Tag Archives: travel

A catalogue of travel

The bay reflects the clouds as the sun rises

The world’s something of a train-wreck at the moment isn’t it? You can see it happening but you can’t bring yourself to look away. I don’t have anything particularly cheerful to say, so I won’t say much. I’ve promised Himself I’d make a Dutch apple tart tomorrow. Fair’s fair, after all. He’s making Peter’s Famous Chicken Soup tonight. That’ll keep us going for a few days. We don’t waste food in this family. We haz a freezer!

Apart from that, for those who care I’ve started on a new story. And for those who don’t care, I’ve catalogued our travels so you (and I) can easily find a stop along the way. You’ll see a link at the very top of my website that says ‘TRAVEL’. If you click on that, you’ll get a table of journeys we have made. Click on one of those and you’ll get a list of where we went. You can opt to start at any point and journey along with us by clicking the links at the bottom of the post, or whatever scratches your itches.

I had a lot of fun reading my own posts as I put the catalogue pages together. (Don’t tell anyone, but I reckon I did a great job 🙂 ) I fact, I’m very sorry I deleted the posts from earlier trips.

 

 

The aftermath

ex-tropical cyclone Debbie wreaks havoc down the east coast

Cyclone Debbie has certainly cut a swathe through the holiday islands of the Whitsundays and their gateway, Airlie Beach. Bowen and Ayr bore the brunt of the storm and that takes nothing away from all the smaller places in the way. Cane fields, vegetable crops, and banana fields were flattened, destroying farmers’ incomes for at least one season – to say nothing about destruction of infrastructure and homes, loss of power, stock losses and the like. And then there’s the native wildlife who have to hunker down just like we humans. She was a massive storm. Here she is from the ISS.

Cyclones travel in a clockwise direction, and this was a huge storm, so after Debbie crossed the coast anything within eight hundred kilometres or so to the south was going to get wet. Mackay and Rockhampton were well in the zone and suffered substantial wind and water damage. With rainfall of hundreds of millimetres the rivers rose and roads were flooded. Even Hervey Bay copped the end of an outlying cloud band, although 80mm of rain without gale-force winds was actually welcome. As a side note, while Pete and I would have been quite safe at Cairns, we wouldn’t have been able to drive home. And that is why we hurried home when we did.

After they cross the coast cyclones rapidly downgrade to a tropical low, and the clean-up starts in their wake. It doesn’t mean the danger is over, though. The models suggested three tracks after Debbie crossed the coast, all tracking south. We expected her to come down through the interior, but the lady had other plans. I’ve never seen anything like it. Gale-force winds and very heavy rain all the way down the east coast of Australia from Mackay. Inland from Mackay, over a metre of rain fell in two days. The cyclone made landfall on Tuesday lunchtime. On Thursday the State Government closed all schools from just north of Bundaberg to the Queensland border for two days. Businesses followed suit. Our local bank closed its doors at 10am to give staff the chance to get home and off potentially flooding roads. Falls of five hundred millimetres were expected around the Southeast corner of the state, along with gale force winds. It was unprecedented. Australia is used to cyclones – but not one that does a left-hand turn, taking it down into heavily populated areas.

As usual, Hervey Bay fared well enough. Although rainfall this March (396mm or roughly 16″) is the third highest monthly rainfall we have experience in our time here, the previous two months were so dry that the rainfall is still well below the average for this time of year. I’m sure residents further south won’t be saying the same thing.

I thought I’d finish this clean-up post with a few things from our trip I hadn’t mentioned.

The view over Townsville from Castle Hill

Driving up to Cairns, we stayed overnight in Townsville, where Pete had his very first Mexican meal in a busy restaurant in Palmer Street. I love Mexican food, but Pete has never been interested. However, it was his suggestion – and he enjoyed it. Next morning before we moved on we drove up to Castle Hill, overlooking the town and with views to Magnetic Island just across the water, and to the hills surrounding the town.

Castle Hill from the city

From Palm Cove we drove up to Port Douglas. It’s only about forty km following the Captain Cook Highway along the coast. The road seems to have been built on a ledge between the sea and the mountains, twisting and turning with every cove and inlet. Port Douglas is mainly a resort town, with golf courses and hotels. One hotel (the Mirage) was famously built by Christopher Skase before he fled his debtors and went to live on Majorca. For us, the place didn’t have much to offer. It seems to be a jumping-off point for the Daintree and the reef. But I took some pictures.

Looking south from Port Douglas. The longest of those sandbars is where we stopped to take a picture (see below)

There’s no doubt the coastline is picturesque. I’d asked Pete to stop (on the way back) at a stopping place where I’d noticed a great photo opportunity, which he did, safely. I’d hardly got out of the car when a car horn honked. Some idiot had seen the view and decided to stop, with a car right behind him. The driver of the offending car pulled to one side to let the other driver pass. This is all happening just near a curve, too. The offending car moves back out into the road. For a minute I think it’s going to turn around, doing a three-point-turn, but another car comes along and our mate drives off, with the person in the passenger seat holding their phone out the window. It was a great picture, but really, people, I wouldn’t have thought it was to die for her. Or even sustain an injury.

