Sunday, October 13th - Wan Chai, Hong Kong

A very special day for us. It is one thing to visit a country and see the sights it is quite another to visit with someone who actually lives there. In this case I know Raymond from when he attended my university and have visited him every time I have been in Hong Kong. On my first visit he opened up his apartment to us and we slept on his floor. He has always been so welcoming to us it promised to be an extra special day today when he invited us to meet more of his family during the holiday, the “Chung Yeung Festival” where they remember family that have passed on - Visiting their grave-sites and offering sacrifices in their name. Today we were asked if we wanted to meet up for lunch then visit his parent’s compound (they are no longer with us) then go out for a bit of a family dinner in the evening. It was going to be an interesting time, that is for sure. I have only ever met Raymond, his wife and their two children so there were going to be a whole new set of faces.

Raymond was due to meet us at 11:15 so we got up quite late at 10:00. We had a small bit to eat - I finished up some almond and butterfly cookies while Mel had a bun. We did not want to eat too much as Raymond had warned us that the day would be basically spent eating (this appears to be the case whenever his family gets together).

In the lobby we waited for Raymond to arrive. A few minutes after he was due I get a phone call: “Where are you?” He had gone to the wrong hotel. I did tell him the “Cosmo Hotel” but, like us, he had confused it with the “Cosmopolitan Hotel” next door. Anyway, walking outside we saw him and his son walking towards us. He is looking very well and his son is growing up so fast…It does make me feel old. Raymond, I believe, is only a few years younger or older than myself…I can never remember but we are very close in age.

I walked with Raymond’s son for a bit as we continued on. He had been in London last year on a school trip but had not visited the Olympics. He had loved the city and would really like to return. Of course, I mentioned he would be more than welcome to visit with us if he does.

Walking down to Hennessy we got onto the 969 bus. It was a very comfortable bus and obviously built for long distances. We passed through Central then west tunnel across to Kowloon where we followed the expressway up towards the airport but before crossing the enormous Tsing Ma bridge that leads to Lantau and the airport we crossed over the Ting Kau bridge into the New Territories. Promptly we went through another long tunnel through a series of mountains then wound our way along the large highway with trees on either side of us. It was quite a long trip. I noticed some smoke in the mountains, “What is that?” Raymond had a look, “That is because of the festival”. It seems that every year forest fires start during the festival from the incense that people burn on their ancestors’ graves. The authorities simply let the fires burn themselves out.

We arrived at our destination for lunch, the small town of Yeun Long (near Long Ping MTR). Of course, being Hong Kong “small town” is relative. Here it is a number of high rises, street cars and a market. We wandered around the town a bit before lunch having a look through the seafood market which is inside a building and the street markets surrounding it. Everything looked very fresh and prices seemed a lot cheaper than what we have seen in Wan Chai (we were told that is why it was busy - people coming in from elsewhere).

Seafood Market

Eventually it was time for our booking so we headed over to Hoi Tin Garden restaurant which is opposite the Jockey Club Town Square - A concrete and flower-bed park. We were shown up to the first floor to our two tables near the window one of which was already being used by a number of Raymond’s family including a number of small children. They had already started as brief introductions were made. There were a number of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and family friends there. He has six sisters and brothers with 18 years separating the oldest from the youngest.

Of course lunch was dim sum. As is typical with a large crowd the dishes come thick and fast. We had deep fried squid, har gau (steamed prawn dumplings), char sui bau (steamed pork buns), gai lan (Chinese greens with hoi sin sauce), pork dumplings with noodles, cheung fun (wide noodles with pork inside) and some massive vegetable and peanut dumplings in transparent wrappers. I think the relatives were impressed with us trying everything so one gave me a bit of a test by offering me some small deep-fried fish (about 5 cm long). It was explained that you put it in your mouth by the tail then pull out the single bone that runs the length of the fish - It was delicious.

Throughout the chaos that was lunch with such a large group I sat beside a niece that spoke very good English and talked about her first year at university. She is studying at the same university that Raymond got his master at, the Chinese University of Hong Kong in the New Territories (oh, if you don’t know what the New Territories are, that is where we were currently - the northern part of Hong Kong attached to China).

Hoi Tin Restaurant

There were a few apologies as we were told to have a look around for a few minutes while the family visited the parent’s grave. We were not put off in any way and made arrangements to meet later as we headed off. In the market we picked up some reasonably priced oranges ($10 for 8!) then into a rather sterile shopping centre. Each floor was quite small with a number of glass-walled stores packed tightly together with narrow corridors between but on the top two floors was a large department store. On the very top floor we passed through the kitchen department where a number of manufacturers were busy demonstrating their pots and pans by cooking various dishes for the hungry shoppers. It was a bit surreal and quite noisy as well with shouts coming from everywhere.

