Waking up from a jetlagged haze, Sheena looked out the window onto Hong Kong Harbour and thought "Holy crap, I'm really here". Took a few minutes of eye rubbing to remember that it was November 11. 2002. It was a Monday, the officially scheduled decompress and time zone adjustment day before work started on Tuesday.
What to do. Was 9am and it all clicked. Sheena grabbed a map and walked over to the subway. Destination: end of the line. The Chai Wan Stop
Got out feeling a bit bewildered in the crowds and bustle. Ran to the taxi stand and pointed again at the map. Time was ticking. Driver looked at Sheena as though perhaps she had two heads, and then giddyupped. Out of the traffic, up the hills. Up the winding and ominously named Cape Collision road
, hills full of ancient crypts. When we arrived at the destination, Sheena was nervous but pleased. It was still before 11am.
The destination was the Sai Wan War Cemetary. Resting place of the Canadian and British soldiers slaughtered on Christmas Day 1941
. Outnumbered 10-1 by the Japanese, these rag-tag lads, including Winnipeg Grenadiers, fought an unwinnable battle - undermanned, undersupplied, under prepared. Hung out to dry by King and King, the less deferential of us might speculate.
Sheena wondered what dignitaries might be there, what kind of pictures she could get of this exotic pomp and circumstance. Would there be media coverage of the Remembrance Day ceremonies? Would she get on Hong Kong TV?
Tried to open the door to the cemetary information centre. Locked. Went to the gate and looked in. A breathtaking view:
A breathtaking view of an empty abandoned graveyard. Built into a high hill sloping down towards the azure blue harbour. A rolling mountainside of limestone slabs poking through the lush greenery. And I was the only person there. No ceremony at 11am. No dignitaries. No veterans with brave faces and crumpled berets. Just a 30-something redhead wearing inappropriate shoes climbing up the hill feeling a little lost and lonely.
A profoundly sad realization that these prairie boy teens and 20-something countrymen had been completely forgotten on their very own day of Rememberance. When the shock and tears passed, I strolled down the hill. Looking at the names, smelling some astoundingly beautiful orchids. Sat and rested, accompanied only by a stray dog who wandered cautiously a few rows behind me.
Took a picture of my signature as the only name in the unattended yellowing guest book on November 11, 2002. It's packed away in a box somewhere. Probably go look for it later today. So they don't get forgotten yet again on November 11.