It has been my third hike since the my last punishing climb to the highest mountain in Lantau Island. I intentionally picked these routes on Lantau Island. I wished to remind myself that I’ll return for the challenge.
I never bother to know about the island until recently. Now, I could at least confidently point out some of the attraction sites on a map.
Lantau is the largest island in Hong Kong. It’s one of the rarest location where not a lot of urbanization can be found, especially on the south and west ends. It’s mountainous and so it was designated for the country parks and conservation zones. There’s limited access to the public with only public transportation allowed (buses and taxis). A special permit is needed for the in order to drive on the closed roads which connects most attractions of the island. Only a quota of 25 would be given on each day and applicants can only apply once a month. No wonder the air feels so much fresher here!
Our famed Tai O Village in Lantau (famed as the Hong Kong version of Venice) is popular for most Hong Kongese to visit on the weekends. To me in many ways, It’s similar to most other Outlying Islands, shops, eateries, settings, etc. It gets crowded due to the limited transportation connecting back to the city and its remote geographical location (west end of Lantau). Queues are painsickening from Tung Chung after 11am and 5pm on the way back. Good thing is It’s totally avoidable if you research a little more.
Just when you thought this much-protected island is so sacred out of our precious land or we like relating it as our ‘backyard’. Our Government has in fact rolled out a long-term proposal to develop Lantau as an outdoor activity hub. To most of our wiser minds, we quickly decoded the outdoor activity hub as a smoke screen. Obviously they intentionally leave out the housing plans (which our government is desperately needing flat lands) at this stage yet due to the opposing voice.
It’s fair to say the face of Lantau will in stages evolve into something else. There will be more land reclamation, concrete buildings, open traffic in the coming days. There’re two questions we must ask are – ‘Are we ordinary citizens wanting all these changes?’ , ‘Is the greater good only for the large corporates, real estate developers, the wealthy elites?’
The Individual Visit Scheme (multiple-entry individual visit scheme) was launched to boost the Hong Kong economy after the devastating SARS. It was a crisis and an aftermath and the scheme was not all that annoying until last few years’ parallel trade activities near our border districts. Lots of shops closed down and replaced by pharmacies that sells daily necessities. Train stations filled with these traders packing and lining up to the platform. Clearly, it’s a supply and demand business equilibrium until it affected the districts’ residents. That had caused our local shortage in baby powder, the government had even placed a restriction to no more than carrying 2 cans out of the border after this incident when critically complained by the public.
The swamp of Mainland tourists on Canton Road (The Fifth Avenue of HK) while it’s not as sickening as it’s away from residential districts. It’s mostly avoidable. Franchises such as the luxury fashion brands, electronic retailers and pharmacies have took over most ground level shops in many hotspots in town. Maybe it’s good for the retail and perhaps the overall economy; but as a general citizen who just wish to wonder in town, it gave up our choices, possibilities and rights.
I agreed for the greater good, some of us may need to sacrifice; only when we all know where to draw that line. Our conscious community have been reacting to it by holding rallies, touring through various districts. It’d gotten worse in 2013-2014. I was at first annoyed by it very much. Until recently I realized all that had to be done by these concern groups and political parties, in order to alarm our slow reacting government or the situation would continue to get worse. You may argue there has to be another way. I believe nobody wanted the ‘angry’ way, it’s clear that it’d brought noise and concern to the authorities a lot quicker. It had then stirred up debate in the city.
Last year the authority had finally revised the scheme to become “single visit per week”. It was to respond the public concern and officials finally recognized it as an issue.
The bigger picture we now look at is, for the past 12 years we had no have any new major tourist spots being developed. We had relied so much on the mainland tourists for quick turnovers and ignored the quality world tourists we should also cater. Many mainlanders only visit Hong Kong for consumer goods, there aren’t much for them to see here. “There’s a huge distinction between consumer and tourist.” (Reference: A short documentary in Cantonese)
The city’s development had inevitably wiped out many architectural heritage we once had. It’s important to not only conserve and restore the remains in full scale, we need to embrace it as our history. There’s history in Hong Kong, we cannot put all these behind and shove them in the museums. Not only they can be a visual landmarks, it’s a respect to our land and facilitates our sense of belonging. Unfortunately, the respect to our land is only tied to money – government revenues as land auction to the property developers.
Maybe the still yet-to-be-developed West Kowloon Cultural District is the major (long-term) tourist attraction in the city. I do very much look forward to it after visiting the equivalent project in Taipei, but for now we could just wait and wait some more. We’re at least 10 years behind from the original timeline and the second phase is even pushing longer until 2026-2030. I hate to see it become just another random public parks or shopping malls.
