Three Countries in a Week

Well, it’s three countries if you are like most Hong Kong ese and consider themselves separate to China… Basically, I went to Hong Kong to meet the folks and took them to Macau and also to Shenzhen in China. Mum and Dad were flying through to England and kindly decided to stopover for a while to meet me. Hong Kong was just a bit too western for me but it was nice to get to a country that spoke a bit of English and didn’t just point and say “Waiguoren” (foreigner). Plus, there were beaches! Needless to say, it was a bit too Chinese for Mum and Dad.

First stop was to meet Mum and Dad at the airport and catch up for a while… over dinner of course. Mum and Dad braved Cantonese cuisine and made a good attempt at my favourite foods: seafood and green stuff, noodles and green stuff and just plain green stuff. However by the end of the night I could feel a definite sense of “make sure you provide Western food tomorrow night” eminating from my parents. I took note.

The first day of touring involved transitting Hong Kong Island as well as Kowloon. After what seemed like several days on the bus picking other tourists up, we eventually headed to a small temple complex called the Man Mo Temple dedicated to, of all things to combine, the God of Literature and the God of Martial Arts. Not much to write home about but have included pictures for those of you who haven’t seen enough temples on this blog yet.

After that we headed off to Hong Kong Island for a ride in the Victoria Peak tram in order to see a view of the Island and also Kowloon. There’s not much to say except for the fact that a picture says a thousand words…

After that we took a sampan ride through the Aberdeen Fishing Village, a pirates den that has been converted into a fishing village. Over 60,000 people are supposed to live in Aberdeen and, while we saw a few boats containing washing machines and microwaves (plus a variety of other electronic devices), I assume that most of the 60,000 live on the land surrounding the river. I particularly liked the tires around the outside of the boats… each one had it’s own personal life-jacket.

We then headed for the stock standard jewellery factory tour where foreign tourists are expected to spend their millions of dollars buying expensive “one of a kind” jewellery. It always amazes me when I spot the foreign tourist doing just this, without bargaining. Anyway, we headed to Stanley market for more shopping in a market selling the same stuff as markets all across China but in a rather large scale.

After the shopping expeditions, we crossed the river again to the Kowloon side on the Star Ferry… not much more than a normal ferry really but I loved it anyway. I just love ferries! I think that there should be more boat travel in this world. We walked alongside the river, viewing the Chinese version of the Avenue of Stars… not that I knew many stars. See the photos for the couple that I did know.

Finished the day with dinner on the edge of the river and a chance to see the “spectactular” symphony of lights show. I can guarantee that it’s nothing to write home about… but it seems to pull a crowd anyway. Not sure why!

The next day it was up bright and early for a tour to Lantau Island. Lantau Island is actually larger than Hong Kong Island, but with many less people – only about 20,000. Lantau has been inhabited since Neolithic times, and many of its residents make their living through fishing.

First of all, we had to get over the Tsing Ma Bridge, the longest road/rail suspension bridge in the world. It took us longer to get away from the photographer that wanted a photo of us in front of the bridge to put it on a plate and try to sell it to us but I did manage a couple of photos before we ran away.

We finally crossed onto Lantau Island and visited a beach… my first in a long long long time. It was simply brilliant just to go and dip my feet in and feel at home. Unfortunately my camera batteries died (again) and I’m still waiting (again) for one of the other tourists to send me the photo (hint hint) but I can guarantee it was almost the highlight of the tour for me.

We then drove alongside beautiful mountain scenery to Tai O Village, one of several traditional fishing villages now struggling thanks to the popularity of Hong Kong Island for the youth of Lantau. Tai O, the largest city on Western Lantau, has sometimes been titled as the Venice of the East. If you look below, it doesn’t look much like Venice at all even though it can stake claims to being centered on water. Not only can you buy fish of all kinds from buckets (see below), you can also see and smell fish drying in the plentitude of shops along the walkways in town. Furthermore in Tai O, like many villages on Lantau, you can see houses built on bamboo stilts. Tai O saw my first, but definitely not my last taste of quail eggs.

Situated near Tai O Village is Po Lin Monastery (Precious Lotus). Po Lin stands where three monks set up a meditation retreat in 1905. They built stone huts, other recluses joined them, and the monastery was officially inaugurated in 1927. The building was simple, and was surely peaceful as there was no road, just the Pilgrim’s Path from the fishing village of Tai O to the west. Obviously, as in most of China, things have changed and the main tourist attraction at Po Lin now is the incredibly large bronze statue of Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha). Over 100 feet tall, it’s the world’s largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha.

Above and Right:
Tian tan Buddha at Po Lin

View of Lantau Island

We ate a late lunch at Po Lin Monastery’s vegetarian restaurant and headed back onto Hong Kong Island for the finish of the tour. Took Mum and Dad out to a steak house that seemed to please their palates a little more than the first night’s Cantonese food.