A storm is gathering over Port Douglas – not Debbie, just a normal tropical storm

On our way back from Hartley’s croc park we stopped to take pictures of these weird rock sculptures. I have no idea what they are for, but I’d guess they’re a bit like the padlock fad, where lovers attach a padlock to the wires on a bridge. However, just as the authorities have been forced to cut away the padlocks, which in those quantities can weigh a great deal, sometime a storm will hit these piled up stones and scatter them back on the beach.

No idea what these ‘sculptures’ are meant to signify

That’s it for this journey. Be sure to join us next time we venture away from home. If you want to go back to the start of this trip, here’s the link. Say hello to Cyclone Debbie

A day tour of Macao

Extravagant, flamboyant, over the top. Casino

It’s hard to imagine how anyone could run a day tour of 28 sq km of Macao, but it was done. Our guide, Mario, picked us up from the Grand Emperor at 10am. He’s Portuguese, originally from a diplomatic family and he has lived in Macao (the Portuguese spell it Macau) for 33 years, so he knows his stuff. Macao is the tip of a peninsula, and was leased to the Portuguese in 1557. It was returned to China in 1999, but, like Hong Kong, it will retain its semi-autonomous status for fifty years. What will happen after that, nobody knows. Especially what will happen to the casinos. They are illegal in China, but the Chinese are known to love their gambling. It’s also a lucrative business. Somebody shall see what happens. It won’t be me.

We joined another 28 people who had come over to Macao for a day trip from Hong Kong. Pete and I waited on the bus while Mario collected them from the ferry terminal and herded them on board. Not only were there a few Caucasians amongst them – there were a couple of Australians!

First stop was the reason for the existence of Macao these days. It may have been the gateway to Guangzhou in the past, but now it’s a place to build casinos. It’s how Stanley Ho made his fortune. He still has a large investment. James Pcker is currently pulling out of Macao after some of his staff were arrested in China for trying to entice high-rollers to his casino, and a few of the Las Vegas establishments also have buildings here. There are currently 36 casinos on Macao, and six more will be completed this year. Each new building has to be bigger and better than its predecessor. There’s not room in Macao proper for more buildings, so the powers-that-be have filled in the sea between what had been two islands. That’s where all the new construction is happening.

Venice in a building

The casinos are huge, flamboyant, and ostentatious, designed to attract the Chinese high-rollers. Mario took us to the Venetian, one of the more recent casinos. Like its namesake in Vegas, it has a replica of St Marks square in Venice inside, complete with canals.

Pete managed to snap a shot of the gaming floor as we went up to St Marks on an escalator. As you can see, they’re big enough for people to get lost, which is precisely what happened to a couple of our Americans. Mario managed to find them and they were most apologetic. I cast no aspersions. Been there, done that, have the T-shirt hidden away.

After that we went back to Macao’s beginnings, a temple at the waterside dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea from whom the city gained its name. It is on multiple levels, built against the massive boulders. Worship requires incense.

 

 

From the past we went to the future, Macao’s Skytower, home of the world’s highest bungy jump. I got a few pictures of someone taking the plunge, and four of us (not Peter) paid extra to go up the tower to admire the view. This is where I took the photo at the top of my previous post. Mario told us this was simply normal Macao weather. He pointed out the point on the Pearl river where people swam across to escape Mao’s cultural revolution. Not all of them made it – which meant death. Those that did were shipped off quickly to Hong Kong, where they could escape to the West.

That tower with its head in the clouds is in CHINA!

Next we visited the old town with its European style buildings and the inevitable town square complete with fountain. The old parts of town were paved in tiny blue and white Portuguese tiles, fresco style. As well as casinos this part of Macao has churches and temples. We visited one Dominican church, and admired the remains of St Paul’s at the top of the city steps which resemble the Spanish Steps in Rome. The church burnt down in 1835, leaving just the façade. It’s a popular tourist attraction and a place to take photos.

We asked Mario to recommend a Portuguese restaurant for our last evening overseas. It was, as they always are, down an narrow street off the square, opposite the fountain with the Madonna. (Well… maybe not that bit) The waiter – and I suspect owner – might not have been born Australian, but he had an Aussie accent. He mentioned he’d grown up in St Albans in Melbourne. It’s a small world. We picked the set menu – carrot soup, shared the two mains of steak and chips with salad, and fish patties with salad and rice, followed by sweets and thick, strong coffee. Our new mate threw in a glass of port each. It was a lovely way to end the day and we meandered off to the hotel for a good nights’ sleep.

