A Travellerspoint blog

Weeks 49+50 - The End

Last two weeks (10 days) of my year in HK. What a year it’s been.

sunny 32 °C

Huge thanks to Dr and Mrs Holliday for awarding me the Nick Holliday Travel Scholarship, in memory of their son Nick who was a geography teacher at KES. He was an avid traveller, explorer and climber, and died tragically in a climbing accident doing what he loved. The Scholarship helps fund the travels of KES students who aspire to travel, which I am sure Nick would be very proud of.

Posted on 30th July 2021

It’s exactly one year since I left for Hong Kong. No idea how; I still remember saying goodbye to everyone and getting ready for a year away so clearly, as if it was yesterday. I’ve never been away from home for anywhere near this long, and it was weird being back. At the time of writing I’ve been home for three weeks, having landed on the 10th July before quarantining at home for 10 days. When I got home from the airport it genuinely felt like the whole last year was a dream, almost a sense of disbelief. One plane journey and just like that, the people and surroundings that I’ve seen and interacted with everyday for a year have just gone from my life. Just like that. It was strange for the first few days being at home. Then I was back into the swing of normality, as if nothing had happened. If it wasn’t for the souvenirs I’ve brought back and the friends I’ve made, I genuinely would’ve thought it was all a dream.

It’s been such an incredible year. I’ve explored, learnt, made friends for life. I’ve worked full-time for a year, I’ve done my own tax forms (with lots of assistance). I’ve gained so much invaluable life experience, having to deal with all sorts of people and learning to adapt to a constantly changing work environment (rules in school fluctuated loads due to HK’s Covid regulations). Lots of people said to me how it’s a shame I haven’t been able to travel around SE Asia and visit places like Thailand and Japan. Whilst I get what they’re saying, I wouldn’t call anything about this past year a ‘shame’. I got to know HK so well that now, I could probably get to any destination without a map (or Uber). I can’t speak highly enough about it as a place, both to travel around to and to live in. There’s so much to do, and the best thing is that you can do it all in one trip, given how close everything is together. Of course there’s the upmarket restaurants and malls that make HK expensive, but it is possible to do it cheaply. Public transport is a blessing - cheap and reliable - and some of the things I enjoyed the most about this year have probably been the hikes and beaches, which are free to do.

Sorry it’s taken three weeks to write this. I didn’t forget about writing, I’ve just been occupied with helping around the house, sorting stuff out for uni, but I’ve been adding to this entry whenever I could. Here’s my last one and a half weeks in HK to finish off the year.

NOTE: we broke up on Wednesday 30th June, so I’m calling the Thursday to the Sunday Week 49, and then the week after up until my flight on the Friday is Week 50.

Week 49 (1st - 4th July)

Friday 2nd July was a really fun day. Played in a football tournament against schools from across HK (I think 21 in total?). Each school fielded a 7-a-side team of teachers, and it was done in Euros format so each school was drawn as a Euros nation. We got given France, and ironically got knocked out on penalties in the round of 16 just like the real tournament. Really fun day, although playing was uncomfortable at times due to the 32 °C heat and intense sun. Played at pitches in Tseung Kwan O, which is the furthest east point of HK and quite isolated. Probably the most grass I’ve seen anywhere in HK, and it’s next to a film studio and a bridge that is absolutely massive but doesn’t really connect to anything. People say that other than the football pitches there’s no reason why you’d ever need to go to Tseung Kwan O.
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Euros football tournament for teachers across HK

Had a junk (boat party) on Saturday. Went to Clearwater Bay which was beautiful. Because it was the weekend there were loads of other boats there. Dread to think what the ocean bed in that area looks like, in terms of how much rubbish has been thrown down there. Spent the day enjoying the sun, eating and drinking, and playing around on inflatables.
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Clearwater Bay junk

Brunch at Duddells on Sunday, one of HK’s top rated dim sum restaurants. It’s Michelin starred and very pricey, but honestly it was quite underwhelming and definitely not worth the price tag. I guess with stuff like dumplings, rice rolls and wontons, there’s only so much you can do, so it’s hard to make it worth the amount they were charging. The unlimited duck and pancakes was very nice though.
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Duddells

Week 50 (5th - 10th July

Monday was one of the best days of the year. Spent the day in Sai Kung, which is where the rock pools/waterfalls that I visited in October are. It’s easily the most beautiful part of HK; the town has a holiday feel to it and the seafood is amazing, whilst the beaches there are unmatched. There is a country park there which is gorgeous, and after you hike through it, you arrive at a set of beaches that are secluded and private. We had breakfast at Little Cove, apparently the best breakfast place in HK, before getting a taxi through the country park so we could hike to the beach. The weather was perfect, and as it was a weekday it wasn’t as busy as it can get on the weekends. The hike was just over an hour, and when we got to the beach we turned left and walked up the river to get to the rock pools.
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Sai Kung pier and country park

We spent about 3 hours at the rock pools, cliff jumping and swimming. The weather was actually perfect. 32 °C and a completely blue sky. There were only 4 other people there when we arrived - on the weekends you can find over 20 people there easily - and when they left we had it to ourselves. It’s like a place out of a film; the water is blue and crystal clear, and there are ledges around the edge to leave your things and sit. The cliff is a very good height too, so jumping from it is popular. It was basically our own freshwater pool for the day.
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Sai Kung rock pools

