Spring in Southern China

The Tomb Sweeping Festival came on a Tuesday this year, which allowed Jun and I to share a three day weekend. Since we’re saving for our trip to the U.S., we decided to stay and explore in the general area.

On our first day together we went to Shenzhen’s Fairy Lake Botanical Garden. It was quite a bit of trek to get there; due to the holiday there was a lot of traffic. Once we got there we spent a few nice hours walking along the botanical gardens.

This garden is the first botanical gardens that I have ever visited that is built in a mountain valley. To get to the main area you walk along a winding road to the valley. Once there you can explore a number of areas. We first went along the pine ridge and had nice views of the valley. We then went to the dessert plants greenhouses. That was a beautiful area. From there we went to the petrified tree forest and the paleontological museum. That was strange to see dinosaur fossils in a botanical garden!

From there we next walked along the lake. There were a number of nice inlets to watch the birds. Afterwards we went up to Hong Fa Temple. From there you could see the other end of the valley. Then we went to see two of the enclosed gardens at the park before we left. It’s a pretty neat park and it was a nice break from the city.

The next day Jun and I went to Hong Kong for two days. We didn’t do much besides meet up with friends and eat some amazing food. We did some shopping and just enjoyed spending time together. For the most part we explored the Western District of Hong Kong Island. We walked along the different alleyways and saw some amazing street art and just enjoyed finding different things that made Hong Kong special.

Our last day we met up with some friends at Hong Kong Disneyland since we had free tickets. It was busy, but it was still fun to try out the new Iron Man experience.

Overall, Jun and I had a great few days off. Now it’s back to work for us.

Spring Festival Impressions

The Spring Festival arrived! Having completed the first week of my new job and finally having started to settle into living in Shenzhen, Jun and I wanted to have a quiet and relaxing holiday. I first had to go to Hong Kong to do paperwork for my new job on the first day of the holiday. With the holiday coming up I had to expedite the process to ensure that everything was completed in time.

Day 1

The actual vacation started by crossing the border into Hong Kong at the Futian checkpoint. This border control station was much easier than the other ones I have gone through in Shenzhen. It was fairly efficient and we were in Hong Kong without undue waiting. Once we were in Hong Kong we headed straight to the hotel.

We were ready for the hotel staff to let us check-in but then have to wait for our room to be available in the afternoon. The staff, however, told us that they had a room free and that they were more than happy to let us go up to the room early. That was a nice start to the trip. Jun and I went to the room and dropped our belongings. Then we went towards the office in Kowloon to do the paperwork. That’s where a snag came up. The agents felt unsure if I had all the paperwork I needed, I felt that I did since the document they wanted was one that I had to surrender back to the Chinese government and no longer had. I still felt it was fine and they said they would try—but made no promises. That left a bit of a bitter taste for us: the nagging worry that something could go wrong.

Jun and I tried our best to put it out of our minds. We had made plans to have lunch with one of his friends in Central. So we went straight there and had lunch at an Italian restaurant. The food was good. After lunch, Jun and I said bye to his friend and went exploring around the area. We started by walking around Soho. We stumbled onto the Dr. San Yat-sen Museum, and went in to see what there was to see. Jun was interested in the exhibitions, but I was more interested in the building itself. It’s an Edwardian building that has been beautifully restored. It was a nice example of British colonial architecture.

From there we went down and found a temple: Man Mo. It was a small temple, but it had a unique way of placing its incense burners and prayer lanterns. It was the first temple I’ve seen that did it. It was quite calming to be there.

Afterwards we walked back towards the waterfront. Near Admiralty there’s a park called Tamar that is really neat. There are places to sit on the grass and stare into the water. And dotted throughout the park are some interesting pieces of art. One of the pieces we saw was a sculpture, Soundscape, by Steven Ho Chun Wang, Alvin Kung Yick Ho, and Edmond Wong Chak Yuen. The sculpture is inspired by the design of a xylophone, and the design of the instrument is actually tuned to be able to make the notes of a song.

Afterwards we took the MTR back to our hotel in North Point. We had dinner at a noodle pace before we went back to the room. We rested for a bit before we went to bed.

