To inform entertain and excite my kids, Jamie, Patrick, Aaron & Sarah Middleburgh, our family and friends.

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Hong Kong

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Today is a public holiday in Hong Kong - It's Grave Sweeping day aka the Qingming Festival (Ching Ming) when locals visit graves to pay their respects to the dead and do some spring cleaning. Apart from tidying up graves, visitors pray, make offerings such as food, tea, wine etc and light incence sticks and burn joss paper accessories, (Hell Money etc - not to be confused with the X File of the same name) to their ancestors. As a consequence Qingming is like Guy Fawkes Night for the local Fire Services. Inevitably burning embers escape and start Hill Fires (most cemetries are on hills).Some people traditionally carry willow branches with them on Qingming, or put them on their gates and/or front doors allegedly to help ward off any evil spirits that wander on Qingming. I am convinced that this is a folk myth made up for us cullible foreign folk and the branches have a much more practical purpose - beating out the fires- after all the festival is 2000 years old so its not like the fires haven't happened before.

Since so many people visit the cemetries on Qingming, many of which are up on the border in new Territories it is not uncommon for families to visit graves during the previous couple of weekends.(my wife went last week) These means that the fire risk is actually spread over couple weeks rather than on one day and to further complicate things the areas chosen for burial are usually chosen for their "Feng Shui" and are invariably on hillsides which pose access challenges to the fire Services.

Coincidently, there was a hill fire yesterday on Ap Lei Pai a small Island joined by a tombolo to Ap Lei Chau. We frequently hear Government Helicopters flying over to Lamma to recover injured hikers or sick residents to ferry them them Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam and I no longer pay much attention but when I glanced out of my window I realised that the helicopter was dunking its bucket into the sea outside and to my suprise Ap lei Pai was burning. I don't know if there are any graves on Ap Lei Pai but I wouldn't be suprised. There is for example a solitary grave over the road by the hill next to my tower block. I checked on it this morning - no one had visited it to sweep.

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