After the rock pools we got the boat back to the town. The boat journey was beautiful; we could see small islands that we’d never seen before as they’re only accessible by boat, but the highlight was the UNESCO Geopark. It’s a protected area and the islands are really cool; they’re formed out of a special rock that looks like lots of individual thin pillars/columns of rock combined together. Very unique sight and impressive to think that’s how they naturally form. Had dinner at Cheung Kee Seafood Restaurant - fresh scampi and prawns - before heading back.
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UNESCO geopark and seafood restaurant

On Tuesday we had another junk, this time in Sai Kung. Weather started well but it started getting stormy in the afternoon. This boat was the same as the first junk we did in June, so there was wakeboarding and kayaking included. There’s a beach out on an island that is only accessible by boat. I kayaked there and it was gorgeous - the sand was clean and it was untouched by litter. I’d brought snorkelling goggles with me, so decided to have a look around the large rocks that were just offshore. I was glad I didn’t walk around them beforehand: there were over 50 sea urchins attached to and around them. Never seen them before in person; they were quite scary, jet black in colour with spikes that sort of wave around slowly in the water. I think that if their spikes impale you then you need to go to the hospital ASAP, as in some instances the venom is so much that it can kill you. There were also some cool tropical fish swimming around the rocks, brightly-coloured with stripes, but I was too fixated on the sea urchins to watch them for too long.
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Junk; view from the private beach and wakeboarding

Wednesday was lunch at Samsen, a popular Thai place, followed by drinks in the evening. Went to a rooftop bar called Nine Dragons, which is in TST so it looks onto the Island. Spent a while up there taking in the skyline. Even after being there for a year I could still appreciate how incredible it is.
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Samsen and Nine Dragons

Thursday, the last full day, was lots of packing. I had a last-minute panic when I realised that my suitcase, which was weight-capped at 23kg, weighed just over 30kg. In the end I paid for additional check-in luggage, which was £50, which isn’t bad considering that the fee for overweight luggage (my other option) would’ve been $160USD at the airport. In the evening we had dinner at Pici, a very popular pasta place, before having some drinks on a rooftop terrace in the International Finance Centre. It wasn’t as fancy as it sounds; there’s a Shake Shack there that has rooftop seating, so we just sat there with some bottles. We chatted about our best memories of the year, our plans and thoughts for the future, and it was a nice way to end it.
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Pici, and drinks on the IFC

And onto Friday. Flight was at 8pm so we only had up until lunchtime to do stuff. Decided to go out for lunch to Chaiwala, an iconic Indian place in town, before heading back. On the drive back from town I made sure to take in as much of the view of the city as I could, as I’m not sure when I’ll next be back in HK. The skyline is honestly something else.

My housemaster was very kind to drop me off at the airport. We said goodbye and that was pretty much it, my Hong Kong experience finished. Checked in through security, got some food. Boarded the plane, slept for most of the 13hr journey. Changed over in Amsterdam just like the journey to HK, and then a 1hr flight from there to Birmingham and I was home, landing on Saturday 10th July.

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I was very lucky to get this job offer and be able to spend a year in HK, especially with everything going on at the time. In April and May, I was unsure if I’d even be able to go to HK, as the situation there was so bad. I’ve loved it all the way through and as I said at the start of this entry, I’ve gained so much invaluable life experience, having lived away from home and worked full time for a year. When I got there everyone was a stranger and everything was new, but I enjoyed getting to know the people there and finding my way around the city. It’s an opportunity most 18 year olds don’t get, so I’m very grateful for it.

I still can’t believe it’s been a whole year. This time last year I was sat in the HK Expo centre, waiting to be tested having just landed. I started this blog partly for the KES Travel Scholarship, but also so that my family could keep up to date with what I was doing. I’ve enjoyed writing it, and what I’ve realised is that I’ve recorded pretty much everything that has happened this year. Not only the fun stuff, but I’ve written what the COVID situation was at the time and how it affected me, as well as small details and anecdotes that I’ll have forgotten by now. I think it’ll be really interesting for me to read back through this in a few years. It’ll allow me to relive this year and remind me of the fun stuff, but also of what it was like to live in a country that was one of the first to be affected by COVID. The restrictions were much stricter than here in the UK, and the police would fine you without hesitation if they caught you breaking them, such as for not wearing a mask outdoors in 33 °C heat.

I also lived there in a time that is being described as a huge transitional period for HK (and by some as the end of HK). When I arrived, the national security law was around a year old, and despite only being there for a year I could see what was happening. People were scared, the news would cover significant stories such as Jimmy Lai being jailed and Apple Daily being shut down, as well as anti-Beijing protesters being detained. You’d find cries of protest in discreet locations, such as written on the back of bus seats or etched onto windows. But it was clear that the people there were frightened, and listening to stories from people who had been there for many years, or who had been raised as south-east Asians, reinforced that. (Westerners weren’t too badly affected, as they tend to not get involved with the politics there anyway). People said things to me like ‘be careful of what you say, anybody’s phone can pick up what you’re saying’. I have a feeling that when I do visit again, probably in a few years time, it’ll be so much more authoritarian than it already is. Not trying to end my last entry on a dark note, but it would be wrong to portray HK as a perfect and trouble-free place when there is so much going on beneath the surface.

