White Trees in the Headlights
Today, the road system that runs from Kowloon through to the New Territories (N.T.) is made up of state-of-the-art highways, superbly built and maintained. It is possible today to complete a journey in 30 minutes, which would have taken hours and hours in the past.
Before these highways were built one of the main roads was Castle Peak Road. Castle Peak Road starts in Sham Shui Po, travels through Cheung Sha Wan, Tsuen Wan and then along the coast to Castle Peak (now the new town of Tuen Mun), where it loops northward to the more distant parts of the N.T.
In the early 70s, a strange phenomenon was witnessed along Castle Peak Road around, what was then the small country market town of Fanling. (Fanling is now a city housing two hundred thousand people). All along the old narrow road, the villagers noted that all of the tree trunks had been painted white!
I observed this, although at the time, (I was 16 years old) it didn’t occur to me that it was significant. Almost 35 years later, I discovered the reason for this strange phenomenon.
In the 70s Fanling was considered remote. There was no reason to go there unless you had a job there 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 was still operated with diesel engines and open carriages in those days.
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 glass or two, and 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-sized tree, was quite 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-issue brushes and 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 driving license, in 2003.
Copyright John Stewart Sloan – 2007 Not for Publication