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Weeks 12,13+14 - Half-Term

Weeks 12-14 of my year in HK. 13th week was half-term, and with travel restrictions still in place we spent it exploring parts of rural HK.

sunny 27 °C

Posted on 1st November 2020

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.

This entry covers Monday 12th October to Sunday 1st November. Would've posted last Sunday (25th) but came down with tonsillitis. Quite annoying as I'd just had the best half-term and was looking forward to school restarting, when my throat glands became inflamed and I lost my voice. Went to the hospital and the doctor put me on sick leave. Was very careful with managing my temperature; if I had a fever upon entering the hospital, they'd whizz me away to some isolation unit to Covid test me. Luckily I was 37.2 degrees, but the doctor still recommended that I take a Covid test as I'd had a cough a few days ago. Test came back negative. Ended up spending around £60 on antibiotics, the Covid test (which would cost £150 without insurance) and a Covid-free certificate. Really took the NHS for granted for 18 years. Advice for my future self is next time I lose my voice, which seems to happen every year, bring somebody with me to the doctor. Typing out everything I have to say on my phone is not very efficient, especially when there is a language barrier too. Neither is writing the address of my school on the back of my prescription letter to give to the taxi driver because my phone has died, or using arm gestures to guide him for the last few turns like a runway steward. Memorable experience to say the least.

First of the three weeks - starting on October 12th - was the last week before half-term. The three of us boy Gap Tutors organised a movie night for the boys in our houses as a treat. Slightly challenging but rewarding experience, agreeing on a venue and time before getting the message across to everybody. My job was also to organise the food, which for £3 a head included chips, spring rolls and a soft drink. Not bad if you ask me. Settled on How to Train Your Dragon, which is still one of my favourite films, and the kids loved it. Enjoyed fulfilling my potential as a teacher by 'shushing' the kids every time they got excited and started talking; still remember how scared I got in primary school when me and my friends group were talking and the teacher at the back stood up and started walking towards us.

Challenges arose that I didn't expect, not especially difficult but just little minor things, such as whether the kids should go straight to the venue or go back to house first, what route to take, what to bring etc. It was a good introduction to logistics and management - admittedly on a very small scale - with the senior teachers giving full responsibility to the three of us. I communicated with House Masters to let them know the plan, Chefs to tell them what time to prepare the food for, Facilities Management to move food tables into the venue and the Cleaners to tell them what time we'd be done by. Went very smoothly and was an enjoyable evening.
Food prepared for the movie night, and killing the time with some B99 waiting for the kids to arrive

A few weeks away from being back to full fitness; just getting my ankle used to impact and loading. About time too, having just passed the 9 month mark since I sustained my injury. Going for morning runs as part of my rehab, and some of the sunrises are absolutely beautiful. We're into autumn here too, which although is much nicer than in the UK (25-28 degrees during the day) still means late sunrise at 6:30 and early sunset at 17:50. Witnessed a pink skyline one morning, indicative of an oncoming tropical storm. Stunning views make waking up at 5:00 much more enjoyable. Looking to end my time playing rugby on a good note and join an U19 side for a few games once my ankle is fully recovered, as opposed to having my last season cut short by injury. Then looking to join a football team for the rest of the year. Full team sport and training is still going on outside of school in HK. However school fixtures are cancelled until February at least. Sad that the UK seems to be making not-so-good progress with the 367 death toll last week (highest since May) and a second national lockdown. Really hope businesses reopen ASAP but with the UK's incompetent government having no clear sense of direction there doesn't seem to be a timeline for this to happen.
Views on my morning runs

Second of the three weeks - starting 19th October - was half-term, and it was amazing. Plan was to spend the first three days (Mon-Wed) camping on Ham Tin Beach, and the next three days (Wed-Fri) in a 5* hotel called the Hyatt Centric. This was only a possibility because HK still has a ban on tourism due to Covid. Hotels rely on tourists for revenue so without them they don't have much business. Many of them are now offering discounted rooms because of this, to try and encourage locals to stay with them. We took the Hyatt up on their offer and decided to stay for two nights.

Ham Tin (Wan) Beach was easily the better of the two trips for me, and the best time I've had since coming to HK. Never been to a more peaceful or beautiful place in my life, and I'd have happily stayed there for the whole week had we not had the hotel reservation. As somebody who loves going to beautiful natural places I absolutely loved it. It's quite hard to capture the atmosphere in words, but I'll do my best. Whilst beaches in Spain and Tenerife are bustling, noisy and commercialised with hotels and food stalls everywhere, Ham Tin has a very rustic and traditional feel to it; no hotels or commercial shops. Instead, there's only two restaurants on the whole beach, ran by locals who don't speak English and live in a small village further inland. The food they serve is authentic Chinese food: noodles, fried rice, seafood and fried meat. These restaurants are the only place to get drinking water from too - there is no water network connected to the beach given how rural it is - which unfortunately means that there is a little bit of plastic littering in a mini lake just in front of the restaurants. The beach is wide and sandy, and there were maybe 10-12 other tents there with us; not crowded at all but at the same time there was a bit of an atmosphere, rather than feeling completely empty. Encompassing the beach in a horseshoe shape are green mountains, similar to Welsh hills, though much steeper in gradient. At the mouth of the horseshoe the beach opens out to sea; the water is warm and clear and, other than the odd cargo boat, it's all just open sea.

