hung Mui Kuk
Road, which in turn leads straight into Tai Wai.
I took the K.C.R. back to C.U.H.K., where I had just enough
time for a quick bowl of rice, and to make a couple of last-minute
phone calls, before leaving for the Airport and Australia.
Monotremes of Australia
to scientists, there are three classes of mammals: placental mammals
(which includes most of the mammals in the world, including human
beings), marsupial mammals (which includes kangaroos, koalas,
possums and others whose babies live for a time in their mother's
pouch), and monotremes íV the only mammals in the world which lay
eggs. The first class
can be found all over the world; the second is found mostly in
Australia and the nearby islands (although the opossums are found in
the Americas as well); and the third is found only in Australia.
to the scientists, there are two types of monotreme: the echidna and
the platypus. Echidnas
are relatively well-known to Australians.
They are fairly common íV except in built-up areas íV and
can be found all over the country.
Small, with a slow, rollicking gait, they are solitary
animals (except in the mating season), and each echidna has its own
'territory' of several hectares.
They forage for up
to 18 hours a day, looking for food (such as ants, worms, termites
and other small creatures) whose electrical signals they detect with
a long and sensitive snout, and which they gather and crush with a
long tongue. When not
looking for food they sleep in hollow logs, bushes, rocky crevices
or burrows no longer used by other animals. Their short, powerful limbs are built for digging íV the
claws on the hind feet are long, while those on the front feet are
spade-like íV and they can bury themselves in the soil in the space
of a few minutes.
an observer, the most distinctive feature of the echidna is its
spines íV the animal's furry back and sides are covered with stout,
sharp spikes, which protect it from predators.
When threatened, the echidna rolls itself into a ball.
My dog is particularly excited by echidnas, perhaps because
they have an interesting smell.
Whenever we are walking and he finds an echidna, he barks in
a distinctive way so that I know what he has found, even if I am
some distance away. The
poor dog cannot understand why he can't put an echidna in his mouth
without feeling a sharp pain and finding a spine hanging from his
bleeding lips. He also
can't explain how the echidna can curl itself up into a little ball
while he is standing there barking at it, and how the echidna can
then quietly disappear into the ground while he is watching.
It's a bit of a mystery.
is not generally known that the echidna is a relatively long-living
animal: it can live for up to 50 years.
It is also a surprisingly good swimmer, which may be a link
to its cousin, the platypus, which can be found swimming in rivers
platypus is less well-known than the echidna.
This is because they are found only in the southern and
eastern coastal regions of Australia, and also because they are in
danger of extinction because of the destruction of their natural
habitat caused by pollution and urban development.
The word platypus literally means 'flat foot', and their
webbed feet look very much like the feet of a duck.
The rubbery bill, also, resembles the beak of a duck, which
is why the little creature is often called a 'duck-billed platypus'.
The platypus also has a flattened tail in the shape of a
paddle (useful for swimming), long, sharp claws (useful for
digging), and soft, thick, water-resistant, brown fur.
Like the echidna, the platypus is a solitary animal; it
sleeps in burrows in the river bank, and the female lays only one or
two eggs at a time, at times leaving the babies in the burrow while
she goes to look for food.
I pass by a creek or a river where the water is swift-flowing and
there are places for burrowing and plenty of vegetation and other
types of water-life (such as insects, worms, small fish or shrimps),
I look to see if I can find a platypus.
I have succeeded only once.
Although there are several places in my local area where íV
people say íV a platypus lives or once lived, they are shy
creatures, generally only swim at night, and are not often seen by
passers-by. To make
sure of seeing one, you would need to visit the creek in the very
early morning, but usually all you can see are the bubbles and
mudslides where the platypus has been.
If you really want to see a platypus close up, you have to go
to a zoo.
echidna and the platypus are the only types of monotreme you can
read about in books. There
is another type, however, which is not very well known outside
Australia íV the bunyip. Some people say the bunyip is a mythical creature íV from an
Aboriginal legend, perhaps, or invented by early European explorers
who couldn't explain some of the strange, scary noises they heard in
Australian swamps. There
are no bunyips in the zoo, and no documentaries about them on TV.
