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26 Jan 2010

Hong Kong’s gay community takes to the hills

Fridae.com’s Hong Kong correspondent, Nigel Collett hikes into Hong Kong’s hidden countryside with Hiketilla, gay hiking group.

If you’re new to Hong Kong and look out of the window of your plane while you’re landing here (if the air is clear, that is, which sadly nowadays is no longer so common) you will be amazed to see that this hive of a metropolis with all its seven million people is actually a ribbon of high rise development clinging to a much larger area of green, wooded hills, around which on all sides lie a multitude of islands with sandy beaches and rocky coves. For as there are many things that are unique about Hong Kong, one of the nicest of them is that wherever you live here you are within fifteen minutes of a country park. Behind all the buildings are green havens into which you can escape the rat race and take to hills where in many cases you can lose sight of any other human being. So it isn’t surprising that the healthier part of Hong Kong’s gay community has begun to enjoy not just the night life in the city but also the great opportunity the place offers to keep fit while enjoying some staggeringly beautiful trails.

I’d long ago heard of Hiketilla, as the gay hiking fraternity has named itself, but despite being a military man who spent seven very happy years of my Army service walking the trails of the New Territories, I had never gone walking with them until, in early January this year, I joined the group of twenty or so guys that assembled one Sunday at Starbucks in Alexandra House in Central and walked the day with them over the trails inside Hong Kong Island. I’ve been in Hong Kong on and off for nearly eighteen years and yet that day was amazed at finding a whole landscape in the interior behind North Point I’d never seen, in the company, too, of a lot of friends. A great day out, which I shall repeat. Converted now entirely as to just how enjoyable the whole experience is, I tracked down two of Hiketilla’s three organisers at lunch at Song Vietnamese restaurant on Hollywood Road to find out more about the group and its activities.

Michael Wong at Sharp Peak

As befits a really mixed local and expat organisation, lunching with me that day were Michael Wong Kam Tak, Hong Kong born, bred and banker, and David Concorde, a Frenchman who, five years back, gave up his accountancy firm in Dijon and moved to settle in Hong Kong in 2006.

I asked them how Hiketilla had started. “I’d been in Hong Kong a year when I found a Hong Kong Government leaflet on walking in the country parks,” said David, “so I started going out on my own, then found some others, who were at that stage mostly straight, I went out with occasionally. It was through them that I was introduced to Michael.”

“And to my partner, Edowan,” added Michael. “We’d been walking together since 2004 with a few friends, then we spotted an email message from a guy called Colman McGrath organising a walk on Lantau. We joined that, and followed up with a walk in Saikung in 2008, where we first met David. We got talking and decided we should keep together the group that had already formed, and began to collect an email list and organise hikes. The name ‘hiketilla’ emerged as late 2009, a kind of land equivalent of Hong Kong’s annual gay maritime day out, Floatilla.” The derivation is not surprising given that both David and Michael are regular helpers for Floatilla, and that Michael’s partner, Edowan Bersma, is on the Floatilla organising committee (as well as being one of the key figures in the Lan Kwai Fong gay scene).

You’ll nowadays find Hiketilla out in the hills every Sunday except in the hot and humid months from May to September. Its Google group has 130 names and the Facebook group about seventy-five members so far, of whom anything up to thirty will turn up on any given walking Sunday, usually at an RV close to an MTR station, usually in IFC, Pacific Place or Alexandra House (there’s an email notice with the time and place of the RV, the route and the estimated length of the hike sent out at the start of each week).

David, Michael and the third organiser, Stevie Choi, chat about routes before the week begins and let everyone know. “We’ve covered about forty different routes since we started, some several times,” David told me, “and usually they’re about three to four hours walking, which means there’s time for a drink or food afterwards for those who can stay on.”

“A lot of the routes are on Hong Kong Island,” confirmed Michael, “with about four or five on Lantau and others in the New Territories starting from Saikung, Tai Po and Tsuen Wan. We’ve also walked on some of the outlying islands.”

I asked them about the level of difficulty of the routes they walk. “A good number of the routes are easy walking,” replied Michael, “and can be covered wearing running shoes, but some are not for the unfit or faint hearted; Sharp Peak north of Saikung or Lantau Peak can be a bit harder walking and need hiking boots. We always advise people to take water and a towel, sometimes even a change of clothes if we’re going to eat somewhere later.”

The group is marked by informality and friendship. Many of those who walk know each other and, as I found out the day I went out with them, Hiketilla is a great way to meet new friends. David intends to stay in Hong Kong, although he’s in a long-distance relationship with a partner in Paris, which makes life difficult at times.

