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Macau

Today, I took a ferry from Hong Kong, across the harbor to Macau, also designated an S.A.R. (Special Administrative Region) of China. As a former Portuguese colony that was handed back over to China in 1999, Macau retains much of its colonial flavor – from the architecture to the food. There’s pretty much only one thing Macau is known for these days though, and that’s gambling. Macau is the gambling center of Asia – in two months, the casinos here will generate more in revenue that the Las Vegas Strip will in an entire year. It’s something of a playground for Asia’s super-wealthy, but it’s not a place one would want to dwell for long. The roads are laid out in a byzantine (perhaps Portuguese) fashion, making it difficult to orient oneself, while the traffic is worse than in Hong Kong. That said, it was really fun exploring for the day – I went up to the top of the Macau Tower for a view of the city (where one could see all the way to the mainland Chinese port of Zhuhai), and then headed downtown for lunch. There, I went and explored the ruins of St. Paul’s Church, a 16th century cathedral that was built in Macau during colonial times for the large Portuguese Catholic contingent that once lived there. During its heyday, it was one of the largest churches in Asia, but a fire broke out in 1835 and the entire structure was destroyed, save for the front-facing wall. In the afternoon, I walked around a bit more and checked out some of the lavish casinos downtown, such as the Venetian, Grand Lisboa, and Wynn. After that, it was back on the ferry to Hong Kong!

After getting into Kowloon around 6pm, I met up with some friends I made at the guesthouse where I was staying. The day before, we had been sitting around and mentions were made of the eponymously named Mr Wong’s, a restaurant in the Mong Kok district run by a man who’s something of a legendary figure in Hong Kong. Prior to going to his restaurant, I heard all sorts of interesting stories and rumors about Mr. Wong. Some said the restaurant was just a Triad front for money laundering and drug trafficking – how else could they keep prices so low and afford to stay in business? Others whispered about his influence in the political scene… Indeed, even in Hong Kong, corruption is alive and well. This much is known – he’s wealthy, owns apartments all over Hong Kong, drives a Ferrari, and for some unknown reason also runs a budget restaurant that serves up some seriously delicious Cantonese cuisine. With that in mind, we headed over to the hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and proceeded to eat our way through mountains of delicious Chinese food, all cooked up in a tiny kitchen at the back of the restaurant. Mr. Wong himself is a gregarious character, and he knew a couple of my friends from previous visits. If there were any nefarious activities going on here, they were certainly hidden well. The restaurant is popular among foreign exchange students seeking a cheap meal, as well as locals, and indeed, that seemed to be the main demographic here. After several hours partaking of nearly everything on the menu (for a grand total of $42 HKD, or $6 USD), we decided to head back for the evening. After a long walk back through the neon-soaked streets, I chatted with my friends back at the guesthouse for a while, and then turned in for the evening.

12:00 am, by jonbrown 1  |  Comments
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Sai Kung Peninsula; New Territories, Hong Kong

Most of today was spent hiking Stage 2 of the MacLehose Trail, in Hong Kong’s remote eastern peninsula of Sai Kung. Considered part of the New Territories, this rural area has only a few small villages, with most of their income coming from fishing and subsistence farming. The MacLehose Trail is an 8-stage, 100-mile trail that goes all over Hong Kong, but I decided to hike Stage 2 because I’d heard it was both scenic and challenging. It took a combination of MTR, bus, taxi, and hiking to reach the start of the trail early this morning. The entire day turned out to be cloudy and very windy, but it was a great hike all the same. Starting out at Hong Kong’s High Water Reservoir, I ran across several wild cows, grazing along the trail. Cows like these can be found all over Hong Kong, as a result of many cows being set free when farmers moved to the cities en masse long ago. My hike today was filled with scenic vistas – many partially obscured by clouds, but nonetheless impressive. My first stop was at Long Ke Wan Beach, a quarter mile-long strip of sand facing the South China Sea. I was elated to find that nobody was on it, so I stopped there for a quick snack and a drink of water. Being a weekday, I saw nobody on the trail for nearly 5 hours – it was great being able to hike in peace and quiet along the coastline. This region is very hilly, so there were a lot of steep hills to hike up, but the temperatures were not too bad today and so that helped. I then stopped at two other beaches on my way up the coastline – one deserted, the other with just a few campers. The latter is called Ham Tin Wan, or “Big Wave Bay”. There were some big waves out there today, but nobody was surfing. After a long stop here for lunch, I began hiking into the hilly inland of the peninsula, with my destination being a bus stop a couple hours walk away, that would get me back to Hong Kong. During this segment of the hike, I passed through several villages of decent size that were completely abandoned. Temples, ferry buildings, schools – all empty, many of them being reclaimed by the natural growth of vegetation. These villages weren’t on my map, so it was pretty neat to find them. At the time, I didn’t know why they were there or what the backstory was, but I soon found out.

I saw down at the bus stop next to one other lady who looked to be in her late fifties, with streaked blonde hair and a weather-worn face. I struck up a conversation with her and found out she lived in Wong Shek, a village nearby that is still populated. She is of English ancestry, and her parents were involved in running Hong Kong when it was still a British colony, so she’s been here all her life. We talked about my hike for a bit, and then I asked her about the deserted towns I ran across. She told me that those two towns have been abandoned for nearly 20 years. In the 1800s, they were critical smuggling ports by which goods, weapons, and people were trafficked between Mainland China and Hong Kong. They were also used as a base for many of the pirates operating in the region, which was interesting. And in World War II, this is where many Chinese escaped to in order to get away from the Japanese occupation. Interestingly, this town was one of a very few in Hong Kong where all of its citizens were granted British citizenship (when Hong Kong was still a British colony). As a result, nearly all of its citizens moved to Britain over the span of a few years, and who could blame them for chasing a better life? A few stalwart widows remained for decades longer in solitude, but today, all that remains is the abandoned buildings, gradually succumbing to the passage of time. After a long and interesting conversation, we got on the bus. She headed to Sai Kung Village, and I rode back to Hong Kong. It was a tiring but exciting day, and I got a quick dinner before turning in for the night.

11:19 am, by jonbrown  Comments
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