It's located in Sai Kung, literally on the opposite side of Hong Kong to where I'm based. Sai Kung is a rural peninsula that contains Sai Kung Country Park, a UNESCO protected site. You can get to the beach either by boat - from Sai Kung Pier - or by hiking. We chose the latter. Roads take you through the country park, but to get to the beach you have to hike for just over an hour along the Maclehose (sound familiar? The Maclehose trail spans over 100km and covers the whole of the New Territories; technically you could walk from school to the beach). Probably explains why it's so peaceful, being isolated from cars and traffic, and only reachable by people who enjoy outdoor ventures. These people also tend to be more respectful of the environment, hence the low amount of littering on the beach.
Map showing Tuen Mun to Sai Kung - literally opposite sides of HK - and the hike trail

Tents were quick and easy to set up, and the whole trip actually went really smoothly; encountered no problems with the route, hike or equipment, which we were grateful for given how much room there was for things to go wrong. Unlike any beach I've been to before in terms of how clean and quiet it was; we more or less had the beach to ourselves. HK has a tropical climate so it's pretty much always warm - 22 degrees at night in late October - and we enjoyed beach football, rugby and Spikeball. Honestly the most peaceful and relaxing place I've ever been to; feels like complete freedom. Didn't even mind having to dig a hole in the sand every time I needed to do my business because of how nice the place was. Best part was not getting bitten once, as I used a ton of DEET mosquito repellent whenever the sun went down. Result.
Ham Tin Wan Beach, Sai Kung, Hong Kong

Chilled on the beach on the first day. Second day we went to Sai Kung Rockpools about a 30 min walk away, which were absolutely stunning; there was a waterfall that formed a vast freshwater plunge pool, allowing us to enjoy some rock-jumping. I brought food for breakfast and lunch, and ate dinner at the restaurant. They get their supplies from boat deliveries that are quite fuel-efficient; they deliver food and drinks on the way in from Sai Kung Pier, and transport campers to the Pier on the way back. Next morning we packed up and headed home to make our afternoon hotel reservation. Hike back was quite funny. The waterfall flows out into a river that is fairly wide, and there is a narrow stone bridge built across it. When we reached the bridge there were three cows enjoying the weather on it, so we sat there for half an hour waiting for them to move. One of them kept smelling the bridge in an attempt to find food, even though it was clearly made out of stone. Useless.
Rock-jumping at the waterfall, and traffic on the bridge

After getting back to school and showering, we headed off for our hotel. First hotel I've stayed in above 3*. Have to say that, as nice as it was, I felt a little bit awkward at times, and was much more comfortable camping. The hotel had a sense of just being excessively nice, with everything made out of marble and gold furnishings in the lifts and on the walls. They were excessive in their provision of the '5* experience', for instance having five staff members in the lobby: one to hold the door open and say hi, one to tell us that the reception was one the first floor, two to carry luggage and one to press the button to call the lift. Could function just as efficiently with only one or two people there. They try to pamper their guests to an extent which I don't see the point of, but I guess that's why they're rated 5*. Excessive luxury.

That's just me being cynical. I loved my stay. The beds were huge and comfortable, the rooftop pool was cold but had an amazing view overlooking the city, and the whole place had a very chilled out atmosphere. Breakfast was my highlight of each of the two days we ate there. All-you-can-eat buffet with Western and Eastern hot food, cold meats and pastries, and a whole section of sweet treats. Had 5 full plates both mornings, starting with a Full English and finishing on a plate of doughnuts, muffins and pancakes. Had a fantastic time competing with one of the other boys to see who could eat more (I won both times). Went into full food coma after both breakfasts. Ate at the hotel rooftop restaurant on our last night, and at £42 a head we were served a foodie menu, where we tried a variety of dishes. Korean pork belly and grilled prawns were the best. Tried caviar for the first time, and for how expensive I've heard it is I have to say it's extremely overrated; same texture as pomegranate, and tastes like salted pomegranate.
Hyatt Centric, Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong

Experienced elements of the rarer and weirder side of HK's wildlife during the past three weeks. Saw a giant centipede walking back to school one evening, and a bright-green snake at the restaurant on the beach. Found the snake quite cool and interesting having never seen a wild one before coming to HK (second one I've seen here but first I've caught on camera). The centipede on the other hand thoroughly creeped me out; it moved like it was demented and looked ugly and aggressive. This one was the size of a 30cm ruler, and apparently they can get 3x as big. There's scorpions here in HK, which are the one thing I really don't want to encounter during my stay.
Giant centipede and snake, apologies for photo quality

The week just gone was Halloween week, but I was out of action with tonsillitis unfortunately. Spent the week in bed, and didn't want to risk going out as I still felt very drained on Friday and Saturday. Waste of one of my forty-eight weeks here. It's scary that I'm over a quarter of the way through my time here. Time really does fly. Guess this entry celebrates the quarter-way mark, so here's to three more. See you again in a fortnight.


Posted by David Zhao 01:50 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged camping

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