There are slopes everywhere in Hong Kong. Everywhere you look there is a slope. Going up, going down. You cannot escape even the shortest of walks without having to expend energy, either hauling your dim sum laden frame upwards, or applying the breaks on the way down, Mr Soft style naturally. (difficult in my business casual footwear of choice – flip-flops). The only time you don’t see a slope is when you look up and see the constant vertical edges of a forest of tower blocks stretching far into the haze. Hong Kong is not for the flat hearted, and that is coming from a former inhabitant of Sheffield, well-known for its precipitousness. (Not that this was a problem for me. During the ‘University years’ I held a propensity for athletic activity which only involving eating or drinking. Thus, I minimised any changes in elevation by walking only in direct line of sight of either a pub or a kebab shop, of which, I am delighted to inform you, Sheffield also holds in abundance.) No, as far as the inter-continental slope showdown goes, Hong Kong fairly trounces Sheffield. Maybe San Francisco, is the only realistic challenger, maybe I should just stop this sentence right here.
So, Hong Kong is hilly. These gradients extend to the roads, but most of the land in Hong Kong is not property or road but terrain. The problem with the population density is that this often steep landscape is in very close proximity to housing and conurbations, as you would expect given the stratospheric cost of land. One weird and wonderful feeling is when you are out hiking on such terrain(the peak is an easy example), and you find you have only just risen above the top of the nearest skyscraper. In reverse, you know you are nearly home when the towers again start to soar above you. They are so close as well, you feel you can reach out and touch that bottle of beer left behind on that balcony, steal it, drink it, but you don’t like Budweiser, in fact you have a pathalogical loathing for that swill. Why would anyone drink that . . . er, I transgress. As you walk around the city, the surrounding countryside, the nearby islands such as Lamma, Lantau, the more observant amongst you will notice that there is a rather intriguing addition to the landscape of Hong Kong. The man-made slope. Deceptive to begin with, once you spot one, it is hard not to notice them everywhere. Imagine walking down the street and looking across to see a hill, not with grass or mud, but rendered with fine brown shingle featuring, at regular intervals, a small concentric hole made with a protruding drain pipe. Like an overly ambitious ‘Tracy island’ constructed by the only child of a structural engineering couple.
My interest was piqued by this discovery. If you are unfortunate enough to read on with this blog, it is very likely you will encounter many such ‘Babbservations’, so I’m giving you one chance now to make a break for it. I’m not looking, I promise. . . . . . . . . Ok, we continue.
Now I can’t help but notice them everywhere I go. It does help that they each have their own little sign, which contains their registration number and handy contact details for reporting inadequate slope constitution. So every time I walk past one of these signs, I have a little titter and smile to myself and walk on waiting for the next registered slope to appear. However, these are not simple feats of engineering, they are large structures. I have seen one being built and the entire rock face must be assessed, made structurally safe supporting pins and rods, whilst also inserting adequate drainage before shoring up the natural face/slope to ensure there is no land slip. My nerd-like tendencies led me to discover that there are actually 60,000 such entities across Hong Kong, and each one is documented, hence the registration number.
The slope pictured below was captured this weekend, a classical execution of the art. The more discerning will notice I have actually pictured the drainage system between two slopes, (how thoroughly embarassing) but the point remains and the whole of Hong Kong is littered with similar examples. I have photos of others, of course, in the private collection, just pop round in the evening with a tube of pringles.
There is a website which documents every single slope. You can search by registration number, or simply open the interactive map and zoom in until the myriad of slopes pop up and make themselves known. From the website below you can see the location of this particular slope topgraphically. The eagle eyed may also spot it is located opposite Wang King house. You can imagine the excitement that afternoon!
It turns out, as you would expect when you consider these matters, that landslides is a very real problem in Hong Kong. The exceptional rainfall of the climate, particularly in April and May, cause untold damage to the infrastructure and both natural and man-made slopes alike suffer, spilling themselves over roads, apartment buildings etc. The fact that towers, roads and life itself is built in such proximity to the extremes of mother nature, exacerbates this problem and Hong Kong has had to deal with it. It is quite amazing to experience this justaposition (n.b. Jack Holling) of the natural and man-made which Hong Kong so starkly displays, but clearly there is a price to pay for such ambition. And so the slope registration department exists.
So, what started as a fairly extremely frivolous topic, has turned into a meditation on urban planning, global population explosion and the age-old discussion of respect for mother nature. No, not really, I just ran out of funny things to say and have a lot of time on my hands at the moment. Yes this post really was about Slope registration, and yes, you got right to the end of it. I don’t know who should feel more proud, me or you. I feel for you, but you only have yourself to blame. It was contended that this wasn’t a great topic for a blog post. I think we can put that discussion to bed.
I leave you with a word of warning. Please watch this video, it could save you life. DANGER!
I would like to dedicate this post to James Crawley – ‘every man’s slope is another man’s toilet.’
To Lewis Goodley, Urban planning IS important (and fun!)
And to all physical geographers out there. You know who you are.