Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Lunch in Lamma

Lunch in Lamma today. Only a 20 minute trip from misty Central District, Hong Kong, on the ferry Sea Shine to the village of Yung Shue Wan on Lamma Island.

This small village, a few hundred houses, in set in a horseshoe shape around the curve of the bay.

On the left as you arrive and walk down the pier are several picturesque houses on stilts - you really could stick a fishing rod out of the bedroom window and catch your breakfast.

It takes all of three or four minutes to walk into the centre of the village. The road next to the seafront comprises small restaurants. Obviously tourism is the big thing here, and Western tourists too - the fish tanks contents are even identified with English-language labels, the first time I've seen that in Hong Kong.

As we walked along the seafront road two things stuck me: it was eerily quiet, there is no vehicular traffic, apart from small tractors; and there are many small 'twee' restaurants and chic shops selling overpriced tat. It seems English-speaking folk have been lured here by the the charm and peace, and have then done their best to turn it into Benidorm-cum-Brighton-on-(South-China)Sea.

There were few visitors, a combination of the weak economy and the fact it was mid-week. Our ferry, which has space for 300-400 passengers, was only about 20% full.

In no time we had arrived at the edge of the village. The small houses, each comprising one to three stories, abruptly ended and the dense vegetation and shrub began. We turned and walked up the hill, along concrete pathways two or three feet wide, past storm drains and squatter huts. Then, I saw my first star fruit handing on a tree. Hanging on a tree!!! I'd only seen them in the shops before.

In fact, there were lots of them on the tree.

Then, we noticed other fruits, banana trees and papaya trees; in fact, the place was a Garden of Eden.

There was even what looked suspiciously like bougainvillea. When I looked it up, I discovered to my surprise that the plant is evergreen in places where there is rainfall all year; I just hadn't expected to see it in mid-January!

We passed Lamma's main temple, to the goddess of the sea, Tin Hau, a deity often favoured by Hong Kong's seafaring communities. There were the usual spirals of incense hanging outside, a note attached to each identifying the family who had paid for it.

There are quite a lot of Tin Hau temples in Hong Kong and the only claim to fame of this one is that the sculpted Chinese-style lions at the entrance were damaged and replaced in 1960 and the sculptor, who specialised in Western-style lions, made them more Western than Chinese...I thought that was quite appropriate - as much of the village has also been anglicised.

Tin Hau Temple interior

Tin Hau
There was one rather interesting temple, in Sha Po Village, which is close to where we landed. This temple (see below) is dedicated to Sam Shan Kwok Wong, the Emperor of the Three Mountains. It is one of only four temples dedicated to this deity in Hong Kong.

Actually, there was one other 'temple' that caught my eye, a very small, amateurish hall built on the side of one of the concrete paths that went up the hill. It was absolutely stuffed with figures...I think the expression is 'covering all the bases.'

 And so to lunch, a simple dish of ho fun noodles with fried fish and vegetables, accompanied by a bottle of Blue Girl. The entire trip to Lamma and back took is less then three hours; sadly, there wasn't much to detain us longer.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

An Afternoon with Puyi, the last Emperor of China

An excellent afternoon at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence today watching two films about the life of Puyi, the last Ching Emperoror, who was born 110 years ago in 1906.

The Museum is located in Lei Yue Mun Fort, built in the 1880s by the British on top of a hill overlooking the narrow straight between Hong Kong island at Lei Yue Mun and the Kowloon mainland opposite. The Fort never saw serious action until the Japanese invasion in 1941 and there are still some preserved and battle-scarred buildings in the grounds.

Anyway, today's visit was to see the exhibition 'From Son of Heaven to Commoner: Puyi, the Last Emperor of China.' There were a number of exhibits belonging to Puyi such as a dragon robe worn at his coronation, his record player, his personal journals and a travel bag. Most interesting were two biographical films featuring archive film, each running for about an hour.

