travel tales


It’s been another glorious day.  I visited Lantau island – which I have been to before.  Last time I visited the Po Lin monastery and its Big Buddha I arrived on a misty, mysterious morning.  The Buddha, on his lotus, wafted in and out of view as the clouds shifted.  There were quite a lot of people around but the majority seemed to be Buddhists coming to pray and make offerings.  The atmosphere was serene and almost otherworldly.  It has changed.
Big Buddha, Ngong Ping

A vile theme park has grown up around the Buddha.  Suggested, no doubt, by the arrival of Disneyland Hong Kong at the foot of the mountain.  This didn’t bother me overly since it’s outside the monastery.  What upset me was inside.

I didn’t plan to go round the monastery since I’d visited before.  I just wanted to have a meal – in the vegetarian kitchen I remembered so fondly – before starting on my walk.  I was appalled.
The kitchen has turned commercial while the quality and atmosphere have disappeared.  They just churn out bucket loads of slop to be consumed in a shoddy, sickly yellow room like a 70s community centre.  Not only is the experience unpleasant and the food vile, I was disgusted by the amount of waste there must be with the one size fits all bucket o’ food system.
But forget that.  I left the disappointment behind as I walked out into the sunshine and headed down the mountain to the village of Tai-O.  It was a road walk unfortunately but there wasn’t much traffic.  Really just the buses heading up and down to Po Lin.  There may have been a car or two but I don’t remember any.  It was gloriously sunny, warm but not too hot and I had my hat and long sleeves to protect me so I was a happy bunny as I yomped downhill.  I walked for about an hour but caught a bus for the last stretch – the road got really twisty and the pavement disappeared so I felt the bus was the safer option.

Tai-O is an old fishing village with a number of traditional stilt houses.  It does a roaring trade in dried fish – there was a fairly bustling market on today.  The people seemed friendly and I enjoyed wandering though the narrow streets among the ramshackle houses.

Eventually, at the back of the town, I found a sign pointing uphill to a view point.  I headed up since it seemed pretty and wooded.  After a little while I realised I was walking through a Chinese cemetery.  The valley sides were packed with neat little burial areas, many with their bristles of incense sticks.  It was a really beautiful place.  The ancestors must be very happy there…

I took ages to walk up because I stopped to take hundreds of photos.  It was late afternoon and the sun was casting a rosy light over everything.  It was perfect.  The path took me along a ridge – sea on one side cemetery on the other – to a pretty pagoda.  I stayed there looking at the view, taking more photos and, eventually, bursting into song with the ungovernable joy of it all.
I didn’t want to leave.  It was so perfect and beautiful.  However, as the sun was getting ready to set, a thought popped into my head:  jiang shi
I watch a lot of Hong Kong kung fu movies.  Many of the best involve magic, myths and monsters.  Angry spirits, vengeful ghosts and wicked witches.  One of my all time favourite movies is Mr Vampire.  This Hong Kong classic features many of the above mentioned plus, the star of the show, the jiang shi – a “stiff corpse”, zombie or vampire!
I got a little thrill when I thought of this up on that hilltop – just before I had to walk through the graveyard as night was falling.  Needless to say there was no more shilly-shallying.  Off I trotted down the hill, stopping only to record the sound of the wind among the bamboo (I love China).
So back to Kowloon I came, by bus and MTR.  I got back about 8ish and went looking for something to eat.  I got some pork and noodles in a tiny place around the corner from this building (did I mention I’m in Mirador Mansion?).  It was a meal midway in quality between the low of lunchtime and the (oh so very) high of last night at Crystal Jade.  To top the day off I felt in need of something sweet.  I discovered that the big shiny building next door is called ‘Gourmet Tower’.  Any hope of eating moderately for the rest of the week probably disappeared with the first mouthful of crème brûlée…

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