Monthly Archives: December 2012
Over a week has passed since arriving back on the Isle and I haven’t had a chance to finish writing about Hong Kong. I’ve been too wrapped up in the cosiness of being home, in the novelty of getting cold and wet and being able to dry off in front of the fire, wearing a scarf and a hat, listening to everyone grumble about the weather, sharing stories, photos, food and laughs with family and friends and it’s not even Christmas yet!
I landed at Heathrow airport at 4:30 in the morning on the 12th to freezing fog and a grand temperature of -4C! I raced through the airport, bustled my way through security and passport control, fought my way to my suitcase and skidded to a halt at the bus stop for RailAir only to find I had to wait half an hour for the first bus which wasn’t until 6am! Back into the airport, nothing could wipe the smile off my face as I wheeled my way into the bathrooms, opened my suitcase and put on 3 more cardigans, the hat and scarf that I had knitted back in the Melbourne winter, a slick of lip balm and made my way back to the bus stop to wait. Arriving at the train at 6:30am station I beamed my way to the desk, smiling to myself that I would be on the train home, racing across the country before mum and dad were even out of bed… BUT Not so fast! “When is the first train to Crewkerne?” I breathed, out of breathe with excitement. The Ticket clerk’s face dropped as she looked at the screen and sorrowfully informed me the next train home was at 7:37am. Nevermind, I wheeled my way to the platform cafe, grateful for my numerous cardigans and £10 I had withdrawn at the airport. Coffee, croissant, magazine, seat and I sit there smiling like a child waiting for the first train to the Westcountry…
That wasn’t the only time I had smiled so hard last week. As I got off the Disney train on Monday and walked down the avenue towards the entrance of DisneyLand Hong Kong I smiled so much my face hurt. I am 28 years old and that day I knocked 20 years off as I wandered around the park, having taken mySELF to Disneyland and released my inner little girl. I few observations I made that day were that little Asian girls dressed as their favourite princess are even more adorable than normal, Mickey Mouse speaks perfect Cantonese, The Lion King spectacular was worth the entrance fee alone and standing in line waiting for a ride by yourself for an hour and a half several times a day, when everyone around you speaks in a foreign tongue, provides a lot of thinking time.
Another thing that made me smile incessantly last week was a walk around The Peak. I took the Peak tram to the top, and paid to go up to Sky Tower, but after that I was wondering what else to do. By reading signposts I discovered a walking route that went right round the mountain, so spent a very happy 2 hours ambling my way along the path, stopping to admire the ever changing panoramic views of Hong Kong and Kowloon as the sun faded in and out and around a bit too. Once at the bottom, with shaky knees from the steep descent, I boarded a bus heading to central, got off it when everyone else did and jumped on a double decker tram to see where that went. Getting off that, I followed my LP map for a bit, then put it away preferring to meander the streets and see what I could find. When darkness fell and I felt I had done enough, I took the star ferry back to Kowloon and sat in wonder gazing at the fabulously lit buildings over on Hong Kong Island. Not hungry enough for dinner, I had just enough money to treat myself to a reflexology treatment before making my way to the airport ready to make my way home.
Now sitting in my bedroom, I am admiring the blue sky, listening to the singing birds who have been hiding from two days of relentless rain and allowing myself to reflect on the fabulous trip I had on my way home.
The next task is a little bit of present wrapping, some baking, perhaps a nice walk in the country b
My first day in HongKong was spent elbowing my way through the throngs of market goers, wandering through the busy streets of Hong Kong with a dead camera battery and my mouth agape at the colours, lights, noise, smells and everything that was being offered to me.
Day two, I took a more tranquil trip to the Island of Lantau to pay the Buddha a visit.
The 34 metre Buddha, on the top of the mountain took 12 years to construct and towers 34 meters high, facing north to offer Hong Kong and China his blessing. Out of the hustle and bustle of the busy city, Buddha sits calmly on the mountain top, unbothered by the tourists rushing to have their photograph taken in front of him and creating a sense of calm and serenity as soon as you catch a glimpse of him.
But with all things religious of course, it’s not just a pilgrimage for Buddhists to visit: It’s also, rather unfortunately, a money creator. A “village” has been built to cater for the hordes of tourists, with restaurants to feed you, shops to tempt you and a well marketed cable car to get you there.
A sucker for heights and seeing things from a different point of view, I opted for the cable car to get there. Little did I know the rest of the world would be doing the same thing. It was a Sunday after all, and I guess everyone had the same idea. Queuing politely, we waited over an hour just to buy the tickets. In countries such as Hong Kong people queue politely – It’s wonderful! After buying the ticket, you then stand tantalizingly close to the cable cars, but realise that the line snakes back and forth and you have at least 30 minutes more to wait. There are two options: the standard car or the “crystal car”, which of course is much more advertised and twice the price of the standard car. It’s got a glass bottom. I do not what want to be swinging over a mountain with no solid floor thank you.
