Year Nine camp: something to cherish, or hope to forget?

Written by Zoe Ying

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As I stepped onto the basketball court at 8:24 on a Monday morning, the place already packed with milling Year 9s in their casual clothes and oversized backpacks, the cheerful chatter immediately soothed my doubts about the camp.  Searching around the endless mounds of bags for my friends, I heard a shout from behind. “Hey! Over here!”

My friends were discussing the activities at camp, and whether or not they would try to win.  I supposed there were two perspectives you could take on this camp; some teams agreed to work hard and utilise everyone’s individual strengths to do well, while others lay back and played card games.  The worst was if a team had members of both sides; in that case, nothing was ever going to be accomplished. Ms. Ahmed had worked tirelessly to put us in teams with our friends, but she was still swamped with emails from people requesting to change.  I had eventually ended up with two of my friends; Kyoko and Airi, who you’ll hear about a lot. They were commonly referred to as the Tanaka twins, due to their shared last name, birthday and penchant for jabbering away in Japanese to our annoyance. Of course they weren’t really twins, though we had tricked some people into thinking they were.

Finally, after a lot of this kind of chatter, we were put into our groups of nine and met our facilitator.  I didn’t know many in my group; I wondered what their attitude to the week would be. We soon found out that we were all very laid-back when presented with competition.  Our first task was to come up with a name, but after two minutes of awkward silence, the only suggestion was ‘the nine campers’. We agreed that it was awful, but seeing as none of us could do any better, it almost became our name.  Eventually, our facilitator, Gina, took pity on us and suggested ‘Makikisig’, a Filipino word which apparently meant things such as ‘strong, hardworking, smart’ and which none of us could pronounce.

We made it to our first destination (Wan Tsai peninsula in Sai Kung, a remote idyllic campsite, complete with cows) with the three other groups competing against us.  Our first task there was lunch - we would be cooking for the rest of the week on things such as a campfire, cooking pots and a proper kitchen - but for today we had the typical APA sandwich, with ‘at least one piece of vegetable’.  The boys either tore tiny shreds of lettuce and placed them inside, or ‘accidentally’ dropped their lettuce leaf or tomato slice.

After lunch, the activities started.  Our first one was ‘the tank’, where we had to sort bamboo trunks as fast as we could using only an elaborate string-pulley system.  Other than shouting at each other a lot, it was uneventful. Later, we found that a smart-alec group had found a loophole and got 0 seconds.  You’ll hear about them later on Lamma as well; they gave us a lot of grief.

The next was push bikes, a tiring activity where, very surprisingly, one had to push someone else seated on a bike.  I think the highest number of people skiving off at one time was four; disappearing to the ‘bathroom’ for ten minutes.

After that was pioneering and raft-building.  We came last for both; I think it was something to do with Matthew and Axel’s penchant for whipping each other with string.  The most exciting part of raft-building was jumping off the pier into the water. There were two spots, a high (five metres) and low one (one metre) and we could choose which to jump from.  The boys made a big deal of it, eventually all except Matthew jumping from the bottom, while the three of us just rolled our eyes and jumped from the top.

Airi and I laughed at those who decided to brave the bathrooms and shower because you could hear them screaming about spiders and insects for about two minutes before everyone fled.  Strangely, most of the (high-pitched) screaming seemed to be coming from the boys’ bathroom.

That night in the tents, everybody packed three into a tent were sweltering to death,  except me, because I had somehow got a tent to myself. Seriously. Some person decided to give up their comfortable, empty tent to make some pointless conversation and spend the rest of the night waking up and wandering around the campsite for half an hour to cool down.  


We woke up at five the next day (actually, I’m fairly certain ‘woke up’ is the wrong word, seeing as nobody slept) to take a speedboat away from Wan Tsai Pen. to our next destination, which for us was Tung Lung.  Long story short, we arrived fifty minutes late to the ferry, which was already leaving and had to make a U-turn to allow us to board.

Tung Lung was regarded by most of us as the best campsite, due to its spectacular views and cliffs, making for fun activities.  The only problem was the toilets, which were nothing more than stinking holes in the ground, swarmed by flies. “I’d rather die than have to piss in there,” bemoaned a student.  We all agreed.

But first, we had to have lunch.  We were given a budget to spend over six meals, $250 a meal for nine.  Every day we ended up with sandwiches, but for today we had opted for:

  • White bread

  • Nutella

  • Jam

  • Cakes

  • Lemon tea

  • More cakes (as snacks)

This caused the other groups (who had made things like ham and cheese sandwiches) to gawk at us.  It even drew the teachers’ attention, and Ms Thompson helpfully pointed out that literally everything was sugar.  “Where’s the protein?” she asked.  After she had gone Matthew pointed at the Life Bread packet, which had ‘contains protein’ written proudly on it.  