Day 2

The next day we decided to go to Stanley. Jun hadn’t been there before and Stanley tends to be much quieter than many other parts of Hong Kong. We took a minibus down south. We took the eastern route and passed a reservoir and a park. The reservoir was also an intriguing piece of architecture. It was built out of blocks and not by poured concrete. It was clearly a historic reservoir as it was also not designed for two lanes of traffic. We had to wait for the direction of traffic to shift before we were able to continue to Stanley.

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When we got there we spent the rest of the morning and the afternoon walking around the community. We first went through the market and saw the different stalls there. From there we walked along the promenade and enjoyed the beautiful day. We saw Murray House and Blake Pier and went into the park to see a Pak Tai Temple.

Afterwards we went to visit the Correctional Museum. It was an intriguing place. They had exhibits on the history of cells, corporal punishment (e.g., a replica of how they would hang criminals), and examples of prison created tools, such as homemade tattoo machines and weapons. That latter was interesting after having seen them in movies. From there we walked along the beach and decided to go and get some lunch. When we were done we went for a walk and got some gelato. By then we had to head northward to Kowloon to see if my documents had been processed. We took the bus and got off and took the MTR to Kowloon.

We went to the office and I was relieved to found out that that everything went okay and the documents were processed. So that was one thing that I could cross off my list of things that I needed to do. Once that was done we decided to see a movie. We chose La La Land. We both enjoyed how the intermixing of music with the story worked well and enhanced it. After having an enjoyable time at the movies we wanted to have dinner. That unfortunately ended up being a chore. We had a difficult time finding a place to eat. The placed we wanted to go to didn’t have a free table and a long wait. We ended up eating in a food court with subpar food. Fortunately to make up for that we found a hole-in-the-wall dessert place and had an enjoyable treat there.

That was it for the day and we ended up back in the room.

Day 3

The next day was New Year’s Eve. It was, however, a day of travel for us. We first traveled back to Shenzhen to repack our bags. And then we went straight to the train station to get the overnight train to Shangrao to visit Jun’s family for the holiday in his hometown—Dexing. The only available train Jun could find was the 12 hour overnight train. It’s been quite some time since I last went on such a train and was not looking forward towards it. But we had brought snacks and downloaded several shows to see.

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The train ride wasn’t too bad. They sold a simple meal that we both had. And near Longchuan in Guangdong there were firework that we saw from the train. I was excited about that, Jun was more interested in sleeping and just brushed the fireworks off to the side.

Day 4

We arrived in Shangrao—the largest city near Jun’s hometown—at 5:00 in the morning. His dad met us at the train station and both were happy to see each other. It had been almost two years since they last saw each other. From Shangrao we had about another hour and half car ride to Dexing. On the ride we experienced heavy fog that came and went quickly due to the strong wind. It was surreal and scary since we were traveling through mountain roads.

We finally arrived in Dexing where his stepmom and stepbrother met us. His stepmom made us homemade dumplings and insisted that we go take our showers as she got them ready. Once we were clean and our appetites satiated, Jun took his stepbrother and me on a walk around the river near his dad’s apartment.

Dexing is historically a mining community, as a result this small city is fairly well off when compared to other places in the interior of China.  You can see it in the new government buildings and apartment blocks being built. On the walk we saw old and new bridges, the high school Jun went to, and the main commercial area of the city. It was nice to see where Jun spent a significant amount of his youth.

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We finished our walk and went back to have lunch with his family. Instead of having lunch in the apartment, Jun’s family had their meals in a separate ground floor alcove where they cooked and had their meals. They cooked and ate here so the apartment wouldn’t get dirty. It was cool and fun. We had a nice homemade lunch and drank tea afterwards. Jun and I went back to the apartment to take a nap before we went out to meet one of his friends.

When we did go out Jun was able to take his dad’s scooter. That was fun! We went to the central area and met his friend. We had tea and then went to get our hair cut. That was a relief to have my hair short again. By the time we were done it was almost time to go back for dinner. Before we went back Jun and I drove around for a bit and saw other parts of Dexing.

For dinner Jun’s aunt came over to eat with us. We were going to stay with her since she had an extra room. After dinner we followed her to her apartment and got ready for bed.

