Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sheung Wo Hang to Sha Tau Kok

When most people think of Hong Kong, they think of this:

Not this:

But since we've been here a while now, it's nice to find ways to get away from the city every so often.  We did the Ping Shan heritage trail at Chinese New Year and then more recently the Lung Yeuk Tau heritage trail.  I want to revisit that one, since I got very distracted by the millions of blackflies trying to get a taste of my blood.  Anyway, on Sunday we wanted to go exploring again, so we set off into the far North-East of Hong Kong, very close to the Chinese border.  A lot of this area used to be part of the Frontier Closed Area, but that was scaled back in February this year, so there's a whole lot of new places to visit.  We chose to start our trip at Sheung Wo Hang village, and then walk along to the border and Sha Tau Kok, and visit villages and whatever took our fancy along the way.

Sheung Wo Hang is tucked away in a beautiful valley.  We picked up the 55K minibus from Sheung Shui, and got off where the driver told us to.  Then we walked down this windy little road, where every step took us into this peaceful little green place, where the only sounds were crickets and running water.

The view from the road promised an interesting place. 

 These altars are everywhere in Hong Kong villages.  They all seem to be dedicated to different gods.  Many of the villages in this area were founded by Hakka or Hoklo people, so there may be a cultural aspect which I don't quite understand.

 It was a very pretty little village.  There were more old houses than new, which is always nice, and most of the houses had traditional decorations and chunlian (matching couplets) pasted around the door. 

I don't know how old this tree is, but given the age of the village, I'd say around 130 years. 

 Old and New in Sheung Wo Hang.

 Sheung Wo Hang has one declared monument.  It started life as a clan study hall for members of the Li family in the area that wanted to study for the Imperial entrance exam for civil servants.  After the Imperial system was abolished, the building was converted into a primary school, and operated that way until the 1980s.  In the last ten or so years, the building has been properly restored and declared a monument.  Above, you can see the desks, and the cock loft above that, where boarding students slept.

 The front entrance to the school.

  I don't know what this building was, but it is certainly no more.  It has been completely taken over by plants, and the roof had caved completely.  Sadly, it wasn't somewhere I was too happy about going into, as I didn't know how solid the floor (or what was left of it) was.

 One thing that I really loved about this area was the wildlife.  In the river there were turtles, frogs and a number of different types of fish.  All sorts of birds were flying about, and I have never seen such a variety of butterflies and dragonflies in bright colours.  Annoying to photograph, and the photo above is the best I got, but it was really quite wonderful to watch butterflies the size of birds flitting about.

 Rather than returning to the main road after Sheung Wo Hang, we chose to wander along the river until we came to something else.  Unfortunately this village had a sign outside saying private, and since we didn't run into any friendly villagers to tell us to come in, we didn't.

 So, sadly, this is the closest I got to this wonderful old building.  All I can tell you about it is that it was built in 1933 and it's been home to a single branch of a family since then.  The village is connected to Sheung Wo Hang by some sort of family connection, but otherwise, information on this place is really hard to come by.  Actually, information on many of the villages is hard to come by.  I'm not sure whether this is deliberate on the part of the current villagers to avoid attracting people, or if some of the history and stories have just been lost.

Bus stop, village style.  BYO Chair.  I commented to Craig that if people had done this where we lived in Calgary, the chairs would have lasted about 5 minutes.
The old checkpoint.  These days not an issue, so we could walk right on through.
While I don't love the heat and humidity this time of year, I do love the huge array of tropical flowers there are around.  I can't name many (that's a frangipani though), but the array of shapes, colours and sizes adds nice variety to a walk.  It's certainly a very different palette than the Australian temperate native one that I grew up with (which I still love, it's just different).
Traditional graves in the hillside.

The start of the controlled area.  I would like to find out what we need to visit  the area, and check it out.  There is a famous street that is half China and half Hong Kong.  Being from an island nation, the concept of land borders still amuses me.
The village is pressed right up against the barbed wire fence, and right on the other side is Shenzhen.  If it weren't for the men with the big guns, it probably wouldn't be all that hard to sneak across.
A wall fish in Shan Tsui village.  Parts of the village are extremely run down, and even in ruins, but people are still living there.  I didn't notice many younger people though, so I think some of these villages will eventually die out.

Foliage taking over an old village house.

