Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Weekend in Zhong Shan

Saturday 3 January - Sunday 4 January

Alex Ip had invited us to stay at his new apartment in Greenville City, the complex where we enjoyed a few days last year. The Ips have recently moved into a new block, one of the most recently completed. Ada Chan, Alex's wife, has spent considerable time organising the decoration, which is in keeping with her artistic nature. One bedroom is kept for her studio, where her paintings are laid on the window ledge to dry and hanging on the wall. She is very talented.

We met Alex and Mr and Mrs Wong, our companions on our last visit, at the station at ab0ut 9. We all had a very quick trip through the border formalities, and then got a bus directly for Zhong Shan. A 2-hour ride brought us to the Overseas Chinese Hotel in Zhongshan City where we had a delicious lunch which included 2 types of pigeon (crispy and steamed), rice and noodles and gong fu type tea.

After lunch we caught another bus to the estate, which is about 30 minutes in slow traffic from the City. We enjoyed the view from Alex's apartment, walked around the environs and rested until the car came to collect us for a trip to the river mouth for dinner at about 5. The rural area is known for its seafood and to us was reminiscent of a restaurant on a river in Malaysia that we had enjoyed many years ago.

We were a cramped 6 in the car, but the drive was not longer than 30 minutes and the evening scenery compensated for the discomfort. The sight alone of the setting sun on the water from the restaurant was well worth the trip .

Alex and Mr Wong chose the fish for dinner from the tanks while we just enjoyed the sights of the drying fish on the line, the changing light and the lone fisherman rowing home. The cooking was done in a tin box of a kitchen - perhaps bearable on a slightly chilly night, but I couldn't help thinking that it must have been hell in summer.

Dinner was a real feast: steamed shrimps, crab, fan scallops, fish soup, soft fish in batter and vegetable. By the time we had finished eating it was dark, with a lone star in the sky. Again we had an uncomfortable ride back to the apartment - a little more unnerving in the dark when on the 'wrong' side of the road, particularly as I noticed the speedo on the car didn't work. One less thing for the driver to monitor, I suppose!

Alex spent some time getting the room and bedding ready for us, but we finally got to bed and quickly to sleep. We were up and about at 7 on Sunday, and went for an early breakfast with Alex, before the Wongs joined us. Mrs Wong had had an upset stomach in the night, but seemed all right for the rest of the day. After a breakfast of congee and noodles, with a cup of coffee (my first in nearly 2 weeks), we all went for a long walk around the estate.

It was a beautiful day - fine, with fluffy clouds and no wind. Eddie had a wonderful time photographing everything he could see, and the rest of us just wandered and chatted. The area is a huge complex, and very easy to walk around, as there are many roads and streets and apartment blocks. It began from a golf course about 10 years ago and is still developing.

On our return to the apartment, Alex spent some time cleaning up, ready for Ada's return on Thursday, then it was lunchtime. We had an extensive lunch at the local restaurant (pigeon again, along with beef curry, soup, chicken, and fish heads, all very tasty), before we were driven to the bus stop to wait for the bus to take us back to Hong Kong. It was a through bus, so at the border, we went through the formalities (again very fast) and back on to a bus which took us through Tsing Yi to Tsuen Wan. The evening light was beautiful on the rocky hills and valleys, which provided ever-changing vistas.

Mr Wong guided us to a bus for Fanling, and again we enjoyed a different view of the landscape from the upper deck. We were home in the dark at 7 - to catch a glimpse of the half moon and evening star - a perfect end to a very enjoyable weekend.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Good Start to the New Year

The day was bright and clear - a little chilly to begin with, but warm in the sun. Eddie decided to go for a walk up Sha Tau Kok Rd, heading for the area where he worked in the early '90s. I didn't think we had a particular goal in mind, and lured by the thought of some interesting village food, I was happy to wander along.

We left the flat about 9.30, heading up the road at a slow pace, enjoying the freshness of the morning and the sunshine, taking photos as we went. It was cheering to see blue sky after so many days of cloud. We paused at a soy sauce factory, peering through the gate at the rows of sauce jars fermenting under conical hats, and enjoying the view of the hills in the distance. The last 15 years have seen major changes in the quality of the road, which has been improved with a median strip and planting.