When it was time to get into the car, I clambered in with 9 other people who were a family together. Once in, then broke out the cakes: eating and talking with their mouths full, crumbs spraying everywhere as we swung up the cable, over the waterways, past the airport and up over the mountains.
On arrival, you are accosted by people wanting to sell you a photo they took of you as you got into the cable car. There it is, ready printed and in a frame, or wait for it, in a snow globe! You are told how beautiful you look and what a great Christmas present it would be. Really?? Do my family want a snow globe with a picture of me sitting in a cable car that is still in the station?? Doubt it, but thanks anyway. Next there is a stream of restaurants and gift shops with Buddha paraphernalia offered to you before you have even him.
Breezing past all of that, I made my way to the monastery. At the foot of the steps to Buddha, as I passed glass window, I was asked if I wanted to have lunch. I had been recommended to do so, so I complied and bought my lunch ticket. Instead of visiting Buddha, I was redirected to the Monastery Restaurant. Now, I had imagined a quiet, zen-like place to eat a beautifully cooked vegetarian mean surrounded by monks. Instead it was a clangy canteen restaurant, where I was quickly parked at a table for one, my chopsticks and crockery plonked on the table in front of me, all the time being barked instructions in Cantonese. Not very Zen. A friendly couple caught my eye from a few tables away and invited me to join them, so I gingerly moved tables, upsetting the staff furthermore. Oops sorry.
There are 254 steps to get to Buddha. He’s worth it, but it’s not an easy hike to get there. Once there, you are rewarded with what I can only describe as a majestic presence and despite the tourists getting in each other’s way for photos, a sense of calm descends upon you. In front of Buddha you can see the lush green mountains and behind him, the outlying islands sitting in the haze. There are bronze statues of other gods presenting their offerings to Buddha, with signs in English and Cantonese asking you not to throw coins. Everyone was throwing coins to be caught in the hands of the gods. You could see areas where the statues are starting to be worn, after 20 years of having coins tossed at them.
In the area also, there are options for hiking the island, which if I had had company and better shoes I would have loved to have done. The Path of Wisdom is on at the start of one of these hiking trails.
There are a number of stray dogs wandering around the monastery. I guess they are safe here, as the Monks are vegetarian.
To get back to the metro, I decided to take the bus, rather than pay another $94HKD for the cable car back down the mountain. The bus ride is an attraction in itself, as you wind around the island up and down steep mountain roads and hairpin bends, in a crowded bus. I tried to put my seatbelt on, of course, but it was stuck. So I clung onto the seat in front of me for dear life.
Here’s a selection of photos that show a totally different view of Hong Kong.
I wasn’t even sure where it was when I booked my flight home for Christmas, via four days in Hong Kong.
But here I am in the city that calls itself “Asia’s World City” and here are my observations so far…
It’s not cold. I expected the Northern Hemisphere to shock me with its temperature difference… I guess England will do that for me next week.
The level and use of English here is remarkable.
You can buy genuine fakes of anything here.
People here burp. They don;t cover their mouths, apologise or get embarassed. Two people have burped next to me on the train.
There are a lot of people wandering around wearing surgical masks. No there is not an unusual number of surgeons or dentists and hopefully not a new epidemic of some killer flu either…
It’s normal to hoik up and spit.
People here like to smell things. That is that carry little tubes of something, that look like a lipbalm, or a small perfume and regularly put it in once nostril, close the other and sniff, Regularly, and lots of them.
Lots of people who appear to be Indian or nearby, dressed in suits, keep asking me “nice lady” if I would like a “good copy watch-handbag or handbag-watch miss”
LOADS of people smoke. But there are many outdoor public spaces where it’s prohibited and the fines are LARGE.
It’s wonderfully cheap to travel around. Melbourne and London, you suck!
The markets are a world in themselves. Everything has a “special price”, just for you!
Food is interesting, sometimes alarming. Today I found “Vegetarian Chicken”. Yester Fried Chicken’s feet.
So many things to talk about, but here are a few pics to paint the picture!
In total contrast to my cattle station experience is a week in organic bliss in Northern New South Wales. I sit here, almost on my last day, enjoying the cool breeze that a passing thunderstorm has left, contemplating the simpler things in life.
Although my host is currently working hard studying a degree, she is able to enjoy and appreciate some of these simple pleasures. Up with the sunrise before 6 am, her day starts when the animals are ready for breakfast, which is usually early. The Dexter cows, rescued horses, her funny looking chickens, her cattle dog Ruby who is scared of calves, Little Doggie who spins on his bottom and Sweatpea the not-so-innocent cat all have an important role to play in the daily happenings of this little farm. Each animal named, each loved, each with a personality and story of its own make up the cast of this wonderfully unique setting.
Playing with Spartacus, Venus, Poppy and Violet has become part of my daily routine since arriving here. These relatively new arrivals were in utero on my last visit and now enjoy having their chins scratched and their necks rubbed, whilst curiously licking my hands, undoing my shoelaces and bunting me to see what happens. Their adorable faces and fearless charm has had me in raptures all week, making them the subject of my camera and the highlight of my afternoon.