“I love Hong Kong, its buzz even its noise and dirt!” he jokes. “Everything here’s within walking distance and where else in the world can you walk out of your office or flat in the middle of the city and straight into the countryside?”

He’s becoming a figure in the gay community in his own right now; last November he organised the Gay Day at Disney. Surprisingly, Disney doesn’t actually do anything except tell the community that a certain day is ours every year. David does the rest.

Hiketilla has no women so far, I had noticed. 

“So far it doesn’t seem like the lesbian community is into hiking,” Michael thought. The lack of female company is not for want of trying. David was given a slot at Les Peches one evening to stump up support, but no girls took the bait. “Maybe it’s something that’ll happen eventually when the word gets round.” 

As, appropriately enough, John Gay put it in The Beggars Opera,

If with me you’d fondly stray
Over the hills and far away 

then why not join the guys of Hiketilla some Sunday as they explore Hong Kong’s secret spaces? They’d be glad to see you. 

If you want to join Hiketilla, get on the distribution lists by contacting either David Concorde at david.hk@live.com or Michael Wong at mwmw01@gmail.com. Or visit Hiketilla on Facebook for updates on new events.

Hong Kong

Reader's Comments

1. 2010-01-26 20:07  
I took 1 lesbian with the group a couple of times so it's not only boys...lol
2. 2010-01-26 20:58  
this is lovely, i would love to join u guys when i m back.
3. 2010-01-26 21:03  
HOw nice!!
4. 2010-01-26 22:58  
Aaw....why do I find out about this when I already left HK !!! Darn, would luv to join !!! What a great gathering with nature & friends !!!
5. 2010-01-26 22:59  
Aaw....why do I find out about this when I already left HK !!! Darn, would luv to join !!! What a great gathering with nature & friends !!!
6. 2010-01-27 05:15  
Me too! I was there from 2003 to 2008 but didn't come across this group - what a pity! I often went hiking on some of those trails and very often with other gay friends (an eventually, my partner!). Now back in the UK and we hardly ever hike!
7. 2010-01-27 09:31  
the article says HK sky is very polluted, but it is getting much better since the economic crisis stroke the world, maybe because lots of polluting businesses went down in the territory and the region. Now the sky looks much better, we have many clear days (pollutionwise that is) and it's like what we had 15 years ago … indeed it feels good. We can walk again.
You definitely have to get a glimpse of the good side of HK nature through its hiking trails, there are so many of them all over HK territory and they are becoming far too popular now, lol
8. 2010-01-27 10:12  
This certainly looks beautiful. I never knew Hong Kong was anything more than an overpopulated and heavily polluted city. If I ever get to HK, this is worth checking out. :-)
9. 2010-01-27 10:18  
Now....... this is a lovely article. So different,. so nice. More please.
10. 2010-01-27 15:56  
I agree with commentator # 9. It is refreshing to read an article about gay people interacting with nature. Too many news of sexual oppression and gay abuse, though of course it is important to get onself informed.
11. 2010-01-28 18:45  
Guys, you are so fresh and nice -;)
I want to have a direct contact with David Concorde, french man quoted in the article...
let him know, please.
STP David, contacte-moi perso :
j'ai besoin d'infos sur HK.
12. 2010-01-30 13:38  
Great to read this article as it is something different away from the usual topics regarding sexual n nightlife n partying scene. Kind of interested to join in my next trip there as is great to see the nature side of this metropolis
13. 2010-01-31 03:39  
Interesting contrasts in HK..Nature and a heavily air polluted city...

Another contrast... Kids over age 10 are treated like criminals in the legal system. They can be found guilty of a crime...like a mature adult,although sent to junior prisons. Yet they are treated as immature people by not being allowed to choose whether to go to school ...they must go ! They are not mature enough to have sex nor to sign a contract...
Two adult men were sent to prison for more than 30 months for having sex with a 14 year old who had sold them sex on the internet. The 14 year old can be tried for the criminal offence of advertising for sex but was " counselled" and the report to court said he was not traumatised by the incidents !! One of the adults explained that he turned to men for sex because he had been rejected by a girl for having body odour...Smells right ? He should have gone hiking in the "fresh" air...
14. 2010-01-31 23:18  
I wish there is something like this in Singapore.....
15. 2010-02-01 03:50  
wow, this is great, i love hiking,...but i mite not go cos its mostly guys n i would feel weird n out of place.................
16. 2010-02-01 18:04  
Aww, I just came back from HK (I stayed a week; it was too short and I was busy attending a conference) - wish I was there to "sample" the trails and meet Hiketilla! It sounds fun! :)
17. 2010-10-09 10:37  
I am interesting in hiking. If anyone innterested too, please e-mail me: rungjacky@hotmail.com

Have a nice weekend!


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