I’d like to wrap everything up by saying thank you to Ms Ferguson and Mr Connor for awarding me the Nick Holliday Travel Scholarship. It helped me out massively throughout the year, as you can imagine in a place as expensive as Hong Kong. Many thanks also go to Dr John and Mrs Jenni Holliday for creating this scholarship opportunity in the first place. Not only is it extremely generous, but I think it’s a fantastic idea as it encourages KES students to go out and explore parts of the world they might otherwise be hesitant or unable to. This has been without a doubt the best year of my life, and as obvious as it sounds, it has acted as an eye-opener for how much there is to do and learn when you explore new parts of the world. If you’ve made it to the end of this, thanks for reading and I hope you found it somewhat worthwhile keeping up to date with what I’ve been doing, mostly what food I’ve been eating. I’ve been making the most of it, as I’m aware that when I go to university, the cold pasta and ready meals won’t be quite as glamorous.

Signing off for the last time,
Dave.

Posted by David Zhao 10:55 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Weeks 45,46,47+48 - Last Day of Work

Entry covering 7th June - 30th June. Last few weeks at work, and entering my last week here in HK.

rain 33 °C

Huge thanks to Dr and Mrs Holliday for awarding me the Nick Holliday Travel Scholarship, in memory of their son Nick who was a geography teacher at KES. He was an avid traveller, explorer and climber, and died tragically in a climbing accident doing what he loved. The Scholarship helps fund the travels of KES students who aspire to travel, which I am sure Nick would be very proud of.

Posted on 1st July 2021

At the time of writing I’ve just finished my last day of work. Saying goodbye to the kids in my house - especially the boarders, who I’ve pretty much lived with for the past year - was difficult and a bit sad. Finished the year with M+S brownies, cookies and Jaffa cakes, and lots of FIFA. The job was amazing; I got paid to pretty much be an older brother and just look after the kids in house, playing games and organising competitions for them. There was also the sports side of the job, where we’d help out with all the games lessons, but the house side was definitely the highlight.

Week 45 (7th - 13th June)

Quiet week. Went into town on the Saturday, where I took these photos. I’ve been here for a year, and I still can’t get over how beautiful HK is.
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Hong Kong

Hiked Castle Peak on the Sunday, tallest mountain in Tuen Mun. Near the bottom of the mountain is a monastery that is the official birthplace of Buddhism in HK, and is also where a Bruce Lee film was filmed. The complex was huge and very peaceful, and from a viewpoint you could see Shenzhen in the distance.
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Tsing Shan Monastery

Castle Peak was insane. At the peak you can look over onto the other side of the mountain that you can’t see from anywhere else. The terrain is different to anything else in HK; the mountains are sandy, so are a weird mix of green and yellow. Beyond that is open ocean that, on a clear day, you’d be able to see Macau from. There was then a bridge that connects Hong Kong to a port in mainland China, which was really cool; the bridge looked really modern and futuristic. It felt like actual wilderness at the top, with overgrown grass and wind so strong that I had to sit down at points to avoid being pushed over. I think I went up during a storm, as there was dark grey clouds passing over the peak. Luckily it only rained for a bit.
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Castle Peak

The problem with climbing mountains in HK is the humidity. You sweat loads because of the temperature, and then you don’t dry off because of how humid it is. Once your clothes are wet they stay wet, so I did the whole hike with a completely drenched t-shirt.

Week 46 (14th - 20th June

Bank holiday Monday so went for brunch at Poem, a Balinese restaurant. It was amazing and like nothing I’ve ever had before; everything tasted very tropical, wrapped in coconut leaves and tasting slightly of coconut or exotic fruits. Similar to Thai food but tastes tropical instead of spicy.
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Poem

Not much other than that. Went back to the K11 mall, the really fancy one, for Five Guys. Went through a train station on the way that looks like something out of a sci-fi film, all shiny chrome and shaped like a spaceship.
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Station and K11

Week 47 (21st - 27th June

Tropical storm passed over, which caused a cumulonimbus cloud to form (I only know because I googled what cloud it was after seeing it). Never seen one before; it formed a ball with a glowing centre, and the ball kept expanding from the centre by sort of circling outwards. It was actually quite scary, and a heavy thunderstorm followed.
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In the week, one of my football classes got called off because there was a snake under a barrier on the court. I didn’t realise they took snakes so seriously here; four staff members came to stand around it while they waited for the police.
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Played my last match for DBFC on the Sunday. Don’t really enjoy playing in HK to be honest; the pitches are tiny so you get no time on the ball, whilst the heat and humidity means you struggle to breathe after a while. Can’t believe I’m saying this but I miss cold and wet November mornings.
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DBFC

Sunday was amazing. Brunch at Honjo, a Japanese restaurant with all-you-can-eat sushi. One of the best meals I’ve ever had; I’ve said this before but I’m really going to miss how much good food there is in HK. Until you live in HK, you won’t realise what I’m talking about. The number of amazing restaurants is incredible.
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Honjo

Week 48 (28th - 30th June; Mon to Wed as we broke up on a Wednesday)
School was called off on Monday due to a ‘black weather warning’ i.e. rain so intense everything floods. All public transport stops running and people are advised to stay indoors altogether. It’s unlike any rain in the UK; the air becomes thick and the raindrops are huge, whilst there is lightning every 2-3 minutes.

Tuesday and Wednesday were mostly goodbyes and thank yous. Both to the pupils and other teachers, who I’ve worked with/taught for the past year and probably won’t see most of ever again. Loved my time here; it’s a nice environment to work in. Nice facilities, kids don’t really misbehave, good weather so everyone’s in a good mood most of the time. Very different atmosphere to any school in the UK; there aren’t really that many problems, and the kids motivate themselves. I’d consider working here when I’m older. Wednesday was the last day of work for our gap tutor team: end of an era.
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Gappie team 2020-21

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I fly next Friday, 9th July. Have to do 10 days quarantine at home and have 2 tests. I will be back in time for the Euros final, so if England do make it (which we won’t; we’ll probably lose to Ukraine) then I’ll be back home for that. The time difference here means that only the Croatia game was at a normal time, at 9pm. Germany was at midnight, whilst Ukraine will be 3am. Germany game was easily worth it though.