We found the food section and, oddly, found some graham crackers that we simply cannot find in London. There were a lot of foods from various places: Canada, London, Australia, etc. I was more interested in the various “gourmet” Chinese teas they were offering…

We returned back into the market area with a visit to the enclosed fish market. Fascinated again by what was on offer we went up and down the aisles: A man on the floor shucking oysters, live eels and lobsters, a busy stall selling turtles (I looked away quickly as he was about to bring a cleaver down on the poor creatures head), a man descaling a massive grouper, a net dipping into a tank full of live prawns…The place was alive, in many different ways. Of course, it was also very clean and did not smell at all.

Walking Through the Street Market

Making our way back out into the street vegetable market we returned to the restaurant to sit in the park opposite to wait for Raymond to return. A few minutes later a car pulled up and we got in. We quickly left Yeun Long behind and were on an expressway. Leaving the highway we followed a small road that eventually turned into a single track that wound it’s way through a number of basic houses. A slightly large bulge in the road the car stopped and we got out - From here on in we walked. The small paved path between the houses reminded me a lot of Africa with vegetable patches here and there amongst the basic concrete houses topped with corrugated iron roofs. It was quiet except for the scuffling of our feet as we continued on.

Walking to the family home

Eventually we arrived at Raymond’s family home. Raymond and his sisters and brothers all own the property and rent out parts of their land. His parents originally bought the property for $5,000 but now, of course, the land is much more valuable but as it is inconvenient for transport not as much as you might think. Anyone living here would need a car which is not all that common for people in Hong Kong.

They apologised for the disorganization but explained that no one lived in the house any longer so it was only used when they got together as a family once a month. It was sad, in a way, but happy in another as they chatted, and drank and visited with one another - It was a place to gather as a group. We were shown to the one air conditioned room located at the back of the compound where a table was set up with several people playing mahjong but we quickly returned out to the front where they were laying out their parent’s sacrifice. Sitting down on a bench beside the wall we watched as they completed the ritual then, once the spiritual part of the food had been taken by the spirits the food was split up and we were offered a portion - Roast pork and chicken. Very tasty indeed.

Raymond, Me, Mel and Ava outside the family home

We just sat there as the drama unfolded around us. A young child playing in front of us, a man making tea…I was offered some “special tea” that one of Raymond’s brothers has made by his wife. Very tasty.

Before leaving for dinner we were shown the adjoining properties that they owned. In the distance we could see some high-rises. We were told that was where Raymond’s school was located that he used to walk to every day. An MTR station is also over there, a 15 minute walk away.

We returned to the car to head out for dinner. It was a long drive to a small place called “Lau Fau Shan” which is a market located on the water separating Hong Kong from mainland China (in this case, the city of Shenzhen). We were dropped at the roundabout outside of the market. We made our way quickly through the market with it’s dried seafood, fresh seafood, fruit and vegetables to the waterfront where large drying racks were covered with fish and oysters while the ground was littered with oyster shells. It was not this that we were here to see but rather the sunset over the Shenzhen Bay Bridge - We had just missed it but the haze did mean the sky was still pretty orange.

Sunset at Lau Fau Shan

There were several dozen people here all with the same idea irritating a local lady who just wanted to get on with drying her fish. Several had set up tripods and a group of cyclists were even having their photo taken - For some reason they thought the idea of biting the shells was amusing so that was how they posed as Raymond offered to take the picture.

Crowds Taking Sunset Pictures

Shenzhen stretched all along the far shore in the distant - a mass of highrise office buildings and apartments. Raymond indicated that the Chinese are trying to make it like the successful Exchange Square in Hong Kong but I am not sure this is something (ironically) you can buy. Looking down the Hong Kong shoreline the only thing we could see was trees and boats. A testament to the continued separation the Chinese government enforces between Hong Kong and mainland China. I wonder if it will be like this still 10 years from now? Somehow I doubt it.

We walked back into the market with this end quite dark given that it is normally simply used for drying the catch. But we quickly were back in the bustle of the market proper. There are a lot of dried fish, scallops, cuttlefish, shrimps, etc. We were told that many people come here because it much cheaper than elsewhere. The massive lobsters continue to amaze us but I also saw a big pile of what looked like a white powder being sold but on closer inspection it had eyes - These were very tiny shrimp being sold by the kilo. I don’t have to say that it did not smell in any way.

Throughout the market there are seafood restaurants planted between the fishmongers. These are fairly substantial places with air conditioning, tile, tables, televisions…everything you would expect in a restaurant which is a bit odd with the make-shift nature of the stalls encroaching them from all sides. Obviously after you are done shopping you can stop by to sample some of what you have seen in the market, makes a lot of sense to me.