Day 5

This day was largely a relaxing day. We woke up late and just piddled around a bit before we went to see Jun’s family for lunch. We had another wonderful meal. Jun’s stepmom then suggested that we go to see Juyuanlou, which is a pagoda at the foothills to the mountains surrounding Dexing. The pagoda was beautiful and had amazing views of the city and the mountains.

From there we then went to the Jiangxi Mining Museum. This museum is housed in traditional-style buildings and tells the story of mining in Jiangxi province. It was interesting to walk around the museum and to see the history of mining in the province.

From there we then went back to see Jun’s family. After having tea, we went for a walk around the river before dinner. And then after dinner we again went around the government area of the city. For a small community they had a significant number of government buildings. Jun was skeptical that there was enough employees and positions to justify all the office space in these new buildings. The buildings did, however, look impressive at night.

When we got back to the apartment we had some more tea before we went back to his aunt’s apartment for the night. This day was very relaxing.

Day 6

On this day we ventured to go to San Qing Mountain National Park. To get there we woke up early and went to pick up Jun’s stepbrother. Then we took a bus to get us most of the way there. We had to stop in a village—Nanshou—near the national park. We had to wait for about an hour for the next bus. I decided to walk around and see the village. A villager stopped me as I was taking a picture and asked me who I was and what I wanted. I had to explain to him in my horrible Chinese that I was a foreigner and didn’t know too much Chinese. He laughed and said, “Hello!” in English. I then met up with Jun and we went around the river near the bridge and saw a bamboo grove. After our walk we went back to the general store where the bus was going to pick us up. After a bit it came and we went to the eastern entrance of the national park.

When we got there we tried to get tickets to go into the park. Due to it being the New Year holiday, however, there were too many people at the park. The staff decided to stop admitting new guests for two hours to control the number of people entering. That’s a good thing to ensure the park is not stressed; for us, however, it frustrated us. As we were walking and thinking about what we could do we were approached by a driver who said he would drive us to the southern entrance where there was less people. After negotiating the price we decided to hire him and go south.

When we got there the car had to stop at the entrance to the road up to the park. We were able to take the free bus up to the entrance. There were indeed hardly anyone at the southern entrance and we were able to buy tickets and go up on the cable car without having to wait in line. As we were going up in the cable car we noticed that we were going up into a cloud.

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It seems that the change in weather overnight had brought a heavy fog that blanketed the park. For the first 30 minutes at the park we were walking in fog and could hardly see anything. What we did see was nice, but our perspective was limited. It actually seemed that we were at ground level and that we hadn’t gone up a mountain. As we were walking on the western path the fog began to clear and we were able to see more of the mountain. As that was happening we were also able to see how high up we were. That knowledge jarred us a bit. It was so high up! The views, though, were amazing.

We continue towards San Qing Temple, which was an old, small temple that was nestled next to one of the mountain peaks.

From there we went along the middle path. There the fog really cleared and we were able to see the sky with the fog below the peaks. The view we had was stunning.

By then we had to head back to the cable car to get back down to the entrance. As we were going down the fog came back and the temperature started to drop. Fortunately we made it to the cable car and went back down. We were hoping that the busses were still running, but by the time we got down there they had stopped. We then decided to find a room for the night and go back in the morning. So after having dinner we went and found a room. It wasn’t the most amazing of places, but it was warm place for the night.

Day 7

The next morning we checked out, had breakfast, and caught the bus to Shangrao. At Shangrao we bought bus tickets to Dexing, but we had to wait an hour before we could leave. We decided to go find a café to get something to drink and wait for the bus. After walking a bit we found a place where we could get tea and waffles. It was bit pricy, but it was at least warm.

Finally we were able to get on the bus and go back to Dexing. When we got there we went and cleaned up at Jun’s aunt’s apartment. Jun had plans to meet up with some of his high school friends. I stayed with his stepmom and stepbrother and did some work.

When he got back we went to meet his family for dinner. This dinner had more people, his uncle, cousins, and a close family friend were there. We had a big and scrumptious dinner! Afterwards Jun and I went for a walk by the river. As we were walking we passed by a cute café where we got some drinks.

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We then went back to his dad’s place before we went away for the night.

