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At one with nature in the New Territories

By: Marnie Walker

The opportunity to move to Hong Kong was a welcome one for our family. My husband had lived in Hong Kong before, but I had never even visited the city, or anywhere in Asia for that matter. Evens so, I embraced the adventure and we began planning.

There are what in Sai Kung?

We decided to wait until our second girl was born before relocating, which meant we would be arriving with a three-year-old and a three-month-old. In the days leading up to the move, I furiously scoured guidebooks, internet sites, and blogs for advice on where a family with young children should live. Eventually, we settled on the New Territories, and we found a short-term rental in Sai Kung where we could stay until we got our bearings.

In the days leading up to our move, I found myself distracted by accounts of the exotic wildlife commonly encountered in New Territories. Poisonous centipedes, huge spiders, rabid monkeys, and especially, snakes, became a preoccupation my thoughts. I grilled my husband about creatures he had seen while living on Lamma, shuddering when he told me stories about huge spiders in his flat that fought back when he tried to trap them. I read a newspaper article about a monkey abducting an infant off a roof in Indonesia, and worriedly showed it to my husband as if it could happen to us. He looked at me with amusement as he tried to qualify the risk: “Well, it’s kind of like if you are moving to Nebraska, and you find yourself worried about an alligator attack that happened in South Florida.”

When we finally arrived in Hong Kong, I questioned many long-term residents about their wildlife experiences. They all had their stories, some of them frightening, yet they seemed to calmly accept cohabitation with these creatures, poisonous or otherwise.

I wondered about this calm, given my nervous state, and it wasn’t until we moved into our village house outside Sai Kung and I encountered my first poisonous snake, that I began to understand it.

I saw the bamboo snake on a path that leads to Sai Kung from our house. The children and I walk this path every morning and it is a lovely ritual for us. It plunges us down a hillside into a grassy clearing perfumed by honeysuckle and jasmine, leading us through a canopy of old trees swarmed by morning glories, around a small graveyard where incense is always burning, and then finally through a tangle of village houses, a pretty little stream accompanying us the whole way. And there is nature everywhere: frogs, lizards, dragonflies, butterflies, even boars; nature in a close profusion much greater than anywhere else I have lived. So when the bamboo snake curled its way out of the grass and stalled in the path in front of us, we were not afraid. The children were still, watching, and I felt calm, patiently keeping a distance while I marvelled at its grace, this hidden creature cautiously pausing in the sun until it sensed our presence and swiftly retreated to the tall grass.

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