Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Island Hopping.

Today had been scheduled as an overflow day in cases more discussions at HKCAC were needed, but the substantial talks yesterday mean that I've taken negotiations as far as my remit will allow on this visit. Both institutions need to go away and consider very carefully the recommendations drawn up.

With time on my hands I decided to explore a different side of the territories and so after breakfast I walked to Tsim Sha Tsui MTR to catch a train north and west to Tung Chung on Lantau. Tung Chung is one of the newest zones and has really grown up to support the airport just a couple of miles further on. It's real claim to fame however is that it houses the Ngong Ping cable car which rises majestically, carrying its passengers four miles, up into the mountains where the Tian Tan seated Buddha overlooks the charming Po Lin monastery.

It was a breathtaking half hour ride high above the remote hiking trails that pick their way through the lush terrain. We rode peak over peak until in the distance Buddha appeared peacefully gazing across the island. Five minutes later the car reached its terminus and out we jumped.

Buddha is a fairly new addition to the Hong Kong tourist scene having only been here since 1993, but at his feet a hub of tacky gift shops and fast food restaurants have opportunistically appeared. They're quickly passed and after a brief climb you find yourself in close proximity to the statue. Circling the base you can see far out over the South China Sea to Macau and the mainland. I dawdled for an hour or so at the monastery watching other tourists light incense offering to the several Gods, some of whom looked, in contrast to the main man, very severe indeed.

Back in Tung Chong I picked up a bus and headed for the traditional fishing village of Tai O. It was a real step back in time. The village is famous for its shrimp paste and wooden stilted houses that stand proud in the natural harbour. This is the most Westerly point of the colony and very little of the commercial wealth generated in the centre of the city finds its way out here. At the far end of the village, past the tightly packed tin shacks and dried fish stalls, offerings were being made to Kwan Tai, a God of War, who has protected the village from malign influence for hundreds of years. Behind, a huge jumbo jet, roared as it took off from the distant airport.

Another bus took me along the Southern shore to catch the ferry from Silvermine Bay out to Cheug Chau, an island made infamous by the exploits of Cheung Po Tsai, a nineteenth century pirate, whose treasure, so it's said, remains undiscovered in one of the vertiginous caves that cling to the coast. Night was falling now and so I decided to forgo the search and instead had a wonderful seafood hot pot, alfresco in a ramshackle restaurant overlooking the harbour. Hard to imagine that this is less than an hour away from the sleek and gleaming buildings of Hong Kong central. I caught the midnight ferry home.


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