The next day we were off home, catching the ferry to the airport at Lantau. You check in your baggage and get your boarding pass when you leave the ferry. By far the longest queue in the large hall was for Qantas, which shared a desk with an Asian airline. Time was pushing on. When we were about three people from the front of the line, somebody grabbed a brain and picked out the people flying to Brisbane. We were first, but unfortunately for the people behind us, the girl had trouble finding my name It’s the spaces/no spaces thing. My name is van der Rol, but on an airline ticket it’s vanderrol. Anyway, we got there eventually. When we left to go to the terminal, the queue at QF’s counter was almost back to the exit from the ferry. Not a good look.

We got to Brisbane at around eight, collected our car from the long term car park as close to 9am as we could manage, and headed home to the clean air and spacious living at Hervey Bay. Neither of us are anxious to go back to Hong Kong.

A lazy Sunday in Hong Kong

Sunday was our last full day in Hong Kong. We hadn’t quite given up on the shopping yet, but this time we headed towards the city centre on the island, with Causeway Bay on the way. The hotel’s shuttle bus dropped us off at Hong Kong’s World Trade Centre, which is an enormous shopping building. Hong Kong cranks up late (as far as we’re concerned). Arrive before 12 and you won’t find too many shops open – even the big ones. So it took a while for the crowds to build. We were surprised at the number of women around wearing Muslim dress – there may have been lots of men, too, but they don’t stand out so much. Some women wore really lovely, flowing dresses and hijabs in pastel colours, and a number wore bright red. A few wore face coverings, but I saw only one wearing the full, black burqa. We decided there must have been some cultural event happening, because we hadn’t seen such a concentration of Muslim women anywhere else.

As always in Hong Kong, the modern rubs up against the old. Here’s the bamboo scaffolding on one of the buildings. OH&S inspectors would have a coronary. The picture below is what those poles on the left are supporting.

The main streets were crowded, as was every one of the Macdonalds restaurants we passed. The franchise is clearly doing a roaring trade in Honk Kong. If you ducked down the side streets, though, they weren’t so packed. We walked along a street where market stalls were being opened up for the afternoon and evening trade. Just around the corner the street signs indicated a row of guest houses.

Guest houses and down-market accommodation. One signs offers rooms by the hour, with a discount rate after midnight.

We went into a computer shop looking for a cover for my new tablet. It’s too new – they are not out there yet. But the young man behind the counter mapped a route for us on our Maps.Me to a computer centre further up the road. It was fun pottering around in this building full of tiny, independent computer and camera shops, but we had no joy with the camera lens, or with the tablet cover.

It seemed to us the easiest way to get back to the hotel was on the tram, but they were all packed. Even the Chinese couldn’t push their way on. Eventually, we gave up and went down to the nearest metro station. The trains are fast, cheap and clean – after you’ve worked out the ticketing system. It’s fairly simple, but we had the added complication of being entitled to a concession fare on account of being old. We got there in the end.

High tea set with dessert. It’s a stock photo, not as nice as what we were served.

Today seemed to be an excellent time to enjoy that quintessentially English meal, our complimentary High Tea in the hotel’s lobby bar. It was delicious. We had a pot of tea of our choice each, and the staff delivered one of those three-tier serving towers filled with goodies. I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures. The stock photo at left doesn’t do our spread justice. We had a couple of savoury items, cake, scones, moulds, and a wonderful peach custard. That was lunch sorted. We ordered a club sandwich in our room for dinner.

The following day we kicked tyres for an hour or two in the morning before boarding the ferry for Macao. Instead of going in the direction of Causeway Bay we caught the shuttle bus to ‘Central Plaza’, a shopping and residential area further north. Central plaza turned out to be four huge buildings with acres of glittering shopping below and apartments for the well-heeled above. This certainly wasn’t a cheap area, but we scored breakfast at a fraction of the hotel’s prices.

A glittering shopping centre full of dress shops

This is an ice skating rink in Central Plaza. A teacher is working with a few kids

So there are plenty of people in Hong Kong earning more than a subsistence wage. And good luck to them. We wished them well as we made our way to catch the ferry to Macao.

 

Hong Kong shopping

City crowds. This was taken at Causeway Bay. We didn’t take pictures in Kowloon

Years ago what attracted Australians to stay a day or two or three in Hong Kong was the shopping. Sure, it was an accessible way to get a look at the Orient, but mixed with that was the great exchange rate, and the quality goods for sale at substantially less than the prices in Australia. Even when the sales taxes were altered back in the Keating years, you could still snap up a bargain in Hongkers. With that in mind, Pete and I set out after our lunch escapade in search of bargains.

