Happy belated Handover Day! Well, actually it was yesterday (July 1). Right after Canada Day (wildly celebrated here as well) and just before 4th of July (which is bound to make me slightly homesick). Moving along, Handover Day marks the 12th anniversary of when Hong Kong, Kowloon & the New Territories were given back to China after being under British rule. Britain had won Hong Kong island and leased the New Territories in 1839 and 1898, after defeating China during the first Opium War. Many people, including the family of one of my program coordinators, left Hong Kong just before the handover because they were wary of its political and economic ramifications. Nobody knew what would happen when you hand “the world’s most capitalistic city” back to a communist country. In some ways, I think they are still trying to figure that out.
the administrative district of Hong Kong
To assuage some of these concerns, stipulations were put in place to protect capitalism and individual rights for at least 50 years. Now, you can see both obvious and subtle remnants of British rule here. For example, many of the streets retain British names, like the Queen’s Road (not to be confused with Queensway), Connought Street, and Wyndam Street (etc., etc.). There is even an area of downtown Hong Kong called SoHo. Circle Ks and Pret a Mangers (staple UK chains) abound. The education system is also modeled after the one in the UK, including school names. To illustrate this point further, my future students attend the following schools: St. Francis Xavier’s School, St. Catherine’s School for Girls, The Jockey Club of Eduyoung College, and Victoria Shanghai Academy. Granted, they also attend schools such as Wong Shiu Chi Secondary School, Tang King Po School, etc. Additional visible signs include the “letter boxes,” which were installed and painted red during British rule, but then later painted green after the handover.
Hong Kong green over British red at The Peak
In Hong Kong yesterday, there were three types of parades: one for celebrating Handover Day (pro-China); one for protesting Handover Day (pro-British/capitalism) and one for those who like to celebrate having a day off of work. I fell into the latter category and therefore did not actually see said parades and/or protests because I ran off to Lantau once again. I expected to like it again, but instead I fell full on in love with Lantau all over again.
i want to live on lantau
This time, we walked to the Central ferry terminal (30 mins), took the ferry (30 mins), and took a bus to the Po Lin Monastery & “Big Buddha” (30 mins). In an hour and a half, we were face to face with Tian Tan, the alleged tallest seated, outdoor, bronze Buddha in the world. He was a sight to behold. Seated on a lotus throne, he is also the only Buddha in China to be facing north. All the others face south. I don’t know the significance of this – anyone else?
Ni hao! one of my friends is suspect of tranquility always being uphill
We walked up the stairs to get closer to the Buddha, who was sitting against a backdrop of beautiful blue sky with lovely clouds whisping along behind him. Though his stature was dominating, being in his shadow was both mesmerizing and peaceful. His hand represents removing affliction. The Buddha has a lovely view of Lantau Island, but behind him lay an even more breathtaking panoramic view of an aqua gem of a reservoir with the ocean and outlying islands stretching out beyond in a haze of blue and triangles. Perhaps there is a lesson in him turning his back to this view? We descended from the Buddha’s throne and walked towards a Tea Garden. We found a lovely little spot for a light lunch of fried rice with “vegetarian chicken.” I had read somewhere that Hong Kong, or was it mainland, mimics vegetarian meats quite well. Well, indeed.
one of the Buddha's cronies (who i wouldn't mind being cast in stone as)
Outside the restaurant, we learned how to rub the “lucky pan” for good fortune. A good rub elicits a spouting, playful fountain and an instrumental sound that I don’t quite have the words to describe. I had a delicious hot lemon tea during lunch and an iced tea afterward. The tea leaves are grown close by the restaurant. The woman who worked there pointed at which kind of leaf we were drinking, but unfortunately my tea recognition skills are not up to par because I have no idea what it was. Perhaps a lotus leaf?
the Wisdom Path
After lunch, we wandered onto the “Wisdom Path” which connects with the Lantau Trail. I don’t know how to explain the rest except to say it was the most peaceful, tranquil, delightful afternoon I have had since arriving. The sun was brilliant and warm, the wind sonorous, the air clear and bright. We had aspirations to go to a beach that fell to the wayside as we melted into this land. This day will stay with me.
