>Dragon Back–the best hike in all of Asia


Last week, when it was sunny, we went for a hike along the Dragon’s Back trail. This is an incredible trail on Hong Kong Island and is said to be the best hike in Asia. It follows the mountain ridge so it is also a relatively easy hike–unlike many of the others I’ve described. You start by taking a double-decker bus up to the ridge from the subway station, where you can start the hike. Because it is on Hong Kong Island, it seems more Western–para-sailing along the way and it ends at a beach where people were surfing. These seem so “western” compared to other places we’ve hiked. And of course, many people along the route were Europeans or Americans who live in Hong Kong. It is always another world when we go to Hong Kong Island from Kowloon where we live.

When we ended the hike at the beach, we then had to figure out how to get back to a subway station. I knew I felt comfortable in Hong Kong, when there was a little bus sitting there–we just looked at each other and got on, saying to each other–it has to go someplace! Several times this has happened this time while I’ve been here. You are off some place and have no concern about getting home. A bus will take you someplace that is closer to where you need to be that where you are now. You figure out the next step when you get there.

Someone lost their sole.

Big Wave Beach

>Down from Big Buddha or the Renactment of the Bataan Death March

>Since taking the cable car up to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island, I had always wanted to take the hike down the mountain. We could see the hikers underneath us as we went up the cable car. So Saturday, a group of 6 of us decided to do it. We arrived at Big Buddha around noon. We ate at the Buddhist temple vegetarian restaurant and then after many fits and starts, found the path. By then it was 2 p.m. and the last person in the line of people who helped us find the path said: make sure you get down by dark. “Well of course,” we thought! It is only 8 kilometers and it is downhill!

Thus began the adventure. Surprisingly, the first third of the trail was up! At the highest point we were probably at around 500 meters. At that elevation it was just grasses growing. When were were just starting to contemplate turning around, we went up one last long set of steps. Well, actually two scouts went up the set of steps first. It appeared that we would be going after this high point, so we committed. The challenge was that this was all in the fog–it was a dripping, foggy day. As we started down, we would come upon a cable car tower, only we couldn’t see it until we were right next to it. We had to read our surroundings through our ears–we could finally hear the airplanes so we knew we were on the north slope–correct for going down. And we had to read the plants and temperature–we went from grasses to forest and it began to get warmer.

Most of this way was on hard, rock and cement-paved trail and much of it was steps. Then we came to a little gate that warned of a steep trail going down ahead. We looked over the edge and it was a wooden step structure that went straight down into the cloud. After getting down we walked on wooden raised walkway with no handrails and it sloped toward the drop-off to shed water. Of course it also had algae growing on it. Then we came to another little gate. This one warned of a VERY steep trail going down–more wooden steps going down. We were worried that we would next come to the EXTREMELY steep trail going down next.

We did make it down. It took 3 hours which wasn’t too bad. At the bottom we learned that this particular path was the rescue trail–straight up and down with no switchbacks. We found leather beaters that you were supposed to borrow to put out fires with instructions to be sure and return them after you used them. Then there was the mile-long walk to the subway that first passed through a mangrove swamp and a large housing estate–but it was flat. And then a stop at Starbucks before starting home.

All in all–it was great! One person had a pedometer on and told us we had walked 16,000 steps and it felt like a re-enactment of the Bataan death march–I think the part about the 16,000 steps should be taken literally. Who built those 16,000 steps?

Messages from fellow-travellers

Every day fire beaters–please put them back when done.
Finally, the end is in sight but still some distance off.

In the mangrove swamp

Yes, it was a rescue trail!

>Texture to my drinks

One of the unusual experiences of coming to Asia is the one of drinking juice or some other liquid and finding texture to it–yes, texture. Juice will have bits of aloe or pear. It is added to the juice so it is different than orange juice with pulp!

I’ve asked some locals about this. One theory is that it is a snack and you want to have some substance to a snack. My other theory is that in Chinese cooking, anyway, there is an emphasis on all the senses–color, texture, flavor, smell, etc. Maybe this reflects this aesthetic sense?

The end result is that I chew my juice each morning. Then there is bubble tea–tea with tapioca balls, or there is the tea with red beans…

>Why did I not see this, or understand this, or find this the last time?

>Last night a friend took me to the equivalent of Hong Kong’s Target. It was one subway stop away, right outside the subway escalator. Why did I not know about this before? I lived here for 5 months before and never found it!

Always, the challenge is to be able to explain what you need and have them understand it and then point you in the right direction. This time I was looking for an electric heating pad–translation is an electric blanket, but for your back. And I was looking for a bath mat. One friend directed me to a store in the mall next to our apartment–they had the electric “blankets” but they were way too expensive and complicated. They were more like massage blankets. I looked for a bath mat in everyplace I could think of near by.