Mr Otto, another teacher on the island, said that he liked my shirt (it had Telecasters and Flying Vs on it), and I really wanted to say “then we have the same bad taste in clothing” because everybody had said that I looked stupid in it.  Anyway.

Our first activity was the Tyrolean traverse, which looked really cool at first, a wire strung between two cliffs, like a zip-line, but we quickly found out we were supposed to pull ourselves along, which was slightly disappointing.  We did get to run off the side of a cliff, though, so there was that.  

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Trebuchet building was fun but not as exciting as the others.  We got to fire rubber duckies, though, and that’s a very novel thing to do.   Abseiling was by far the best (seriously, what can top climbing down a 30-metre high cliff as you’re being buffeted by wind and the sounds of the sea?).  One hilarious moment was when our instructor Nik nearly shoved one of the boys off the cliff, causing him to emit a high-pitched scream. Two people also fell over upside down and were left dangling before righting themselves.  To top it all off, Nik practically jumped off the cliff at the end and was on the ground in four seconds flat.

Rock climbing was the final activity of the day, and we completed it easily, scrambling up on our knees, and we returned to the campsite for an opportunity (no, a certainty) to burn your food and your fingers i.e. a campfire.  The group had protested against buying marshmallows despite having bought a sugar fest for lunch, and we eventually settled on chicken wings, sausages, fish balls and corn. I think the corn was just there to please the teachers.  

Absurdly, none of the other groups had bought chicken *gasp* and had done fancy things with potatoes and onions and carrots.  Our view of cooking was simple, however - try not to burn anything, and give the nicest-looking ones to the teachers. We forgot the corn and left it there for an hour, but somehow it came out perfect.  Ms Ahmed said it was the deciding factor in our winning (funny, as it was literally bought to please the teachers).

We lost half a pack of sausages to another group, who had dropped all of theirs and said it was ‘payback for taking one of their slices of cheese at lunch’.  I know, I didn’t remember either.

That night was in the tents again.  Fortunately, it was colder than yesterday, but that didn’t mean we got any sleep either.  


At five in the morning, it was freezing, and as soon as we stepped out of the tents we were nearly blown over.  We got back onto the ferry at seven to get to the pick-up point for our next location, Mount Davis. We were to take a train, and as the ticket-vending machine didn’t work we had to buy them at the counter.  We had a transport budget too, and the idea is to spend the least amount as possible, so we sent the two smallest-looking, shortest members of the team in hope that they’d be mistaken for being under twelve. It worked, happily, and we got to our destination an hour early.

Instead of doing something useful such as planning for the next day, we played cards the whole time.  Kyoko had brought two packs, and we played two games simultaneously. I was the only one of the girls who knew how to play, so I taught them.  Airi picked it up very quickly, while the fourth girl Jessica didn’t really understand the rules. The funniest part was when she tried to place a three on top of a pair two, despite having taught her (told her, really, increasingly loudly, multiple times).

The other groups arrived about ten minutes early, and we took the shuttle bus up to Mount Davis, the third location.  This was the ‘most comfortable’ location, with hot showers (of course that’d come first), charging ports, and even wifi, as well as a full kitchen for us to cook.  The teacher there was Ms Cogliano, my I&S teacher, and we continued the running joke of calling me Joe, from the one time she misread my name.

But first, the activity.  Simple enough, it was a hiking/orienteering exercise where we were given a map and a compass to find our way around the Kennedy Town/HKU/Peak area then take a bus to Aberdeen country park.  We were given points on arrival and further points for activities. Our group set off first, followed by the others. About halfway through, the boys began to play their music so I tried to drown them out with mines (clearly superior, as people who know me will understand).  

There was a scare when another group overtook us, but we had the last laugh when we got back to the campsite and found out that they had missed their stop taking the bus down from the Peak and ended up somewhere in Central before having to suffer the humiliation of spending more money to get back to somewhere near Mount Davis and hiking back.  

Reactions to this day’s dinner were… mixed.  Kyoko and Airi had decided to make a Japanese curry with rice and beef, potatoes and carrots, but we ended up adding too much water (it’s hard to tell when you’re cooking in a huge saucepan).  We salvaged it by leaving it to boil down for thirty minutes and then dumping in copious amounts of cornflour, but Kyoko and Airi still felt as though they had failed.

We had lots of leftover rice and Axel was dared by Matthew to eat all of it, which led to an amusing fifteen minutes of the boys shouting ‘eat, eat, eat’ at him.   

Showering was good, the toilets quite clean, and we returned to our dorms feeling fresh and energised.  Of course, the facilitators had to humiliate us with a ‘riff-off’, where our group flatly refused to sing and were immediately disqualified.  It really shows how strong our sense of team spirit was.


