28 March - Hong Kong
We arrived at the border at around 7h00, I loaded the bike, and set off down the road, LOL, just to be stopped by the police a few kilometres down the road and told that I could not cycle on these roads. There was not a single road in the immediate area where I could cycle into the city!!! A few minutes later the very bus that I was on came by and picked me up again. (I was supposed to stay on the bus all the way into Hong Kong City).
Once on Hong Kong Island I thought it safe to try again and told the bus driver to let me off. Wow, what a busy and built-up place it is - at first it was a bit scary!!!
Skyscrapers and high-rise buildings filled the skyline, busses and trams criss-crossed the island. I felt small and insignificant as I tried to avoid colliding with any of them.
First up, I was looking for accommodation and I soon found that the world Rugby-7’s were on that weekend and each and every whole was filled!!
Eventually I found a room at Alisan Guesthouse, but not for this night but for 29 and 30 March. It was only the “staff” room, so it was really, really small with just a small bed. It was cheap so I took it and went in search of a place to stay for the night.
I found a room at the Holiday Inn and lived in complete luxury for one night!! I also contacted Carlos and we arranged to meet later in the evening. Carlos had a meeting on the island and afterwards we met for coffee and a long chat.
First thing in the morning I went in search of a China Visa application centre, just to be told that the longest they can give me was 7 days!! Will have to think about that one!! A far bigger problem is, however, that my passport is nearly full and I now only have 2 empty pages left.
I could only get into the room at Alisan at 13h00 so I wandered the streets in awe of all that is Hong Kong. The streets were filled with rugby fans dressed up to the 9’s for the big game. I walked to the ferry port and took the ferry across the bay for a mere $2.80. Once back on the island I took the escalator (that runs at a steep slope up the side of the mountain) to what is known as Mid-Levels, and then walked to the tram station that takes one up to the view point. The queue was far too long to my liking and after a while of standing in the queue I gave up and continued down the road by foot.
The big plan is to wait until Monday (tomorrow) to go in search of the South African Embassy and enquire about obtaining a new passport – then go to the China resource centre and see if I can get another visa for China. Well, if all else fails there is always the Queen Elizabeth!!
It turned out another fruitless day as I visited the South African Embassy and was told that a new passport would take 4 months!!! I had no option but to fill in the forms, have photographs taken and pay the required fee.
Next stop was the China Visa Office which turned out even more disastrous as the queue was miles long and by the time I actually got to a counter I was told that 15 days is the maximum they will give me and it seemed that they wanted proof of accommodation and transport, what a pain!! I just felt like saying: Fuck that!!!
I left tail between my legs, decided to have a cup of coffee, and ended up leaving my newly purchased umbrella behind. Nothing surprises me anymore, I just expect the worst!!
At least when the city gets too much there is always a temple close by. I walked past some rather interesting ones today, dwarfed by the high-rises, these tiny temples offer peace and calm in sharp contrast to the hectic city life. Giant incense coils hang from the ceiling, and smoke slowly rises up, giving the whole temple a hazy look. I believe that some of them can burn as long as 3 weeks.
1 April - Hong Kong
I took a walk back to the South African Embassy to find out if Amanda could pick up my passport in South Africa and have it couriered to me – and if so (a) what it would require and (b) if it would expedite matters at all. I was told to write a letter of authorisation to the Pretoria office and that it “may” be slightly faster that way.
On my way back I located the Giant bicycle store at 15 Wood Road, HK, and enquired about whether they could box the bike for me. That was the only positive thing the entire day! I picked up laundry and did not even check it, as I was sure some items would be missing. At least one more positive thing was that I popped into the coffee shop where I left my umbrella the day before, and they still had it. Happy dances, I am grateful for small mercies!!
The rest of the day I tried to find a map of South Korea and Japan on my Garmin, but to no avail. I tried to download one from the internet, but I obviously do not know how as it did not work. The only official one by Garmin (as far as I can see) is their “world map” which I cannot download but have to purchase on a disk or memory card and which will then be sent to me.
