Today I embark on a little excursion which I had been putting off for a while. I get the ferry from Central to Park Island (formerly Ma Wan), a 3o minute ride. The island lies beneath the motorway from Lantau and Tsing Ma bridge. There is no private transportation access, and it is home to a modern private residential development, and some dumb looking attraction called Noah’s Ark. I’m here to walk past all this crap and find the original village of Ma Wan on the western shore. There are some paths over the hill with “private property signs” which lead down to the main street, which snakes past some wharves, rotting old stilt houses hanging over the beach, a little temple, a ghostly children’s play area and the shells of windowless empty shells of abandoned houses. The street lights still work…The villagers were forcibly ejected to make way and increase the prestige for the new luxury developments. Some locals still fish from the beach and use empty houses as bolt holes. I explore a couple of houses, and climb up flights of stairs onto their flat roofs.
I miss the ferry to Tsuen Wan, as I’m engaged in a chat with KK. This leaves no alternative but to get the ferry back to Central, which is a pity as I had wanted to go somewhere new. In Admiralty I find a vegetarian “cafe” which sells fusion food and I have an interesting laksa risotto. I walk up Hollywood Rd to Man Mo temple, and take in the smokey atmosphere before waking back east through the antiques streets to the mid -central escalators. On the way I come across another calligraphy stand: same political party, same process of writing out good wishes slogans. I pass by Central, a building that captivated me last trip with its many mirrored surfaces. I spend a while exploring the optical effects with my camera and get some great shots.
It’s the end of the work day. Under an elevated walkway is a busy Chinese medicine shop, with workers following recipes to source ingredients from walls of labelled wooden drawers then weigh them out with hand balances. At the door a man is selling herbal teas from vast metal urns. I try one. It is acrid but feels good. I sense this is an old and traditional shop….but when I looked for it on Google Street view later, I saw an empty concrete shell, suggesting that it hasn’t been around for very long at all.
I have an anxious hunt for a recommended restaurant on the 23rd floor of a block in Wan Chai/Causeway Bay. Anxious as my phone battery has run out, and then because my Octopus card is empty so I can’t go anywhere else as it’s late. I’m the last customer in this buddhist place and I feel like a curio or inconvenience to the staff. Anyway the food is good, in spite of the hidden charges!
At sunrise their are groups of monks on the bridge heads. Locals are flocking down the hills to make merit by offering food then being blessed. There is so much food that they will end up not eating it all, for sure.
I negotiate a trip across the reservoir to the partially submerged remains of the old temple. The original village was drowned when the valet was dammed. The present settlement being newer and on higher ground. The temple must have been on a small hill. You are able to disembark and wander into and around the structure. Local mon women are arriving on long tail boats to prepare bunches of jasmine. The offer these to the subsequent passengers on the next couple of boats to land. Locals, I suppose, who have come to pray at the shrine inside the temple. This seems to be an auspicious day.
There is an aura of religion throughout the day. In the evening on the mon bridge I bump into the Taiwanese girl who i chauffeured from the bus station in kanchanaburi. As we watch the increasing number of monks a man in a simple white cotton smock and trousers informs us that there will be a large gathering of monks who will be chanting on the bridge soon. About 80 or so assemble and sit on mats facing the now dimming dusk sky. They have little bottles of energy drink. En masse at 6pm they begin to chant. I sit and absorb for over an hour. The atmosphere is special, though not totally serene, as the occasional boat buzzes out into open water. Not all the monks seem to be immersed. I see one chatting on his mobile and another taking selfies on an iPad! This event is to mark the mid-point of the monks' retreat. Now I understand why there is a monk camp site, and why they are behaving as if they are on holiday! These guys come from all ove thailand and are at Buddhist university. The man in white is also studying there.
So glad I didn't get sunburned today, and I'm surprised!
Today I cycled most of the day, well from when I felt together enough to go out, which was 11. I rented from a girl, who also had a masculine element to her! She wore a skirt made from Hmong fabrics, which I recognised from a bagi bought in chiang mai. We have a discussion about my necklace, and have our doubts about it being real jade. She likes my British accent! The bike rent is 40 per day, I get it for 2 days for 60. Cycling around the place reminds me of Anuradhapura, in that the town is build among the ruins, mostly well restored, of some magnificent wat and palaces, on an island, which contains a number of ditches and tanks. It also reminds me of jogykarta, sukhothai…elements of others. I've done this before: losing myself on archaeological parks, spending long pauses sitting on temple steps watching the world and emptying my mind. There are fallen cherries on the ground, small children selling some kind of bird made from bamboo leaves. There is a souvenir/snack market, where women are smearing green batter onto hot plates to make pandan pancakes. Others in rubber gloves are dropping batter into huge woks of bubbling oil to make donuts. The stalls have bags of twisted dark crispy snacks. On close inspection they seem to be reptilian in origin. Lizard heads?, snake skin?
Lunch is at the small pure vegetarian food place I had read about but thought I had no chance of finding. I just stumbled upon it. Tasty and cheap!
I cross the bridge to the east and off the island, and follow a smal windy road to a place called th elephant krall. This is like a stockade fenced with red tree trunk like piles. I get excited when I spy a pale grey bull elephant with long tusks swaying his body outside this empty arena opposite a school yard. On encircling this massive space I come across a dark skinned man marshalling 2 smaller darker elephants across the road and down a smaller one to a cluster of buildings and wooden structures. Elephants! Maybe 30 of them. This is some kind of elephant sanctuary. It's fantastic. I spend a happy hour or so watching a 3 day old baby elephant stumble at his mother's feel looking for her teets. The mother shows amazing grace and awareness not to step on the tiny creature. Further along the road I come across the river once more. Here, in twos or threes the elephants are being ridden..and then ridden into the water where almost submerged they are washed, their riders standing on their backs like listing living rocks. On the banks of the river some small children are fishing. All these goings on are every day occurrences and unremarkable to them.
I cross the island and over to the other side of the river to experience the end of the sunset at the serene wat chaiwatthanaram, nearly get lost cycling back, and am overtaken by a man with a puppy in the front basket of his motorbike.
Dinner is at gubar. I ask for my curry to be spicy. Big mistake….too hot even for me!