A Strange Phenomenon
Today, the road system that runs from Kowloon through to the New Territories is made up of state-of-the-art highways. It is possible today to complete a journey in 30 minutes, which would in the past have taken several hours.
Before these highways were built, the main road that traveled around the New Territories was Castle Peak Road. Castle Peak Road starts in Sham Shui Po, travels through Cheung Sha Wan, to Tsuen Wan. It then continues along the coast to Castle Peak where it loops northwards towards the more distant parts of the New Territories.
In the early 70s, a strange phenomenon was witnessed along Castle Peak Road around the small country market town of Fanling (Fanling is now a city housing over 200,000 people). All along the old narrow road, the villagers noted that all the tree trunks have been painted white.
I myself observed this, although, at the time its significance was lost to me. It was in fact almost 35 years later that I discovered the reason for the strange phenomenon.
A bit of History
In the 70s Fanling was remote. There was no reason to go there unless you had a job in the area or were visiting relatives. Apart from Castle Peak Road and an infrequent bus service from Tai Po, the only other means of transportation was the Kowloon Canton Railway, which in those days still operated with diesel engines and open carriages.
The police station that was responsible for this quiet outback was very much self-contained; officers usually lived on-site or nearby. Only the most senior officers lived any distance away, and of course, they all had cars.
One such officer had a reputation for enjoying a drink or two in the mess after work. Legend has it that he was rescued on more than one occasion from the ditches that ran alongside Castle Peak Road. On one such occasion the officer had a dangerous altercation with one of the trees that lined the road and, as it was a good size tree, was very lucky to have survived.
The following morning the long-suffering Station Sergeant who had conducted the latest rescue, rounded up all the off-duty constables, supplied them with government-issued paintbrushes, tins of white paint, and drove them out to Castle Peak Road. This team of off-duty PCs spent the next few days painting all the tree trunks along the road white so that they would shine brightly in the officer’s headlights. Of course, it was optimistically assumed that the officer would have the sense to turn his headlights on.
The officer concerned retired at the rank of superintendent, alive, but no longer holding a valid driving license, in 2003.
White Trees in the Head Lights is an excerpt from May The Force Be With You, a collection of anecdotes about the Royal Hong Kong Police Force. The collection was published by Stewart Sloan in 2007.
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