Thursday, July 08, 2010

Final Ramble

I COULD have taken the "Chrystal Cabin". This was promoted as the best option, because there were no queues and you could have 'soared above the forest' and enjoyed other such mind-boggling experiences. I chose to pay HKD50 less and queued for a standard 'cabin' on the chairlift to see the Big Buddah in the forest. It became apparent that the "Chrystal Cabin" was a glass-bottomed, air-conditioned car on the chairlift. While there was no queue for this experience, the wait was just as long, as there was only one "CC" for every standard car and I stood in line for as long as the "CC"ers did. I am not sure the extra cost provided any 'marginal utility' as an economist might refer to it.

The Ramblers separated again for the last full day - I to the Buddah and Jude and Ally to the Disney park. You will need to talk to A or J about their adventures, but I had a 'pearler' of a day. The chairlift ride was sensational, rising up and away from the outlet-shopping town of Tung Chung (last stop before the airport on the MTR train) and up into the clouds. Well normally there would be clouds, but not today (a Buddhist miracle, perhaps?).

The Po Lin monastery at the top is rooly rooly 'touristy', but there was a religious aspect to the goings-on that I was sure that not one of the experiences of the other two Ramblers. Hopping off the chairlift, the Rambler passes through a street lined with shops to provide the Rambler with any number of opportunities to acquire memorabilia of his or her trip. Razzle dazzle, razzle dazzle! Onwards and ever onwards the Rambler presses. Eventually he (or she) is rewarded with an opportunity to view the Buddah up close, a prospect that has been 'on promise' since its first sighting an hour previous from the comfort of the non-chrystal cabin of the chairlift.

At the foot of the stairs up to the Buddah is a ticket box. The lady inside persuaded me to buy a ticket that entitled Ramblers and other similar journey-makers to three things as follows:

1. Entry to the musuem
2. A bottle of water and
3. [Wait for it] am icecream!

Amazingly, one could not collect the last two items until one had passed through the museum! Of these three items, most valued was the bottle of water; then the icecream; then the museum entry. This despite the fact that the museum housed an actual relic of the Buddah presented by some keen followers in Sri Lanka. It was 'tres difficile' to identify exactly what the 'relic' was, as it was encased in 21st Century technology, viz. glass/perspex-looking encasement behind a protected-to-the-max clear barrier. Let me say that a good deal of trust was required in order to understand the true significance of what it was that one (ie me) was beholding.

Having 'done my time' in the museum, I dutifully exited and collected my bottle of water and ice cream. The bottle contained water in two forms: liquid and solid. Yes, a solid core of ice ensured that the remainder of the contents remained cold for as long as the water lasted. In the humid heat it was 'heaven on a stick'.

Further on from the enormous Buddha was a signpost to a monastery separate from the nearby one. Intrigued, I set out on foot to find it. No tourists here. No one really. The path that led into the forest was of substantial construction, but really only a walking path. It led on to a 'Youth Hostel' up off to the left of the path. This captured my interest and up I went. Surely enough, there was the youth hostel. Behind a huge wire fence. There was no sign of life and it was unclear whether it was in use. A decrepit sign outlined the opening times which were typical of YHA rules as I remembered them and it could well still be in use. Difficult to tell, however, and intriguing nonetheless.

Back to the track in search of the monastery, another blip on the path was a sign pointing to a camping area off to the right. Up I went to explore, finding a number of camping areas in terrace formation complete with camp-fire facilities and picnic tables made of concrete. Again, not a soul to be seen. Looked pretty good. A nearby sign contained a plea for all who used the site to look after it and to put rubbish into the nearby bin. Another sign warned of the danger of contracting dengue fever, advising of the need to keep away from shaded areas and to apply plenty of anti-mosquito gunk. I made myself a little promise never to camp here.

Again on the track I came across a huge Chinese-style gate that arched itself across the pathway. A youth of Eastern-European appearance came up the hill towards me. I asked about the monastery and he indicated that it was well worth a visit and much less commercial than the one back at the Huge Buddha. It was about 20 minutes away, down the hill. Off I went.

The monastery was truly amazing. It was a community that appeared to be self-sufficient, with a series of vegetable gardens. On a concrete terrace a whole lot of different spices and other such vegetable matter were drying in the sun. There were a couple of streets with dwellings and various prayer rooms. No sign of life until I happened upon a temple. Here a number of monks/nuns were engaged in a ritual that involved a lot of bowing, gong-striking, chanting and bell tinkling. They didn't appear to mind my stopping and looking. The monks/nuns were dressed in brown cloaks and all had shaved heads. They appeared to be of a different ethnic origin to Chinese in other parts of Hong Kong. A sign asked that no photo be taken.

