My Neighbor is a Skunk
I spend a lot of time in my adopted home town, Hong Kong, and Beijing, where my wife and I also have a home.
Both are modern, populous, Chinese cities, with very distinctive and different personalities. Both have changed dramatically during the past 20 years, but in very different ways.
Commuting between the two cities is comparatively easy and painless. Both are served by well-managed, ultra-modern airports with first-class facilities and infrastructure. Baggage handling is fast and efficient, and the waiting time at immigration, customs and security check-points is relatively short. In either airport, I can routinely exit the aircraft and be out the door of the airport within roughly 30 minutes.
Hong Kong residents with a Hong Kong Identity Card enjoy the convenience of entering and exiting the Special Administrative Region by swiping their I.D. card in a smart card reader at the Immigration checkpoint.
In Beijing, an APEC travel I.D. enables the holder to queue in the shorter lines normally reserved for diplomatic passport holders only.
As much as I enjoy the comfort and convenience of urban living, I am an outdoor person at heart. I like to get away from crowded downtown canyons and get closer to the peace and quiet of nature.
One little known fact about crowded Hong Kong is that roughly 40% of its land area is devoted to country parks. This offers a wonderful natural environment to escape into, with hills, streams, reservoirs, beaches, forests and wildlife.
Although Beijing is a much greener city since the 2008 Olympics, many people still tend to think of it as very populous urban sprawl with consistent traffic jams and air quality problems.
Beijing also has many wonderful parks, however.
One of my favorites is Ritan Park, which is a lovely green oasis right in the middle of Beijing’s Central Business District with a history going back some 500 years. It is a short walk from our home in Beijing.
Not long ago I got talking with a waiter in a restaurant located within the park, who was quite knowledgeable about the park. We talked about the animal and bird life in the park and he told me that apart from quite a range of bird species, he regularly saw skunks and porcupines there — mostly at dusk or after dark.
I was a bit skeptical at first, but he insisted that both skunks and porcupines are plentiful, if not often seen by most visitors due to their nocturnal habits.
This made me happy. I was especially happy to think that my neighbors among the skyscrapers of Beijing’s gleaming new CBD include skunks and porcupines. No doubt many of them have ancestries stretching back to the Ming Dynasty.
This pleasant surprise also reminded me that despite the havoc that we humans have wreaked on our environment, nature sometimes finds a way to survive against the odds, at least in pockets, here and there.