The bauhinia flowers on the roadside smelled particularly sweet in the morning sun. Opposite Pine Village, we found a very well-kept toilet for a necessary stop. Hong Kong has many public toilets available, of varying standard, but many are spotlessly clean and well-appointed. This one was one of the best, the more surprising considering the remoteness of its situation.

Further along the road we came across a garden with fruiting mandarin trees in ranks, ready for Chinese New Year in 3 weeks. Trees with golden citrus fruits are especially valued at this time for their auspicious meaning. We also came across a village sitting out area with letter boxes alongside. This must be much easier for the postie, who would have formerly had to wind his way through the village maze to deliver the mail. This was the first such arrangement I had seen but we came across another later in the day.

The agricultural gave way to industrial premises, guarded by dogs which growled and barked. I didn't feel very comfortable passing these, and was relieved when we turned off the main road. The side road (Ping Che Rd) had fewer dogs on it, and we just wandered along, wondering (at least I was) when the village restaurant would show up. It never did, but luckily we had some apricots and coconut chips that sustained us on the return journey.

We walked the length of Ping Che Rd, taking photos and admiring the hills and scenery, with Eddie reminiscing, until we reached the closed area, where we had to turn round. Permits are needed to get any further as it is very close to the border with the mainland. We could see the towers of Shen Zhen beyond the fields.

We had a small refreshment stop, then continued on, past the derelict site of a deserted school, through Ping Yeung Village, as Eddie thought he could get to his old office site that way. However, he discovered that it wasn't possible and once back home, found from the map that we had taken the wrong road. As a result of the detour, we found ourselves in the grounds of the Cloud Spring Temple, where we spent quite some time admiring the gardens and buildings. The gardens are extensive and would have been really pretty with the lotus pond filled and planted. Unfortunately that section was drained and the mud wasn't very attractive. The waterfalls, bonsai trees and miniature gardens, on the other hand, were fascinating.

(From a description on notable sites in the North District: "Wun Chuen Sin Koon:

This Taoist temple is located on Ping Che Road in Ping Yeung Village of Ta Kwu Ling. The temple's beautiful landscape is interspersed with lotus ponds, traditional bridges, miniature gardens and exquisite carvings. The temple keeps a wonderful luck basin. When the handles of the basin are rubbed, tiny water droplets are expelled and sometimes a mini spring is formed. Every year, the temple holds a large-scale chrysanthemum show in autumn which attracts many visitors.")

Further down the road we branched off to another Village. This was again a dead end, and the roaming dogs made me too nervous to want to explore too far. So it was back to Ping Che Rd, with a decision to get a bus back to Fanling, as we had been walking without much rest for hours. The bus had us back home in minutes which was, in my opinion, well worth the fare.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Hong Kong in late December

There hasn't been a lot to write about on this trip so far as we were prevented from going too far afield by my lack of visa. We put in my passport to the Japan Travel Agency on the morning of the 24th of December but couldn't get it back until the 31st because of the intervening holidays. The price has gone up to HK $600 for a multiple entry 6-month visa. I will get at least 2 uses out of it and maybe a day trip to Shen Zhen as well, but time is already running out!

I arrived at 3 pm on Tuesday 23rd December after an uneventful trip, during which I slept some and spent the rest of the time reading a book (The map that changed the world) I had bought at the last minute at the airport. An interesting account of the life of William Smith, the "father of modern geology". Scientific backbiting and snobbism was rife in the 18th century, it seems.

I took the bus to Hung Hom, but was too late to start the visa process as I needed a photo, having left my last one at home. I had some trouble finding Eddie at the station, but we finally connected and took the MTR back to Fanling, where I had my photos done.