On down the path to find the other side of the village I came across another temple. Here were two monks engaged in a ceremony different to that of the upper temple. Similar drum-hitting, tinkling and chanting, but quite a different routine. No sound other than those associated with the ritual. No other visitors that I could see and it appeared that my presence was not a problem for anyone.

On my way back up the hill to the chairlift I passed two monks walking separately down to the village, each pulling a shopping trolley (of the type my Grandma, Ethel, used in Preston all those years ago) and carrying an umbrella to protect themselves from the sun. No response to my greeting, they seemed intent on getting back to the village and resuming their amazing (to me) life.

The highly commercial monastery at the top of the hill seemed all the more rapacious after the tranquility of the one I had visited. The ride on the chairlift was just as enjoyable and I then hurtled in to the city on the MTR (train).

One final treat I had planned for myself was to take a ferry out to Lamma Island. It does not appear as though there are any cars on this island, but there is a pedestrian-only street that contains a number of seafood restaurants. I had been out there twice before - once with a crew from CSU, and once with Dear Jude. It really is a must-visit place, as the food is delicious and the ferry-ride is quite 'singular'. The fish dishes are as fresh as ever they could be, and this is evidenced by the actual fish swimming around in their glass tanks. The customer 'literally' (sorry Andy) points to the fish that he/she fancies for dinner and leaves it to the restaurateur to deal with it. Just HOW fresh do you want your fish?

Back on the second-last ferry at 9:05 pm and out to the Gold Coast to check on the adventures of the Disneylanders. You are just going to have to ask them about their day, because I am yet to hear from them directly. I had a pretty wonderful day.

Off home tomorrow.

No more Rambling for some time.

Stay tuned, there will be some overview blogs over the next little while ...

See youse soon!


Sunday, July 04, 2010

Language II & HK Rambling

It has so TOTALLY happened again! Little kids speaking the the language that I would KILL to speak fluently: Choyknees (Cantonese AND Mandarin)! These kids (like their French counterparts) look up to their caring adult and respond fluently in the language that eludes me. They are SO CUTE! They are SO ANNOYING!

Mind you, I do have total command of a few phrases. Here are at least 50% of them:

"Good morning"
"Thank you"
"How are you(se)?"
"My very good friends"

See how I'm really getting on top of the language? No wonder I am continually thought of as a 'real McCoy' around here (I hear shop assistants remarking to each other as I leave a shop: "But surely he is a native-born Chinese!" "No, I heard him say he was an Australian ..."). But I have to acknowledge that these little kids - some as little as 4-y-o - have perfect command. It's a worry.

There is a policy on this blog that 'everyone's a winner'. And I intend to keep it that way. No slagging off at individuals, or making fun of cultural practices. There are only two groups of people I cannot abide, and one of them is those who are intolerant of other people's cultures.

However, here are a few observations that I need to make about sightings in and around Hong Kong. The first is that last night we had dinner at an establishment called "Cooking Restaurant"(!) Another was called "Giant Foot Restaurant" and, though taste-tempting in its nomenclature, we sadly resisted. One other small observation is the number of people on hand in shops to serve you. I bought a pair of sandles the other day and no fewer than four persons waited on me, offering suggestions as to style, colour and price. FOUR! Ally bought a handbag at a shop out at Shen Zhen and again another FOUR peeps to cater to her every whim (and she had a few, let me tell you).

The change in time-zone has been a trouble. At some time between 1:00 am and 3:00 am one wakes. Totally. Absolute consciousness! All around is dark, and it is not clear whether the other two personages who share the room are sharing a similar state. Yet there you are. Awake. Nothing to do but stare at the ceiling. Read your iPhone. Wait in vain for UNconsciousness. For hours. Then it comes. Right on 8:00 am, when one should be hopping up, one nods off to sleep and DOESN'T WAKE TILL 11:30 am! ... By which time the included (ie 'free') breakfast time is finished! THIS HAPPENED YESTERDAY MORNING! Imagine how we felt! It's just as well we are getting this awkwardness over before we get back home. Imagine if that happens on Dear Jude's first day back at work (next Wednesday). We'd better be back on our best routines by then! Fingers crossed ...

One more HUGE ramble tomorrow: Dears Jude and Ally are off to Hong Kong Disneyland. I'm off to the other side of Hong Kong Island for some 'nature' rambling. Should be a hoot!

Get those hugging arms ready, We're a-coming!