Even the smallest thing I try lately ends up in disaster!! Eventually, I left the room and went downstairs to the little Pub which looked quite cozy from the outside. I took my laptop, found a nice seat, ordered a rather expensive beer, and settled in, just to find that they had no internet!!! This unlucky and disastrous stage will also pass; it is just a matter of time.
It has been raining in Hong Kong since I arrived here, not perfect for sightseeing. In the meantime, I found myself accommodation ‘till the end of the month.
I’m leaning more and more towards the idea of staying in Hong Kong ‘till the end of the month. I need to have some personal maintenance work done i.e. dental work and reading glasses; a facial and a pedicure would not be uncalled for either.
The following night I met up with Carlos and Melony for a drink. We visited the very well-known Lan Kwai Fong street - what fun.
Hong Kong is a hectic and competitive city. I understand that up to 2.8 million people in Hong Kong suffer from some kind of insomnia. It is said that this insomnia is a symptom of the hectic lifestyle. In Hong Kong, the most common problem is stress; both work stress and city life.
I joined the crowds and pushed and shoved my way along the narrow lanes. When that got too much I walked up the mountain side to “The Peak”. It was quite a walk, and as it was misty there was no view at all. Once at the top I took the bus back to the hustle and bustle of the city.
Back on level ground I headed for the ferry pier and took the Star ferry across the harbour to Kowloon to visit the night market and a few temples. On the way back I stopped at the promenade to watch the famous city skyline.
It was a public holiday known as “Tomb-Sweeping Day” (Ching Ming or Qingming Festival). The holiday runs from April 5 -7. It is believed that from this date on temperatures will begin to rise and rainfall will increase, indicating that it is time for plowing and sowing. It is also a day of paying respect to the dead. Cleaning the tomb and paying respect to the dead persons with offerings (both flowers and food) are the two important parts of remembering their past relatives. Today, with cremation taking over from burying, only flowers and food are presented…. no more sweeping!!
The streets were packed as everyone was on holiday and it seems that the younger generation was not paying their respects but was shopping instead. One could hardly move due to the crowds, although, I headed for the dried food market. I should, at least theoretically, be able to cure all ailments here. I don’t know what dried gecko is good for, but if needed, you can find it in Hong Kong!
It was time to explore the outlying areas, and I jumped on the MRT and went to see the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. It was raining all day and the temple not as impressive as expected. What was far more amazing was the fact that the Qingming festival was still in full swing.
The monastery was packed with people lighting both candles and incense and placing flowers and food for their deceased relatives. I got caught up in the whole ritual. It was not a morbid or serious affair; in fact, people were laughing, chatting and having a good time. I noticed that it was not only the deceased’s favourite food that was provided, but also, in some cases, a beer or two.
On my way back to the MRT, I spotted a trail and started walking along the path with no idea where the path went, but I followed it up the mountain. It was a stunning walk; lush and green without any sign of the city. I continued on until the path came to an end at a Christian Institute with quite beautiful old buildings. Well, that was the end of my walk, so I headed down the mountain again, back to the train station.
I was keen to see the Po Lin Monastery, so I headed to Lantau. Once I got there it was bucketing down, and the cable-car ride looked very interesting. I decided to leave it for a day when the weather was better.
Again, I headed for the New Territories and in my wanderings I came upon a strange "tree-house”. Some say the Kam Tin Tree House was a study hall with a banyan tree beside it. Others say it was a temple; what is sure, is that, since the abandonment of the building, the banyan tree grew bigger and bigger and eventually completely enveloped the building.
Great was my surprise to find an old walled village on this rather overpopulated island. The way of life in this walled village remains fairly traditional. About 400 people live in Kat Hing Wai, and I understand that most of them still share the same surname.
In Hong Kong horse racing appears to be the main recreational passion among all levels of society. There seems to be off-course betting branches on each and every corner. In the 1990’s, all stables were moved to Sha Tin Racecourse, which has subsequently been equipped with the world's first parade ring, covered by a retractable roof and a Diamond Vision television screen that set a Guinness World Record when built. Hong Kong is said to have the highest racing revenue turnover in the world!! If I look at the crowds studying the racing papers, I can believe it.
