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Published: September 3rd 2011
Hello everybody! So last time I made a return to Shanghai to finish up the city, see a bunch of art, even though I generally don’t like (western) art, and become the Shanghai socialite I always knew I could be. And now to Hong Kong Island!
So about Hong Kong Island. I woke up, packed up, and then pulled out my laptop to double check where my hostel was. And as it turned out – there was a mix up in the hostel reservations. The first few days I would be at Ngong Ping, on LanTau island. This is very west of the actual Hong Kong city, stuck up on a mountain top, and a good 40 min bus ride to the metro station, which is then another 40 min metro ride to where I thought I’d be staying for the whole journey. I had a minor freak out, and sadly my good friend Vinati decided to message me during this brief freak out – and I mighta scared her a bit. Sorry V. having maybe 3 hours of sleep probably didn’t help anything either. Whoops. But then I pulled myself together and realized that I had just reserved this hostel for the weekend, and then had the next hostel (much closer to the city) for the week (note, not the next weekend – stupid hosteling website). Furthermore, I realized that the Taiwan embassy would be closed on the weekend, so even if I was in the main city, it wouldn’t really matter (← moment I stopped freaking out).
So with my head back on my shoulders, I got to the airport, realized I hadn’t eaten anything, and was further determined not to pay 100 kuai for airport food. Oh, also I think I might have sent the luggage lady into shock when she saw how much my bag weighed. Just slightly *cough* broke the 15 kilo limit that the airline had for free luggage. But then I boarded the plane and slept. Hard.
Landed at HK international airport, went through customs, while watching an extreme amount of propaganda from the airport convincing everyone building a third terminal was a good idea – not really sure who was against this, especially when it’s a privately owned airport but whatever. After customs and getting my luggage (as opposed to it being lost again – if that had happened, I woulda flipped the frick out, probably would have hulk smashed a pillar or something). I got on the bus to Tung Chung, which is the only real city on LanTau. From there, I grabbed a taxi to Ngong Ping. Now this was very expensive, but I rather dislike busses. For starters, you can’t find a map of bus routes anywhere. Seriously, how am I suppose to take a bus if I have no clue where it goes? And furthermore, you don’t really know where your stop is – you have to guess unless you know the city, which I do not. And I certainly didn’t know LanTau island at this point. So I took a taxi up – well, actually two. Apparently my first taxi had an emergency, so he passed me off to a different taxi about ½ way up – which is fine. We finally made it to the hostel, where the hostel guy, who seemed in disbelief that I was going to stay their three days after looking at my massive luggage, greeted me. However, I didn’t have a different place to stay, so I ensured him I was staying the three nights that I booked, paid my money, and went to sleep in my dorm (where I was the only one there – yes!)
I was woken up by the hostel guy (this guy was running it solo) a little before 10 and was told that the hostel closed from 10am to 4pm. For starters, this is hands down the weirdest rule I think I’ve ever heard in my life. But then I started to realize that this wasn’t a city hostel, but more of a back packers hostel – and was designed more for a quick place to sleep while you were hiking, or having a family vacation outdoors. Hence his disbelieve at my luggage size.
So I grabbed my wallet, Ipod, camera, etc and went out to go explore. As it turns out, Ngong Ping is a rather cool place. They have the worlds largest bronze Buddha statue in the world, as well as a bunch of Buddhist temples, and then a little tourist trap place with some restaurants and what not. So after exploring the area, I went to go buy some breakfast, only to realize I only had 25 HKD on me, and the rest of my money was locked up back at the hostel, which was now closed. And this is a place where the cheapest bottle of water was about 6 HKD. So I got a bottle of water and a ham sandwich from the 7-11 (yes, that place still exist – do be discussed in my next blog), scarfed that down quickly, figured out the bus system more or less, and then went off to explore the temples.
The temples were rather cool, but as I’ve discovered, visiting a temple if you are not of that religion does not consume a lot of time, especially since I always feel weird taking pictures, even when I can. So after visiting the two or three temples in the area, I went off to go climb up the monster staircase to go see the big man (Buddha in this case). I have to admit, it was rather impressive, and the view was fantastic – oh man, I mean the mountain ranges out at LanTau are just beautiful. I’d love to come back at some point in my life and spend a few days hiking the area.
Afterwards, I went off to what was known as the wisdom trail, which is a short hike to about 24 wooden pillars with a famous Buddhist text inscribed on them. And when I say pillars, think about a full grown tree you’d find in a forest, debark it, and cut it in half vertically, so you have half a cylinder. The pillars were put in the shape on an infinity symbol, which was also rather cool.
And then I found my rock. So there was a small path right next to the pillars that led up a small hill, and if you went up high enough, there was a rock that you could climb up, and see the whole Ngong Ping mountain range, as well as all of the pillars. It was just beautiful, and I really felt in touch with nature. That sounds very hippy-ish so let me elaborate. I really do like to hike and what not, but I hadn’t been hiking since my Boy Scout days – so in at least two years. I’d forgotten what it was like to just sit down and enjoy nature, and I’d found the perfect spot to remind myself what I was missing.
Afterwards, I went down to the base of wisdom trail, which was an intersection point of a bunch of different trails. Seeing as I only had 1 liter of water on what was a rather hot day, and with no money to buy any more water, I decided to take a small trail that looped around Ngong Ping (where the Buddha was), as well as choosing tomorrow’s trail, which would head up to a mountain peak. It was a nice scenic trail, and it was kind of cool to see the Buddha from a bunch of different angles. I then had about another hour or so to kill, so I went back to my rock and meditated for a while – something I’ve never done, and was quite peaceful. I never really had the chance on a scout trip to meditate in nature, cause we were either a) finding our campsite b) building our campsite or c) doing other things to ensure out survival, such as cooking. Very relaxing – also gave me a bit of sunburn, which is now an excellent farmers tan. At four I headed back to my hostel, got some money so I could eat a real meal, and then more or less chilled at the hostel, writing some of my blogs.