“I stepped out of a mini-bus with my tiring legs and body, dragging myself to the nearest 7-eleven. I wanted any chilled beverage so bad. I gobbled up half of a bottle in just 2 seconds. That moment on I realized I was dehydrated. I looked at my arms each with no less than 12 minor scratches. I was lucky this time.”
From my 9 months of experience, I had climbed peaks or sorts, I have seen the prettiest coastlines with waves hitting through it, nothing but the sea and sky. I’ve been to the widest beach on the hottest day of the summer. I was at the marine conversation zones where the water was so sparkling clear. I’ve seen the longest waterfalls here. I’ve experienced the non-stop wind in under 5 meters of visibility. They’re all some fond memories just by myself.
This hike I’d done recently to Lantau Peak could be the wildest wilderness experience I’ve ever had. It was the longest climb 450 meters in height and most spots required the use of hands. You may think it’s only physical enduring, it required plenty of environmental assessment on each move and the follow up steps, such as the best gripping point without loose rocks and slippery algae. It was much like connecting the dots wherever I tried to move. It later became my second nature where my legs could step on where I’ve just grabbed. There must have been lots of these repetitions. To sum it up, it was just a long slope full of grass and trees.
I did not expect this 2 hour climb would be that challenging. It’s very well be an advanced level climb. Even at some point, I thought only the lone wolf fictional character Ethan Hunt (Missions Impossible) would dare doing this.
I looked down and asked myself, “How was I able to climb this rock when there’s nothing to fall on?”
It was all well until I picked the wrong way down. Not only I could not find a way to the peak, I found myself actually moving deeper and deeper down a rocky stream. And that was my first time knowing how dangerous it can get as I was racing against time (before dark). I was desperately rushing down the stream, and it was not as easy to find the safe path with those vaguely placed ribbon as guidance. The environment was totally uncontrollable, I cannot run, I cannot recklessly jump down. There was the running water, slippery rocks, densely grown thorns I had to avoid. These 3 hours I spent in the downward stream was something I’d not try again alone.
As I tried to sleep on that night, the moving images kept waking me as I shut my eyes. Oddly, the morning after I’d decided I should return to where I’d got lost on a similar clear dry day. I need to go back and next time with better prep. I’m amazed by this difficultly rated route that actually challenged me.
The contrast of our city ranges from skyscrapers to mountains, monotonous grey to colorful neon signs in evening on the old districts. This populated city also has one of the highest concentration of eateries among the world’s cities.
A few of my recent quick bites at our city’s top budget fast food chains made me realize how crappy their food is representing us as a whole. By all means the prices are competitive, not expensive to this day but certainly not that cheap either. Consumers should ask: Are we getting what we paid for? Do you get similar food quality and dining experience with this price range?
I’d paid $56 HKD dollars for a Cantonese BBQ with rice including a drink. For a fast food restaurant, it’s fine. But if you care about what you eat (quality and taste), It was totally not worth it. It’d be a waste of both money and food. It did kill my mood for the rest of the day. Even more so if you see the cook do not care much about your food. That is, treating the serving bowl like a kitchen sink; dumping food into it without zero presentation. Not only it affects your appetite, i cannot see the effort, the heart and the respect for food.
That’s why I’d rather pay for more for the food I deserve. I deserve to feel good when I eat, not only for the purpose of satisfying my stomach.
I hate to see some of the independent restaurants getting closed down due to the raise in rents and operating costs. It’s scraping off our crowned title as food paradise. We’re getting to a point in most accessible places, restaurants are all operated by restaurant groups and franchises. Long time restaurants got replaced and making all districts the same. The replaced restaurants are either offering average food no matter how well they renovate the shop or at a jaw- dropping price for casual meals.
I’m in the food and beverage industry. I hear from our well-informed colleagues over time that the low-mid end restaurants only go for the cheapest ingredients for their food preparation. And they are not competing against their rivals, they are saving costs to survive (longer) until the day they can’t afford the rent.
We do have choice for food, most of the times they’re just not in the most accessible locations. I can’t even find a joint that sells dessert tofu near by, not even a proper Cantonese bakery shop. Steamy buns and egg tarts have been my childhood memory and dessert tofu came in later in my teenage years when my mother used to buy from an old lady underneath a bridge near the market. None of these are fancy, they’re just essential to my knowledge. We have to have them in order to live as a Hong Konger.
This is life, this is Hong Kong.