The last day was Lamma island, and we really didn’t bother with it.  It was basically a continuation of Mount Davis (hiking again, yay!) but with the confusing mess that is Lamma’s villages thrown in.  We went shopping in CitySuper in IFC (doubly notoriously expensive), having waited about forty minutes beforehand for it to open. We even joked that we would skip the activity altogether and shop around Central before showing up at two o’clock and sleeping in the tents (first, second and third on Lamma got dorms, last got tents).  We ended up only doing about seven of the checkpoints.

At the campsite was an aeroplane activity, where the groups were to make planes out of things such as corrugated plastic boards, cardboard and wooden sticks then present and fly them.  We actually tried for our plane, spending a lot of time discussing balance, lift and then drawing all over the plane so it looked good. The presentation, not so much.

“We’re team Makikisig, which supposedly means hard working, strong and smart or something like that, which we’re clearly not.  Here’s our plane, which was originally called ‘the bomber’ but then somehow changed to ‘Allah’, which apparently means all, and we have nothing more to say so yeah.”

Remember the smart-alec group from the first day?  They were with us at Lamma as well and had opted to make a plane out of a ball of yarn.  They argued (quite convincingly) that it was a ‘plane of the future’ and that it most definitely should not be disqualified.  It was anyway, on the grounds that planes ‘have wings’. Instead, they were forced to throw their decoy plane which travelled exactly negative-one metres before hitting the ground and snapping in two.

Dinner was on camping pots and stoves, and we decided to make a simple fried udon (with plenty of oil, of course). Another group burnt their spaghetti, and I have no idea how.  A third group made tuna burgers and decided to add cheese to them, and I have no idea why. The fourth group made a curry so spicy it was inedible.

Surprisingly, we didn’t have to sleep in the tents (the smart-alec group did) and we tried to comfort them (well, Kyoko and Airi did, I laughed at them because they’re my friends and that’s what I do to my friends) before heading to the dorms.  Ms Godfrey came into the room to turn out the light, and because we’re nice people we decided to jokingly mock her way of saying ‘class, class’ by saying ‘dorm, dorm’ when she came in and then saying ‘yes, yes’ when she asked questions. She took it in good humour, however, saying ‘stop bullying me, 9.6’ and then ‘I’m going to give you a test next week’ before turning off the lights and leaving.


The next day we woke up, well-rested and ready for a final day before going home.  We were given bad news before we left, however. “I heard the boys were still talking after midnight, and when I checked their lights were still on.” A facilitator said.  “That’s why I’m deducting one thousand points from each group, and the only way you’ll get them back is by showing great team spirit and effort today”.

Now was the time for the tent group to laugh.

We got to our destination on time for once and not either very late or very early.  We were supposed to travel around and see the landmarks of Hong Kong, completing activities along the way.  One stop was at the History Museum and we spent thirty minutes wandering through the exhibits with no urgency at all, showing our incredibly strong sense of team spirit and effort.  Needless to say, we didn’t get our points back.

We then went to McDonald's, and there we lost our activity sheet.  It took us about thirty minutes to notice, and then instead of looking for it we just gave up and went back to Heng On.  The boys were fooling around with their train tickets and succeeded in throwing one under an oncoming train. Good job.

We did get a few points that day, because aside from the activity sheet there was also a Hong Kong trivia sheet, with questions such as ‘where was Hong Kong’s original airport?’ and ‘who was the first C.E.?’ and ‘how many MTR stations are there in Hong Kong?’.  The last one gave us grief; we counted them three times over before we were satisfied we had the right answer.

I had the idea of checking the rest of the answers on a computer but the boys thought it was cheating and we had a full-blown argument outside the MTR station (after somehow all managing to get out with somebody missing a ticket).  

I now have an opportunity to rant at you and I shall take it.

Look, it never said anywhere on the packs we were given that we couldn’t use electronic devices, just not our own.  We spent five minutes poring over the papers to make sure of that. It wasn’t cheating, because cheating would be considered ‘a breach of the rules’ which are non-existent; it’s not ruining the spirit, it’s strategising, and it would not result in any more points lost than the boys had already.


Eventually, we decided to have a vote, which we lost because the boys were on one side and the girls on the other, and there were five boys and four girls, so we headed back to the school for the awards ceremony.

What place did we come?

Not last, at least, and that’s all I can say.


An interview of a member of the winning team:

“Okay, it’s not fair that you got thirty-minute lunch breaks.  We literally sat down for five minutes then took off again. We had one-minute breaks and if we saw another team approaching we would run.  They complained that I was too slow and even took my bag before leaving me behind.

Oh, why couldn’t I have been in your group?”