Natural therapy: Hong Kong’s mountain warriors

This file photo shows trail runner Stone Tsang, 39, running on Hong Kong’s highest peak Tai Mo Shan on Dec. 14, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 02 January 2018
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Natural therapy: Hong Kong’s mountain warriors

HONG KONG: Wooded hillsides, craggy ridges and wheeling birds of prey are a world away from Hong Kong’s famous skyscrapers but the city’s country parks are a necessary balm for its stressed out residents.
With some of the world’s highest property prices, many can only afford tiny apartments, some living in infamous “cage homes” big enough only for a bed.
Hong Kong’s fast-paced lifestyle and long working hours also take their toll.
Fortunately, within easy reach of the densely packed tower blocks and traffic, there is an extensive network of hiking trails which snake over hundreds of peaks across the territory and along its coastlines.
Forty percent of Hong Kong is protected country park and nature reserves, amounting to 443 square kilometers (274 sq miles), drawing hikers, runners and campers all year round.
For 29-year-old Dai-yu Cheung, those natural landscapes changed his life.
As a keen amateur photographer, he decided to document some of the city’s remoter areas, never having explored them before.
His discoveries led him to ditch long hours in his job as a graphic designer, during which he had developed a bad back, and go part-time as he sought a healthier, happier existence.
Cheung lives with his family and cut down his financial outgoings so he could work three days a week, often hiking with friends.
“When we go hiking, we feel free, relax and forget our troubles,” he told AFP, carefully gathering scattered litter as he walked through tall grass to a rocky outcrop in the northern New Territories.
He and his friend AM Renault, 29, also a keen hiker, have set up Facebook and Instagram pages under the name Yamanaka Yuko, sharing photos and video of their hill climbs in Hong Kong and abroad. They describe themselves as artists inspired by nature.
With a growing band of followers, the pair is now regularly asked for tips about routes by local walkers and have teamed up for campaigns with environmental NGOs and outdoor clothing brands.
“Our message is about protecting nature and the environment,” says Renault, a freelance photographer.
He worries about the future of Hong Kong’s trails — the housing shortage has sparked government proposals to build on the outskirts of the country parks.
But with hiking becoming more popular, particularly among young people, he hopes those plans will fail.
“More and more people like hiking and go out and do it. Because of that there’s more resistance to development than in the past,” he said.
On a cool sunny morning, Stone Tsang skips sure-footed along a shady path beneath Hong Kong’s highest peak, Tai Mo Shan.
The city’s most famous trail runner, Tsang, 39, regularly wins long-distance competitions and recently completed a gruelling local hill race which saw him cover 298 kilometers (185 miles) in 54 hours, snatching naps when he could no longer keep his eyes open.
As a paramedic and father of two, he says getting out into these wide open spaces is a vital stress relief.
“When I come to the mountains it’s like therapy for me,” he told AFP. “It’s healing for my soul.”
Hitting a dirt trail, rough with gnarled tree roots and scattered boulders, is part of the Hong Kong hill experience.
But over the years, many paths have been covered with concrete in an attempt to make them safer, something which Tsang is leading a popular Facebook campaign to stop.
He says former government technicians who helped establish paths using natural materials have now retired and contractors have little knowledge of how to do so.
Not only is the concrete alien to the natural environment, it also becomes slippery and causes soil erosion, says Tsang.
“Most mountain rescues are because inexperienced people get lost or dehydrated, there are very few injuries because of the trail conditions,” he explained.
Tsang is lobbying the government to stop pouring any new concrete and has introduced them to international experts who are showing workers and members of the public how to refurbish paths naturally.
The agriculture, fisheries and conservation department told AFP it would use natural materials “as far as possible.”
Tsang now wants to bring hiking tours into the country parks to foster a love of the mountains in the face of the threat of development.
“The country parks are a very valuable asset to Hong Kong, not just for us, but for future generations,” says Tsang.
“This kind of thing you cannot just see — you have to go out and feel it.”


ThePlace: Al-Maqar palace in the Asir region is an architectural marvel

Updated 08 December 2018
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ThePlace: Al-Maqar palace in the Asir region is an architectural marvel

  • There are 20 places to enter the palace, and the structure of the building has seven domes each representing the continents of the world

Al-Maqar palace in the Asir region is an architectural marvel. It looks like a fictional palace come to life from the pages of a fantasy book. It erupts tall and beautiful in an otherwise subtle city.
The palace is illuminated with lights that make it appear to glow. As Asir is a cold region, in the winter fog looms around the castle, adding to the dreamy view.
After marveling over the beauty of the exterior, visitors can enjoy the inside of the place. It took 35 years to build and used more than two million natural stones from the mountains of the Asir region in its construction.
A citizen inspired by Andalusian palaces built it and collected Islamic artifacts dating back to the Abbasid, Umayyad and Ottoman periods.
To some the interior may look more like a private collection than a museum, with 16 million Islamic decorations gathering dust on the shelves. The artifacts were collected by Mohammed Al-Maqar Al-Shehri, who traveled the world finding items to add to his collection.
Considering what it has to offer, the museum does not get as much recognition as it should.
There are 20 places to enter the palace, and the structure of the building has seven domes each representing the continents of the world. The museum itself stands on 365 columns, each dedicated to each day of the year.
The attention to detail in the museum is outstanding. Each floor is dedicated to the era from which the artifacts are from, making it a rare Saudi landmark in the 21st century.
The museum is home to many Islamic manuscripts on medicine, astronomy and mathematics. It also has the first record of the handwritten manuscript of the Qur’an. In addition, there are a few thousand manuscripts to view.
The museum opens a window on Islamic and Arabic history and takes the visitor on a journey back in time.