Thursday, June 19, 2008

Monkey Mountain

Last April, when Brett, Julianne and family came for their of the places that we had to go and see was Monkey Mountain. I had never been, but Irene had raved about this place, and how everyone of her guests she had taken absolutely loved it!
What is Monkey Mountain, you ask?
The Kam Shan Country Park covers an area of 337 hectares, most of which is the water catchment of the Kowloon Group of Reservoirs. It is called Monkey Mountain by the local people as there are hundreds of long-tailed macaque monkeys living in the area. These monkeys are not local wildstock but are descendants of monkeys released there in 1920. It is estimated that there are over 1200 monkeys. Because these monkeys have been fed by visitors so often thru the years, they have become quite aggressive, showing no fear in approaching humans. There are signs everywhere telling the visitors not to feed them, however, feeding the monkeys remains a popular pastime!
Before going there, Irene reminded me of the number one Monkey Mountain Rule, which is to NOT have any food or drink with you. The monkeys can smell it and they will attack people until they get the food. So we made sure that we were snack free.
After going most of the way via the MTR, we got a taxi to take us the rest of the way. Our taxi driver was an older man...most likely a grandpa. We told him we were going to Monkey Mountain. After driving for a little distance, he said, "Monkey Mountain not good place for little children." Brett, Julianne and I looked at each other and then back at him and said, "Really?" He said, "Monkeys attack little children--you should not take little children there." Feeling somewhat chastened, we retorted with a lame, "Oh." He went on to tell us not to have any food with us or feed the monkeys. We enthusiastically said, "Oh, we don't have any food--and we will not be feeding the monkeys!" When he pulled up to the entrance, we were stunned to see the place crawling with monkeys. There must have been AT LEAST a hundred monkeys running, shrieking, leaping and fighting! It was too intimidating to take all the photos that I now wish I had!

And right in front of us was this big sign that read, "Do not feed the Monkeys" was a man kneeling down on the ground with a bag of food that he was passing out to the monkeys. This is what was making the monkeys crazy--as they were fighting for food. Emma and Ellie quickly sidled up to Brett and Julianne, and little Ryan's arms were wrapped tight around Brett's neck. If the taxi driver had not left so quickly, I would have turned around and got right back in! One second of viewing this crazy melee was enough for me!

They are not cute monkeys. They are not quiet monkeys. They are not afraid of humans monkeys!

As we were walking on the overpass that would take us into the park, we noticed a big monkey flying down the hill toward Brett and the girls. I was in the back with Julianne and Ryan, and we all stopped and waited to see what this monkey was going to do. Ellie wanted Brett to hold her, and Emma stuck closely beside him. The monkey came right up to Brett and sat down--Waiting. Waiting for the food which would not be forthcoming.

Okay, the monkey was much bigger AND menacing in person...YOU had to be there to see how fierce he was! After this experience, we decided we had enough of monkey attitude! So we left...Irene was disappointed when she discovered that we did not really enjoy our experience. She continues to take her guests there...Me? I don't even bring it up!

Friday, June 13, 2008

If you could hie to Pakistan--Would you?

When we went to get our visa's for our second trip into Pakistan, the embassy person who was interviewing us asked us if we had enjoyed our first visit. We told him that we had a wonderful experience and were looking forward to returning. With a smile and an attempt at humor, he asked us if we wouldn't mind telling that to CNN! While it is true that this is a country with many challenges, it is also a country that fascinates the visitor. Our first city that we visited was Karachi. After leaving the airport, my eyes were drawn to the most amazing, colorful trucks I have ever seen! Their shape is unique and the painting details are breathtaking! It made me smile every time I saw one! Note the intricate detailing.
I thought that Pakistan would resemble India, only on a smaller scale and in many ways it did. However, this country has its own unique culture and charm. The country is 97 percent Muslim, leaving the remainder 3 percent Christian. Five times a day there is a bell that rings throughout the city and it is accompanied by a soulful voice on a city-wide PA system. This is the Muslim Call to Prayer. What a thrill to experience it firsthand! Click on this link and listen to what it sounds like!
The women we met were beautiful and gracious--and it was a special experience to spend a few moments with them.

Sadly, not all women are treated with dignity and evidenced by this government billboard posted by a busy thoroughfare.

While there, we visited a Christian Colony. This was a life changing experience for me! There were several families living there that we wanted to visit and gain a better understanding of their life and challenges. As we approached the compound, I was overwhelmed as I began to surmise the many challenges that they must face everyday. Looking across the street from the colony, there were large and beautiful homes, supplied with all of the conveniences of an abundant life. The colony however, was lacking in water, sewage disposal and electricity. The exterior reminded us of what the houses must have looked like in Christ's day. They all had flat roofs--which many of the families were using for much needed living space.

After visiting one family, the young mother and her small son went up on the roof top to wave goodbye to us!

As we entered the colony, we were immediately met by an enthusiastic group of children, their ages ranging between 3 and 12 years. We became their "pied pipers" and they excitedly followed us everywhere we went!

These were some of the boys in our entourage!Look at the sweet faces of these young girls...Beautiful!

The children loved having their pictures taken.

But they were most excited when their pictures would magically appear!

"Why aren't these children in school?" I asked. "Because the families are too poor to pay the fees for them to attend," replied our friend. It was sad for me to look into these dynamic little faces, so full of curiosity and realize that they will never experience the joy of learning that Emma, Ellie and Ryan will. Because of inadequate space in their homes, these children play in the one area of the colony that has an open space...but as you can see, it is less than ideal.

As soon as you enter the complex, you are struck by the narrow alleyways that meander up and down over the uneven ground. It feels congested when filling up with playing children, stacks of wood, and small stoves outside the front doors that are used for cooking meals. Most homes consist of two or three rooms...a bedroom, a kitchen area and a small courtyard. The homes were clean and simple. Family size often includes parents, children, a grandmother and one or two married children. The largest room is the bedroom and it is set up to accommodate everyone in the family. (Some family members will sleep on the roof if there is not enough room.) A couple of kitchen areas we saw had a sink (with no running water) while others just had shelves. I think these women are remarkable when you think of them preparing meals for their families with so little conveniences.

As we were leaving the colony, I was waiting by entrance for our car to pick us up. I noticed an old woman walking up the road very determinedly towards me. When she reached me, she didn't say a word, but with a sweet smile on her face, she put her arms around me and we just stood still-- embracing. I simply cannot describe the sweetness of that moment. Two women from vastly different cultures immediately connecting through our sisterhood...