My earliest camping exploits occurred in my early teens. Every Chinese New Year my father would visit the Army Surplus shops, of which there were many in those days, buy kit bags and a tent and kapok sleeping bags for myself and my sister. The kitbags were canvas and weighed a ton even before you put anything in them.
The starting point was usually my father’s farm near the Trappist monastery. We would hike over the hills in the general direction of Silver Mine Bay, as it was known in those days. Today, everyone refers to it as Mui Wo. We would camp, set up the tent and Dad would prepare dinner, which consisted of a tin of bully beef, two large potatoes, and an onion. He would boil the potatoes and the onion and when they were ready he would mash them up and mix in the tin of bully beef. It may not sound very appetising today, but it was sustaining. Then we would go to sleep on the groundsheet, no luxuries like the sleeping mats or the inflatable mattresses of today, in our kapok sleeping bags.
Any long-term residents of Hong Kong will know that Chinese New Year is usually damp. I don’t know if this is true, but I was told that if it didn’t rain during the holiday it was considered a bad omen!
I remember on one occasion the weather was true to form and it either rained or drizzled consistently. We were thoroughly damp and depressed and decided to make our way up to the Ngong Ping plateau, where my Dad still owned a small house near the Po Lin Monastery.
We were happy to arrive and Dad soon had a fire blazing. Slowly but surely, we got warm and dry. I thought I’d dry out my nylon anorak in front of the fire but fortunately, my sister grabbed it before it melted. That night we slept in warm, soft beds.
Another year went by and, still using the same army surplus kitbags we went out once again. This time we were accompanied by one of my schoolmates, Ian, who turned out to be more of a liability than a companion.
Upon learning that his son was going on a three-day camp, for some strange reason Ian’s father had rushed out and bought him a knife. Ian took every opportunity to try and chop down every tree he could find until Dad had a few strong words with him.
The author and Fire Cracker Boy
Undeterred, he decided that being Chinese New Year, he would set off all the firecrackers he had smuggled into his kitbag. The peace and tranquility of the countryside were shattered. The only good thing about the situation was that he had only managed to bring a few packets with him and they were soon used up.
I don’t recall the route but remember that on the first night we camped just off the catchment road next to Shek Pik Reservoir.
I do recall that the food on this occasion was supplemented by strings of homemade sausages. A friend of Dad’s had set up a sausage and pie company in Stanley and he had helped her install the freezer and refrigeration units. I believe the company was called Tania’s Pies and that it was later bought out by the Wellcome Group. In gratitude, Dad was given a lifetime supply of sausages and about twenty of them found their way into my sister’s kitbag. They were a welcome addition to the staple of bully beef hash.
My father, probably tired out from cooking another of his famous hashes
Sadly, my sister and I grew up and found our own pastimes, that didn’t involve slogging over the hills of Lantau with tins of bully beef, potatoes and onions, and it was a few years later that I went on my last camp with Dad.
As usual, we set off from his farm near the Trappist Monastery and made our way along the coastline in the direction of Tai O. I remember we camped in a disused field and as usual Dad prepared dinner. The following morning we walked into Tai O and took the bus back to Silver Mine Bay, where we took the ferry home.
When we are in our teens we are desperate to grow up and have the freedom to explore the world around us. All too soon, many of us forget the wisdom and companionship of our parents, and all that we have left is memories. If I could offer my younger readers any advice it would be this: treasure every moment you have with your parents and family. All too soon they are no longer with us.
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