August 21, 1999 - Hong Kong, China

The first full day in Hong Kong. Woke up first at 7 but passed out and woke up again just after 10:00 am. We decided to head out to Lantau Island to go to the Po Lin monastery. This is the most difficult thing to do, that is, it takes the most time and is the furthest away of any of the things we have time to do while here. Mother really wanted to see the area since it is far more cultural than the city itself.

We did also have to arrange to meet with my friend's parents who had a few things to return to my friend. I did not have time (or it was too late) to give them a call yesterday to arrange when to meet (and where). It is a bit interesting because only a few of his family actually speak English very well so I have to really only talk to the one that speaks it the best though he was not answering his phone…

So, the first step was to take the Star Ferry across to Central. Though not the quickest it certainly the most interesting and the best way to see the harbour (and is very cheap). It was very wavy on the harbour today. It turns out that there is a typhoon warning in place right now, 1, the highest level of warning (we found out that it seems that the typhoon is to hit tomorrow, but it will most likely not hit Hong Kong).

We walked from the Star Ferry tier at Central on Hong Kong Island to the ferry pier for Mui Wo (on Lantau Island). The cost for that ferry was not that bad and it turns out that they were using a hovercraft (which I don't recall using the last time when travelling there). It was certainly interesting though we could not see too much out the windows as we passed by the container port and the commercial areas though we could make out various mountains and unpopulated, small, islands (which, surprisingly, there are a few). Mother could not really see them last night on the bus on the way back from the airport.

We arrived at Mui Wo just after noon, having had a bit to eat on the hovercraft (we picked up a few buns from the pier). Catching a bus, we travelled along a very winding road up to the monastery. Mother thought it was interesting to see it looked a lot like Mexico or some other tropical area. The driver could not really travel that fast up the mountains and through a few small villages. We passed by the jail and dam before making the final push to the monastery.

It was quite a view and mother was quite impressed, repeating how she had been told by a few people that Hong Kong was only city and people. Very pretty up there.

Got off of the bus and picked up tickets for the vegetarian meal at the monastery. It is not required to get access to the giant Buddha statue there but I sort of see it as a donation to the monastery (and feel a bit better to do so). Ok, it was not the cheapest meal but it was good (though that was later). We climbed the large number of stairs up the statue. It has been very hot and after the air conditioning in the bus it was quite overwhelming but we did make it to the top, enjoying the view which was of quite a distance.

It has also been terribly smoggy here recently, evidently, the worst that has been recorded here for quite a number of years. Looking out from the top was not as clear as it could have been, but still pretty impressive. We walked around the lowest tier around the statue.

We also went into the small gallery at the top to look at the various paintings created by the monks over the years. It was very pretty and relaxing. The entrance to that area was included with the meal that we purchased (a rather weird way to pay for it if you ask me, but who am I?). Mother took quite a number of pictures. I have not been taking pictures simply because I have been there before and took pictures then. Besides, I can always just get a copy of hers.

We walked back down to the monastery itself which is around the base of the stairs to the statue. There was a lot of construction on right now but we did manage to look into a few of the temples, though there were a few that were not open to the public. The smell of the joss sticks was something else and a bit much for me…especially in the humidity and heat.

After the statue we headed right over to get the meal we had paid for. The meal was actually quite enjoyable even though the area in which it was held was not exactly first class - plastic chairs, table cloths and very simple floor covering. The food, we both thought, was very good. It was fairly simple, but quite tasty considering there was no meat. It included a lot of mushrooms, potatoes (so we think), celery, etc. prepared like any other Chinese dishes (with rice).

After eating and looking around a bit, avoiding the private areas of the monastery, we headed back to catch the bus. Managed to look a bit at some of the shops just outside of the monastery (which sold various meat dishes for those that missed it with their meal in the monastery) before catching the bus back to Mui Wo to return to central. We were going to go to Tai O, a small fishing village just a little way past Po Lin but it was getting a bit late – after talking to my friend's brother he wanted to meet at 6:30 near our hotel and it would take a little while to return so we did not want to take a chance with time (it was already about 3). We did eventually return in good time, walking around Central a bit before returning to Tsim Sha Tsui (and wandering around a mall there – commenting at, even though it was a nice place, the prices were fairly reasonable). It was raining though and we got a bit wet. I did not really mind it too much, as long as I do not get soaked it is not a problem.

We met Jackie at the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station (outside the Hang Seng Bank - a traditional place to meet someone in an MTR station in Hong Kong - you can tell by the number of people that were obviously waiting there. It was so good that Jackie recognized me immediately (as I did him) – he is quite tall and I remember him from the photograph I took the last time I visited.

This was the first time, obviously, that we had been on the subway here (MTR) and I have always found it was easy to take. We caught the MTR all the way to where they live – last time I was here the train did not go that far but since the opening of the airport link they also opened this new station. That new MTR line is very nice, a lot more modern and just as clean as the rest of the system. Mother was impressed by the glass shields which are basically floor to ceiling with glass doors that only open when a train opens it's doors (preventing accident falling into the track). A lot safer. In London they are doing the same thing on the new Underground stations in Greenwich. Good idea.

We got out right near his home, walking through a park that is right beside the station, walking fairly quickly since it was raining again (and Jackie graciously offered his umbrella to mother). I recognized the building after visiting when I was here two years ago.

We went once again to the 30th floor, opening the iron gate again to have a sit and talk very little. This time, Catherine's mother did not cook for us but instead took us to a little restaurant in the apartment complex. So we all headed out very shortly over to get some food.

Dinner was very good, basically all seafood. They got a large number of dishes (they have the idea that I eat a lot – given to them by my friend) but they were very good. Included crab, steamed fish, fried fish, and various other things. I do know a bit better what to order next time I visit a similar restaurant. The conversation was a bit strained at time but we managed to pull through.

Mother was a bit uncomfortable because my friend's mother kept putting food into her bowl (she was being hospitable but mother seemed a bit full so declined – eventually).

After the meal we headed back to the apartment and we had some absolutely wonderful 'Kung Foo Tea' which is incredibly strong tea (served with a special tea set and made in a particular manner) and it is also incredibly hot – distributed in small cups that can't have held an ounce of liquid. We sat around for the next few minutes with a bit of conversation. It was very good (especially after they shut the windows and turned on the air conditioner – it was getting very hot and humid).

The (ostensible) reason we really visited was to take a (small) parcel back to my friend. I was very surprised when they made me a gift of a small version of the 'Fung Foo Tea' serving set and a large quantity of the tea (which the father gets from mainland China which he visited(s) regularly). It is funny because last night at the market I was actually tempted to get one but I passed because I thought it would be too difficult to take back with me to England. Oh well, it is fantastic!

Jackie walked us to the MTR station and was very gracious. We had a wonderful time visiting. It was only after that I learned that mother had a severe stomach ache because (she thinks) of MSG in the food. I did not know she had problems with it (I did not notice, myself) so it was urgent that we get back to the hotel as quickly as possible so she could at least rest and be near the wash-room if she needed it. Shortly later I went out in search of something that might help her stomach but everything was closing up (it was midnight) and 7-11 did not have anything. I gave up after about half an hour of wandering around the immediate area (and even after getting the lady at reception to write the name of a drug down on a piece of paper to take to the store). The good thing is that she was feeling fine when I got back so I just sat down at the computer and wrote this…

Tomorrow is supposed to be a typhoon, what do you do to entertain yourself in these conditions? Should be interesting.

⇒ Continue to August 22, 1999 - Hong Kong, China