Aisin-Gioro Puyi became Emperor at the age of three following the maneuverings of the infamous Empress Dowager Cixi - who did not live to see him on the throne - but was overthrown in 1911 at the Revolution. Brought up in isolation from his family, deliberately isolated from other children, including his siblings, dominated by the eunuchs, force-fed a diet of education suitable to support his role as emperor and deity, bowed down to by everyone, not allowed outside the Forbidden City, it is perhaps no surprise that he grew up a very mixed-up young man.

The films bring to life the turmoil and confusion of the early years of this century with warlords battling for power, uprisings erupting regularly, the Japanese plotting and politicians cutting unprincipled deals.

For 12 days in 1917 Puyi was restored to the throne by a warlord but then thrown out of the Forbidden City in 1924. Following this Puyi began more than 20 years of sucking up to the Japanese in the hope of being restored by them to the throne. He sheltered in the Japanese Concession at Tianjin for a few years before agreeing to be the puppet emperor of the Japanese state of Manchukuo (which made some sense as Puyi's national origins were Manchu) but as the years went by and the Japanese increasingly pressured him to conform, he became increasingly distraught.

His traitorous support for Japanese ambitions at the expense of Chinese suffering and self-interested collaboration with them ended with the overthrow of Japan, his capture by Red Army troops in 1945 - while he was trying to flee to Japan. He was taken to testify at the War Crimes Military Tribunal in Tokyo and, after several years under (quite comfortable) Russian house arrest, he was repatriated to China and for ten years underwent 're-education' at the Fushun War Criminals Management Centre.

From 1959 to his death in 1967, Puyi served as a regular citizen, working in the botanical garden, and then as an editor, while writing his biography. At age 56 he married a hospital nurse and enjoyed a happy domestic life. (In contrast, his first wife and Empress Wanrong, died in hospital in 1946 from malnutrition ans the effects of opium withdrawal_.    

Monday, 16 January 2017

CNY Countdown 1

It's less than two weeks now to Chinese New Year (CNY), which falls on Saturday 28th January this year, introducing the Year of the Rooster.

It seems like only yesterday the shops were full of Special Christmas Offers, now the emphasis is on preparing for Chinese New Year with emphasis on lucky red and gold colours. Most stationery shops have CNY greetings cards and there are specialist shops with cards, greetings posters, lucky money packets, red paper lanterns, strings of imitation red firecrackers, images of gods, goldfish and so on.

And it's not just colourful paper displays, there are also lucky fruits and vegetables to display. Gold-coloured oranges are an obvious choice, meaning abundance and happiness, like this display at the entrance of an apartment block (and the pronunciation of the Chinese word for 'orange' sounds like the Chinese word 'success'):

And of course peach and plumb blossoms variously signify prosperity and growth, perseverance and reliability (and warmer days!). Many of the large stores and shopping malls have displays designed to catch the eye and make doting parents whip out their cellphones to take photographs of their little darlings amid the display (and then hopefully, go shopping).

Do you know what these 'lucky' fruits are?

I mean the curious shaped ones? These...

Me neither...pomeloes, shaddocks?

Of course, if you are lucky you might come across a calligrapher at work on the street, preparing a lucky poster with suitable thoughts of good fortune, whatever your situation in life (child, student, businessman, housewife, lover, artist, athlete, etc etc). You can even ask him to write something particular to your situation ('May my Mark 6 numbers win in 2017' maybe).


Most of the large stores and shopping malls have their own displays but this year, instead of the usual static display, the Pacific Place Mall had a small stage showing Chinese Opera extracts. There was only room for an audience of 20 or so and, even with the camera raised over my head, I could not get a clear picture...

I thought 'How do they expect the crowds of people, now about eight or nine deep, many standing on tiptoe, to enjoy the performances????'

And then I realised that they had anticipated the problem; the performances were being video taped and there was a giant screen on the side of the Mall building so that spectators and passers-by alike could enjoy the spectacle.

More photos to follow when I check out the large stores and malls.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Sai Kung's Seafood Street

December 2016 was the third warmest year on record in Hong Kong and yesterday's forecast temperature was up to 24 Celsius (that's mid-70s Fahrenheit) so we headed to the fertile coast of Sai Kung peninsula for a seafood dinner.