I’ll interrupt that story with a small side arc. The cost of ‘roaming’ on mobile phone plans in Australia is outrageous, but it’s possible to buy ‘roaming’ plans that charge just the cost of a local phone call. Using Travelsim, we put $5 on such a sim and inserted it into a cheap phone, then told a few close friends the number so they could contact us in case of emergency at home. I also downloaded an app called Maps.Me. It’s free and lets you download a functioning map for overseas travel. Yes, Google does this, too, but Google has upset the powers that be in China, and you can’t download Google’s China maps. We put the app on Pete’s tablet, which he always has with him to take photos. Pete fell in love with Maps.Me. You don’t need access to Wifi, and of course the GPS function will locate you on the map. It certainly helps with navigating in foreign parts.

Back on the streets of Hong Kong, we made our way towards the electronics street. We had already discovered that our mate Andy (tour guide) had given us a bum steer as far as directions went. But Pete is quite happy to ask for help, and managed to find an Aussie working in a shop to tell us where to go. So we worked our way across Nathan Road, which runs up the middle of Kowloon, and into the back roads where the shops line the streets.

Hong Kong was always a busy place, and this was the weekend, but the throng of humanity was extraordinary. The streets were sardine packed everywhere. For Aussies, think sideshow alley at the Royal Show on steroids. The demographics had changed, too. Not so many years ago, the crowd would have been mostly Asian, but there would have been a good number of European people. Now, people like us were a rarity. I hate crowds at the best of times. I don’t get anxious or claustrophobic, but I hate the press of people invading my space, brushing their bodies against me as they pass. When I find myself in a crowd I start to move faster, ducking and weaving my way between the people. Where there’s rudeness, pushing, shoving and the like, the nostrils flare, the elbows come out, and although I won’t push first, I’ll shove second. We were both struck by the rudeness and total lack of consideration for anyone else on the street. And we discovered we weren’t the only ones with that perception.

We were looking for a camera lens. We had done our homework at home and knew what we wanted, and what it should cost. I leave all negotiations about price to Peter, who enjoys the cut and thrust, and is very good at it. But while he would have had a lovely time haggling in years gone by, it doesn’t happen anymore. For a start, far fewer Hong Kongers speak English. We would go into a shop, they would wheel out their English speaker, we would tell them what we wanted, and they would give us a price. That was it. No negotiation. Take it or leave it. You can get it for that in Australia? Shrug. In days gone by, they wouldn’t have let you out of the shop, at least trying to sell you something else. That’s how it still is in Singapore. But not here.

What was happening? What had changed? The answers came from our tour guide in Macao, a Portuguese gentleman who had lived in Macao for 33 years. The vast majority of tourists in Hong Kong (and Macao) now are mainland Chinese. They require less personal space and have a different perception about how to behave in a crowd. And they pay whatever the vendors ask. They have money, and they know they will get a quality product in Hong Kong. I have never seen so many stores selling up-market merchandise like Gucci, Armani, Yves St Laurent, and all the other big-name designer brands. Every fifth car (that wasn’t a taxi) was a Mercedes. I must have seen half a dozen Maseratis (I’ve never seen one on the street before) one red one being driven by a kid with P plates, doing his best to hoon around a packed Hong Kong block.  The best-selling item for the Chinese? Tins of powdered baby milk. There is a ration of two tins per person. They also love to gamble. But I’ll leave that to my Macao post.

After a fruitless few hours fighting our way through Kowloon, we gave up and caught a taxi to the star ferry which plies the waters between Kowloon and the Island. It’s a short ride, and not very crowded on this Saturday afternoon. The ride in a lift made up for it, though. The last fellow to insinuate himself in could only just lean out of the way of the closing doors. Now that WAS claustrophobic. I keep on wondering how it would be if the lift failed…

That evening we decided to go out for dinner. I’m not a great lover of Chinese food – I hasten to add that there are very many excellent Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong, I just wasn’t in the mood. I love Indian, though, and on the concierge’s recommendation we went to a restaurant tucked away in an arcade in an alley less than 10 minutes from the hotel. We spent a lovely evening there. The menu listed a vast array of dishes, but since the owners were Hindu, not beef. Peter asked the Indian waiter where he came from, which was greeted with a big grin. “I was born here, sir.” Turned out his ancestors had been in the British army stationed in Hong Kong, and had decided to stay. The barman was from Indian, though. He didn’t speak much English, but that was okay. We tried a shot of Indian whisky (better than Johnny Walker IMO) and Pete had Indian beer. I had a glass of house white, which arrived in a bucket (not really – just a very generous serve). The menu included standard combinations, so we picked the ‘Happy Meal’ – tandoori chicken for starters, then lamb tikka marsala served with naan and condiments, sweets and coffee.

We slept well that night. Join me tomorrow for our last day in Hong Kong, pottering around in a different part of the city.