A bit of discussion later we figured out where we were supposed to go. Approaching the restaurant we went down an alley beside it that passed by several shanty homes and through someones front yard until we were behind the kitchen where a separate two story building had a dining area on the ground floor with three large tables set up and ready for us. Oddly this was like the restaurants themselves - Inside you would never be able to tell you were in the middle of quite a traditional fishing market - The satellite television on the wall showing the latest news, the air conditioner buzzing in the corner, the spotless tile all around you, and fantastic food in front of you. Ok, it was a bit crowded with what must have been about 30 of us eating but it was a really good time.

Dinner Tables

We were the first ones to arrive so had the choice of seats. Opting to be able to look out we sat against the wall beside Raymond and his family. Raymond was on my right (with his wife and daughter beside him - his son was with other members of the family at the other table) and Mel was on my left. Tea was served while we waited for the rest to arrive. Eventually they started to trickle in. I was offered some candied walnuts with sesame seeds that someone had purchased in the market that we quickly devoured with Raymond hissing: “Do not eat too much!” (this was to be repeated much of the evening). It was while before people started showing up in earnest so I snuck out with Raymond’s wife Ava to pick up some walnuts while we waited…I did resist eating any more though. They were not that cheap but they are SO good.

Eventually we were all assembled and the food started to arrive. First up was a large white milky and silky-smooth fish soup. Next up was fish served with celery that was very mild but tasty. Rice with prawns and pork stir fry, large half prawns in their shells served on a bed of noodles, scallops in their shell with “cellophane” noodles, razor clams in a black bean sauce, deep-fried fish goujons with green peppers, the one “westernised dish”: sweet and sour pork (believe it or not, quite tasteless compared to the rest of the food), cooked lettuce with a light dressing, black, shriveled, evil looking deep-fried oysters which were sweet - crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside which had the texture of liver (Mel gave these a miss) and, the climax, crab which everyone dug into with gusto (it was a bit difficult to eat but we were given a few pointers).

The dishes were brought out one at a time so they could be individually appreciated with the next dish arriving only after much of the previous had been dispatched. During the meal there was a lot of talking going on but they were very polite and did not stare at us at all. We shared a few words with them as everyone occupied themselves with the feast in front of us. A few comments about my nick-name “fan tau” (rice bucket) brought a bit of laughter (including from my wife!). Raymond’s daughter did talk to us a bit about her traditional Chinese dancing - So much has changed from the shy girl I saw on my last visit who barely uttered a word to me!

With all of the food there was bound to be left-overs even though there were so many people. Several of our fellow diners packaged up what was left to take home as the bill arrived…at which point all of the men pulled out $1000 bills to put forward. I knew better than to get in the middle of this as I had been told my money was not needed - We were their guests. We were so privileged. I remembered to later remind Raymond that his family were more than welcome to visit us in London where we could return this massive favour he had done for us - An incredible day.

Lau Fau Shan Market

We slowly made our way back to the car which was parked in a mud car park that was pitch black. I sat in the front while we waited for one of Raymond’s cousins (I believe) to drive us back to catch the bus. It took a while but the car got stuffy pretty quickly so I turned on the car and started up the air conditioning after the suggestion from Ava…See, it is not just us!

The drive was quite quiet with this only shattered a bit when Mel provided a gift of Cadbury’s chocolate (from England) to Raymond’s children sitting in the back row of seats. Driving along the highway we could see the fire clearly in the mountains now - an angry line of red across the dark hills. We were let out on a small road and directed to climb a small set of steps we could see leading upwards. Thank yous all around - We had a wonderful day and they seemed to enjoy having us there. I only hope we did not get in the way too much.

Slowly climbing the stairs we reflected on our amazing experience. Incredible. We emerged on a busy highway precisely at the correct bus stop - 969 to Causeway Bay. A short 10 minute wait and the bus arrived, though I did have enough time to buy a coke from a machine…

We continued to reflect on the fast journey back to the hotel. Out the window we passed the Tsing Ma bridge, the container port, then the last skyscrapers of Kowloon before entering the tunnel across the harbour then the highway along the water and ending up where we had started back in Wan Chai.

A stop at 7-11 (go on, guess! I tried some mango sorbet flavour which tasted a lot like cream soda so gave it a miss and went back to my old standby of coke).


Watched television, drank slurpees, scoffed candied walnuts, copied photos to laptop, charge the phones/cameras (in the somewhat oversubscribed power outlet on the wall), did a bit more laundry, changed the thermostat, and drank some water.

Rest of the mind and body.

⇒ Continue to Monday, October 14th - Wan Chai, Hong Kong