Friday, April 25th, 1997 - Kowloon, Hong Kong

Hong Kong is indeed a city of contrasts and no where have we seen this as much as in our travels today.

To begin with we met Haley and another of her friends (Crystal) at the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower (on the harbour right behind the Cultural Centre). We then took the Star Ferry to Central and then took another ferry on the way to Lantau Island. We had a very interesting breakfast on the ferry, Mike had instant noodles with various meats in it (sandwich meats and hotdogs) and I just had a sandwich. The trip to Lantau island took about an hour, travelling through the main shipping lanes of Hong Kong and the various anchor points for the container and other types of cargo ships.

We saw a lot of various craft in the harbour, including catamarans and hydrofoils. The sky was a bit cloudy but the view was very good. We also saw the bridge connecting Kowloon with Lantau that is to be opened this Sunday (we are hoping to see the fireworks, logistics are a bit of a problem as it will be VERY crowded).

The harbour was a bit rough but it has been for a little while now. It was a nice trip, where we spent a bit of time talking to our guides. They both speak english very well and this was not too difficult. We discussed various things about the island and life in general in Hong Kong. As with most Hong Kong people they work very long and hard days. It was very fortunate that Haley could get today off of work. I am beginning to like Haley more and more, she is very interesting and easy to talk to. It should be good to continue our penpal relationship. She has also mentioned having lunch next week also, which I am looking forward to.

We passed a few small islands (less than 1/2 kilometre square) that either had nothing or a small altar on it as the island consisted of not much more than a mountain, not very suitable for habitation (otherwise, it seems, it would be habited).

Eventually we landed in Mui Wo to board a bus for the Po Lin Monastery. Mui Wo is a very small city (even by Canadian standards), I would guess at about 500- 1000 people. It is very quiet, however, we did not see much of the city.

Haley and Crystal picked up the price of the ferry, the bus and most of the cost of everything else today. It seems to be a typical thing for people here to do for visitors, not that we are complaining, it is just that we would like to be able to help out by paying.

The bus ride was very interesting, the bus driver drove VERY fast through the mountains that compose the island, and, indirectly, along the coast of the island. The bus driver must really know what he is doing as the corners are very sharp and there are many steep slopes. We passed by various “pockets” of apartment complexes, as the term “cities” is hardly appropriate. Haley indicated that much of these are cabins for employees to use for vacation or are simply vacation cottages. The landscape certainly was green – not many human inhabitants and spectacular views of lakes, rivers and mountains. Hard to compare this to anything I have seen elsewhere.

To arrive at the Monastery we had to climb a long road to the top of a mountain. It was quite a view both from below and certainly from the top. The Monastery is not old, only built in 1924, and has a large statue of Buddha at the top of a mountain peak up a series of about 100 stairs. As per normal Haley paid for the entrance to be able to enter a small museum at the base of the statue as well as a vegetarian meal (much like the monks who live there enjoy).

Po Lin Monestary Buddha

The walk up the stairs was exhausting but worth the trip, the view was spectacular as was the statue, it was very beautiful looking around inside the museum and seeing the various calligraphy performed by the monks. We also saw a ring of small slabs of what looks like ivory lining the walls containing the names of the monks that have died, in the middle was a wonderful mural containing a burned-in painting of all of the various gods as well as a list of the various commandments that the monks must follow. It was all very well done.

After this we made our way to the main area of the Monastery where the monks live. We saw a few shrines where they were burning incense (we could even see the smoke from the incense from a very long way off, including at the top of the Buddha), it was very fragrant. We had a scheduled sitting for lunch, so we sat at a table with a few other people and enjoyed a wonderful vegetarian meal (consisting of things like mushrooms, vegetables, vegetarian spring rolls, etc.). It was quite funny when Haley reported that someone at the table said I used the chop sticks very well (we also refused a monk who brought us some forks – we did not need them). We have been getting this comment fairly often. As I was hoping to know a bit more Cantonese before we arrived, it is good to see that some of my actions are a recognition to their culture. I do not simply wish to be a “tourist” in that I am simply “in the world but not of it”, I wish to be in and of this world as I feel it better helps my understanding of the culture.