I have 9 days left here, which I’m going to call my last ‘week’. One more blog entry to come. I wrote this mostly for my family, so they could read about what I’m doing. However, I also plan to read back through this in however many years time, to relive this year. Despite not being able to travel to Thailand and Japan, which are next door, I’ve absolutely loved it. I’ve learnt so much and experienced a completely different culture, which I’m now familiar with.

I’d say Hong Kong is a must-visit place, mainly because of how close everything is together. Unlike America, where some of the states are a couple of hours apart by plane, you can go between the two furthest points in HK in under 3 hours by public transport, probably 90 mins by car. It means that were you to do a week here, you could do absolutely everything and not have to pick and choose, as you would with Australia or America.

One more entry to come. 9 more days here, purely to relax and enjoy HK. See you on the other side.
Dave

Posted by David Zhao 00:35 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged rain Comments (1)

Weeks 40,41,42+43+44 - Junk

Weeks 40-44 of my year in HK. Still no travel abroad so just enjoying my last two months in HK, with a boat party, or junk, being the highlight.

sunny 34 °C

Posted on 7th June 2021

Huge thanks to Dr and Mrs Holliday for awarding me the Nick Holliday Travel Scholarship, in memory of their son Nick who was a geography teacher at KES. He was an avid traveller, explorer and climber, and died tragically in a climbing accident doing what he loved. The Scholarship helps fund the travels of KES students who aspire to travel, which I am sure Nick would be very proud of.

Booked my return flight for the second week of July. Held out all year hoping that the situation would ease and borders would open for tourism, but I've finally admitted defeat. Despite flights for under £50 (normally), no Thailand, no Japan, no Vietnam. Does feel like a wasted opportunity given how close I am location-wise. Main reason I applied for the job too.

Regardless, it's been amazing year and I guess I can't complain too much as I've had a year better than most others. At the time of writing I have six weeks left here. Planning to spend them doing lots of water sports, revisiting some iconic places and eating lots of food. Still playing for DBFC and have quite a few leaving socials planned too.

Small anecdote: the clouds in HK move really fast. Weather forecasting here is very unreliable. It can be sunny and completely clear in the morning, and out of nowhere pour down for half an hour. Then it just stops and it's sunny again. Because of this relatively volatile climate, the sky often turns into a cool sight, probably to do with HK's subtropical location/climate. It becomes a blend of orange and purple. The clouds also form very unique shapes to create picturesque skies. I've attached two photos that I took at some point over the past 4 weeks to show you what I mean.
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HK's unique skies

Week 40 (3rd - 9th May)

Standard week of work before we went to a bar on Friday called The Pontiac. Very American feel, like a hipster bar with neon lights and a jukebox; never really seen anything like it in the UK. The day after we went to Repulse Bay for a beach day. HK is full of buildings that are so fancy they don't seem real. There is one by Repulse Bay beach, with an avenue of palm trees next to a perfectly kept garden, and Rolls Royces parked out front.
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Repulse Bay

Week 41 (10th - 16th May)

One of the girl gap tutors left this week. To see her off we went swimming in the sea at night, which is what we did on our first night out of quarantine. Sea was really warm and it was a nice way to finish the year as a six. The next day we went to Bloomsway luxury apartments to use their outdoor pool - it was 33° - which was amazing. The apartments are ridiculously fancy and their pool was like something you'd see in Hollywood. Fortunate that we knew someone there.
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Swimming in the sea and Bloomsway

Week 42 (17th - 23rd May)

Had my first ever bank holiday Wednesday this week for Buddha's birthday. Really inconvenient day to have it; the boarders left on Tuesday afternoon, only to come back on Wednesday evening. Also you can't really do anything as it's only one day, whereas bank holiday Mondays give you a 3-day weekend and allow you to go stay somewhere if you want. UK really has done a good job of making them all Mondays. Was quite awkward to have it on a Wednesday, having to be ready for work at 7pm for when the kids came back.

Went back to Francis right after we 'broke up' on the Tuesday. My favourite restaurant in HK, serving homemade Middle-Eastern food like pita bread, hummus and then grilled lamb or beef.
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Francis

Did a hike on the Wednesday. The MacLehose trail runs behind school and takes you up to the Thousand Islands Reservoir. Walk there took about two hours, and it was fairly busy at the top. Surprising to see so many braving the 33° heat; I was drenched in sweat after about five minutes of walking. Very clear day, which meant that at the top we could see Shenzhen. Never seen it so clearly before; the city is made up of hundreds of skyscrapers, any one of which would be at least as tall as the BT Tower. Then there is the Ping An Finance Centre (4th tallest building in the world) which genuinely towers over all of them. None of them reach over two-thirds of the way up the Ping An tower. It's insane, and I still can't believe I haven't been able to visit Shenzhen this year even though it's only a 30 min train journey away.

