Things did not turn out the way I had intended. However the Lord has a way of arranging things for our good. The plan was to do 5 days of trekking on the more scenic sections of the 100km MacLehose trail in the New Territories, Hong Kong. I managed only one day. I was knocked out after round 1.
We flew Scoot budget and I loved the seat space and legroom. It helped in this overnight flight. I was surprised I slept so well. My body must be tired. I usually die at the thought of overnight flights.
Stayed in Shatin
We landed on 6th November, a Saturday. We took a bus to the Shatin Bus Station and the hotel was around the corner. We checked in, left our luggage, and went in search of brunch. Our first tim sum was next to a public building. The food was better than what I have tasted in Singapore. I must qualify here that I am not a tim sum fan but unanimously everyone, which is about 20 of us, agreed its better value and taste than what they had in Singapore.
We orientated ourselves to the surroundings and looked for supplies for the first day of trek, but were soon tired and ended up in the hotel waiting for the room to be ready by 3pm. Rooms were large and well maintained at Royal Park Hotel and I shared a family room with Vincent, Goh and his son, Keane.
The first section of MacLehose trail
We met to have a 29 HK dollars breakfast set of noodle soup and tea in a small kopitiam opposite the hotel at 6 am. The morning’s trek was rated easiest of the whole stretch: a kind of reservoir hike. To add challenge a part of Section 2 was added to the day’s hike. That added part proved to be a killer for me.
The hike had beautiful views of the reservoir though the weather was warmer that we had expected during what was supposed to be the onset of autumn in Hong Kong. By midday it was as hot as Singapore though less humid. We had our lunch at a pavilion at the end point of the reservoir walk. There were lots of local hikers around.
Section 2 and its effects
The sun was directly overhead when we started uphill for the beginning of section 2. It seemed okay but I did not anticipate that the trek up and down several hills in the hot sun would strain my legs so much. I must admit my physical conditioning was not up to scratch. Since Bukit Timah Hill was closed to hikers, I have not hiked weekly like I did in the past. I have done more cycling but that conditions a different set of leg muscles. I had hoped to return to hiking two months before Hong Kong but the haze killed that plan. So, I paid a price. After 8 hours of a 22 kilometres hike, my legs were aching by the time we went for a delicious Cantonese dinner at the shopping mall. The left thigh and lower leg was tight. I was struggling whether to trek the next day or to rest. I finally decided to rest a day and do the following day’s hike.
I slept over. My legs ached as I walked down the stairs and I felt assured I made the right decision. That morning I had a time of reflection, and meditated on the Revelation chapter I would next be preaching from, and read some commentary notes in my phone. After that I explored the interconnected shopping malls: New Town Plaza (like Takashimaya in Singapore), New Town Plaza II and New Town Plaza III (middle range), and Hilton and Chan Malls (older lower end malls). It took some time for me to get used to this maze. Lunch was a Japanese meal alone as others have gone hiking or touring. I did not mind as I do get charged up when I am alone.
Peng Chou Island and Finger Hill
The second day after the strenuous trek my muscles ached even more than after the first day. Another struggle: I thought I would be okay to go, but then my left leg was still sore. So I gave the day’s hike a miss. It turned out well as I joined Goh who was leading another group on a day-trip to an island called Peng Chou. The ferry brought us there. It had a rustic, kampong feel, with low rise buildings that hark back to the 1950’s. The people there too looked old and there were hardly any young people around. I felt the strong community bonds in this town. It was like everybody knew others via the grapevine of the small tim sum restaurants.
We walked up and down the kinder slopes of Finger Hill in cool and windy weather and caught scenic views of sea and sky. It was leisurely, restful and refreshing. We ended up in a small tim sum place, sitting beside some senior citizens who may have been there since morning. We caught the ferry back and ended up shopping along the main city streets famous for dried goods. Most of the men decided to go back and the ladies wanted to visit the night markets nearby so we parted ways.
Wednesday was declared a day of rest as the key guy on the ground, Vincent, wanted to go to Shenzhen to attend a friend’s birthday function. So Goh led us to Shenzhen. It was convenient by MTR, Hong Kong’s efficient train system. We breezed through immigration and took the train to Lao Jie the shopping belt in Shenzhen. The place reminded me of the several shopping belts in China that I had occasion to visit. The streets were invariably filled with people, noise, salesmen barking to get your attention, and bright red signs of special sales at every corner. After several hours, in my shopping cart was one small penknife with multiple tools; in my wife’s shopping cart: household and personal stuff in bulky boxes. I said, You can also get all this bulky stuff in Singapore. She said, But it’s cheap here. End of story.
Meeting friends from church
On Thursday, some resumed hiking to the highest mountain in Hong Kong in cool and misty weather. Others went to tour Lantau Island – the ferry, the cable car, the gigantic Buddha statue, and a premium vegetarian lunch. I stayed back at the hotel and summarized chapter 5 of “Christian Spirituality” by Alister MacGrath, an AGST assignment for a module in December. I met up with Sunny, Annie and Jacob Chong (who had landed in the early morning) at the Shatin MTR at 4.30pm and my wife and I showed them around and fellowshipped over dessert. Later we had dinner together with Simon and Joy, and Judith, the other church members in the hiking group, and Vincent.
Macau by boat
On Friday we said goodbye to Hong Kong and took the ferry to Macau. We checked into Rio Hotel. I peeped and saw in a discreet doorway people gambling in the casino. Casinos were as commonplace and accepted as Kopitiam in Singapore. The gamblers looked ordinary enough. It was hard to figure who gambled and who does not. We saw lots of stores selling luxury goods, and pawnshops displaying lots of expensive watches.
Macau is a world heritage site. So that afternoon we explored a few heritage areas and searched for the holy grail of the best egg tart in Macau. By the end of the long day we ate burgers in MacDonalds (long story) and walked back by the scenic night skyline of the Macau Tower. It was more of the same thing the next day: visiting Senado Square, shopping along the way up to the St Dominic’s Church and then the ruins of St Paul’s Church on the summit of the hill. It was extremely humid and sun was scorching down. Another group had gone to Zhuhai City in mainland China but I gave it a skip – I had enough of the border crossings and that kind of shopping. Outside of its casinos, Macau is interesting for its Portuguese heritage, historical sites, and the Portuguese egg tart. 3 days and 2 nights should do.
Rural and rustic Hong Kong
As a whole I did not do what I had intended. I had planned to hike on alternate days since I knew I was not physically conditioned for the treks. But as it turned out I could only do one hike and spent the other days resting, leisurely touring and soaking the atmosphere, doing some work, and seeing the rural and rustic parts of Hong Kong I never saw before. This is the part of Hong Kong that I am beginning to fall in love with. I dislike the rudeness and impatience of restaurants staff. I dislike the crowds. I fear the language barrier. But I love the mild seasonal changes. I like the possible weekend leisure options of island hopping, and the many hiking trails and interesting places to explore. I also like the transport system: the MTR, the bus system, the taxi. I used to dislike Hong Kong because most of what I had experienced was limited to attending Christian conferences, and moving in crowded shopping areas, trains and city life. I hope to again hike and explore the rural areas there in the future.