I have never seen a bunyip, and from what I have heard, I
hope I never will!
people say the bunyip looks like a cross between a seal and a big
black dog. Others say
it looks like a rather large calf, with a mane like a horse, a hump
like a camel, fins like a fish, and a tail like a crocodile.
Some say it eats only swamp-grass and plants, while others
say it tears apart meat with its sharp teeth.
But everyone agrees that the bunyip has a fierce, frightening
bark, and lives in water holes far away from civilisation.
Most people who come into contact with a bunyip are generally
not seen again. Actually, I am not sure that the bunyip really is
a monotreme, but I don't think an animal this scary could hatch out
of anything that wasn't an egg.
Franciscan Love of Nature
Francis, the poor man from Assisi, often talked with the birds and
animals, and comforted creatures that were sick and wounded. 'Animals are also creatures of God,' he said, 'and we should
love them. Our first
duty to our humble brothers (the animals) is not to harm them íV
but it is not enough to stop there.
We also have a higher mission íV to be of service to them
whenever they require it.' Pope Pius XI wrote about this humble man: 'St Francis was led
to love all things which he knew had the same origin as he, and in
which he recognised the goodness of God.'
For this reason he declared St Francis to be the Patron Saint
of All Nature, and on October 4th (St Francis' feast day)
animals are blessed in churches all around the world.
the time of St Francis, the saints who follow in his tradition have
also been infected with his love of nature.
This may derive, in part, from the natural beauty of the
mountains of Umbria, the region of Italy where St Francis lived and
contemplated the love of God for all things.
In the thirteenth century, Umbria was also a haven for many
kinds of animals. One day, St Francis and some of his friends were walking near
Spoleto when St Francis suddenly saw a great flock of birds feeding
on the ground. There
were doves, crows, sparrows, swallows, and all kinds of birds.
St Francis, in his usual unexpected manner, ran towards the
birds, greeting them enthusiastically.
Amazingly, the birds didn't fly away but waited patiently for
him and listened to him when he said: 'My brother and sister birds,
you should praise your Creator and always love him.
God gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly and all other
things that you need. God made you noble among all creatures, for without sowing or
reaping, you receive God's guidance and protection.' Then he walked through the middle of the flock before giving
the birds his blessing. From
that day on, St Francis made it his habit to remind all birds,
mammals and reptiles to praise and love their Creator.
time, when St Francis was speaking during a religious service he was
interrupted by a flock of noisy birds.
To the surprise of everyone present, St Francis turned to the
birds and asked them to be quiet íV and they remained quiet until
he had finished speaking!
year, during a severe winter, the little town of Gubbio was being
terrorised by a pack of wolves. The townsfolk were especially
afraid of one very large wolf, and they asked St Francis for help.
St Francis said he would talk to the wolf, and he went into the
forest to find the animal. When he came to the wolf's cave he
called: 'Come out, Brother Wolf!', and the wolf came out. St
Francis and the wolf sat down together and the saint could see that
the wolf was cold and hungry. He began talking to the wolf,
telling him that he knew how hungry he was and how he had to hunt
for his food, but he was wrong to terrorise the good people of
Francis told the wolf that he would arrange with the people of
Gubbio to feed him íV but, in return, the wolf must promise never
to attack any animal or human again. St Francis put out his
hand, and the wolf bowed his head and placed his paw in the hand of
St Francis. And so it happened íV Brother Wolf continued to live
near Gubbio, and the people of Gubbio fed him. He went in and
out of the town as he wished; he harmed no living thing, and even
the local dogs did not bark at him. He was loved and respected
by everyone, and he reminded them of the time when St Francis was
among them. When Brother Wolf died he was greatly mourned, and
he was buried in the churchyard, near the walls of the church
Francis is best remembered, perhaps, for his invention of the
nativity set. It was St
Francis who, one snowy Christmas in Assisi, first brought an ox, a
donkey and a lamb into a church and placed them around a wooden
manger filled with straw, in which he placed a sleeping baby.