Other side of the peak was the reservoir, which was really cool. Never seen anything like it before coming to HK; there is a similar one in Sai Kung, where we went camping on the beach. Lots of manmade dunes with sand bases but green tops. Water flows around these dunes, and runs down the mountain in little pipes; there are some free drinking-water taps along the trail. It overlooks the airport and the sea, and there is a path that runs all the way around the reservoir which is nice. Apparently the Buddha's birthday bank holiday is awful to go into town on; it's so busy. Everywhere is booked and roads and pavements are crammed. Therefore lots of people choose to do a hike instead, which is free and much more peaceful.
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Thousand Island Reservoir, HK

Went to Mong Kok markets on the Saturday. The stock they have is unreal: Ralph Lauren shirts for £2, Gucci wallets (which I think look awful anyway) for £10, Fjallraven bags for £10. Spent over three hours looking through the stalls. Favourite was a football shirt stall which sold the new Euros kits for £12. Quality was really good; apparently in mainland China it's even higher, sometimes even better than the genuine versions.
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Mong Kok markets

Followed this up with steak at La Vache, which was quality; unlimited chips and a huge piece of black forest cake. The restaurant was about 5 minutes from the TST waterfront, so we walked along it after our meal. Been here for 10 months and I'm still in awe at the skyline at night; there's nothing else like it.
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La Vache and the night skyline

Week 43 (24th - 30th May)

Hiked to Cape D'Aguilar, a small peninsula with rocky beaches and a marine park. Really beautiful; felt more like Cornwall or Devon than Hong Kong. Quite breezy and grey, with rocky paths and actual grass. Grass is so rare here. Along the way we saw over thirty golden orb spiders, the biggest of which was bigger than my hand at about 20cm in leg-span. They were gold, almost metallic in colour, and moved very differently to spiders I've seen before; much slower and controlled rather than scuttling. In terms of comfort and enjoyment, one of the best hikes I've done.
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Cape D'Aguilar, and golden orb weavers

Went to Popinjays for brunch the day after, located in the Murray hotel. One of the nicest places to eat in HK - it's on the 26th floor and overlooks Hong Kong park - and it's normally one of the most expensive too. However we got a really good discount, reducing their brunch from around £80 to £30, which in terms of value for money was amazing. Buffet starters consisted of bread and cheese, Iberico ham and chorizo, smoked salmon and tuna steak. Dessert was also a buffet, with chocolate truffle cake, scones with whipped cream and three types of cheesecake. With how much we ate and how good the quality was, we almost feel like we ripped them off by paying only £30, but we weren't complaining.
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Popinjays (first photo shows buffet-style Iberico ham and chorizo

Week 44 (31st May - 6th June)

Three day half-term this week. Main event was the junk, or boat party, on the Tuesday. Never been on one before, but apparently they're very common here in HK. The lady who organised the junk knew some people, so we managed to get a decent deal too, and bringing our own food and drinks made it cheaper as opposed to paying for catered service. Left Sai Kung at 10:30am and headed to Millionaire's Bay, a well-sheltered area of water with a beach nearby too. The beach is only accessible by boat, so it's very private and secluded.
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Millionaire's Bay, Sai Kung. Most junk boats come here due to the calm water, beautiful setting and secluded beach

Spent the day partying and swimming. The boat had a slide going off the top deck, so we used this before we realised that jumping off was equally as fun. There were a couple of inflatables, but the highlight was definitely the speedboat. Very old which is probably why we got it for so cheap, but I don't know why you'd need anything else as it does its job of going fast. Tried wakeboarding for the first time, and managed to stand up on my third attempt. Absolutely loved it; the water we wakeboarded on had beautiful mini green islands dotted around the periphery, which made it a beautiful place to relax in. The water was warm and clean, and we even saw two stingrays jump out of the water. Easily my best day since being in Hong Kong, and honestly I don't think anything can beat it.
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Junk partying, and wakeboarding

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Covid here seems to be very under control. No untraceable cases for over 40 days. Weird given how few people have the vaccine; I think just over 10% are fully vaccinated. Seems to be a skepticism of the safety of the vaccines, mainly from non-Westerners. Bit annoying as we still have to wear masks, and it's becoming even hotter and more humid which makes it quite uncomfortable.

Other than the travel abroad, I've done everything I set out to do. Explored Hong Kong thoroughly, both the fancy areas and the less wealthy island settlements. Got lots of experience from the job, making contacts and learning everyday. Decent year overall. Five weeks left to make the most of.

Dave

Posted by David Zhao 13:47 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged junk Comments (0)

Weeks 36,37,38+39 - Easter

Weeks 36-39 of my year in Hong Kong. Two week Easter break and a visit to Tsz Shan Monastery.

sunny 30 °C

Posted on 3rd May 2021

Huge thanks to Dr and Mrs Holliday for awarding me the Nick Holliday Travel Scholarship, in memory of their son Nick who was a geography teacher at KES. He was an avid traveller, explorer and climber, and died tragically in a climbing accident doing what he loved. The Scholarship helps fund the travels of KES students who aspire to travel, which I am sure Nick would be very proud of.

Last four weeks have flown by. Spent two weeks relaxing over Easter before school restarted for my final term here, which has thankfully returned to normal. Before Easter, half the school would be in during the morning and half in the afternoon due to a capacity limit. This made the place feel very empty. However that limit has now been increased so only one year group has to stay home on Zoom each day; all other years are in school. Noisy corridors and large groups in games lessons make the place feel normal, the first time it's done so since being here. There are still many restrictions in place though, especially in sport. No tackling in football, no contact in rugby, sanitising every piece of equipment touched. Very frustrating as part of the Gap Tutor job normally involves coaching teams and travelling to fixtures with them, which I was looking forward to doing. Hasn't been a single sports fixture for schools this year, and the swimming pool hasn't been used once either.

