Hong Kong’s Free Range Cows
Since then, I grew immensely fond of those cows, largely because they are a living, breeding remnant of Hong Kong’s past. During the two and a half years I lived in the village before moving away recently, the free range cows of Sha Kwok Mei grew in number from seven to 10, and, this year, 15. No one owns them, eats them or milks them. They just live here.
The calves that were born in 2004 are now grown. The herd wanders about, stopping traffic on the two-lane highway that separates the village from Sai Kung town to graze in a few patches of low-lying grass land. Then they return to a swampy growth in Sha Kwok Mei before meandering across that bridge to the grassland that remains in the center of the village, near where I lived. I came upon the entire group asleep in front of my house recently just before I moved away.
With the government’s 1972 village house policy entitling every indigenous New Territories male villager to a plot of land on which to build a three-story 2,100 sq ft house, I worry that the cows won’t last long. These houses have proliferated throughout the New Territories, earning handsome sums for the lucky villagers and laying waste to green areas. In Sha Kwok Mei we grew by eight cows in two and half years but I counted more than 25 new houses completed or under construction in the same period. The cattle used to graze where the houses now stand.
Still they go largely unmolested. Occasionally a villager will get angry and throw rocks at a cow to chase it away from a garden plot but that level of violence is rare. These cows are natives to the place after all. Few people seem to even notice them any longer. Like other farm animals in the New Territories, they were once part of a cattle farm in the area and then the family grew tired of agriculture and moved away. I have asked if anyone remembers when they were released or who owned them. No one seems to know. The old women point in the general direction of mountains behind the village and say, “They were over there.”
It seems remarkable in over-regulated Hong Kong that the cows are allowed to live on their own. I kept expecting a bureaucrat to pull up with a clipboard and send the cows away. I am thankful it never happened. Other sojourners may take from their Hong Kong years the electric buzz of Central, the thrill of shopping or some odd fascination with the sheer greed of the place. My favorite memory is watching the herd grow.