Hong Kong revisited

Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
Trip End Jun 08, 2006

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Sunday, October 2, 2005

We are in Hong Kong for some R&R although after 9 days we feel burnt out living the fast paced HK lifestyle that is essential for survival in this densely packed and convenience world.

For the first few days we stay with newly weds Joyce and Matthew in Hang Hau which is a highly populated area built onto reclaimed land on the Kowloon side. Their executive apartment called 'Residence Oasis' can only be compared to a 5 star hotel. The flat is small but really comfortable. After travelling for over 4 months we seem to enjoy our time even more by living their luxurious lifestyle. We watch DVDs on Joyce's 42" flat screen TV and enjoy a swim in their outdoor swimming pool. Later we use the gym to experience our first jog in 4 months.

Everything here is very convenient. The MTR underground station together with shopping malls contains countless shops and eateries are all connected by indoor passageways to 'Residence Oasis'. The building is only 4 months old and our smart Octopus card provides not only a secure entry pass for us but an electronic personalised order for a lift to the 53rd floor where Joyce's flat is situated. The Octopus card can also be used as a cash debit card for travelling on all public transport systems and for buying items from convenience outlets such as 7-11 and McDonalds.

Our hosts make us extremely welcome and we only feel a little sorry for them as they both must work such long hours that they rarely spend time at home. During our stay Joyce makes a big decision to change her career path. She has only been working for her new boss for 2 weeks but ends up giving 24 hours notice of her resignation only to start her new job the next day. In her old job she typically leaves home at 7.30am and stays in the office until past 10pm. We are even more surprised to see that even on her first day of her new job she ends up working just the same hours. Working here is certainly tough.

Hong Kong has hundreds of small islands with a laid-back feel and we take some day trips to visit some:

Lantau island now houses Chep Lap Kok airport and China's first Disneylands has only just opened. We stay overnight with the DaRoza family and watch the Disneyland evening fireworks free of charge in the privacy of their luxury duplex in Discovery Bay. This beautiful bay is only 30 minutes by ferry from HK island and it feels more spacious and relaxed than the rest of the city. The next morning we take the bus up to the Po-Lin monastery. Here the largest outdoor seated bronze buddha in the world glows above the peaceful monastery amidst the whirling of helicopters which are assisting in the construction of a new cable car due to open in February 2006. The scenery on this island is beautiful and after eating a delicous vegetarian lunch in the monastery we hike downhill back to the seafront passing large mountains and through small nunneries surrounded by green vegetation and huge colourful butterflies.

Lamma island is a short ferry ride from Aberdeen and is this where my father's family originate. There are no cars on this island and, apart from the unsightly powerstation, it is quiet with a bohemian atmosphere. In the northern end we walk past quiet and sandy beaches to the south eastern side. My cousin Philip also takes us to Shek Pai Wan on the south eastern coast where we meet old relatives and we see my father's small plot of land where he dreams to one day retire. From here it is an hour's walk back through butterfly swamps to the main ferry pier. We pass old abandoned houses made of granite and the site where many of my family are buried. At the ferry pier we eat dinner at the Wai Kee Seafood Restaurant which is owned by my second cousin. The restaurant windows house tanks containing various types of fish. We sit beside the sea front feasting on a family banquet which includes fresh shrimps, welks, lobster, fish, cuttlefish, a family special pork-yam and come away with full stomachs and a free T-shirt.

My sister and her husband arrive for a short break in HK and Aunty Lily arranges for us to see our grandmother's old house. My father and his sister were born in this house and it remained occupied by my grandmother until her death in 1989. The building was then bought by the HK government to become a museum which would be an example of a period Chinese house for tourists. However doors of the house have now been locked for around 15 years. Everyone has very special memories of this place and I myself remember well my 8th birthday party there. It is 19 years since I last went inside and it is a very special day to have the doors unlocked and re-enter this house which contains many memories of the past.

The house is situated in a small village called 'Wong Chuk Hang' which literally translates to 'yellow bamboo with stream'. It is very close to the Aberdeen road tunnel and Ocean Park amusements but we still see a few sticks of bamboo to remind us that once this place was totally surrounded by wild bamboo. The village has very basic amenities and not even a sewage system which is unusual for HK's sophisticated lifestyle.

House no. 10 was constructed 150 years ago using only the finest materials by my great grandfather and it is the largest and most splendid house in the village. On the outside walls, pink granite slabs surround the outer walls and the finest green bricks were used in the building. The roof is made of tiles which are stacked vertically and cascade rainwater down to a series of gargoyles decorated as fish or frogs. Embossed coloured figures of chinese lions, bats and flowers made of seashells also line the upper walls and directly under the roof are hand paintings of old chinese scenes.

We enter into the front atrium. There is a main door infront of us and doors to either side. Behind the front door is a fortified locking system which were used to lock close the doors during any Japanese invasions. On the ground directly infront of us is a large water recess which was used to collect rain water from an upper opening.

We walk around the house which has been partially restored and in some places modified by the govenment. The alter prayer room is the most spectacular room and it contains a full sized alter which rises to the top of a 15 foot ceiling. Underneath the alter is a small bedroom where we find my grandmothers bed. There is also a ladder extending to the upper storeroom where we find the old wooden cot which was used by my father and his siblings. The kitchen contains an old fire stove which has huge holes on its top surface which was used for the cooking woks to sit in. This room leads to a back room which used to contain old agricultural equipment. We can still see the a huge wooden grinder which can be operated by foot. My aunty tells me was continuosly used during festival times to grind the flour for the whole village and to make delicious rice cakes. A room to the right of the house was used as the dining room. This leads to a further downstairs room and also has stairs leading upstairs to my father's old bedroom. His metal four poster bed still remains and a side door leads outside to a roof balcony. My older cousin Philip used to spend all his summer holidays in the house and he used the roof as a garden to grow flowering cactus garden.

We also have the opportunity to visit my ancestors' graves which is situated in Aberdeen. It is a special day for all the family as they 'sweep the graves'. Sixteen members of the family meet up and my aunty tidies up a grave which contains the ashes of her parents and brother. Tea in small red cups is offered along with a meal of cooked pork belly, grapes, bananas and red chopsticks. Paper money in large red envelopes bearing images of mobile phones, PCs and watches are burnt hoping to provide everything that our ancestors could possibly need in their afterlife. The family also offer incense sticks as a sign of respect.

We spend a day in Macao which is an easy day trip from HK. Philip takes us to the old cathedral and an interesting museum of this former Portugese colony. We enjoy a typical Portugese meal complete with the delicious egg custard tarts and then spend an hour in one of the latest casinos by the harbour. Nobody in our group gambles but we come away with a few cups of tea and Fiona and Ed find get a free leather card holder each.

We spend our last few days staying with Alan and his 5 month pregnant wife, Lisa. They have only just moved to a new apartment and we enjoy their company visiting the Peak and Stanley market. We visit the Peak in the cool of the night and have a fantastic view of the Hong Kong harbour. Each time I visit this place the view of the skyscapers looks a little different. This year I can see that the harbour is even narrower than before as more land has been reclaimed for buildings. Neon lights now criss cross up and down the contraversial architecture of the Bank of China building which is thought to have bad feng-shui. The new IFC2 building glows like a beacon: the highest above all the other buildings.
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