Carlos introduced me to the local hiking group, and I went on my first hike with them. I started off well, but once at the top it started raining, and it continued raining all the way down. Besides being wet, it was a lovely walk. Amazing to think that it only takes 20 minutes to leave the city and find yourself in a lush and rural setting. Afterwards, Carlos and I went for a much needed coffee, dripping water all over the coffee shop.
As the days passed, I became increasingly fond of Hong Kong. The city runs like a well-oiled machine, 24 hours a day. I love the sounds of the city; the buses, the trams, the cars, the subways, the chatter at the sidewalk eateries, the distant music, the police sirens and car alarms. This constant humming makes me feel at home. These sounds relax me, and I drift off to sleep, knowing that the world is alive and well, without me having to take care of it.
I decided to stay in Hong Kong for a month in order to do a few things I have neglected during the years. I, however, seemed to have so much fun that I never got around to doing those boring things. This day I finally made an appointment for my hair and spent the entire day at the hairdresser. I got the name from Melody and, interestingly enough, it was a South African lady who owned the shop. With the hair done and dusted I could at least tick one thing off the list. Most people enjoy having their hair done, but I do not like anyone fiddling with my hair, so I am usually irritated as hell by the time I leave.
The weather finally cleared and I made good use of it. That evening I took the bus up to the top of Victoria Peak to see if I could get some pictures of the city. As always, it was a stunning bus ride and the view from the top equally impressive. Half of Hong Kong and all its visitors had the same idea LOL.
Early morning I was off on my second hike with the hiking group. Again it was a beautiful walk along, what is known as, the Dragons' back. We ended up at a beautiful beach where we had lunch. That evening I met up with Mat for a drink; it was so good to see him, and I could not believe that after 10 years he still looks exactly the same. It seems it is only me aging at a rather rapid rate!!
I met Carlos and his daughter Natalie at Lantau Island where we took the famous Ngong Ping cable car to see the Buddha on top of the mountain. The cable car stretches for 5.7 kilometres up the side of the mountain to the Po Tin Monastery. It was a spectacular ride, with views over the Lantau Island and beyond. We climbed the 268 steps to the 34 metre high bronze Buddha who sits on a lotus leaf and keeps a watchful eye over the island.
After visiting the Buddha, we took the bus down the mountain. The bus ride was equally spectacular. We stopped at the small fishing village of Tai O, famous for its shrimp paste and its stilted houses. We followed the narrow footpath which runs through the village, passed dried fish products, and I even spotted some dried seahorse. With rumbling tummies, we set off for a restaurant, and low and behold, would it not be South African, known as "The Stoep”. The location was fantastic - right on the beach and the food equally good. They served all the old favourites: bobotie, tomato bredie, and even had a braai!!!
It was another awesome day in Hong Kong. I joined Carlos and Melody on a family outing, and there is nothing quite like local knowledge. We caught a ferry to Lamma Island, where we followed the trail for about an hour to a small fishing village where we had lunch.
It was a beautiful walk with stunning scenery. Along the way we even passed an old Kamikaze Cave which, I believe, was constructed by the Japanese to house a flotilla of suicide motorboats.
We walked along the path to the next village where we had lunch. The food (as usual) was fantastic! Melody did the ordering (and paid for everything!!) and huge plates of food quickly arrived, we did our best but could not finish it all! After lunch, we caught another ferry and then a bus to Stanly Market where we wandered around for a few hours. While we were having coffee, Melody set off and returned with beautiful sandalwood fans, for both me and Natalie - how awesome was that? I was spoiled rotten on this day. As we ambled along the narrow lanes of the market, I admired a top but decided to give it a miss. I went off to take so photos and on my return found that Natalie had bought it for me!!! How kind is that? Too soon the sun started setting, and it was time to return home.
I did nothing on this day….. I sorted out my photos and updated my diary. Afterwards, I took the tram to Kennedy Town, strolled around, and then headed back to have a foot massage. I had the whole treatment (LOL, including the tea!! - they claim it boosts circulation and frees the flow of the qi!!)
