I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Tian Tan. Cantonese for "fucking huge".

Hong Kong island
Originally uploaded by Darren Foreman.
I always knew I'd leave most cities, if not all of them, with more things left to do than stuff I had time for. For this reason I hadn't really bothered to make any lists of things to do, certainly none that I was going to beat myself up over for missing out. It is after all a whistle stop tour. So because of this I woke up on Monday morning in Hong Kong with a full day ahead of me and only one thing on my list: to go visit the hoofing great Buddha at Ngong Ping.

This Buddha status holds a world record for some convoluted set of circumstances, something like the biggest one made of bronze and outdoors and seated. It's almost as stupid as the stats they come up with on cricket coverage, stuff like "highest second innings partnership for the 6th wicket against Pakistan on a rough wicket with cloud cover at Edgbaston in August in the 3rd test of a series with a South African umpire". But anyway: it's fucking huge, and I wanted to go see it up and close and personal.

Being the sensible type I'd picked a national holiday to go on and didn't leave the hotel until about 1045. Turns out it was pretty crowded, eh. The reason it was a national holiday is only partially related to the previous day being National Day and falling on a Sunday: it's actually a weeklong bank holiday in HK.

As it goes it took me a while to realise the scope of my fuck up. The star ferry was busy, but that was going the wrong way, Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, so I thought it was full of people going shopping. The local rag the hotel had given me had a news article going on abuot the number of people entering HK from the mainland and a tiny interview with one of 'em saying how they wanted to visit the Buddha too, but that could have just been coincidence. The MRT ride all the way to Tung Chung was pretty full but lots of people got off at the Disneyland interchange stop, and Tung Chung is a destination in itself anyway 'cos there's a shitload of flats and shops there. No, the time I first entertained the thought that I'd fucked up was when I joined the queue to the cable car ticket office. It was fucking enormous.

But yeah, I joined it, because I thought, look, this is the one thing on my list. What am I gonna do if not this? And besides, maybe it'll move quickly... half hour later with no movement I had the first serious "fuck this, I'm sweltering and need to piss off" pang which was followed within seconds by a mass surge forwards as they let shitloads of people up and through. Being caught up in this I ended up near the front of this section of the queue when they stemmed the flow again, and decided I was now in it for the long haul.

It took another 75 minutes to get to the ticket office and 15 more to get on a cable car. In the final queue (there were many different ones) an Indian guy had looked at me, shook his head, taken me by the shoulder as he fixed me with his gaze and loudly said "Had I known... HAD I KNOWN!". Um, quite.

Cable car ride was fun. Despite the weather -- shock -- being cloudy and misty and smoggy, the view was actually quite nice, albeit not very photogenic. We went over the water to Lantau Island, had a good view of the airport, then turned 60 degrees to go up and over Lantau country park until reaching Ngong Ping. This place is a kind of theme village, with newly built traditional architecture showing how yer country folk, peaceful statue-building buddhists that they all are, live. Seems they live by shopping in 7-eleven (2 diet cokes and an ice cream) and eating in a variety of overpriced western-food selling restaurants. I bet.

Walked from there to the Tian Tan Buddha. Stood and stared at it for a bit. The decision not to climb the 268 or 286 or whatever it is steps to get up to it was a pretty easy one to make. After all, I only had 10 minutes until my first tourist-trap show ("Walking With Buddha") was due to start. Also, fuck that! Have you seen them steps? Have a word.

Walking With Buddha was quite fun. You get a headset in your language (assuming you understand English, German, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese or Japanese, IIRC) and it seems to have some kind of spatial-awareness proto-GPS type thing going on... or maybe just a radio receiver... anyway you're taken from room to room by the guides who otherwise remain silent, the entire commentary coming through the headphones, always making sure it plays the right bit at the right time. Neat. At the end you're taken through a few rooms full of plaques showing a bunch of stuff Buddha came up with, like how people should think right and live right and how there's an end to suffering and all that stuff. Then you take a leaf with a message on it and offer it as an, err, offering to Buddha by shoving it in a little slot on a statue of him and watching a mini-light show go off inside as it rises up to his head.

Half an hour to waste after that before the 2nd show I'd signed up for, A Monkey's Tale. This is a high-def cartoon show with no talking, the message all being in the behaviour and experiences of the monkey. There's a very deep and spiritual message coming through, expressed by humour, and I can't remember what it was. Something like giving being better than receiving, I dunno, heh.

There were no cable car tickets left for return transport for sale by 3pm despite the last one leaving at 6pm, such was the popularity of the place. Thankfully I'd bought a return and with little left to do thought I'd go back already. That took about 90 minutes because once again it was a festival of queueing. Sigh.

Once back at Tung Chung I decided I needed a pint. No bars in sight around that area so back on the tube I got, to Central. Got hopelessly lost and wandering around car parks and service areas until finally making my way to them escalators which I took halfway up before a swift left turn to get to Lan Kwai Fong. I wasn't looking for any bar in particular but stumbled across one whose name I forget (but it's in my book), a German place where apparently the beer drinking is taken very seriously. So I had a plate of chips and 3 pints in there.

Sat in that place I was wondering, am I being a bit dumb here? I come halfway across the world to Hong Kong and go sit in a German bar? That's not experiencing the culture, is it? And then I thought, no, actually, I'm doing it right. Where am I? I'm in the middle of a huge city. What do the locals do around here? They come to this district and drink in this bar and other bars like it. If I wanted traditional chinese society I'd go to some crazy-ass province by fucking mule or whatever transport and sit drinking hooch with the rice farmers. But I don't. I'm touring big cities and living big city life. Take that, me.

Anyway. In that bar I also had a conversation by SMS with Chris. Various topics, primarily how I could really do with travelling and writing about it for a living but that'll never happen, and how I was a bit drunk in the middle of Hong Kong island with the last ferry back to my hotel just gone and not enough cash left on my Octopus card to get the subway. Undeterred I stagged back down through Central to the star ferry terminal and happily discovered that I did have enough credit to get across to Kowloon, specifically Tsim Sha Tsui rather than Hung Hom. From there it's a short but entertaining walk to the place where my hotel's shuttle bus runs and I was back at Harbour Plaza in no time.

Actually it was good that I got that ferry, because I got my best (um, only) close-up views of the island skyline at night. Photos at full size look a bit rubbish, but at 240x120 or whatever the default size on flickr is when browsing my pics by page they look pretty good I reckon.

Anyway. Last night in Hong Kong (this time), a little bit pissed, but too early to go to bed despite having a 6am(!) start the next day I thought I'd give the Waterfront bar another go. This is the place I got shitfaced on and don't remember leaving on Saturday night, and when I'd failed to discover a receipt for all that I had consumed the thought did occur to me that I'd done a runner. Fears were initially allayed -- not about whether I'd done it, but about whether, if I had, I'd get caught -- because none of the staff on duty were the same as on Friday. And the guy that served me was very friendly indeed. About 20 minutes later though one of Saturday's barmen did appear and he was nowhere near as friendly... but he still served me, so I could only assume I was in the clear (as it happens the next morning I was happy to see that I had indeed charged an awful lot of beer to my room). Just a couple of drinks there and I retired for the evening. 6am on the alarm clock and a place on the 0715 airport bus wasn't something I was particularly looking forward to, ho hum.


Fistynuts said...

Way to time a visit to China - in the middle of the moon festival! Have you been drinking the Tsing Tau? If so then that's all the Chinese culture you need right there.

Jamie said...

I climbed all the steps to the buddah when I visited Lantau. Bought some overly expensive trinket there that keeps my car safe :)