Wong Ho-chung, Hong Kong’s top mountain runner, has a special connection to mountains. From developing his childhood friendship, dreams and self-esteem to making Hong Kong history by winning several prestigious awards, mountains have granted him the best experience in his life. Seeing how climate change, human activities such as littering, hill fires devastating his beloved nature, Chung devotes himself to cultivating the next generation with the spirit of respect to the environment.
Reflection from running through a burnt field
Three weeks after the deadly hill fire in Luk Chau Shan, at Ma On Shan, Hong Kong, Chung was back running on a trail. The hill fire happened in late February, lasted for 20 hours, and has engulfed over 400m area. “This is the trail of the coming youth mountain race, we have had a few practices right here. It was green and beautiful back then.” Chung ran through the burnt trail with quick nimble steps and a heavy heart.
Hong Kong has 1000 reported hill fires annually, most frequently during two grave sweeping festivals in spring and autumn, where grave sweepers do not extinguish joss sticks and paper properly. In addition, people barbecuing or cooking outside designated places, farmers burning grasses and litter, etc, are other common causes of hill fires, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
As a firefighter by profession, Chung thinks hill fires are the enemy of nature. “People think it’s convenient to light a fire when removing weeds around the grave. They neglect the fact that fire is easy to get out of control. It will then destroy the environments, kill wild animals and their habitats.” Hill fires also emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that will continue to warm the planet. Not to mention the damage to forests could be irreversible or taking a long time to recover, Chung added.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, the country park has become the hot spot for a weekend getaway. Chung felt ironic seeing a lot of people destroying nature while enjoying it. “To a lot of people, country parks are out of their radar before the pandemic. Now they think of it as a precious breathing space, and a trash bin for used masks, plastic bottles.” To Chung, something is missing here – respect.
What climate change is telling us?
Recently, Chung is asking one question to himself before he goes to the mountain.
“I asked myself, ‘Does this mountain like to be run by me?'” he said. As if respecting a human being, Chung is reflecting on whether his presence will make the mountain “feel good”.
If human beings start to care about “how nature feels”, everyone would soon realize that she is “suffering”. Extreme weather, temperature changes are showing us how unsustainable our way of life is, and how human activities are damaging the ecosystem.
Chung is not a scientist, he cannot present to the world with research findings on climate change. What he has, however, is real-life experiences.
Back in the old days, when Chung was single and available, he used to go out with friends to see the Christmas lights in Tsim Sha Tsui.
“One time I saw a female classmate who seemed to feel a little cold, so I put my jacket on her shoulder. And she actually became my future wife later!” Chung chuckled, and continued, “My wife is still talking about this incident recently! It’s a pity that this won’t be happening on the young people right now as the climate is changing, we are all wearing short sleeves during Christmas.” So as our distinct four seasons, they are disappearing too, he added.
Chung has made Hong Kong history by winning the grand slam in 2018’s 4 Deserts Ultramarathon, and 6th place in UTMB, one of the premier ultra trail races in the world. Chung felt the utmost urgency in protecting the environment while running in Antarctica. “I once heard a loud noise during the game, it’s like an explosion. A huge iceberg kept collapsing and lasted for a long time!”
From protecting to respecting the environment
After running through different mountains, Chung has a new perspective on the power of nature. “In the world of nature, wealth and status are not powerful anymore. Extreme cold can kill anyone regardless of status. We all are nobody.”
Chung now has another mission – to pass on the spirit of respect to the next generation. He has three sons, where he put the meaning of “protecting” and “respecting” the environment in their names. He also set up a running club and dedicated it to training young people.
About “Let’s Talk about Climate Change” series
Climate change is not only here, but it has also evolved to “Climate Emergency”. As global citizens, we should not ignore the crisis we are in. Yet sometimes if not all, we might feel the issue is too big for us or too far away. We are inviting people in our local community, from all walks of life, to share with us how they connect to and make the effort to deal with climate change. Read More