We took the Air Tram back down to the other side of Lantau Island, where we caught the MTR back to Hong Kong Island. What a day!
the Air Tram from Nging Ping Village. No thank you for the clear bottomed "Crystal Cabin"
If you would like to see more photos from Lantau, check out the following album.
I am so glad to have found so much greenery in Hong Kong. The day before last, I hiked up to the top of “The Peak,” which is the highest point in Hong Kong Island at about 550 meters (or 1,600 feet). One word: WOW! After a full day of orientation inside, I was ready to explore new territory in my adopted kingdom. I let the group start off without me, for I was craving some downtime and also in dire need of sola time. It turns out we can trek to The Peak right from our campus (I literally google mapped Swire Hall (my dorm) to The Peak and it worked!). I enjoyed a lovely hike up the peak path and caught the group just before the summit. The path was actually a paved road that snaked its way up about 3,000 meters worth of foliage, vistas (now you might be wondering why i walked over 3,000 meters to a 550 meter peak from about halfway between sea level and the peak. i’m still trying to figure that out, but the path was quite gradual and involved a lot of elongated switchbacks). There was quite a mix of pedestrians en route: locals taking an evening stroll, “super fit” joggers sweating their way by, and of course many a tourist heading up for their first view. Upon reaching the top, I was initially surprised to see a legit mall replete with Haagan Daaz (which, by the way, has perfected the art of the quintessential ice cream scoop. and is also apparently spelled Haagen Dazs) & McDonalds…but then I remembered this is Hong Kong!
View of Hong Kong from the Peak Trail
We soaked in the view and then a few of us headed into the mall (obviously) for a drink. Please try not to judge us, but we definitely ate at a Bubba Gumps. I was only a little bit happy to be seated next to a large photograph of Lietenant Dan. Not only that, but we also ordered each and every of the following: french fries, hush puppies, fried shrimp, and onion rings. I know! But what were our other options? A happy meal? Oh dear. The meal went nicely with the chapter on chain restaurants I was reading in “The Man Who Ate Everything,” by Jeffrey Steingarten (thanks for the rec, Sas!). While we were sitting there, the nightly light show theme song came on. Every night at 8pm, the famous buildings in Hong Kong flash their ostentatious and colorful lights to the beat of a cheesey theme song. It is one of the major tourist attractions, but to be honest, I don’t really get it’s fanfare. What was way more entertaining was the Happy Birthday Song (a different version than the one I am used to) being sung by all the waitstaff to the most adorable little boy at a nearby table.
chloe, emily, eric & harry (my co- fellows) at The Peak
We took the tram down what might as well have been a 90 degree angled slope. I felt like an astronaut (or a Jetson?) with the buildings seeming to jut out horizontally from the hillside. The Tram runs up and down without going through the circular turn-around like the ones in San Francisco. As a result, the passengers get the added excitement of facing backwards when traveling downhill. Fun times!
Observation deck at The Peak
For more photos of the peak experience, click here.
I realize this is all out of order, but today (Thurs) was full of orientation activities again. The primary excitement (if you don’t include the dining hall, which I do because there are soooo many unfamiliar choices) of the day was at the very end. This little light flashed in the highest right-hand corner of our classroom around 5:55pm. This flash dance highlighted an obscure sign below that read: “After this light turns on, the regular lights will turn off in 10 minutes.” Having a few more agenda items to get through, no one really thought anything of it. But in 10 minutes, the lights definitely turned off. Worse yet: so did the AC. And even worse: the door locked us in and we didn’t have the special code to get out! Ah!! Terrible news for the claustrophobic! Luckily, I do not fall into this category. Seriously, you would think I would be claustrophobic, but somehow I have escaped that fate. At least for now =)