Spring Holiday, Part 1: Hong Kong
I mentioned how Chinese holidays work in my National Day posts about our trip to Yangshuo, but since this most recent was the biggest holiday of the year, it bears repeating.
Chinese New Year, which is based on the lunar calendar (technically the lunisolar calendar, thanks Wikipedia, but since I don’t even fully understand what that means I’ll just leave it at that) is actually a 15-day celebration that culminates most memorably with a TON of fireworks and firecrackers. Most of China (excluding essential personnel) gets 7 days off– not even kidding, everybody except the bus and taxi drivers and the folks who work at international chains basically get to take a week off– and most of it shuts down especially on the first two days of the Chinese New Year. (I was in Hong Kong for this, and I have never SEEN the streets so empty.) For teachers and students, this means a week off of school (two for Junior high), preceded by a week of final examinations, preceded by a week of prep for final examinations. As a foreign teacher, I don’t give examinations, nor do I have to prep for finals. So the school gave us 3 weeks off right off the bat. As it turned out, my juniors finished a week before the seniors, and as a kindness to us (and because they wanted more prep time) the Senior high English department decided to take our classes for that week as well, so we effectively got a month of paid vacation.
I had already booked my flight based on the original schedule, so on January 10th I suddenly had a week off and week to wait until my flight Thailand. So I spent a couple of days cleaning the house top to bottom, then trundled off to Hong Kong to visit a friend and begin my vacation early.
Now, I’ve been to HK a few times, but have never really done the major tourist things, like visiting the surrounding islands or hiking Victoria’s Peak. So I decided I would try to check some of those things off my list while my host was working, which is why I found myself one afternoon on Lantau island to visit the Tian Tan Buddha– otherwise known as The Big Buddha. Also known as the “world’s tallest outdoor bronze seated Buddha” from 1993-2007, when it was supplanted by the Giant Buddha constructed in Phuket, Thailand, after the tsunami. (Again, thank you Wikipedia.) This sort of thing cracks me up, especially about Buddhas. I swear– and I say this after touring SE Asia– each and every large Buddha statue is touted as “the world’s largest seated Buddha” or “the world’s longest supine Buddha” or “the world’s biggest Buddha made of resin, wood, and bronze casts depicted in a sitting position with one had raised and one hand resting.” The superlatives are out of control. I have actually no idea which is the world’s actual largest Buddha, and it’s sort of not worth spending the time to figure it out for the purposes of this post. Though by all means, have at if it amuses you.
Anyway, the Lantau Buddha is actually quite a thing to see, and it was pleasant to spend an afternoon hiking around the Po Lin Monastery (in and of itself quite interesting, though under construction and so somewhat closed to the public at present) and eating Taiwan-style dumplings at an outdoor bistro down one of the cobblestone streets of the “village” (read: bus station-cum-tourist trap).
The next day being Saturday, my host and I decided to go for a hike in the actually kind of stunning nature at the top of the ridge on Hong Kong Island. Though heavily populated, and often heavily polluted, Hong Kong is also home to abundantly forested areas and some of that sits just over the top of Central and Wanchai districts (which, if you’ve read some of my other posts about Hong Kong, you know these are some of the serious city areas). So we put on our runners and headed up the hill from my friend’s house in Wanchai.
After climbing what I can only assume is the longest, steepest concrete hill known to man, we found ourselves amongst the weathering rocks and rustling trees of the HK hills. The Hong Kong Trail is actually a lush, wending– and substantial– 50 km (roughly 30 mile) hike around the island from Victoria Peak in the northwest to Big Wave Bay in the southeast. In true, efficient Hong Kong fashion, the Trail is divided into Stages, each comprising somewhere between 4 to 7 km (about 2 to 5 miles) and each Stage is rated according to walking difficulty.
We didn’t really bother with the whole Stage business (we’re a bit anarchic that way); we just sorted of started at one point above the apartment, hiked east for a couple of hours, decided the sun would probably set in the not-to-distant future and hey, it was January after all, and set back the way we came. Nevertheless, it was a really nice hike (the Stage we were on is rated a 2/3 for difficulty). One of these days I’d like to try one of the hikes in the more northern parts of mainland Hong Kong: Kowloon or the New Territories. After two full days of hiking, though, I was glad to scarf down some Cantonese barbecue and throw back a couple of beers. Ahhh, vacation.
This Hong Kong trip also featured, besides the strenuous outdoor activity, my first experience with real dim sum. Tragic, I know. But what better place? If you’re unfamiliar with this particular culinary delight, dim sum is basically the Chinese version of tapas, but as a morning or afternoon meal. It comprises small plates of various steamed, fried, and deep fried nummies, such as dumplings, rice cakes, steamed vegetables, and congee which is a sort of savory rice porridge. Tea is also a major component, as with any Chinese meal. And, like most Chinese meals, dim sum is best when ordered “family style” so that everyone gets to try an assortment of different tidbits. Hong Kong is pretty well known for its dim sum, which is after all a Cantonese specialty.
Hiking and dim sum was a great, relaxing way to start my otherwise whirlwind vacation. So! Off to Thailand– see you next post!