It’s been a little while since my last post. There was the typhoon completely ruined the originally planned family trip to Macau, then followed by a rainy week. A week later there was the exciting Olympic and couple sessions of photo taking to finalize a book project with an author. There was hardly any chance I could head back to the mountains. With so little going through my mind, I’m still preoccupied by all these emptiness thoughts. The feeling of despair, the feeling of lack behind. There’s not anybody to council with, not that I absolutely need to. Everyday is passing by without any real happenings, almost as if I’m withdrawn from this world. In short, I do not give a damn about anything.
Maybe that has been a cure to my inner self when leaving the doorstep of my home.
The Legislative Council Election is around the corner. I care so little about it, not only because so much drama is happening in their legislative meetings and mixed up political environment. None of these people can solve problems I see the whole time near my living area. Things such as:
– lacking of dog parks (way too many pet owners, peeing everywhere in such populated area),
– poor ventilation in our world’s longest escalator system (it’s a tourist attraction without an attraction in mind, how about paint it little more colorful and decorate it more creatively? Install a few solar-powered electric fans?)
All I ask for as a citizen is to have someone to improve our common living places. I’d been questioning what if I could live in another district, a district that’s more attune to our family’s grassroot lifestyle. The fact is, I’m too grassroot to move anywhere now. We’re all stuck here.
*a handwritten sign says: Mountain has no politics, no graffiti please.
I was one of the few madmen gone far on this off-road hiking path in Tap Mun (Grass Island). The way to the highest point of the tallest mountain on the island required me ducking through the dense woods, bushes and tall grass. It’s one of those paths where I got no clear direction and hardly any distance guide with my line of sight. I would not know where I was heading until reaching the higher ground. In the end, It’s worth noting there was not much to see in terms of scenery.
The memorable part of it all was at the skirt of this mountain. It was a gloomy atmosphere, full of tree branches that were not easily bent. The ground was wet and muddy until I stepped into it while measuring a jump across the ponds of water. If it’s the Amazon, it’s exactly where the crocs find the feasts at. I’d not venture going across it. I wasted no time and got out of this swamp once I found what it seemed to be a way out, with sun beams penetrated through this dark swamp. That was my version of Man vs. Wild.
There was a price to pay and this time a bit more than the minor scratches on my arms. It’s my pair of sunglasses. I lost mine while busy figuring out my way.
The more I think about my work life, the more I feel of an urgency to go outdoor. I somehow found myself ended up in these mini adventures. I’m lucky and native. One thing I’m certain is, if i had a companion; i would not dare going as often, this deep, thus far.
Tap Mun was an island I wanted to explore since the beginning. The open grass land and long high cliffs along the shore remind me of the signature landscape in Ireland. That explains the other name it holds – Grass Island. Just like it sounds, it’s full of grass and plenty of cows. It’d be interesting to know how the cows ended up on this island.
My journey to Tap Mun was an expert coordination in timing, needed 2 hours to get there (which is plenty in Hong Kong). I got on a bus that runs only on Sundays/Public Holidays every 30 minutes, then a boat ride to the island that runs every hour. I later found out there were plenty of speed boats crossing between.
There always have been rewards afterwards. I’d like to keep them simple – just to fulfill my stomach. A kimchi fried rice, a takeaway iced mocha and some quality sunset stroll by the waterfront in Sai Kung.
I wanted an escape. I wanted hide from what I don’t have. I’m partially compartmentalize myself.
There has been some changes in my day job over the past two months. The nature of my sidelined work got segregated due to an internal job relocation of another staff and I became part of a team reporting to two new bosses. Long story short, I got put in a difficult position to handle one of their ambitious projects which involves cold calling. That’s not utilizing my skills. I wish I have some true friends around to talk about it.
The week has been unrealistically moody to me. I wanted to slack some more and stay home happy over this weekend. Subsequently, on friday I received a SMS from a friend, said to support the East Asian Muay Thai Championship match of the boxer (Kenneth Yeung) i’ve met not long ago, in which he’s representing Hong Kong. Without any hesitation, I answered I’d come.
It was free (admission), I was free. So that left me no excuse to see what this sports/martial art was all about. I’ve seen once or twice of the professional level of Thai boxers on TV, but at the arena was my very first time. The helmet and gloves had enough protection just like we’d see in the Olympic games. Just when I thought it’d be fairly difficult to knockout the opponents with all these gear, it was actually possible and that’s what Kenneth precisely did in just over a minute and a half in the first round. As a supporter I was happy to see that, however that made his appearance so much shorter.
Out of all these East Asian countries, I realized Hong Kong is in the upper hand and so competitive in most men and women weight classes. It’s a sport not to be ignored. Let these mesmerizing battle tunes play!