Yeah, I did it…see other posts. My feet are still sore but Tiger Balm is helping!
Yeah, I did it…see other posts. My feet are still sore but Tiger Balm is helping!
I’ve decided to do a hike today. I get the MTR to the eastern end point of the HK island line to Chai Wan. Here Lonely Cows lets me down as the place I’m looking for for lunch can’t be found. My back up is a stall in the multi-level market next to the mall. Here a get a bag of snacks and buns for my picnic and head for the starting point of the walk, which is gradual climb along a steep road to Cape Collinson, the slopes of which are covered with extensive cemeteries, both Chinese and Catholic. I climb up the terraced steps of the Catholic cemetery for about 20 minutes and the view of Shau Kai Wan and the narrow channel into Junk Bay appears in the haze behind the tower blocks. I carry on up a path through some woodland that opens out on a picnic area. I turn right and carry along a paved road for another 20 minutes before turning up a steep winding path which climbs up to the ridge known as Dragon’s Back. Up here you have views both east looking across the bay to Tung Lung Chau island (though hidden in the haze) and down over the curious promintory town of Shek O; and west over the shelters narrow inlet of Tai Tam harbour.
The path along the ridge climbs to a series of peaks with rocky out-crops, at each of which I take a break and admire the view. It’s a bright overcast day, and not at all cold. It’s funny how the HK guide describes this as a level 8 hike (the hardest). It’s a good work-out but not really strenuous. I take the west-bound path down off the ridge which descends rapidly to the Shek O rd. Here I wait for the bust to Shek O, but a mini-bus arrives first and I inadvertently end up further along the peninsular, as far as the road goes, in the car park above Big Wave Bay. This sandy cove is full of surfers, but the waves are not big. The path that leads around the headland north of the bay is steep and should take me to the signposted prehistoric rock paintings, but I soon realise I have missed them and have gone so far it’s poinless to go back. I’m not sure where the path will go, only that it’s north and in the direction of Cape Collison. Steeper and steeper. I have to climb 312 m Pottinger Peak to get back to the Cape. Feeling tired. At a split in the pathos, where I should have turned left I hear a tuneless song approaching. Hallelluya. At the top of her voice, headphones on ears’ a lone hiking woman remains within earshot for the rest of my hike. When I finally descend, the path so steep, that steps have been cut in the mountainside, I am passed by joggers running UP. The path empties out onto a road, and am amazed to discover I am several miles from Chai Wan still. No public transport at all, dusk falling, I walk a very long descending road flanked by the vast sprawl of the cemetery.
I’m a bit pushed for time and rush to Sai Wan Ho. Golden Veg again, and once again great food. Then I’m off back to the HK Film Archive to watch a fascinating film called Enclave, directed by Li Wei. A documentary in remote Sichuan: a community disregarded by Central Govt, where schooling is in the hands of outsider volunteers who struggle with the primitive conditions and harsh weather. The kids are covered in shit, are using school books from the 1970s, believe Mao is the president, and have no need for any learning as they have no prospects. The people burn fires in their huts for warmth and to cook by; no chimneys, huts full of smoke. Squalid and medieval.The central character is an interesting study in the brainwashed. The village has only very recently got TV, and Yibu (an illiterate adult) watches it eagerly, lapping up what he sees and then praising the virtues of the Chinese army, party and leadership. China is great and I love my country. What he fails to see is that his village has been forgotten by China and is wallowing in a dark age. I wonder how many other places are like this. Do my students who have silver spoons and espouse positivity about progress in China have any awareness of the stark inequalities in this so-called developed country? There is a Q&A afterwards. One of the girl volunteers comes to find me and so kindly offers to translate the conversation with the 22-year old director. There are interesting issues to discuss: communication problems, the diallect of this place being so localised; the unpredictability of the occasionally unhinged alcohol Yibu; the extent to which the film crew’s presence may have exposed the community more to the “developed outside world”; the difficulties in coping with being embedded in such harse and filthy conditions. I’m impressed and inspired by this provocative work.
Director: Li Wei
There is a remote village in Sichuan Daliangshan, the people here lead a life that the same as animals. Electricity became available in the village in 2012, many volunteer teachers came here. Yibu Sugan lost his father when he was young and now lives with his mother. Through television, he has a new way to learn more about the outside world. With the arrival of volunteer teachers, he is praised about leader’s policies and pleased to talk politics, economies, education and other deep opinions with teachers, it reveals the concern about civilisation and un-development.
A pitch black walk up very steep precarious steps aided by a flashlight took me to a dreamy view of fairy tale peaks and clouds. The only soul there for a while then joined by 2 other photographers to contemplate in awed silence. A great start to the day. Not much more to report as I prepare to leave and begin my slow return journey: Guilin: Guangzhou: HK: UK.