Finally last night a friend asked me if I had tried a Japanese department store. A what? Why had I not heard about these?? We took off after dinner at 8:15 p.m. What a discovery! It was like a huge Target in a mall. I could get vitamins there. I could get pens and paper there. I could get a spatula there…I got a bath mat and a desk lamp for a good price. I gave up on the electric heating pad. They don’t have the basic, cheap, version.

A couple of observations have arisen out of this experience–I see and understand things this time that I never did grasp last time I lived in Hong Kong. For example, someone showed me the wet market (market with fresh food) just a block away. Last time I literally walked by it multiple times a week without ever noticing. I figures out quickly how the subways work to enable you to just walk across the platform to catch a different subway line. In the US we have to go up the escalator and off to a different platform. In Hong Kong each exchange overlaps at two stops. At the first crossing spot you get off if you are going to go one direction on the other line. At the second crossing spot you get off if you are going the other direction on the other line. Either way you just exit the subway car and walk across the platform to the other side.

Finally, someone showed me the way to the park that I knew was JUST around the corner. It was huge but I couldn’t find it before because, as is typical in HK, it is on a hillside and you have to figure out the right level and place to access it. Otherwise it appears hidden.

I’ve concluded that three factors are at work in my new discoveries. First, distance and then return makes you see things that were too close before–you need distance to focus. Secondly, I have added some new people to my social network this time and their experiences are added to mine. The combination of our local knowledge has helped all of us! Thirdly, having lived here before and acclimated much more quickly, I am not overwhelmed when getting instructions. When my friend said the Japanese department store was at Lok Fu–I knew where that was and how close it was.

Having said all this…there is a pattern of avoidance that comes with living someplace where you don’t know the language or culture. You live with what you have because it is too difficult to explain what you want! I have a broken refrigerator shelf but don’t want to try to explain this to the main office. I could take it in with me, but I’m not sure they will recognize where it comes from.

I just put it in my cupboard and am living without it. Pick your battles of explanation.

And then there are the milk tea shops. They are everywhere but I never saw them before! They must be new…

>The Meaning of the Word “Hike”

>What does the word “hike” mean? A dictionary I consulted said it meant: “to walk a long distance especially for pleasure or exercise.” Being an American, it implies to me that it is a long walk in a natural setting with few people, as opposed to walking in a city. And we would understand that you better take water and lunch with you. I don’t think an American would say that we take a “hike” through Central Park in NYC. We would instead say that we are going to take a long “walk” through Central Park. In New Zealand, some saying they are going tramping is synonymous with an American saying they are going hiking. It implies walking a long distance for pleasure or exercise in a natural setting with fewer people, where you take your lunch with you to have along the way.

Karis and I went on a church “hike” yesterday. The announcement in the bulletin said it was a “half-day adventure through Phoenix Mountain Forest Park in Shenzhen.” Mmmm. Shenzhen is across the border in China and is basically the industrial source region for all our products in the U.S. that say “made in China.” I’ll write more about Shenzhen at another time…

We were intrigued. It sounded like an adventure. We had one more entry on our visas for China. We wanted to get to know some people from the church we are attending.

As is typical for outings in Hong Kong, the instructions said to meet at a particular exist off the subway line. Karis and I left at 9 a.m. from our apartment in order to be at the appointed place at 10 a.m. We met everyone and got introduced at Exit B of the Tuen Mun Station on the West Rail Line, and set off.

From the Tuen Mun Station we caught a double decker bus that took us up and over the mountain and across a long bridge that passes over the Shenzhen Bay. There we departed and went through Hong Kong immigration to leave and through Chinese immigration to enter (yes–one country but two systems). From that border we caught an express bus to the Shenzhen airport. From the Shenzhen airport we caught a local bus that went through industrial areas and whose last stop was the Phoenix Mountain Forest Park–12:30 p.m.

From home to border

From border to park.

The entrance to the mountain park–cement fence in front of rock. Is the rock natural?

As is typical, a huge open plaza, lined with shops on both sides framed the entrance to the park. We started up the mountain. The way up was a stairway–one way. The line of people made their way up. After doing the first part of the mountain stairway, we found ourselves on another flat open plaza where there were buildings and a temple. Incense, people, and firecrackers were abundant. We didn’t need our lunch because we went and ate at one of the restaurants 🙂 I think I am seeing a relationship amongst high places, Buddhist temples, and tourism.

The “path”

Karis decided to eat her peanut butter and jelly sandwich but in a culturally appropriate way.

The lion dance

After a good lunch, we joined the line of people going up the rest of the stairway, ending up at a tower that was around 440 meters high. At several points along the way, we saw small establishments that sold snacks and drinks. One of the amazing things along the route were women making there way up in high heels and nice dresses. This made me ponder the question of differences in culturally appropriate clothes for “hikes.”