Hong Kong – the cheap seats

The Yuen Yuen Institute with cauldron for burning incense

After our tour of the gallery parts of Hong Kong it was time to take a look at the cheap seats. We signed up for a tour called ‘the land between’ – meaning the parts of the territory between the teeming streets of Kowloon and the border with China. It’s more generally known as the New Territories. We spent the day with three other people, all elderly folk from UK, who had just completed a holiday in Australia. I was the youngest passenger on the bus, and Pete was a pretty distant second-last. The tour guide, Andy, came across as having a chip on his shoulder the size of a tree. Before we reached our first visit stop, we’d learned he worked three jobs – tour guide, pizza delivery guy, and bartender – 6 days a week, 18 hours a day. Even so, he earned around HK$19k a month – which I thought wasn’t too bad, but he seemed to think was a bit off. The Government collects 15% tax, and then he explained he lived in one room, around 140 sq ft, which had a bunk bed, a place to cook noodles, and a recess for washing. For that he paid a fifth of his net income. I forbore to tell him that although apartments in Australia are generally larger, people pay a much greater percentage of their net earnings in rent, as well as a MUCH larger slice of tax. Hong Kong actually has pretty good social security for those in real need, but the Chinese way is always for people to support themselves. At the moment Hong Kong is kind of independent – although, as we know, the Chinese Government keeps a close eye on who is in charge. The territory will maintain its status as a separate entity for fifty years from 1997 – that is, until 2047. After that? Who knows.

First stop on the fringes of the city proper was the Yuen Yuen Institute, a religious complex incorporating the Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist faiths. The place was packed with people practising their faiths, lighting incense and praying.

Offerings for a funeral plane, house, furniture…

Funerals take place here. Mourners buy or bring paper offerings to burn for the dead to use. Items include whole paper houses – complete with servants, cars, and (especially) money. Our guide told us his grandmother, who was obsessed with mah jong, had recently died, and he and his sister had created a paper mah jong set for her as their offering. The temple complex doesn’t have a crematorium – the bodies are taken elsewhere. But people can buy wall niches here where they place the ashes, with a black and white photo of the deceased to mark their place. We were asked not to take pictures of the niches, or of people participating in a funeral. Fair enough. Andy also explained the Chinese zodiac that plays a large part in the temple.

I particularly admired the beautiful koi pond at the temple.

Back in the bus we drove on to Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s tallest mountain, with views back to the city. I was shocked at the murk down there, much more apparent from this distance. Tai Mo Shan is in a park with hiking and cycling trails, and is very popular on weekends and holidays.

Our next stop was the fortified village of Fanling, owned by the Pangs, one of the five clans in the area. The houses are only three stories high, and packed close together. Each house is owned by a Mister Pang, and there are only 99 houses in the village. There is a spill-over zone away from the village – and I think I’d prefer to live there.

The walled village of Fanling. The pool contains fish and tortoises, and you can glimpse a couple of cannon.

The entrance to the village. All the sreets inside are as narrow as this.

Just inside the entrance is a shrine to the ancestors, and a pair of protective warriors

The spill-over area outside Fanling

The rest of the tour was kind of a country drive. We saw the fish farming villages as we drove past, and the smog-enshrouded towers of the nearest Chinese city just over the border, we stopped briefly at Bridal Falls, a permanent waterfall that’s in need of rain.

Bridal Falls. The story goes that a bride was being carried across the top of the falls in a sedan chair. One of her porters slipped, and the porters and bride all fell to their deaths

On the way back to the city we spied a runway in the valley that looked in excellent condition. It was part of a British military base vacated in 1997. These days it belongs to the People’s Liberation Army. Despite Hong Kong’s need for housing, the accommodation buildings are empty. Andy clearly had a poor opinion of the PLA, muttering comments about 1989.

Fish farms on the Hong Kong side, Chinese Shenzhen on the other

We finished our tour in Mong Kok, heart of Kowloon’s shopping district, where we left our fellow tourists and went off shopping. But first, we needed lunch. We found a row of eateries in a narrow, crowded, street – tiny shops with a few tables and chairs. They say eat where the locals eat, and there were plenty of them everywhere. Menus consisted of pictures of the food with a name in Chinese and if you were lucky, in English – very few people here spoke English. We grabbed a table and perused the menu, looking for something familiar like a stir fry, or fried rice. I don’t remember much on the card, but one offering was beef tendons. Well, they do say Chinese food is famine food. Nothing goes to waste. Eventually we picked out the most expensive dish – a three-beef curry. One of the people at another table recognised our inability to make the lady serving us understand we didn’t want any of the colourful beverages on her chart, just Chinese tea, and translated for us. We expected a nice pot with jasmine tea and little china cups like we get in Australia. We got large mugs of very black tea, but it was drinkable.

The food arrived – a large mound of rice on a plate, and the curry in a side dish, all substantial helpings. The curry had potatoes, so that was okay. The beef… some of it look like well-stewed gravy beef. But some was obviously tripe, and the third component I couldn’t even guess. I ate the potato, and the gravy beef, then settled for rice with gravy. Pete did the same. I’m sure the locals thought we were very odd, and I have no doubt added our leavings back to the pot.