After breakfast with the Germans. I meet up with Echo who works at the hostel for our planned hike. First we have to get across the river li by ferry and the ferryman tries to charge me 5rmb when the local rate is 2. He doesn’t really have a leg to stand on when Echo has just paid 2, but still complains and argues for 10 minutes as we are waiting to depart. On the opposite bank we are met by her friend (and this girl’s friend, plus a puppy) who works in a guest house next to the limestone mountains, surrounded by a peaceful garden where they grow all their vegetables. She gives us a lift in an electric motorbike 3-wheeler with a flat bed trailer. It’s a very bumpy ride and we have to get out and push the flimsy vehicle out of a puddle. After dropping off our transport we begin the walk through farms and orchards of huge pomeloes, towel gourds, golden oranges (these smaller than a ping pong ball, green skin, orange flesh), past pig sties and chicken houses, farmers driving cows. It’s very local, slow and quiet on this side of the river. We are hailed by younger girl of about 17 on a bicycle with her 3 year old brother. She tells us that they are making ginger toffee. This involves boiling up sugar and ginger to make a sticky paste which the gnarly old guy stretches and pulls and twists on a bench. It’s then pulled into strips and as it quickly hardens is snipped into bite size pieces by the family. They also make sweets from their own sesame seeds and peanuts. The walk is hot and eventually the path peters out in front of a sheer cliff face. In spite of Echo’s calls and reference pics sent to the colleague back at the hostel we cannot find the right way and have no choice but to descend. It’s amazing the little boy has made it this far completely willing and untiring, the only problem being his losing his tiny blue flipflop which keeps slipping off and needs to be retrieved. At the bottom we become 3 and adopt a backup plan which is to walk along the river to an evocative cave temple. The cave in question having no illumination save for 3 oil lights at an altar. My friends immediate reaction is to use the flashlight on their phones to guide them, but I insist we enter and acclimatise. It is so still and quiet in there. We take a rest and eat some noodles at Echo’s friend’s ghostly guesthouse then head back before 3 when I go to bed for a few hours. Exhausted from the head, and probably our exertions.
The old quarter, which consists of 4 streets, packs up early evening as the tourists have all gone home. The streets are returned to the residents. Loud shrieking kids running up and down. Families, doors open having dinner. Each house has a plain concrete or stone floor with the living room at the front, revealed through open wooden doors. Each contains simple low stools, a table and a huge tv. This is on in every house usually with the sound turned down. I guess it serves as wallpaper. Nobody is actually watching it. I’m glad the TVs are turned down. The chatter of countless TVs from open doors would be hideous. Some houses display a poster of Mao on their wall. Older people sit in the darkness on their front steps, bare chested men chat in hushed voices.
I’ve had a lot of exercise here walking up and down stone stepped paths between the rice terraces getting lost, sweating buckets, passing through tiny wooden housed Yao villages, searching out view points.
Today I woke up to rain and atmospheric must shrouding the moutains. This meant I shelved the walk to ping an. As the rain eased I went for what was intended as a stroll which took me up to view point 2 (music from paradise) where I watched a duck furraging in the paddy for grubs, forgetting the drizzle until a passing Chinese stopped and held her umbrella over me as I took pictures. I like rain. I like watching people trying to cope with the weather. Tourists are particularly funny in their brightly coloured rain ponchos, umbrellas and ubiquitous selfie sticks, carrying on regardless. The locals are much more canny. No building work today, nobody tending the rice, no Yao women trying to sell you postcards. When I start walking I find it hard to stop and today I went on to,”seven stars chase the moon” then to “thousand layers to the heaven”, down to zhuangjie village, where I got lost but eventually came down on top of Dazhai. I had a lunch of spicy tofu and rice, which was enormous. Fortified I tackled the climb to the highest point, seen directly from the terrace at my hostel, “golden Buddha peak”. A nice path that climbs alongside a bubbling stream, fir trees, ferns, colourful flowers, butterflies, one type the size of my hand. There are a lot of people coming down the mountain. Girls in dresses, some in flip flops. Evidently they took the cable car up and expect an easy descent. There is a massive multi-layered viewing terrace at the top. An orgy of photo activities: dressing in ethnic costumes, touching a massive unhappy tortoise, some holy wood with an inscription. Yao women weaving and attempting to sell their wastes. It’s not raining but the low cloud drifts across the valleys. I’m now very familiar with the geography here and can make out everywhere I’ve been in the last few days. I’m looking for a cut across to tiantouzhai on the way down. This is the path I wanted to take yesterday, but once again I couldn’t find it. So I’m back in Dazhai to do the 40 minute climb back to tiantouzhai for the third day in a row. It’s interesting retracing a familiar path where there is do much life and noticing the small differences. The horse tethered by the building site is not there today. The 2 groups of card players are there again. This must be a daily activity at this time. The men clearing a site for probably a new guest house are not there today. The man cooking bamboo filled with rice on the first slope of my village is not cooking today. It’s a sweaty climb home and it feels wonderful to get back and relax.
Tiantouzhai is to the left of the centre of the picture.