Village style lock?  Not that it really mattered I suppose...the front wall was really the only bit that was whole.
I wonder if this orchid started life here or if it was "set free" by its owner.  Either way, it does seem to be doing quite well.
Kwan Ah School, clearly no longer in operation.  I didn't see any operational schools during our walk, so I guess that kids have to go into Fanling or Sheung Shui for school.
This was one of the more ostentatious buildings in Sheung Tam Shui Hang.  A local woman told us that the building was about 100 years old, though not the oldest in the village. 
These little cottages might have been a little closer to the oldest though.
Obviously, there was a house here at some point, but the combination of the plants, mosses and weather have crumbled it into ruins.  The plants are slowly winning in a number of buildings in this village.

We weren't sure what this place was.  To us, it looked like a sort of barracks or something, perhaps a leftover from WWII or the civil war.  There was a lot of fighting in the New Territories. 

All in all, I'd say this area is well worth a visit, or even a revisit.  It's nice to remember that Hong Kong isn't all hustle and bustle all the time. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ok, it's been a while

6 months...whoops.

We've been pretty busy, and the last 6 months have been pretty adventure packed.

Chinese New Year came and went with a visit from my mum and sister.  That was really fun!  I even managed to produce a pretty good attempt at a Chinese celebratory meal for Chinese New Year's Eve.

I made a poached fish, Cantonese style, red cooked pork, stir fried bok choy with garlic, blanched gai lan on ice with chilli soy sauce, fried egg and peanut (a favourite from my time in China), and steamed some dumplings (which I bought from the supermarket).  It was all really good, if I do say so myself.

During their trip we also checked out the Ping Shan heritage trail, Stanley, high tea at the Peninsula Hotel, Temple St, and of course a bit of shopping.  The weather wasn't the greatest, in fact it was the coldest Chinese New Year in 16 years.  But I think it was a good trip!

After that, it was back to work for us until easter.  We had open days, parent teacher days and sports days to get through, but we made it eventually.  For easter we went to Macau for a few days. 

I've been to Macau before, and I liked it then, but it's been through a few changes since then.  There's a lot more casinos and hotels than before, and the Cotai strip is new too.  Thankfully Taipa old village is still there, and that was my favourite part last time.  The highlight of the trip was seeing The House of Dancing Water, which is an acrobatic show, in a huge pool that holds the volume of 5 Olympic swimming pools.  The show was fantastic, and I'm really glad that we got to see it. 

In May, we celebrated our first wedding anniversay.  We have had a ridiculously busy first year, and we're hoping for an equally adventurous second year, but perhaps a little bit more settled! 

I have a lot to look forward to now.  I have decided to leave my job at the end of June, so I am looking forward to that.  The long term plan is to return to university to start an MPhil in January 2013, but I'm going to take a few months off before that starts.  The job was good for the short term, and allowed me to pay a decent chunk off my student loan, but in the long term it wasn't going to work out.  I don't have much interest in becoming a secondary school teacher, which is what a lot of the EAs get out of the job, so the job just doesn't challenge me enough, and I want a chance to push myself further, so off to further study I go!  I want to do a PhD eventually, but I'll just get through the MPhil first I think. 

I finish at the end of June, then I have a few weeks of quiet while Craig's finishing up.  Then we're off on a two week holiday in China.  We're going to Beijing for 4 days first, where we'll do all the usual things there like climb the Great Wall, visit the Forbidden City, eat Peking duck, a little shopping, and a few museums.  We are NOT going to line up to see dead Mao.  I've done it before, but once is enough for me, and Craig says he doesn't have much interest in viewing the body of a very ex communist.

After Beijing, we're taking the overnight train to Xi'an, where we'll spend six nights.  I absolutely can't wait for this bit.  Xi'an has been on my bucket list for a long time, and the Terracotta Warriors from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang are sure to be a highlight.  Aside from that though, Xi'an has a cornucopia of historic, archaeological and cultural sites that I'm really excited to see.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to the food on the trip too.  Northern Chinese food, and Hui Chinese food are some of my favourites.  It's really tasty food, and quite unlikely to have hidden shrimp, which is a problem I run into with Cantonese food quite often.

A few weeks after our trip, we have two friends from New Zealand coming to visit, so we can play tour guide for them.  I just hope the weather behaves, because August is bang in the middle of typhoon season!  Craig will go back to work at the end of August, and then I am heading back to Australia for a few weeks to see my family.  I'm looking forward to the trip back, because it means a few weeks of hanging out in the quiet of my mum's place with her and the dogs.  I'll probably be feeling the cold a little, coming out of our summer, but it will still be nice.   After that...hopefully it's just a downhill run to stating uni again.  Here's hoping all goes well!