As well as the joy the animals bring into this welcome dwelling there are the pleasures of growing and harvesting your own fare. Something I have not experienced since setting food on this land is sharing a space and time with someone who has extensive knowledge and uncompromising enjoyment in food. I have been able to take part in this pleasure; learning this week how to make jam from the plums picked in the afternoon, sharing some Mediterranean memories by making Gazpacho from tomatoes in the garden and being able to use at least one ingredient everyday knowing it has been nurtured and cultivated with no added anythings right here on the property.
I have also enjoyed going on egg hunts to find the one egg that gets laid in a different location daily. Today’s egg was delivered on a scrap of hay on the floor of the barn. Neither in the hen house, nor any of the attractive egg laying places arranged this week, but right in the middle of the barn where Ruby the dog is free to gobble it up if she finds it first.
I have joined in on all activities regarding farm life here, which include the ride-on lawn mower, bathing/showering the dogs, putting the chickens to bed, praying for the rain to come and eating wholesomely and whole heartedly. There are also a great many cups of tea consumed, moments laughing at ridiculous animals and dealing with the odd unexpected disaster.
Before I sign off, it is also worth noting that I have, after nearly 14 months in Australia, encountered my first snake! I was cleaning the pool one hot afternoon and noticed a piece of hosepipe on the ground which I hadn’t seen before. Moving closer to pick it up, it moved provoking a reaction involving words rhyming with “duck” and a lot of shouting. I was told to keep still and get a look at it, whilst the snake, seeming unbothered by my outburst raised its head and slithered right past me. It was, on later investigation, discovered to be a yellow faced whip snake. A couple of days later I saw the same, but bigger chilling out on the grass as I was thundering towards it on the lawn mower. It seems my list of “only in Australia” experiences gets longer and longer.
What a lovely week on the organic farm leaving me nice and relaxed before my next adventure.
Lessons from the Bush – a reflection.
Some time after leaving the bush, having had another stint in the city, I am sitting on a rainy afternoon in Northern New South Wales, taking a moment to reflect on what was gained and learnt out there.
It seems obvious to say that I learned a lot from that experience, but when you take yourself away from an existence you understand and place yourself in that of another family, another way of life, another way of seeing things: it stands to reason that you’ll start to think and feel differently about a number of things.
My attitude to that number of things has, of course, changed since being on a cattle station. My aversion to animals I don’t know, particularly dogs has changed drastically. I have never really liked dogs, perhaps because I never had one, nor really knew anyone that did when I was growing up. We were a cat family through and through. Dogs have a horrible smell, need their poo picked up and often dribble. Then there are bush dogs, who roll around in dead things, shit everywhere, live outside and eat anything. Yuk. Yet today, when I was cuddling the cattle dog where I am staying, who was sitting on my lap, frightened of the impending storm, smelling like a dog, I realised how far I had come. I never used to like touching a dog unless I knew I could wash my hands immediately afterwards. I never wanted my clothes to smell of a dog, nor to have a single hair on me that wasn’t mine. But as I was sitting in the paddock, with my arms around this dog as if she were a small child I laughed at the girl who used to hate them.
Living out in the bush, miles away from anything and anyone but the people you work for, you soon learnt to adapt your way of doing things to make life easier. I quickly had to get over the fact that I couldn’t always wash my hands when I wanted. I had to get past my food anxieties regarding use-by dates. I had to rapidly defeat my fear of what might be outside my room at nightfall.
I also stopped wearing make up, sometimes didn’t brush my hair and never did any ironing. I had to swallow my thoughts regarding safety and logic on a number of issues and try letting go of my need for logic and planning on a number of activities.
I swam in a damn that had cow shit around the edge and a number of interesting insects in or around it. I walked and jogged through the bush knowing there were snakes ready to visit. I played with dogs who smelt of dead things, or hunted pigs.
I had to learn to feel ok about a ten year old driving a car, and then that ten year old driving me in that car, and better still, that ten year old driving the 5 of us from a party in the early hours of the morning. I had to learn to let go of the idea that shoes should be warn, helmets on heads and rules should be followed.
Above all I had to learn who I was, so I could effectively live in a place that challenged some of my ideas and compromised some of my beliefs. I had to reassess what was important to me, what was necessary for me and what was acceptable for me. I adapted my eating habits, sleeping patterns and exercise routine to fit in with my surroundings. I learnt to laugh when things annoyed me. I learnt to make things simpler if they were too complicated. I learnt to trust people younger than me, and learnt what it was to be trusted too. I learnt to teach everything I know and make it a learning process. I learnt to take myself away from certain situations and give myself time out. I learnt to look at the sky and see it differently every day.
I learnt that I can make a situation that is wildly unfamiliar for me familiar and that I can make anywhere my home if I need to. I also left that cattle station for the second time, knowing that I had done my best with what I had and can absolutely definitely say that despite moments of sheer frustration at times, or confusion, or just bewilderment, I absolutely definitely wouldn’t change a moment of it.