Today is an early start. I have ted bean and dried mandarin soup downstairs then get the metro to central and walk to the piers to meet KK. We are going to Lamma island, a quiet island of 2 villages and a coal/ gas power station. It’s quite a choppy ride on the ferry around the west of Hong Kong island through busy the bay busy with freight ships, Macau catermarans and tiny lurching fishing boats. The view of the island and the glass towers glittering in the sun is a wonderful sight. South of Hong Kong island Lamma comes into sight with its incongruous 3 chimneys rising above the hills. Yung shue long is the larger of the 2 villages and is a cluster of narrow streets, I believed to be serene but with frequent urgent traffic of quad bike tractor type machines driven by tanned sweating locals delivering goods. We walk past numerous sea food restaurants and tanks of fish unaware that they will be chosen and plucked out for someone’s lunch. By 10.30 it is very hot and the sun is strong. We have a pit stop at a ramshackle stall with a covered seating area for some sweetened tofu custard. The old man serving is rather confused with his maths. Through KK’s eavesdropping we learn he is 86. He has an audience with some kind of visiting social worker who is rather harsh and cruel in her speech as she talks about his difficulties to the group of teenagers with her. Maybe they are her students. Quite soon an old woman appears. Evidently the wife and 82 years old. She is critical of this woman but also her husband for not clearing the tables. This ancient sprightly woman leaps to work all the time cracking jokes in hokkien with some other customers. Eventually the daughter appears and takes over. We walk a little further to hung shing ye beach. A Christian youth group are sat in a circle reading the bible on their phones. Several people are swimming. A shark net demarks the safety zone. We sit in shade by the barbecue pits. Kk isn’t too keen on sea and sand. We talk about religion. We get hungry and have to retrace our steps ending up in the bookworm cafe. The walls are full of books. Coincidentally we are sitting in front of the philosophy and theology section. We both have something South American. Mine is a plate of tortillas, and a vile green looking shake, which doesn’t taste bad. I spy a learn Cantonese book and cd and challenge KK’s comprehension of my poor pronunciation of stock phrases and numbers. I use this guide to ask for the bill.
Our walk across the island resumes. Back At the beach we stand in sweltering heat and harsh sunlight under an umbrella as KK resumes his filming of a wall of sand next to a small channel slowly collapsing. Like seven sisters or Grand Canyon he says. After 15 minutes his phone is over heating so we stop. The path across the island climbs shrubby hills revealing views of the power station. It feels a little Mediterranean. At a peak we stop at a gazebo and buy a freshly cut slice of pineapple to share and end up getting sticky. We are beginning to get bitten by mosquitoes. I point out banana trees and their phallic flowers to KK. He has not seen this before. There is another orange pod like fruit that I can’t identify. We descend into a hamlet where locals are drying grasses and down to the quiet beach of lo so shing where I have a tranquil float whilst KK paces up and down trying to avoid insects. We time our departure from the beach well as dusk falls quickly. We pass a cave full of water that is supposedly a half finished bay for kamikaze boats of the Japanese. We round a muddy estuary, pass a small temple and find ourselves in a narrow alley in sok Kwu wan lined with seafood restaurants, not so busy as it is a week day. I have a beer, KK a coke, as he likes the bottle, and we wait for the ferry. I’m feeling a bit nauseous and think I have a bit of heat stroke. I have an early night.
My pink motorbike has a sticker that says “I love dogs”. Not true. In fact there are packs of quite scary ones on the roads. At least they would be scary if they were nourished enough to have the energy to chase you.
I take the road to burma. This follows much of the route of the mostly disappeared death railway. I take a detour down a windy empty jungle road to a forest park, which is deserted, and the gate is open. Tentatively I enter the park, park and begin a magical walk through bamboo groves, crazy unidentifiable vegetation until the path gets denser and follows an increasingly bubbling stream. Up stream is a myriad of low cascades, water falling in clear sheets in sparkling deep green pools, flanked by gnarled trees with complex twisty root structures. I'm in the middle of the river. On a little island, in fact. Cascades and pools all around me. Peace, the only sound is the rushing water. This is truly sublime. Not a soul present. Just me.
The spell is slightly ruptured when I meet a couple of rangers coming to check out who it is that's in the park…but they quickly disappear.
My ride continues to the Three Pagodas Pass. This is historically an important place, where the death railway enters burma, and where the armies of ayutthya fought the invading burmese. The pagodas are small are sited on a grassy island, with immigration offices on one side, orchid stalls on another. There is a couple of Hindu burmese selling little samosa in small oil boilers that they can pick up and walk around with. There are some fresh faced languishing soldiers in full uniform carrying assault rifles ostensibly guarding the border, but they look rather disinterested. Their posture and expression changes when I ask to take their pictures, and they stand rigidly to attention. To my disappointment, I discover I'm not allowed to make the short walk into the neighbouring burmese town. Apparently it's only for Thais. It's not a proper frontier.
Immigration is clearly an issue here. In the 20 miles or so I cover i pass at least 3 checkpoints.being a white face I'm greeted with smiles, waves and laughs. Has I been in a longyi, darkskinned and huddled in the back of a pickup, I'm sure I would have been subjected to severe scrutiny.