Peter was brave enough to use the toilet at this place. He told me the floor was covered with water, which he didn’t understand until he’d finished. The flush was broken, but there was a bucket of water in the ‘courtyard’ to do the job. Hence the wet floor. Fortunately, I wasn’t in need. Even if I was, I think I would have crossed my legs a bit tighter.

That was lunch done. Now to go shopping. But that deserves a post all its own. Join me next time, won’t you? Oh – and if you like my writing style, why not take a look at my books? None of them will set you back for more than the cost of a decent cup of coffee.

Hong Kong – the better parts of town

Aberdeen typhoon shelter

Our first morning in Hong Kong started off a bit misty, but cleared to a fine day. We joined our guide, Biddy, and a dozen other travellers for a half-day tour of Hong Kong. She rattled off stats like a pro, and I’ll try to remember the most important ones. 245 islands, the largest is Lantau, the next largest is Hong Kong. The islands, plus Kowloon and the New Territories, have a population of seven million. Most of them live on Hong Kong and in Kowloon. Housing is very expensive, but the Government subsidises poorer people – usually in housing estates on the outskirts of town (sound familiar?). Real estate is sold by the square foot. Most people live in apartments, with blocks becoming taller all the time. Biddy lives on the fortieth floor of a sixty-story building.

The crowded boats are not as crowded as they used to be

Our first stop on the tour was the Aberdeen typhoon shelter, where a dwindling number of boat people live on small boats. It’s also the site of the famous Jumbo floating restaurant. I remember having lunch on a tour there in the 80’s. Peter could remember when the little Chinese boats were so close together, you could walk across the harbour from one boat to the next. These days, some of the boats are… um… a bit more up-market, shall we say?

Some people still live on the boats

This isn’t a bum boat

The front of the jumbo restaurant

The back of the Jumbo restaurants isn’t quite as flash as the front

From there we went on to Stanley, one of the more affluent suburbs of the island. Apartments here are expensive, with views across the water. We poked around in the market near the waterfront, bought a very nice leather backpack at probably multiples of the price we could have paid in Mong Kok, and bought a very expensive cup of coffee. Like most parts of Asia, you’re better off going to one of the big chains – Macdonalds, or even Starbucks if you’re desperate (sorry, Americans). Asians don’t make coffee with real milk, so flat whites are just not the same.

Stanley street markets. It’s not busy yet – too early

Hong Kong is trying to preserve some of its past. The Murray building used to be a military barracks set on the site of the Bank of China tower. It was dismantled brick by brick and rebuilt on the waterfront at Stanley. Nowadays it’s full of dress shops and restaurants.

 

Murray barracks and the beach front at Stanley

Next we went up to the peak. Back in the day you drove up the long and winding road to a lookout – just a walled terrace – with panoramic views over the city. The views are still there, but now there are buildings all over the summit, with the best views offered from restaurants, or a (paid) viewing platform. You can buy souvenirs and very expensive ice cream. We’re talking around AU$20. We passed. Biddy pointed out a couple of the large houses nestled against the mountains. You don’t need to be a Rhodes scholar to work out the people who own private houses on the peak would have a bit of money. We were told the going rate was HK$89,000 per square foot. Which means the room in which I’m writing this at c80 square feet = HK$7,120,000 or roughly AU$1,300,000. If you look at that article I linked, you’ll see HK$89k is peanuts.

Hong Kong from the Peak. This was a fine day – that air pollution was a constant. Across the water is a typhoon shelter

It seems Stanley Ho was the first Chinese to own a property on the Peak. He’s a fascinating man, a Eurasian who married a Portugese woman. It’s said on Hong Kong that he had four wives, but our Macao guide told us he had one wife and three very good friends. He’s still alive at 95, and had seventeen children. This Wikipedia article gives some basic information about him. Anyway, back to the Peak. That was where the British colonial masters lived. I got the idea that the Chinese weren’t allowed to live up there, or maybe (until Mr Ho) they couldn’t afford to.

We took the Peak tram down the mountain. It hasn’t changed in its century plus years, but today it’s packed with tourists. Towards the end of the trip there is a very interesting optical illusion which illustrates how the human brain interprets what it sees. There are towers on both sides of the tram line. We KNOW they are upright. They do not lean. But that’s what we see – buildings leaning to compensate for the fact that we are sitting at an incredibly steep angle, which our brain decides is impossible. Peter took pictures, but the camera sees the truth, so I haven’t posted them. Trust me, my brain said the buildings were set at an angle.