So I woke up this morning pumped to climb up this mountain trail I saw yesterday, but didn’t attempt due to a lack of water. But now with more money in my pocket, I went back to the 7-11, stocked up on water, got some sandwiches to eat as lunch, and a Gatorade for that extra energy boost, and headed off with my backpack full of provisions. Holy frick on a stick with a brick (bonus points for anyone who can tell me what show that’s from) that trail was a monster. And I’ll admit, I’m not in the best of shape, but I’m not in the worst either. But this trail was basically one super staircase that ranged between 30 degrees and 50 degrees uphill at all times. It was the death trail, only longer (a reference only Dad and maybe Jay will get). At multiple points, I had to stop just to get some water down my throat because I was sweating it out so fast, and it’s not like Philmont where there is negative humidity, so the sweat evaporates the moment it comes out of your pores, but really humid, because the beach is only 2 kilometers away (as the bird flies). So I was dripping sweat, and having to take a lot of breaks. And of course what do I see along my hike, but a bunch of people RUNNING UP AND DOWN THE MOUNTAIN. Wow, was that a slap in the face. And grant it, they’ve been doing this for a while, as they had on running shirts, compression shorts, water bottle phanny packs, etc. But still, a slap in the face. Furthermore, there was one British (or Hong Kong British would be a better guess) couple that was running down and talked to me really quickly (while still going down the mountain) and was surprised I wasn’t going farther than just the mountain top (as the trail would go all the way to Tung Chung) and then warned me of wasps at the top, and then was concerned about me staying hydrated – all while moving mind you. Now I appreciate the wasp warning, but hydration? I was carrying triple the amount of water this guy had. But he meant well, so whatever.
Afterwards I finally made it to the top in about 2 hours. With my legs feeling like jello (and I still had to go back down this super staircase) I was proud for about 5 seconds before I saw the sign that said I’d only gone 1 kilometer. While this is truly a testament more to the difficulty of the trail than my in-shape-ness, this was still another slap in the face. I also didn’t get to enjoy the top for very long, as I started to hear some angry buzzing, and figured it would be better to get out of there without getting stung. So I went back down the mountain.
I went back to the Buddha statue, just cause and then decided to reward myself with some Starbucks at the tourist trap place. This turned out to be very useful, as the Starbucks was right next to subway, and subway had free internet, which meant I could look up where my next hostel was, located, how to get there, how to get to the Taiwan embassy, etc. Also send Vinati an email to tell her that I didn’t die. Then I went back to my rock and chilled for a bit.
When I got back to my hostel, I got a new roomie, who was from Japan, just on vacation touring around a little bit. He was very nice. I went to subway for dinner (cause I felt bad jacking their internet and not buying anything), where I learned that cream soda in Hong Kong is a nuclear green color. No seriously, it even taste like it went through a chemical plant before getting bottled. I went back to the hostel and was ready to settle down for the night, when the Japanese guy said there was a Chinese family who was going to go see some show and that we were invited to come. Well, I’m down for just about anything that isn’t illegal (except for loitering … and J-walking), so I slipped on my shoes and headed off. As it turned out, most of the family didn’t speak English, and the son spoke very very rough English, and seeing that the Japanese guy didn’t know any mandarin or Cantonese (to be refered to for the rest of my blog posts as Canto), I have no idea how they communicated – but lucky for me I speak mandarin, and as we started walking down, they started talking about the wisdom path, and I choose that moment to bust out my mandarin. I will always love the looks on peoples faces when they learn the random white kid knows Chinese, it is truly priceless (and ego boosting to unhealthy levels). So the father, who was super excited about being able to talk with me (as he knew no English) started talking with me about languages and dialects while the son (who knew a bit of English) talked with the Japanese fellow. We walked down to the tourist trap area, where some ShaoLin monks were putting on a martial arts performance. They were quite skilled (duh) and I was rather impressed by their performance, especially by the kid who was doing back hand springs, but instead of using his hands, he decided to use his head.
Then a very special moment happened for me. After the show, it was me, the father, and the Japanese guy standing around, so I got to play translator for the Japanese guy and the father. And I did it – I was able to understand what the father was saying about the monks, their training and schooling, how they were chosen, their daily lives, etc. It probably helped that I knew some of this information ahead of time, but still. Listening comprehension is one of my worst attributes as of right now, but I was able to understand, translate, and retranslate an entire conversation. If there was no other moment on this trip, that moment showed me how far I’ve come in my studies, and how after years of struggling with learning a language, and then have to play a weird game of catch up in college (because CCDS and UNC’s Chinese curriculums are on two totally different paths) I finally am at a level where I can say I’m conversational, and maybe even better. And furthermore, it was total proof that all of my studies were starting to pay off, and all the time and effort I’ve sunk into Chinese was starting to give me some return. Needless to say, I went to sleep very happy that night.
I packed off my stuff, got on a bus to Tung Chung, got a octopus card – which is the public transportation card, but Hong Kong is expanding it, so you can use it to pay for different things at large chains, like McDonalds, and hopped on the subway into the main part of Hong Kong.
And that is where this blog will end. Next stop is Hong Kong (for real), but as always, some thought for food.
How did I forget how awesome hiking is?
How do you build such a big Buddha on top of a big mountain?
Holy frick I can translate things now – BOOYAH!
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