But probably the most interesting thing of the trip was the discovery that many of the wooden handrails and logs for sitting were in fact cement made to look like wood–pseudo nature. And of course, the haze from the industrial pollution was incredible. At one point I asked Karis to feel the bark of a tree for me to see if it was real. I started questioning my own senses.

Pseudo-natural forms. Cement is made from natural products after all.

Back on the street for supper. We had shrink-wrapped dishes to ensure they were clean. I suspect they are washed in the back and then shrink-wrapped with some machine.

We came down the mountain by the “down” path, along with hundreds of others. We reached the bottom plaza to find someone in high heels and a fur coat playing bad mitten. We walked down the street–in China, streets tend to be in a grid pattern and broad unlike crowded Hong Kong–to find a restaurant for supper. Hikes in Hong Kong (and China?) always end with a big Chinese supper at a restaurant.

Sometime before 7 p.m. we headed home. By then it was dark. Karis asked me: “Do you see haze or is that just my imagination?” As you looked out across the street in Shenzhen the haze from the pollution was visible. We took the local bus back to the Shenzhen airport. We took the express bus from the airport back to the border. We went through the Chinese border and then through Hong Kong immigration. From there we all split up, having been able to find buses that went directly back to our individual parts of the city. When we got off the bus I asked Karis: “Does the air seem clearer to you here in Hong Kong?” She looked around seeing the lights in the buildings on the mountain behind our neighborhood and confirmed my sense of reality. We arrived back at home around 10:30 p.m. A hike or a long walk? I can’t say. But it was an adventure–good exercise, good fellowship, and interesting time!

>Occupy Hong Kong and Domestic Helpers


No doubt, few have heard of Occupy Hong Kong. It is located on the first floor of a bank building in Central, Hong Kong Island. The bank is built to be open on the street level. Let me say–it is small–a few small tents, a few people and a few signs. Very few people question capitalism in Hong Kong.

On Sundays, all the domestic helpers from abroad “occupy” Central district because it is their day off. They are the visual reminder of the movement of labor as part of global capitalism. The domestics work for around $500 a month, 6 days a week, 24 hours a day. Legally they must live in the houses where they work and may not pick up any extra jobs. They also work on 2 year contracts. The goal is to use their labor but not allow them to establish residency. We interviewed a few on a Sunday and it was clear that they were financially better off by being in Hong Kong, sending money home to the Philippines or Indonesia. But they are legally vulnerable. On Sundays they sit in all the parks and on the sidewalks of the financial district of Hong Kong.

The open first floor of the bank building, now being occupied by Occupy Hong Kong, is one of the few sheltered places for the domestics to gather on their day off. So on Sundays, the space is shared by Occupy Hong Kong and domestics occupying the financial district. Actually it is more like Occupy Hong Kong has taken space from the domestics. The domestics crowd around the tents, trying to find shelter, with no interest in the meaning of the protest.

Here we have it–young people occcupying a space to protest capitalism; a bank providing shelter for domestics from abroad; the domestics work to send money home to send their young people to school so they can get better jobs; the international domestics are being displaced by the young people protesting the globalization of capitalism.

Doesn’t anyone talk to each other?

>Qualifying What We know


David Jaffee, like me, spent time as a Fulbright scholar in Hong Kong. A sociologist, he spent the year observing street life and informal rules of interaction. As he states: “From a sociological perspective, what I found most fascinating were the forms of public behavior of the native population… I was afforded many hours of natural and unobtrusive observation of social life in a wide range of settings.

Being an outsider, but not a tourist or visitor, is an interesting position to be in. One of the public behaviors that Jaffee experienced was that the entire time he was there (10 months), not once did someone come to his assistance when he stood at a crowded street-corner looking at his Hong Kong map. In fact, people seemed to avoid his gaze.

When I returned to Hong Kong this time, I purposefully tested Jaffee’s findings. I remembered from last time that I had in fact had someone come help my daughter and me when I was lost in Sham Shui Po, totally disoriented after coming out of the subway. But that was only one instance. I wanted to be more scientific in my analysis! The first several weeks I found myself lost at least three times, standing outside a subway system or on a street corner, trying to get oriented. Every single time someone stopped and helped me. One time someone even walked me to within sight of my destination! Was it the fact I was a woman and was with another woman? Was it our age? But Jaffee is about the same age with even more gray hair! I cannot explain the difference in our experiences. But I do appreciate Jaffee’s qualifying in drawing his conclusions:

From my analyses I would arrive at various interpretations and conclusions, some of which may prove to be quite erroneous.”

If only all of us would be more careful at drawing cross-cultural conclusions!