Sai King is known as Hong Kong's back garden, equally renowned for its scenic hiking trails and its beautiful coastline with pristine white sandy beaches. The 'seafood street' of Sai Kung town is famous for its many seafood restaurants and when we arrived at 4pm the waterfront was bustling with hungry visitors.

You can either order your seafood from a restaurant menu or buy it from the many small boats (sampans) congregating at the two piers or tied up to the harbour wall.

At the first pier there were up to a dozen sampans tied up with small plastic boxes of fish and shellfish, some ready priced - but haggling expected!

The variety of fish and shellfish was amazing, all alive and apparently in good order. Each sampan had a fisherman/seller awaiting offers and ready to negotiate. Everything from octopuses to shrimps to clams was on show.

Our party, led by CK, who has spent a lifetime in the catering trade and knows his onions (and his grouper), decided to patronise one of the boats moored against the harbour wall.

The particular  boat we bought from had almost one hundred water-filled containers in which were a huge variety of seafood. We ended up buying prawns, razor clams, baby geoduck (a species of large clam), regular clams, two kinds of crabs (one the chunky red backed kind, the other red and white with long spindly legs), fish, and the largest prawns I have ever seen - mantis shrimps (also known as 'pee-ing shrimps' in Cantonese since they shoot a jet of water when picked up!)

There was also a boat that specialised in preserved seafood, sun-dried fish and clams etc, wrapped in polythene, but most of the custom was for the fresh seafood.

People were strolling along the harbour wall, enjoying the warmth and approaching twilight. Everyone seemed to be put for a stroll, grandparents, infants, couples, teenagers and amahs with a day off. There were benches every few yards and I was tempted to sit down - except my chosen bench was already taken...

Do you mind if I ...?


Actually, that's one of the changed I've noticed in Hong Kong over the last 20 years. The number of pet (especially dog)-owners has grown hugely. We passed two separate 'pet hospitals' on the way into Sai Kung and there were literally dozens of people with pets on a leash. However, one of the most amusing aspects is that many of the dogs are small, lap dogs, and are often carried around by their owners. And it's not just small dogs, there are dog-carriages for bigger dogs. Don't believe me? Look here:

We took our purchases to a restaurant and then went for an hour's stroll while they cooked the food. There must have been a couple of hundred yachts in the harbour, from seventy foot long yachts that cost almost a million US to plastic boxes barely six feet long that hardly floated.

The restaurant that we chose was at the far end of the harbour wall, almost as far away as it was possible to get from the self-proclaimed Michelin-starred restaurant near the entrance.  Many of the restaurants are a bit sniffy about cooking food their patrons have brought in - but it's worth making an effort to find the ones that will cook it, that way you guarantee the quality and freshness of your dinner - and save some money; it will cost maybe HK$60-80 per dish for the restaurant to cook for you, but it's well worth it.

Many of the restaurants had their own fish tanks, indeed some restaurants were wall-to-wall fish tanks, while there were also specialist fishmongers along the seafront.

I'd never seen so many fish in my life. 'Here's looking at you, squid!' (with apologies to Humphrey Bogart in the film Casablanca).

The restaurant we chose was at the far end of the harbour wall, and did not look so appealing from the water...(it's on the far left below).

But after an hour the food was all done, steaming plates of seafood accompanied by salty fish fried egg rice and cold bottles of Carlsberg beer. What stands out?

Well the streamed prawns that we started with were succulent and juicy, the mantis shrimps (above) had a huge amount of lobster-like meat, the razor clams were unexpectedly tender with the sweet juicyness of lobster coming through the sauce, the regular clams were extra tasty and the crabs went down well. I'm not a fan of crabs or lobster cooked Chinese-style, the meat ultimately extracted seems out of proportion to the effort required, but the rest of family certainly enjoyed them, possibly their highlight of the evening.

And so home to bed...