This representation of the Christ child, new-born in the
stable of Bethlehem, has become known and loved throughout the world
íV a favourite symbol of Christmas and of the Incarnation of God as
a human baby.
St Francis, his friend and follower St Anthony is also remembered
for his love of animals. Originally
from Portugal, St Anthony became a Franciscan friar in Italy (his
favourite city was Padua) and preached in southern France.
In those days many people disagreed with the official
teachings of the Church, and they were especially dubious about the
Church's reverence for the Eucharist.
These people once publicly challenged St Anthony to prove
that the Eucharist was the living body of Christ.
St Anthony, in reply, asked that a hungry mule be brought
the unbelieving people watched, St Anthony prayed, then prepared a
great pile of hay, and then stood patiently nearby holding the
Eucharist in a monstrance. The
starving mule was brought out, but íV to the amazement of the crowd
íV it ignored the pile of hay.
Instead, it knelt down and bowed its head reverently before
the living body of Christ held by St Anthony.
another occasion St Anthony's listeners laughed and criticised St
Anthony's preaching. St Anthony said: 'The fish will listen, if you
will not!', and he walked to the bank of a nearby river, where he
began preaching. All at
once a school of fishes gathered, lifting their heads above the
water and listening with opened mouths to the saintíŽs message
is difficult, perhaps, for someone who lives in the 21st
century, to think of these stories as other than pious legends.
Perhaps 'Brother Wolf' was no more than a local bandit who
reformed and mended his ways. Perhaps the pious donkey was a
figment of medieval imagination. But these stories about St Francis, St Anthony and the
animals do show us that when an intelligent person refuses to listen
to God's words, God may use the example of dumb animals to show how
little wisdom that person really has.
St Bonaventure says that the Incarnation of Christ and the
Redemption are the crowning glory of God's work for humankind and
the supreme purpose of all creation.
For St Bonaventure, the Incarnation and Redemption should be
the focus of our spiritual life, and they can be discerned through a
true Christian understanding of Nature.
Clare, another friend of St Francis, also had a great love for
nature. St Clare
encouraged her sisters to: 'Praise God for every green and flowering
plant that you see, for every human being, and for every creature.'
Whenever she looked at a flower, a sunrise, the ocean, the
animals, the moon, the planets and stars, St Clare saw in them the
wonderful reflection of their loving Creator. God gave us the world and its creatures for our use and our
happiness, and it is our responsibility to treat them wisely, and
with reverence and compassion.
John Duns the Scot also had something to say about creation.
John, from Duns in Scotland, was another follower of St
Francis and well-known for his subtlety and learning.
Duns Scotus taught a theory of predestination according to
which Jesus is at the centre of creation (the world of nature) by
virtue of his human nature
which unites itself with the (divine) Word. According to this theory, the wonders of creation exist in
respect of and in relation to the perfection of created nature which
is the human nature of Jesus at the centre of creation.
recent years there has been an increasing development in ecological
awareness and a recognition of our human need to honour and care for
our humble planet Earth. This
is not just a matter of spirituality and theology but also a matter
of justice, and something towards which people of all nations and
faiths need to work together. In
2002, Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of
Constantinople stated together that 'the relationship between God
and humankind brings a fuller sense of the importance between human
beings and the environment, which is God's creation and which God
entrusted to us to guard with wisdom and love'. When
we walk in nature and contemplate the wonders of the world,
therefore, let us follow the examples of the great Franciscans íV
St Anthony, St Clare, St Bonaventure, Blessed John Duns Scotus, and
of course St Francis, Patron Saint of Ecology, himself.
si, mi signore, per sora nostra matre terra,
Laquale ne sustenta et
Et produce diverse
fructi con coloriti flori et herba.
praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits and
flowers and herbs.)
St Francis of Assisi, The
Canticle of the Creatures
1 st May , 2003