The next day, an extra-early morning departure saw us depart on a ferry to Macau. Macau was until 1999 administered by Portugal as an overseas province. Like its formerly British neighbour Hong Kong, Macau is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Nowadays, Macau is known for it’s many casinos. The trip didn’t allow for much time in Macau but general impressions were of a city trapped between the Portugese and the Chinese, with religions standing side by side and architecture varying between building to building.

We stepped off the ferry into the Macau Peninsula and the hordes of passengers making their way through customs. Known to me (but promptly forgotten), a new casino was opening in Macau and thousands upon thousands of extra tourists were “visiting”. Even sillier, we waited in the huge queues before realising that, due to Dad’s seniority, we were able to go straight in. Not a problem we thought, we would have to wait for everyone else anyway. Turns out that the only others going to China as well made their way through the quicker queue and spent an hour waiting for us to make it through. So goes an hour of the half-day trip to Macau…

Anyways, we headed straight to the Sands Casino to view the statue of Bodhisatta Avalokitesvara. Interestingly enough, even though it is a Chinese deity, due to the influence of the Portugese the statue is European in design.

Escaping from the horrible heat into the confines of our non air-conditioned minibus, we visited the ruins of St Pauls Cathedral. St Pauls Cathedral was built by the Jesuits from 1582 to 1602 and was, at that stage, the largest Catholic Church in the East. The stone front wall of the cathedral was added from 1620 to 1627 by Japanese Catholics. The Cathedral caught fire in the middle of the night in 1835, leaving the stone wall as the only remains. I have seen and heard several stories about the fire. Two of the most common are firstly, that it was due to a typhoon and secondly, that someone accidently lit a fire in the kitchen causing it to burn down. An extension to either of these stories is that, even though different religions stand side by side in Macau, whilst it was being burnt down everyone just stood and stared this being due to the fact that the area was not a Catholic area. The alternative to this story is that they had to stand and watch, given the typhoon. To summarise, the ruins are still quite impressive even though only the front of the church remains. This could be due to the fact that I haven’t seen any churches of late though…

To combat the initial alternative, one could point out the temple of Na-tcha. Dedicated to the Chinese deity Prince Nata, it stood (and still stands) just around the corner from the ruins of St Pauls sandwiched between the cathedral and the old walls of the city. Just minutes after being told of the enemy-like status of the religions, we were told about the friendliness of religions in Macau… go figure! Anyway, the temple was a small (but not unimportant) building in fairly typical Chinese style definitely a contrast between the large European style of St Pauls.

Above: Bodhisatta Avalokitesvara
Right: Ruins of St Paul
Far Right: Babylon Casino

After the Ruins of St Paul, we toured the “most excellent” museum of Macau… don’t go there, waste of time! I have nothing more to say about it. Quickly forgetting the museum, we went for lunch at Babylon Casino in order to say that we had been to a casino in Macau. Security was up, scanning everything through at four points during the walk-through and lunch (Macau style) was great. Sad to leave actually, would have liked a little longer here.

Headed back to the ferry terminal and, after going through a much more subdued Customs, boarded a ferry to Shenzhen in mainland China. I was pretty excited to go to Shenzhen, not because of Shenzhen itself, but because of Mum and Dad’s reluctance to go to China. I hope they liked it and I myself quite liked Shenzhen but mainly for the Splendid China Village (come to think of it, I think that was the name of my boat down the Three Gorges… minus the Village part of course). I diverge…

Shenzhen, I quote, is “a 25 years old young city, which has created the “Shenzhen speed” as well as “Shenzhen efficiency” and won the honorable title of One-Night City”. What the?

To translate, Shenzhen is a relatively new city due to it’s proximity to Hong Kong. The first city in China to obtain status as a Special Economic Zone, it was given this status to attract business and business visitors from Hong Kong. It is a fairly large city and has only become so in the last 10 years after many people returned or migrated to Shenzhen due to fear of what the Chinese take-over of Hong Kong could cause.

For us, Shenzhen was about the mangrove swamp (don’t bother) and the Splendid China Village, 300 square kilometers of China in miniature. After quite a long argument with the miniature train company, which included me getting extremely annoyed with Chinese efficiency for probably the first time in my trip, we walked off only to see the train take off ten minutes later. Stopping it and running back to buy tickets, we managed to get on the train and take the tour around the village. Highlights of the trip include the mini Great Wall, the mini Potala Palace, the mini Forbidden City and of course, the mini Yellow Crane Tower (situated in Wuhan). The sites were made all the better given that I had actually seen most of them in real-life.

Left: The mini train
Above: The mini Potala Palace
Right: The mini Yellow Crane Tower

By then, it was well and truly evening and we sat down for a fairly traditional Chinese meal before heading to the “Dragon and Phoenix Open Air Show” featuring “5000 years of Chinese performing art in dance, acrobatics and opera”. It did only go for a couple of hours, not 5000 years but well worth it nonetheless with dancing, spinning plates, comedic mimes and lots of flashing lights as only the Chinese can. Well worth the trip to Shenzhen…