Originally I was planning to go to Japan over the Easter break, which of course wasn't possible. HK has just announced that a quarantine-free travel bubble with Singapore will be opening in late May (without the need for the currently-compulsory 21 days of quarantine). I would go for it - a return flight from here to Singapore normally costs less than £100 - but there'll only one 200-seat plane a day. Because it's the only tourism option for HK residents, demand for those 200 seats is through the roof; the price of a ticket is over £1000 (tenfold the normal price). There's also the risk of being stranded over there, which could happen overnight if untraceable cases spike above five a day. Even if people aren't stranded, they will be forced to undergo 14/21-day quarantine in the event of a spike, which defeats the purpose of the bubble.

It's a shame we haven't been able to travel elsewhere. We're so close to Thailand, Japan and Japan, yet are unable to visit because of restrictions, quarantine etc. The main reason I wanted to come to HK for a year was its location; flights are much shorter and a fraction of the UK price. Return flight from here to Bangkok normally costs £50 and takes less than 3hrs. Flight from here to Osaka is 4hrs, as opposed to 14hrs from the UK. Don't get me wrong, still an amazing year regardless, but it does feel like I'm not making the most of it being in such a good location.

Week 36 (5th-11th April)

First week of Easter holidays. Got my second vaccine on the Tuesday. Felt completely fine for the rest of the day, but when I woke up the next morning I felt awful: headache, 38 °C fever and extremely weak. Stayed in bed for the whole day. Then the side effects just went away, and the next morning I'd recovered fully and was back to normal again. I'm used to feeling weak for a few days after I recover from an illness, so it was strange to get better so quickly after feeling so bad the day before.
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Fully vaccinated

As I didn't feel these side effects until the evening, I went to the beach after getting the vaccine. Went to Shek O, located at the end of the Dragons Back hike I did in January. Very busy as beaches had only reopened the previous week. Didn't realise how nice the Shek O area was; there's a private golf course surrounded by mansions, including a white one with red Chinese-style pai fang roofs that looked like a palace. Definitely one of the nicer beaches in HK, being located in a rural location of the south of HK Island, far away from the polluted waters around the shipping ports and power stations.
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Shek O beach, and the palace-like mansion

Hiked Lion Rock on the Friday, named for being shaped like a lion from a distance. Had to hike through Lion Rock Country Park which is home to wild monkeys; we saw two adults and one baby which was pretty cool. The view from the top would've been amazing if it wasn't raining. The visibility wasn't great when we got to the top, which was annoying because halfway down our descent the clouds cleared and the sun came out. Its peak has three sections: the tail, the body and the head of the lion. There are signs by the head warning people not to climb on top because of how sheer the drop is on the other side (I've attached a stock image of what it looks like from a distance). Really nice hike despite the weather conditions.
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Lion Rock hike

Think we've done pretty much all of the main hikes in HK, as well as some of the lesser-known ones. They kept us occupied every weekend from December to late February when everything was closed during the fourth wave. Even if stuff was open I'm pretty sure we'd still have done as many as possible. I feel that if you don't do the hikes here then you're not making the most of Hong Kong; you get the best views of the city, the islands and everything in between while doing them. Don't think people realise how scenic HK is because the skyscrapers and nightlife are what come to mind first. It's so beautiful and there's so much variety.
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Danger signs on the head of the Lion, the Lion from a distance and the view from the top

Ate at the Rosewood on the Sunday, a fancy hotel located in Tsim Sha Tsui along the waterfront. Had Mediterranean food: octopus, sea bass and as much focaccia bread as we wanted. Really gonna miss the food when I leave here; never seen so many good places to eat in my life.
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The Rosewood, the view from it and grilled octopus

Week 37 (12th-18th April)

Second and last week of the Easter holidays. Went back to Suicide Cliff on the Monday. The last time we went was slightly hazy, and also we wanted to go at sunset. So glad we decided to go back; weather conditions were perfect. The ascent seemed much quicker this time, probably because we'd already done it before. Went from the bottom to the top in 45 mins. One of the clearest days I've seen; there was absolutely no haze or smog which is rare in HK. The cliff is located in Kowloon and looks across the harbour onto HK Island, where all the skyscrapers are. The view of the skyline with the Peak in the background was crystal-clear; we stayed up there for over an hour and watched the sunset.
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Suicide Cliff at sunset

Visited Tsz Shan Monastery on the Saturday, the one I saw from the top of Tai Mo Shan. Whilst being beautiful - easily the best monastery/temple here - it doesn't have much history, unlike most others which have traditional roots. Its construction finished in 2015 and was built for £150 million by Li Ka-Shing, a business tycoon and 30th richest person in the world. The monastery is beautiful, completely silent and has real buddhas walking around. We had to wear trousers as it's disrespectful to show your legs in a Buddhist place of worship.
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Tsz Shan Monastery and a guard at the entrance

It's located in the mountains near Tai Po, a quiet area far away from the city. Additionally, the day we went was misty, which combined with the silence gave it a mystical feel, as if it were some sort of hidden settlement. The temples are made out of very expensive-looking dark wood, centred around a courtyard with a golden orb-like lamp in the middle. There is a set of steps at the far end of the courtyard leading up through the centre temple, which takes you to the highlight: the Guanyin statue.