Po Lin Temple

After this we visited a few other areas of the monastery, including a few more shrines at which Mike had his fortune read. I have seen it done before but I did not understand how it worked. To do it, you take a tin with a quantity of numbered strips of wood in it, you then kneel before the alter, wish or think of something you want an answer to, then you shake the container until a single stick falls to the ground (Haley told of the first time she did it quite a number of sticks fell to the ground, of course we immediately said this was very “fortunate”). After the stick falls, you give it to an attendant who passes you a slip of paper with your fortune on it. Haley and Crystal had trouble understanding it as it was poetry and they could not tell us what it meant (Raymond gave it a shot later at night and said that it was a “medium” fortune, meaning not good, not bad, and he also indicated that Mike was to have success in the future).

After the soothsaying, we caught a taxi to Tai O, a very small fishing village on the west coast of the island. The bus drivers were tame in comparison to the taxi driver. I found I had to hold on to the door handle to keep from crushing those beside me as we went around corners.

Tai O is VERY small, essentially car access is limited to the bus stop, and nothing more. After getting out of the taxi, we entered a small side street (pedestrians and bikes only) and then crossed a small bridge to the main part of the village. We were told that this bridge is only a few years old, in the past you had to pull yourself across the water using a rope and a boat. We were amazed to see the various species of fresh seafood. Amongst other things, we saw live shrimp, lobster (Australian), crabs, eel, fish (both very large and normal size), and a shell fish which was a cross between a shrimp and a lobster. As we walked through the narrow and cluttered streets of the village, they were drying the fresh fish on anything they could find. There are a few temples, government buildings and many small shacks. We walked all the way through the village to a small area looking out on the ocean. It was very nice, Mike and I were fascinated with the small crabs running around on a small stretch of sandy beach.

Tai O

The village is very simple but very peaceful. As we walked around, the people went about their very open business. That is, most of the houses were wide open so you could clearly see everywhere inside from the walkway, one house we could watch their television from the street. I found it very appealing to have little to hide about daily life. There was even the killing of various animals (such as chickens) in the streets, but again, that is very honest and appealing, we tend to sanitize the process of killing what we eat. We are happy to leave this so-called “unpleasant” task with people we pay to do it. We have lost the link between the live chicken and the chicken fillets we have with potatoes for supper. It is refreshing to see this link once again in place, very honest living. That being said, I don't know if this sort of lifestyle is for me, however, I can see that it works and is very relaxing (nothing to hide, fewer social pressures).

We returned to the main square and caught a bus all the way back to Mui Wo and then caught the ferry back to Central. The trip back was relatively uneventful but very tiring.

We spent some time discussing where we would go for dinner, Mike and I thought that it might be a good idea to take them to some western food, so we suggested Pizza Hut, McDonalds, 7-11 (very big joke) and a few other places, of course they suggested the Ritz-Carlton but it was widely agreed that our shirts and jeans (or shorts in the case of Mike) would not be accepted for dinner (this all, of course, was a joke as that restaurant is VERY expensive, as can be expected). Eventually, we returned to Tsim Sha Tsui by the Star ferry to find somewhere to eat and they decided on Pizza Hut. I was not exactly thrilled about the idea until Mike pointed out that they wanted to go there, so I raised no further objections (it was their call). Mike and I enjoyed (I hate to admit) this meal, finishing a large (which is about a medium in size in Canada) pizza and a large pitcher of Pepsi. Haley and Crystal split some pasta and seemed to enjoy the experience. Mike and I really ate quickly and waited around for them to finish. Eventually I got the bill first and paid for all of us (the first and last victory of the day).

After this we wandered around the area for a few minutes then they took the MTR back with us to the front door of Raymond's. I finally was able to pass on the gifts I brought with me from Canada for Haley (I had been carrying them around with me all day), including a t-shirt we picked up at the airport.

It was an interesting day, we visited with Raymond and Avery for a few minutes, giving me time to check my electronic mail for a response to a request that I sent out to a friend in Winnipeg to check some prices for us. It was not there and the connection to Winnipeg was VERY slow through the Internet. Before Raymond got home, Avery was watching a local soap opera that they enjoy (taping it for Raymond) and Mike fell asleep (as he normally does) as he was watching the television (it was in Cantonese with Cantonese subtitles).

We had a few minutes so we went to the local video arcade for a few minutes until it closed at midnight.

⇒ Continue to Saturday, April 26th, 1997 - Kowloon, Hong Kong