We drove past one of the most powerful places in Hong Kong. Or maybe I should say the people who run it have the power. Happy Valley race course, run by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, is adjacent to the city. Horse racing is the only form of legal gambling in the territory, and the Jockey Club runs it all. As a result, it is fabulously wealthy and owns many other business interests in Hong Kong. One of the more prominent is Ocean Park perched high on a hill above the city. It’s reached by cable car, with fabulous views over the water. I went there in the eighties. We didn’t visit this time. Nor did we visit Hong Kong Disneyland, which is on Lantau Island. There’s plenty of room for it there.

So far we’d seen the more affluent side of Hong Kong. Later in the afternoon we took a short wander around the Causeway Bay area, then took a tram more or less back to the general area near our hotel. The trams are double deckers, following a short route of about nine kilometres long. We expected that would be one line – but there are a couple of branches. One went through a local shopping area, where the residents do their food shopping. Greengrocers, grocery stores, bakers, and butchers all plied their wares from open air shop fronts. Sides of beef hung from hooks and butchers chopped up cuts for customers as the tram, bells ringing, inched its way between meandering shoppers. I would have loved to get back there with a camera, but it never happened.

In the evening we made our way back to the ferry jetties near the CBD to catch a boat for a ninety-minute trip on Victoria Harbour to admire the city lights. A fifteen-minute laser show happens every night, with many of the glittering towers participating in lighting up their edifices. In fact, I think many of them leave the displays to run all night. For today I’ll leave you with photos of the night. They were taken with my hand-held 70D at a very high ISO, but they’re good enough for the internet. (In case you’re wondering, using a tripod would not have helped, because the boat tossed around a bit. The swell – mostly caused by the wash from the many boats on the harbour – was enough for a couple of people to be seasick.)

Everybody has to have an Eye. This one has lit up trees to go with it.

Many boats carry visitors out to enjoy the spectacle

A junk, its red sails illuminated, adds to the spectacle

 

Hong Kong – then and now

The city and Perth Water from King's Park

The city and Perth Water from King’s Park in Perth, Western Australia. Clean and clear and flat.

We’ve just come back from a week in Hong Kong and Macao. I remember my first visit to Hong Kong in the eighties very, very well. I’d grown up in clean, flat, thoroughly Anglo-Saxon Perth, capital of Western Australia. My then-partner taught at a TAFE college, preparing students, many of them from Hong Kong, for the examination which would give them entry to Australian universities. So when we decided to make our very first foray outside Australia, we went to Hong Kong. In hindsight it wasn’t the best place for such a baptism. A starker contrast to Perth I can hardly imagine. Instead of sprawling suburbia where a two-story house was rare, we flew into a teeming metropolis which resembled an anthill. Towering apartment blocks lined narrow streets, covering every flatish piece of land – of which there wasn’t much. People crowded the footpaths. Washing fluttered from grubby balconies. Scaffolding was bamboo, not metal. Shops selling just about anything huddled together, dwarfed by up-market department stores. Hong Kong island itself was dominated by Victoria Peak, where the rich people live. Even landing at the airport was an adventure.

Kai Tak airport was well known as one of the most dangerous approaches in the world, with the flight path on approach going between those towering apartment blocks and down onto the runway at Victoria Harbour. Even down in cattle class you could almost wave to the people in their apartments as your plane landed. Peter had the privilege of being in the cockpit for one of those landings. Wow. Just wow. Together, we’ve had a drink in a bar overlooking the airport, watching the traffic coming in and going out. Ah. Those were the days. Here’s a few pictures you might enjoy.

Kai Tak closed in 1998, replaced by a huge airport off Lantau, largest of the 245 islands that make up Hong Kong. Guides were at pains to stress that ‘Hong Kong’ includes all the other islands, and also incorporates the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories, all leased for a trivial sum by the British from the Chinese. The 99-year lease ended in 1997, and from there, the character of Hong Kong has changed.

Since that first visit in the distant 1980’s I have been to Hong Kong several times, and Pete has been a lot more often than that. For Australians, Hong Kong and Singapore were the usual stepping stones to the rest of the world. The journey to Hong Kong takes about 9 hours, and from there planes leave for Europe. It’s a good place to break the 24 hour journey, especially on the way home when jetlag is an issue, so many Australians have spent a day or two in Honkers, picking up some bargains and seeing the sights. On this trip, Pete and I spent four nights in the city, rather longer than we’d stayed on other occasions. Moreover, this was a holiday, not a business trip.

We stayed in the Harbour Plaza North Point, on the island with views over the harbour. I’m not sure why we got upgraded to a harbour view suite, but we weren’t complaining. The apartment had a kitchen, dining area, sitting room with views across to Kai Tak on Kowloon, a king bed you could have used to host an orgy (while admiring the view), and a well-appointed bathroom. I shudder to think what an apartment of that size would cost to buy. We certainly couldn’t afford it.

Bedroom with view

Dining area. Open door is to bathroom

The sitting room.

