Thursday, 29 January 2015

skullduggery

The Christmas holidays gave us a good opportunity to do the journey to the west, which with recent additions is now a 64km outing, three days in a row. This is an account of the chain of events that unfolded over these three days at a particular point on the route, and what it might mean in terms of the kinds of nefarious activity that take place below the radar of the local constabulary.

On the first day, we were following the dirt road that leads to the ‘link path’ described in Journey to the West when we encountered two men, one of whom said “Hello!” in the kind of voice that suggested he wanted to attract my attention but lacked the necessary English vocabulary. Naturally, I merely said “Hello” and continued on my way without slowing down, but Paula said that he’d muttered something about us being on private property.

This is nonsense, by the way, because there are two relatively active quasi-industrial units further along the track (complete with a full pack of guard dogs, which always provide a raucous greeting when we pass this way), and the presence of street lighting indicates that this is a public road. Whatever the truth of the man’s assertion, when we passed the same point on the second day, we were confronted by a locked gate, although we could squeeze our bikes through between the gatepost and the thicket on the right.

On the third day, the gate was wide open, but on all subsequent occasions it has been locked. However, there is an easy ride-around, not suitable for four-wheeled vehicles, to the left. It seems to me that we’ve uncovered some kind of extortion racket aimed at the various businesses further down the track, because they have no access when the gate is locked.


There are a couple of other observations that suggest skullduggery. The following photo, taken from a point next to the lamp-post seen in the photo above, shows what appears to be a bare, vacant lot. Early last year, however, I was puzzled to discover that someone appeared to be building village-style houses on this lot. Who, I wondered, would want to live in a location so remote? It was only when construction was finished that I realized the truth: three, fully functioning, three-storey stairwells, complete with glazing. The obvious assumption was that they were intended as a kind of showroom where a small-time builder could show prospective clients examples of his work, but here’s the rub: these structures were demolished during the summer. I suspect some kind of tax scam.


The other point to note is that I’ve seen police vans here. I imagine that it would have to be fairly serious for coppers to venture this far into such a network of roads, tracks and narrow alleyways, all of which are ultimately dead ends. Welcome to the wild east.

update: 28/12/2015
Shortly after I posted this account, the gate blocking the road was torn down, almost certainly not by the person who had erected it. The road remained open until last Saturday, when we were surprised to find it blocked by a locked gate again—with the ride-around no longer accessible.

Just as we arrived at the gate, a man appeared through the gap on the side to inform us that this was private property. I insisted that it wasn’t, which probably wasn’t a smart move, because he accused me of being rude. I thought it best to allow him to do all the talking, while I worked out the best way to get past him.

I believe it was the same man who attempted to accost us earlier in the year, and among the frequent references to ‘my land’ he had a few interesting things to say. For example, he claimed that the original gate had cost him more than HK$30,000, although as you can see from the above photo, if he paid one-fifth of that amount he was swindled. The photo below confirms that he has resurrected the old gate. He also mentioned that someone had called the police after finding the road blocked, but he boasted that all the local coppers knew him and therefore took no notice of the complaint.

I took the following photos six days after this encounter, and it looks as if somebody is in the process of constructing some kind of bypass. The first photo was taken as we arrived at the locked gate (compare this photo with the one illustrating the original post; the bypass had not been started when we encountered the ‘owner’), while the second shows what is happening on the other side.

In the original post, I referred to a missed photo opportunity, but there was a second missed opportunity around the same time. A short distance beyond the gate, but before the gate had been erected, I noticed that an area to the side of the track had been cleared and its perimeter defined by a fence of pressed steel panels. The area thus enclosed had been filled with neatly levelled coarse gravel, and it looked as if it would soon be opening for business of some kind. I meant to stop to take a photo, just as I meant to photograph the fake houses that were subsequently demolished. And now it’s too late: the site is choked with head-high weeds. I remain convinced that there are some dodgy goings-on around these parts.



update: 28/03/2016
The previous update to this post described our encounter with a man who claimed to be the owner of the land beyond the gate, and although I didn’t mention it, I felt sure at the time that he was handing us a line in bullshit. I can now confirm that I was correct in my assessment. Recently, we’d been unable to bypass the locked gate, because a steel-panel fence had been erected to the right of the gate to block onward progress completely. We had subsequently been obliged to turn back and take the alternative route described in Journey to the West: Part 3, which is the route we always follow on the return part of the journey.

However, a few weeks ago, we found the gate open, and when we reached the link path, we encountered a team of workers from the Water Supplies Department, which was in the process of installing a pipeline to supply premises in the area. I surmised that the gate had been left open to provide access for the team and its equipment, but I thought that once that work had been completed, the gate would again be locked. I was wrong. A week ago, when we were taking an Australian friend around the journey to the west, I was surprised (and delighted) to discover that the gate (and associated fencing) had disappeared completely. The following photograph, which I took today, explains why:


As the signs on each side of the track unequivocally point out, the land beyond the gate is government land! However, this may not be the end of the story. I’ve seen this kind of sign erected in other locations in an attempt to curb illicit activity, and if my observations in these cases are an accurate guide, the government officials who erected these signs are unlikely to come back to check whether anyone has taken notice. Welcome to the wild east.

update: 28/12/2015
As I predicted (above), the previous update turned out, surprisingly quickly, not to be the end of the story. Since that update, we’ve ridden the journey to the west half a dozen times without incident, but last weekend we encountered a locked gate again:


This gate has been erected in a new location about 20 metres further down the track (the lamp-post seen in most of the above photos is the same one in each case). Although the government signs are still there, it’s possible that they refer only to the 20-metre strip between the locations of the old and new gates. However, the street lights indicate a public right of way, so I return to my original assessment, that the gate is illegal and is probably linked to some kind of extortion racket.

I shall be heading off to the UK next weekend, so there won’t be any more updates until October at the earliest, but I have no doubt that this story still has some way to run.

2 comments:

  1. It is great that the removal of the gate allows a through passage for people living or passing the place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don’t count on its removal being permanent.

      Delete

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