It doesn't look real, standing at 76m tall and gleaming white. It's painted in 'self-cleaning fluorocarbon paint' which makes it look as though it's glowing. It's immense and photos can't capture how massive it is. Probably the same height as lots of HK's apartment blocks. You can see it from literally miles away; I could see it glistening from the top of Tai Mo Shan which is over 20km away.
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Temple complex with the well in the middle, and the Guanyin statue, the 15th tallest statue in the world

We took part in one of their practices, where we filled a small wooden bowl with holy water and carried it to a large well. We then went up the steps to the statue, and walked around it clockwise three times, before bowing in front of it. We received a blessing of good luck from it. There was also an exhibition with ancient Buddhist ornaments, like little head carvings, dating as far back as the 3rd century. Some were from mainland China, others from Thailand, Cambodia and even India. Quite interesting how they all depicted people in the same way despite being made in different locations during different time periods. Such a unique experience.
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Buddhist exhibition, with the first ornament from the 6th century

Played my last ever rugby match on the Sunday for Kowloon U19s, starting at flanker. Really close game that we unfortunately lost, but I loved it. Played at HK University pitches in Sandy Bay, located on the coast; you can kick the ball from the pitch into the sea if you want. Whilst I won't miss being constantly injured, I will miss the sport.
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Kowloon U19s

Week 38 (19th-25th April)

School restarted for my third and final term here. 10 weeks long, so at the time of writing I only have 8 weeks left. As mentioned, all year groups but one are allowed in at a time now, so the place feels normal and has a buzz to it. However the school isn't allowed to serve 'hot lunch' to day students, but is allowed to serve 'substantial snacks' which consist of a sandwich/wrap, salad and dessert. One of the measures put in place by the government to prevent the spread of Covid.

Some of the restrictions make zero sense, such as having to wear a mask anytime you're in public. Doesn't matter if you're walking through a park or along a road and there's nobody else around, you MUST have a mask on, and if the police see you without one on they can fine you up to £500. Unbearable in this heat; average temperature is over 30 °C which is impossible to breathe in with a mask on.

Went back to Sai Kung rockpools on the Saturday, and they were just as amazing as last time. 28 °C but quite cloudy, though this worked out in our favour as we had the normally-busy hotspot to ourselves. Because of the 1hr hike it takes to get there, people only tend to go when the weather is perfect. Spent the day there cliff-jumping and swimming, before heading to Cheung Kee Seafood Restaurant for dinner, one of HK's highest rated seafood restaurants.
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Sai Kung rockpools

Week 39 (26th April - 2nd May)

Busy week of work again. Now that pretty much all the kids are back in school, we're very busy with sports and supervision. Last term we had lots of free periods as all our work is in person, which left us a bit bored at points. Now we only have one or two frees a day; games and PE in the morning, house supervision during break and lunch, then some office work in the afternoon before evening duty.

Went on an Aqua Luna on Friday, a party boat resembling ancient Chinese sailing boats. They're made out of wood and look like pirate ships, with their signature feature being their red sails. Now they're used as tour boats and are popular with both residents and tourists because of the views they provide. Had some drinks and watched the sunset from the boat, before it became dark and we saw the skyline light up.
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Aqua Luna party boat with its signature red sails, and the skyline from the boat at night

Brunch at Francis on Sunday, a fantastic Middle-Eastern restaurant, but other than that a fairly quiet weekend.

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Waiting to May half-term to book a return flight, in the hope that somewhere does open up for quarantine-free tourism. Not looking likely though. Singapore travel bubble isn't an option, and my original plan for the end of the year - spending a month with my aunt in Australia - isn't going to go ahead. Just going to try and make the most of my last two months in HK before heading back to Birmingham. Honestly stunned at how fast time has gone; I've been here for 9 months, yet still remember first arriving, getting out of quarantine, visiting every area in HK like the tourist I was. Now I know all the best places for food, cheapest shops; I know the bus routes like the back of my hand. Gonna have to just enjoy it as much as I can in these last two months. Definitely going to come back; this place is amazing and feels like my second home now.

Dave

Posted by David Zhao 06:28 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged hot Comments (0)

Weeks 33,34+35 - Lantau Peak, Sunset Peak and Suicide Cliff

Weeks 33-35 of my year in Hong Kong. First vaccination, visit to a monastery and climbing the 2nd and 3rd tallest mountains in HK.

sunny 28 °C

Posted on 5th April 2021

Huge thanks to Dr and Mrs Holliday for awarding me the Nick Holliday Travel Scholarship, in memory of their son Nick who was a geography teacher at KES. He was an avid traveller, explorer and climber, and died tragically in a climbing accident doing what he loved. The Scholarship helps fund the travels of KES students who aspire to travel, which I am sure Nick would be very proud of.

At the time of writing, I have pretty much three months left in Hong Kong (contract finishes on 30th June). Unbelievable how fast this year has gone by. Whilst exploring HK has been amazing, the thing I've enjoyed the most has probably been the job. Two aspects to it: sports lessons and boarding duties. We are one of two teachers running each sports lesson (two on athletics, rugby, football etc) so we're heavily involved and quite important. I often run drills/mini games for half the group, and join whenever there is kick-tennis, crossbar challenge or penalty shootout. Such a fun job. Evening boarding duties are laid-back and give me the chance get to know the kids better. Everybody has settled in now, so we're past the stage where they'll get homesick and upset. They're now just very loud and run about screaming all the time, and I often play games like Pictionary or charades with them. Whilst school closures give us lie-ins and days off, it's so much better having all the kids in and being busy with sport/house duties; the place feels quite empty without them.