Took the tram downtown and found the local chop shop street. Instead of a signature, traditionally people used a hand-carved seal or stamp, typically in stone or jade, with the Chinese characters of their family name. These stamps are known as "chops”, and many say that, in a company, whoever holds the chops, holds the control.
Chop Alley is a little street lined with chop shops where you can get your own chop made for a very reasonable price. They have a beautiful array of choices and styles – round chops, square chops, irregular chops, chops of all sizes and colours, chops made from different materials with various designs.
Then it was off to the dried fish street. To an outsider, the ingredients seem like an overwhelming random jumble. But they are all selected for their contributions to yin and yang, selected to create balance in the body in accordance to traditional Chinese medicine. Dried seahorses are used to remedy kidney and respiratory ailments and help balance and clear up skin.
16 April - Macau
I joined Melody, Carlos and Natalie for a day trip to Macau. It was only an hour by ferry to this very interesting little country. Macau is a tiny country measuring only 29 square kilometres and so very different from Hong Kong.
Firstly, the two official languages are Cantonese and Portuguese, and although Macau is also very populated it seems to have more low-rise areas. Well-known for its gambling halls, Macau has now eclipsed Vegas in gambling income. The big difference being that, beyond the gambling halls, one can find cobblestoned streets with a curious mix of Chinese temples and Portuguese buildings. The ruins of the Church of St. Paul, where only the façade remains, draw crowds of tourists and it took a walk up the hill before I could get any half decent photos.
We dined at a Portuguese restaurant, strolled around the massive casinos, and stared in awe at the money being spent!!
I went on a walk-about with the local photography group. The theme was visual density, and what fun it was. I, once again, realize just how talented these people are - wow! Once done we all went for a beer and by the time I went home I was just in time to watch the light show at the waterfront. It was a beautiful, clear evening and just magical to be out watching the show.
Hong Kong is an extremely livable city, and everything is rather convenient. I have to mention the Octopus card which does not only get you on the bus, tram or ferry, but it can also pay for your supermarket shopping, parking, fast food, sandwich and coffee shops, a trim at the barber, and a round of drinks in a pub. You just swipe and go. I love it!!
I woke up earlier than usual and headed for Hong Kong's New Territories. The further away I am from the city centre, the quieter the metro became. I headed for the Ping Shan Heritage Trail and obviously not many people go there. It was a short but interesting walk; my favourite part was the moon gate at Chin Shu.
Miss Smarty-pants took camera but no memory card!! Oh well, at least it gave me the opportunity to experiment with the phone camera. I also stopped off at the Wetlands Park, but as it was a holiday, the park was packed with families enjoying their day off.
I joined a lovely group of people on a short night hike. It took no more than 10 minutes, and we were out of the city and into the woods. It was a clear evening with great views as we walked along. Afterwards, we stopped at Slim's for a beer and a snack; what a great evening and what a nice group of people. Hong Kong is very cosmopolitan and more than half the hikers were people from other countries, now living in Hong Kong.
It feels to me that I have truckloads of karmic debt. The Universe has blessed me with so much love and random acts of kindness that I do not think I can ever repay it. Today I discovered that someone has paid for my Ace membership on the 365-project!!! How awesome is that!!
I went to visit Carlos where he lives in the New Territories, and again I was impressed with the convenience of everything in Hong Kong. The complex where they live is just as convenient, with everything one needs close by, from parks to shopping centers, movie houses and restaurants.
I found a company online that can arrange South African passports in as short as 15 days (instead of the 4 months the embassy takes). I printed out the forms, completed them, but in the end decided against it as it was rather expensive. The price, I should mention, includes a courier service that collects and delivers the forms and passport, so all in all it was not all that expensive.
It was time for my dentist appointment, never a pleasant task, but it had to be done. A follow-up appointment was made for the third, which was later than expected. I was getting itchy feet and was keen to get going again.
I woke to a rainy morning and took the time to update my journal and have a pedicure (long overdue, I should mention). Someone mentioned that about 60% of the land in Hong Kong is countryside, with land supply being so tight and the need for accommodation so high, that I wonder for how long the country parks will remain untouchable.