Day 8

Our last morning in Dexing was a whirlwind of saying goodbyes and picking up a care package Jun’s stepmom made. They had helped us arrange a shared car to take us to the train station in Shangrao. So we were able to get to the train station with plenty of time to pick up our tickets and leave.

Our holiday was coming to an end. I enjoyed meeting Jun’s family and seeing his hometown. And I know he was thrilled to be able to see his dad. It was a wonderful Spring Festival and a great experience for both of us!

Recharging in Hong Kong

My boss took pity on me and granted me a few days leave. You have to understand that I had been covering classes all through the summer—well for most of the year really. And I had been getting a lot of overtime, but by the end of the summer I wanted some days off. My boss graciously agreed. At that point I didn’t really want to go anywhere far, so I decided to take a few days to relax in Hong Kong.

I arrived in Hong Kong via Shenzhen and took the MTR down to Hong Kong Island slowly. I first stopped at a temple, Fung Ying Seen Koon in the northern part of the New Territories. It was a beautiful temple and had a very Hong Kong feel to it. Temples in Hong Kong tend to be brighter and in colors of red, orange, and yellow when compared to other buildings in Guangdong.

From there I went to Che Kung Temple for a quick stop. It’s surrounded by a red wall and in the middle is a hall with a giant statue inside. It was a nice temple, but it was just a quick stop on my way to the Sam Tung Uk Museum. The Hong Kong government has restored this traditional house as a free museum and historic reminder of Hong Kong’s heritage. It’s beautifully maintained and was interesting to see different aspects of Hong Kong’s rich cultural heritage.

Afterwards I went to Hong Kong Island and checked in my hotel. After freshening up a bit I walked down to the waterfront near the convention and exhibition center and enjoyed the sunset. I then grabbed a quick bite for dinner and headed back to the hotel for the night.

The next day I went to Lantau Island. I first went to Tung Chung to take the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car to see the Tian Tan Buddha and visit Po Lin Monastery. The last time I was here was in 2007, and it was nice to see the subtle changes here. The vegetation around the Buddha is more robust and the monastery was beautifully maintained.

This time I did venture out a bit and went for a walk on one of the nature trails. I stumbled across the Wisdom Path, which is a representation of the Heart Sutra. It was quite impressive. And from there you could see all the way down the mountain to the water. After deciding to head back to the main area, I ran across a strange mosaic bird on the path. When I got back to the main area I had lunch and then sought out the bus that would take me to Tai O fishing village.

Tai O is a traditional Hong Kong village. Many of the buildings are built on top of stilts that go into the water to make it easier for fisherman to go out for the day. It was fun walking through the narrow alleys that meander through the houses, to cross bridges, and to see daily life. It was a neat excursion and was thoroughly enjoyable.

By the late afternoon I decided to venture back to Hong Kong Island and see the sunset at Kennedy Town. It was equally beautiful as the one the prior day. As it was getting late I went back to the hotel for the night.

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My last day I went to Sai Kun and to the Museum of Coastal Defense. I normally wouldn’t visit a military themed museum, but on the TV the first night I discovered that a lot of the museums in Hong Kong were now free to the public. As I had never visited this museum, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to do so.

I first took the MTR to North Point where one of Hong Kong’s visual art areas, called Oi!, was located. It’s claimed to be a unique place to take photos in Hong Kong. It was an interesting place and indeed I did capture a couple of nice shots.

When I was done there I went straight to the museum. It was more interesting than I thought it was going to be. It’s built on the remains of an actual fort—Lei Yue Mun—and a lot of the structures that made up the fort are still standing. There’s also a nicely done exhibition area that has many sections related to the history of defense in Hong Kong. It was quite a nice surprise.

From the museum I walked along the promenade to explore the neighborhood a bit. It was much quieter than some other areas of Hong Kong. When I got to the MTR station I decided I should do some shopping in Sha Tin for things I couldn’t find back in Guangzhou before I went home. After having completed my shopping and walked around the area I went back to the border and took the train from Shenzhen to Guangzhou.

The few days I had in Hong Kong was a nice diversion from work. Unfortunately, the next day I had to go back to work and continue covering classes.

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