On Wednesday (Christmas Eve) we finally got to the Travel Agency to put in my passport for the visa, after which we visited the Museum of History since it was Wednesday when entry is free. As a bonus, we met Alex Ip for lunch at the Royal Restaurant at One Peking Rd. We had a very nice lunch with him, then took the Star Ferry to Hong Kong-side. We spent some time in IFC listening to a choir of young people who sang right through their (considerable) song book. The performance lasted at least 30 minutes and showed off their talents to advantage. It was tiring standing for so long, so we repaired to Dymock's Book Shop for browsing and a chance to sit down, before going on to Sham Shui Po for some shopping. We took the MTR, which was very crowded and hot, but it's not the most comfortable travelling on a holiday eve. It was a relief to walk back to Mongkok in the cool of the evening.

We paused to look at the Brighten flower shop which was filled with interesting flowers and floral decorations, large and small over 4 floors. The website isn't in English but certainly displays the variety of goods and is worth a look. We hardly had time to look at everything, but Eddie has photos for the memories.

On Christmas Day, we had a quiet morning, then went for a walk up the road to enjoy the afternoon. We trailed through part of a village and deserted roads before taking a train to Shum Shui Po again, where we had a Christmas dinner of wun tun soup, and bought some electronics, notably a wireless router, which I spent Friday setting up.

After wrestling with the router, we took a walk to Sheung Shui for shopping and bought fish for tea.

On Saturday we got a bit of help with the router from our ISP - mostly to do with making sure all the computers can get email. I was happy to have a computer of my own to use again, and so far it's been well-behaved. After a sleep we went to Tai Po just for a wander. We bought some pork bones and made soup for tea.

Sunday 28th was grey and overcast, so we rested in the morning. The local Fanling flower show provided an afternoon's entertainment - we saw a range of orchids and other pot plants, a hyacinth macaw hiding at the top of the cage that wasn't in a mood to be on display, a cockatoo, mounted trays of insects (mostly beetles and butterflies), enormous millipedes (pictured), giant fish and tiny fish and interestingly coloured goldfish, reptiles including snakes, frogs (tree and albino), lizards, a nest of scorpions, and a chameleon (green).

The associated stalls were selling orchids for very reasonable prices, along with spring bulbs and garden ornaments. One had tiny pots and vases of artificial flowers - all very lifelike, and quite expensive. I would have bought Eddie a tray of jonquils but he jibbed a the $280 price. We were going to go further but went home when it began to rain.

Monday 29th was still overcast but not wet. We went for a walk round back of Sheung Shui, across the Indus River and through a cemetery, which we found unexpectedly. It was a taxing but interesting sortie that occupied 3 hours. The area was desolate and showed signs of having had a fire go through it - probably at Cheung Yeung. There were many grand graves tucked into the hillsides among the grass and scrub and we fossicked about the paths and byways. You would have thought we were the only people around but beyond the hills we could see the towers of Shen Zhen, just across the border. And of course, not too far away were the various tower blocks and complexes of Sheung Shui.

We bought some beef on the way home and made beef soup for tea.

On Tuesday we took another walk up to Sheung Shui to get some eggs. We had to wait a while for the eggs to arrive, and since it was cold and wet, we took the opportunity to wait in a warm place and visited our representative at the bank.

New Year's eve was cloudy and grey again but not too cold. We took a trip to Hong Kong again, mainly to pick up a prize Eddie had won by doing a survey for JP Morgan. The prize of a "travel kit" (wallet and baggage label in a fancy box) looked flash, but we both thought its carry bag might be more useful.

We walked through Hollywood Rd area just sightseeing and then finally found the restaurant that Eddie had been to before with May and Roger Sai Louie, where we had a small lunch of wun tun soup, which we later supplemented with bread rolls from the Catherine bread shop. They would have been extra tasty with a bit of butter.

Since it was Wednesday when the museums are free, we trooped up many flights of stairs (on the heritage trail) to the Dr Sun Yat Sen Museum. It was well worth the visit, although we couldn't stay to read every inscription under the exhibits as we had to collect my visa and get some money for our stay in China on the weekend.

In the evening, we met Alex Ip and Mr and Mrs Wong for a dinner at Tai Po. We had a very interesting menu of Chiu Chow cooking, which included spinach soup, a steamed fish, breaded deep-fried prawns and a very sweet cabbage. We finished with a dessert of fried and steamed dumplings. Naturally we were too tired to see the New Year in here - but we also missed the New Zealand and Australian tickovers despite intending to mark the right time.