What I love most about Hong Kong is that it is probably one of the safest places in the world. LOL - no need for a “reclaim the night” movement here. I like that I can walk home late at night with no need to worry about personal safety.
Another reason I like Hong Kong is that it is such a cosmopolitan city. Ethnic Chinese makeup the bulk of its population, but there is also a sizeable presence of expatriates and people of different ethnicity. Many Indians trace their roots in Hong Kong as far back as when most of the Indian subcontinent was still under British rule. Sikh soldiers participated at the flag raising ceremony in 1841, when Hong Kong was declared a British possession. The earliest policemen in Hong Kong were Indians (Sikhs) and the present police force still has some Indians.
I was up early and met my fellow hikers on Lantau Island for yet another hike! It was a great walk over the mountain along the Olympic trail to Discovery Bay where we had lunch. It was terribly foggy and, therefore, no view at all, but it was an interesting walk past small rural villages. Afterwards, I took the ferry back to Central.
The old streets of Hong Kong are lined with many Chinese Medicine shops that sell all sorts of exotic products, from herbal medicines to dried snake meat. In between the dried goods suppliers are small TCM practitioners - some have a pot or two of prescribed herbs simmering in earthenware pots, in preparation for customers!!
I walked along the “Avenue of Stars” and only recognised one person, the famous Bruce Lee.
Again I went on a short night hike, this time Carlos came with and we again ended up at Slim’s for a beer and a shared plate of nachos.
I was sure getting my share of hiking in as I set off on another hike. This time we ended up right on the other side of the island, at Stanley. Some hikers left after the hike and the remainder of us went for lunch at a local restaurant. Afterwards, we bought a beer at the 7-11 and sat on the beach drinking it. What a wonderful day it was.
First thing in the morning I went in search of a post office and once located, mailed a letter to Amanda, giving permission to pick up my passport on my behalf. Gosh, I have not posted anything in years!!! It suddenly felt so old fashioned! The stamps were however beautiful! After that little task was done I continued on to Kowloon and I finally handed in my camera to be cleaned. As it only took a few hours, I walked around the streets enjoying all the strange and unusual things for sale.
Just after midday I met Carlos for a walk along the old Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail. It turned out to be a fascinating walk through 5 of the old walled villages. Most of these villages are enclosed by brick walls and fitted with an entrance normally facing east in order to generate a good feng shui. Along the way, we met another traveler and joined forces for the rest of the walk. We ended up in Kowloon where Carlos treated us to a good cup of coffee.
For once, I had nothing planned for the day so went for a visit to the hairdresser and had a hair treatment. As usual it took forever; at least they give you a glass of wine while sitting there!! Afterwards, I went in search of a new nose ring, as I have been wearing the same one for years! That evening I tried to take pictures of the neon signs, which did not really work, and I returned home empty handed.
I went for another walk with the Hong Kong photography group. As it was May-day (or Worker’s day) the theme was “People at work". It was an interesting walk with a wonderful bunch of people. Afterwards, we met at a local pub, had a beer and shared some photos.
As almost no one in Hong Kong has a garden, the city’s urban parks are very well used - clever landscaping means it never feels crowded. I was getting itchy feet and could not wait for the 5th so I could move on. I had one more dental appointment on the 3rd and it could not come fast enough.
As I only have two blank pages left in my passport, I will be jumping through some hoops to avoid countries where I needed a visa, or at least, until such time as my new passport arrives!!!
Finally, the third arrived and I cycled the short distance to the bike shop so they could box the bike for me. I took a walk to the dentist and emerged after a long, long time!!! At least that was done. That evening I met Carlos and Melody at a restaurant and we had a meal together before my departure.
4 May - Hong Kong
I booked myself on a dive and was up early to get the MTR to the pier where I met the other divers. I was rather impressed with our dive boat, as it was something like a live-aboard, with a cabin, a lounge, kitchen and deck area - all very fancy!! The dive, however, was a bit of a disappointment as the vision was poor and one could hardly see anything at all. At least the food made up for the poor dive as it was excellent. I did not even bother to do a second dive, which should say something about the poor quality of the water!!