 

 

 

 

It was kind of nostalgic that we could see the end of what used to be the end of Kai Tak’s runway from our suite. These days it’s a port for cruise ships. Since the airport was relocated, the height restrictions on buildings in that part of Hong Kong have disappeared and the suburbs have crept up, and out.

I made a point of taking a photo every day from our sitting room across the harbour.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about our city tour and our visit to Aberdeen Typhoon shelter, Stanley, and the Peak. And then the light show from the harbour. For now, enjoy some views of Kowloon from Hong Kong’s North Point.

Kowloon from our suite. A cruise ship is leaving port – maybe for a journey to international waters where gambling is legal.

Early morning on the first day. Sun’s coming up and dissipating the mist. The site of the runway is clearly visible just behind the ship.

By late afternoon the sky had cleared – or at least, as much as it was going to

Next day the mist was fairly thick

The mountain behind the apartment blocks is invisible.

Pelicans

Shaping to land

Shaping to land

It’s actually pretty easy to get a half decent photo of a pelican. They’re such majestic birds, floating through the air on those massive wings, hardly bothering to flap. Or soaring on an up draft. They’re so big they don’t worry much about humans, either. In fact, returning fishermen are sought out, particularly while they’re cleaning a catch.

Pelicans are everywhere. They frequent lakes, beaches and rivers – and they’ll fly thousands of miles into Australia’s dead heart when the inland rivers run and the salt lakes fill with water. I shared a couple of photos of the thousands of birds on Lake Eyre last March. Nobody knows how they know the lake is full.

But while it’s exceptionally simple to catch a nice photo of a pelican bobbing on water, reflected in a calm surface, I like to capture birds doing what they do. Burrum Heads, the mouth of the Burrum River, which is a short drive north of Hervey Bay, is a great place to see pelicans, and a great place to catch them landing on the water, or taking off. But we do get them down our beach at Torquay, or hanging around the Urangan pier watching the fishermen.

Here’s a few of my favourite pelican pictures.

A light pole on the Urangan pier is a favourite spot

A light pole on the Urangan pier is a favourite spot

Waddling out to the water at the beach Hervey Bay

Waddling out to the water at the beach Hervey Bay

Take off in formation

Take off in formation

Landing in formation

Landing in formation

Bundaberg botanic garden

Bundaberg botanic garden

 

 

Day 15 – Montreux, playground of the rich and famous

Sunlight on the poppies with the mountains in the background

Sunlight on the poppies with the mountains in the background

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin

We were scheduled to spend two days at Montreux on the banks of Lake Geneva, staying in the Montreux Palace, now a five star hotel. We arrived at the lakeside at the town of Vevey, where Charlie Chaplin spent his last years. There’s a statue of him here and several people took photos.

The promenade at Vevey

The promenade at Vevey – picture by PT

Then back on the coach for the short trip to our hotel.

The views over the lake are breathtaking. The mountains rear above the lake, sketching a line between France and Switzerland. The lake shore is a long promenade, encouraging visitors to walk along and admire the view. It seems quite a few artistic types were drawn to this place, like Freddie Mercury. In fact Montreux hosts a music festival. Statues of a number of top performers can be seen in a garden near the lake – Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Ray Charles. And for some reason known only to the Swiss, Vladimir Nabokov. He did live here, and died in Montreux. But I don’t think he was noted for his music.

Needless to say the local shops boast all the top brands – Armani, Rolex, Givenchy etc etc. We didn’t go shopping. After a quick look around the local restaurants we decided to eat at one of the hotel restaurants, since it wasn’t much more expensive than everywhere else. We would have liked to have pork knuckle with sauerkraut, but the server returned to the table to tell us it wasn’t available, so we had chicken. Beautifully cooked, far too much (but we should have realised) and served with nothing. If you wanted vegetables, that was extra. We had a main course with one ‘extra’ each, Pete had 2 beers and I had 2 glasses of local wine. That turned out to be something like AU$170. But hey -we’re on holiday. The following day we ate at an Italian restaurant – lasagne for me, pretty ordinary spaghetti marinara for him, a glass of wine, a beer. AU$120. Switzerland is a very expensive place.

Anyway, let’s get on with the photos.

Lake Geneva with swan

Lake Geneva with swan

Swan

Swan

They provided chairs set into the rocks so you can enjoy the view in comfort

They provided chairs set into the rocks so you can enjoy the view in comfort

Montreux Palace with statue of Nabokov in the foreground

Montreux Palace with statue of Nabokov in the foreground

IMG_3856

Lounge

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Dining room

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald

Freddie Mercury - his statue isn't with the jazz singers, it's down on the water's edge

Freddie Mercury – his statue isn’t with the jazz singers, it’s down on the water’s edge.

Tomorrow we’re going on two fabulous visits. Come and join us. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them as much as we did.