Week 33 (8th-14th March)

Went to Ho Lee Fook for a birthday, a restaurant that feels like a nightclub; very dim lighting and located in a basement so there's no signal. Really cool place and we got free stuff because we told them it was a birthday. Lots of free Sake (Japanese spirit made from rice) and a Chinese drink made from tea leaves and rum. Highlight was wagyu beef short ribs that was on the house (normally costs £50 just for that dish). It was so juicy and you could cut through it like butter. The food in HK is insane, and justifies its title as one of the three food capitals of the world.
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Ho Lee Fook roast goose, and wagyu beef short rib

Visited Chi Lin Nunnery on the weekend, a famous monastery and holy garden. Buildings were made from wood and canvas (for windows) and had traditional Chinese 'pai fang' roofs. Very peaceful; lots of water features and located far away from the city centre. There was a garden (Nan Lian Garden) with a golden pagoda and a koi-fish lake in the middle. Behind the garden was an impressive temple complex; stone courtyard with a golden orb in the middle and bonsai trees along the pavement, with steps leading up to the main temple which was huge. Some of the monasteries here are beautiful and what you'd expect the buildings in ancient China to look like, such as the Forbidden City.
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Nan Lian Garden, and temples in Chi Lin Nunnery

Had duck and pancakes after the monastery. Handmade pancakes and a whole duck they carved up in front of us, and I'm pretty sure their plum sauce was made in-house too. One of my favourite meals, along with roast goose and pad thai probably.
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Duck and pancakes, with whole duck being carved in front of us

Week 34 (15th-21st March)

Got my first vaccination on the Tuesday. That was the first week that vaccinations had been open to school staff; previously we weren't classed as a priority group. At the time of writing, however, anybody over the age of 30 can book a vaccine. People in HK seem very reluctant to get the vaccine. Might be related to the deaths of nine people (out of less than 500,000 altogether) shortly after getting the Chinese Sinovac vaccine. Rate of vaccination is very slow here, and the government is even talking about making vaccinated people exempt from certain restrictions like wearing a mask, in order to encourage more people to get the jab.

Very efficient process, much like the testing process when I arrived here. Sports halls and community centres have been turned into vaccination hubs across HK. Mine was a sports hall. Somebody at the door checked my appointment number, I filled in a form and went to a booth. The nurse asked me my name and date of birth, and then jabbed me. Whole thing took less than 5 minutes (excluding the compulsory 15 minute wait in the waiting area in case anybody reacted badly). Didn't feel any side effects other than a sore shoulder.
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Vaccination hub at Tsuen King Circuit Sports Centre

Did one of HK's most famous hikes called Suicide Cliff later that week. Essentially a jagged rock that sticks out of a cliff face to create an overhang. Apparently people have fallen off the edge whilst taking photos before, hence the name; it's 150m from the overhang to the base, and due to how steep it is you'd free-fall the whole thing. View over the city was insane though. Did it in 27 °C heat which made it a challenge; we were drenched in sweat for the whole hike. Parts of the descent were pretty much vertical, so there were guide ropes tied to trees for us to hold on to. We pretty much had to abseil down these sections which made it quite fun.
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Suicide Cliff

Week 35 (22nd-28th March)

Quiet week. Heard Line of Duty season 6 was coming out so I rewatched all of seasons 1-5 to refresh my memory. Finished it within a week which I thought was a decent achievement. Played a football match near Ocean Park theme park. Played at right-back for the first time, which was good as I got more touches of the ball than in any match before, but bad as I had to run more than in any match before. Finished the weekend with a Thai buffet, where we could order as much prawn pad thai as we wanted and they'd bring it fresh to our table.
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Football in Aberdeen, and Thai buffet

Week 36 (29th March - 4th April)

Broke up for Easter on the Wednesday. My football team doesn't have any games over Easter so I decided to join a rugby team. Had training on the Thursday with a match at Happy Valley on Sunday. Played for Kowloon RFC, one of four U19 sides in HK; there aren't enough players to form a league with more teams. Lost 26-13, which was an impressive score considering most of the backline of the other team (Tigers) played for the HK national team. Our two coaches are hooker and centre for HK men's national team too.
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Debut for Kowloon RFC

Friday was really good. Hiked Lantau Peak and Sunset Peak, 2nd and 3rd tallest mountains in HK respectively, before finishing in the coastal village of Mui Wo. Whole hike took over 7hrs. Lantau Peak was all in the clouds which meant there wasn't a view but it did feel cool to be shrouded in cloud, whilst Sunset Peak looked over the airport. The mountains themselves were beautiful, with sand trails running across their peaks and exposed rock giving them a sense of danger. There were little stone huts along the top of Sunset Peak too, built in the 1930s for camping in and still used today. Walked nearly 28km that day, and my legs were in agony the next day.
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Lantau Peak in the clouds, and view from Sunset Peak and its stone huts

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Next two weeks are our Easter break. Not too much planned; going back to the rockpools we visited in October, and now that the weather is warmer (relative) we'll be having quite a few beach days. Got one more term before it's time to leave HK, and the second half-term is only three weeks long. I'm now just hoping that somewhere like Japan, Thailand, Cambodia or Macau opens up for tourism by June/July. I feel it would be a waste not to visit other nearby Asian countries given how close HK is and how cheap flights from here are (flight from here to Thailand costs under £50). There's a bit of hope with the vaccine drive starting and extremely low cases here; yesterday (4th April) there were 0 locally transmitted cases and 7 imported ones. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

Dave

Posted by David Zhao 03:17 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged vaccine Comments (0)

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