Hong Kong: The Big Buddha and Lantau Peak

The hotel offers a breakfast buffet for $210HK a day that I haven't signed up for. It's not just that it's $35CAN for breakfast, but even a buffet gets tired after two weeks (the assumption at the desk was that I'd sign up for the entire run). So I went out to forage for myself this morning. I ended up at the Guang Dong Barbeque Restaurant - they were the second place I found open, but the first was only selling toast. The hostess was sitting at a desk in the entryway, eating congee with bacon and eggs on top of it. She gave me an English menu that didn't include the Congee I'd seen a photo of outside, so I asked for and got that. I've been putting a number of totally non-identifiable items in my mouth today, and that started at breakfast. Black, gelatinous, fairly tasteless. (In hindsight, this was probably hundred-year egg ... although the "tasteless" part of my description doesn't match.) It came with a plate of noodles with minimal onions and a bit of soy sauce, and a brown liquid I hesitate to call "coffee." I assume it was off-brand instant with sugar and milk added - and a little skin on the top for texture. I didn't drink much of that, and it made me really appreciate N1 (although my coffee there cost more than twice my entire meal here ...). Having been so disappointed by the coffee and in need of caffeination, I returned to N1 for a delicious mocha. It was only after my meal at Guang Dong I realized there are a multitude of places selling breakfast for around $30-$50HK in the neighbourhood. One of the more advertised items seems to be macaroni noodles topped with ham slices. I'm serious - other breakfast standards are equally distorted through the HK lens. It's kind of fascinating.

I hopped the MTR out to Lantau Island. The MTR (the local subway system) is something of a marvel: it's clean, quiet, wide-spread, fast, and cheap. They even publish what amounts to an efficiency report: how often the trains ran on each of the lines for the last quarter - I'd love to see the TTC do that. The MTR is the main reason I bought the Octopus card, although it's not the only transit company. But all the other ones seem to accept Octopus too. Possibly the most disturbing thing I learned today is if you decided to go to the DisneyLand resort by getting off at Sunny Bay, you'd end up riding a train with mouse-head shaped windows. THAT mouse - you know the one.

At Lantau, I was very disappointed to find out that the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car was out of service from the 14th to the 21st for maintenance. I like cable cars. So I - along with all the other tourists - caught the number 23 bus to the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery. I think the 23 tours most of the island before it arrives at the Buddha (when I checked my GPS track later I discovered it's only about 1/3rd of the island): it takes 40 minutes doing it, and goes by a lot of shoreline while ascending and descending a great deal.

photo: The Big Buddha

The Big Buddha looms over the trees

Up the steps to the Big Buddha ... and it is indeed very big. Quite nice too - apparently I've gotten over my southeast Asia Buddha Burn-Out. Then off to the Po Lin monastery for the vegetarian lunch you could buy with the ticket. I realized after I'd started eating that both tables of Chinese guests nearby were washing the utensils, bowls and cups in the provided tea - apparently a step I missed, and one I hope doesn't come with any consequences. The opening soup contained some of those mystery items I was referring to: something I thought was probably squash, although it was surprisingly sweet for squash - and probably still not sweet enough for fruit. And a fungus of some sort. The food was substantial, but a bit on the bland side: the tofu with veg was the best of the lot. And napkins aren't really a thing here: at Tsim Chai Kee Noodle yesterday you'd better have your own, and the same at this place.

I had a quick look at the monastery - and it was one of the most attractive I've ever seen. Which is saying something: you don't develop Buddha Burn-Out without seeing a boat-load of monasteries. Unfortunately, the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas had huge signs all over disallowing photography. But I can tell you it was beautiful - from the five gold-plated Buddhas to the flowers in front of them to the 9900 small Buddhas in niches in the walls ...

photo: Don't leave your buildings unattended

A banyan tree invading a recently abandoned building

And then it was time for the first hike of the trip. I headed out to "The Path of Wisdom," which joined up with the Lantau Trail, which went to Lantau Peak. Once you join the Lantau Trail, there's none of this messing about with pathetic flat sections: the trail ascends at a fairly steady 35 degrees for about a kilometre. The footing is good - there are stones placed to form something very closely resembling stairs for nearly the entire distance. But it's utterly BRUTAL. I think it took me about an hour to get up to the peak. The views at 943 metres are, as you'd expect, lovely: but haze and the occasional cloud breaking over the peak assured that I couldn't see much beyond the island itself. I had hoped to continue on the Lantau trail and started to do so, descending the other side of the peak for some 400 metres (again at roughly 35 degrees), only to realize I didn't have the time, energy, water, or food to tackle more similar trail to another, considerably further destination. So I stumbled (fairly literally) back to the peak and headed back down to the Big Buddha. And, as in Newfoundland at Gros Morne Mountain, I was duly schooled: I'm not really in shape for this kind of stuff any more (flat stuff I can handle: this was anything BUT flat). I arrived back at the Big Buddha barely able to walk - and then had to stand in line for the bus back to the MTR for 50 minutes, as they hadn't scheduled enough buses to replace the cable cars.

photo: The trail near Lantau Peak

Looking down the steep trail at Lantau Peak*

Dinner consisted of squid balls from a street vendor (Wah Kee Snacks near my hotel, I got to quite like them): I wasn't up to anything else, I was utterly exhausted.

And another Hong Kong thing I'm trying to get used to: being dripped on by the air conditioners covering the ten to thirty storeys above you like an angular fungus.

This is possibly the world's most brand-obsessed city. The flashing lights cry the name of brands from all over the world. Want a Rolex? You can have one, by the hundreds. Real or fake, your call - but the price is a bit different.

I'm pleased to say a hideously ugly fridge magnet has been acquired. I'm not sure it can beat out the Hong Kong magnet we already have, but I think it can rival it. And it's in a new and different style (we've started to notice a repetition of particular styles from all around the world).