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Weeks 25,26,27,28+29 - Chinese New Year

Weeks 25-29 of my year in Hong Kong. Lots of hikes as most things are still closed, and a Covid-restricted Chinese New Year.

sunny 22 °C

Posted on 14th February 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.

Five weeks since my last entry. Restrictions haven't changed since as we are still in the fourth wave, though things seem to be settling now. It peaked in mid-December, but cases had been falling consistently to around 40 a day and we thought we'd be out of the 4th wave in January. Then there was another outbreak on January 21st, with a spike of 131 cases, which caused restrictions to stay in place for longer than expected. Seems things have calmed down now though, with last week's 7-day daily case average at 23, and that number should only continue to fall.
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4th wave is taking longer to settle than expected

We're currently on half-term break, though restrictions mean there isn't much to do other than eat at restaurants (which close at 6pm) and hike. No gyms, cinemas, sports, clubs or pubs. The weeks that have passed since I last wrote have been pretty similar. Work during the week, then hike and eat out on the weekends. Hong Kong is stacked with cool hikes, and I've done the most difficult ones over the past few weeks. Additionally, HK is known for its food, and the lack of expense on nights out has meant that I've been able to warrant trying some of the pricier restaurants.

The food is well worth it despite the prices (anything below £10 is considered cheap, and we expect to spend around £25 at restaurants that aren't even fancy). On top of fresh pasta, steak, pad thai and paella, over the past five weeks I've tried cool dishes that you probably won't find outside of Asia. I tried roast pigeon at a popular restaurant that serves it as one of their signatures. Also tried chicken neck at Yardbird, who pride themselves on not letting any part of their birds go to waste. There was a duck 'bao' (Cantonese burger which uses dumpling dough as the bun) that was very unique. Best meal I've had since I've been out here though was roast goose, a HK traditional dish. Had it at Kam's Roast Goose, which has been given a Michelin star for six consecutive years. Tastes very much like duck; fatty and juicy, and the crispy golden skin is really nice.
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Roast pigeon, chicken neck skewer, duck bao and Michelin-starred roast goose

Work this term has been interesting. Fifteen or so teachers went back to the UK over the Christmas break. When the UK made its announcement about the fast-spreading new variant in December, Hong Kong was one of many countries to place travel bans on the UK, stranding these teachers indefinitely. Even when they can fly back, they'll have to quarantine for 21 days in a hotel before they can return to work. Part of our job now is scanning test papers for these teachers to mark, and crosschecking their registers with pupils who are in school (different year groups come in on different days) so we can tell them to go to a cover lesson.

At school, each boarding house has three members of staff living onsite: housemaster, assistant housemaster (AHM) and gap tutor. The AHM in my house was one of those stranded, so I've effectively been filling in for him in terms of duties. This includes helping to wake-up the boys in the morning, doing the register and signing boys out, as well as being in house more often to supervise. It's been very rewarding as I've been given more responsibility and feel more involved, and it's also helped me get to know the boys better.

Under the current restrictions, only a sixth of pupils are allowed in school at any time, so year groups take it in turns to come in each day. When they're not in school they learn on Zoom. The school is extremely strict on Covid procedures; the boys get temperature-scanned every morning when they come into the common room. Anybody above 37.5 °C - or with a cough, runny nose or sore throat - goes to an isolation room to be sent home. I got woken up at 3am one night by a boy who had a runny nose because his air-con was on too cold. Even though it was obvious it was just because he was cold, because of protocol he had to be sent home, and could only return to school once he'd tested negative.

Chinese New Year was on Friday, though fireworks and parades were cancelled due to restrictions so it ended up being pretty quiet. As I said, all I did in the four weeks leading up to CNY was eat and hike, so I'll try to be brief. The photos don't do the views justice; I'm aware that they all look the same in the photos. Each hike has its own unique view of different parts of HK, and they're all incredible. Amazing how in such a small area you can see volcanic islands, a concrete jungle and vast ocean.

Week 25 (11th-17th Jan)

Visited Peng Chau, a very small island close to Discovery Bay (with the golf carts). Not much to do there so probably won't go back, but was quite a cool visit regardless. There was a tropical fish market selling pink fish and a single hike called Finger Hill. Also an outdoor museum called the Leather Factory, where pieces of scrap metal, thrown-out furniture and rubbish were turned into art displays. The gate was made out of old bicycles and there was a tower built out of plastic chairs. My favourite was a very detailed Optimus Prime made out of old nails, bike chains and other scrap metal. He was next to an equally impressive Predator model.
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Peng Chau: fish market, Leather Factory and the Optimus Prime and Predator figurines

Week 26 (18th-24th Jan)

Completed the well-known Dragon's Back hike on the south of HK Island. The trail started on a main road and finished in the coastal town of Shek O. Its name was given because of the sand trail's shape from a bird's eye-view, snaking along the green mountain ridge in the shape of the dragon. The view from the top looked over Shek O, and it also proved to be a popular paragliding takeoff spot. The trail had a desert feel, with a sand path and uneven stones making it feel like an adventure, as opposed to the tedious and repetitive feeling you can get from flat concrete paths. Saw a snake along the trail, the biggest I've seen since being here at over a metre in length.
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Dragon's Back, and the snake alongside the trail

We finished in Shek O and passed numerous surf shops; the beach in Shek O is known as 'big wave bay' and is extremely popular during surfing season. Restrictions meant all beaches were closed, which was a shame as the beach was gorgeous. The village itself was navigable by lots of narrow streets and had a holiday feel to it; as opposed to the global corporation skyscrapers in HK city centre, Shek O had a big golf course, lots of surf boards and ice cream shops.
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Shek O and Big Wave Bay

Week 27 (25-31st Jan)

Did a hike called Violet Hill and Twins Peaks, the most difficult in HK according to people and websites. Essentially climbing three big hills/small mountains one after the other, Violet Hill first and then the two Peaks. One reason why it's so challenging is the gradient; the steps are very steep - you can feel your legs burn after each one - and there is no flat section to rest on. They just ascend non-stop until you reach the top. Additionally, the footpath takes you from the top of each hill to the valley floor before continuing up the next; you have to climb each hill from the very bottom as opposed to midway up. A combination of steep gradient, no rest points and the heat and humidity make the hike a real challenge.
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Endless steep steps leading up the Twins Peaks

The first climb was Violet Hill, the least steep ascent of the three. We took the Wilson Trail which runs from the north of HK Island to the south. All the skyscrapers are located on the north side of the Island, and we followed the trail southwards which meant the city sort of revealed itself behind us the further up we climbed; the skyline gradually became less obstructed by hills until we had an amazing view at the top. Quite a few people just came up this first hill, snapped some photos with the city in the background and then headed back down the way they had came.
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View of HK skyline from Violet Hill

The trail then took us to the base of Violet Hill before our ascent up the first Peak. This was tough; we were drenched in sweat and needed a ten minute rest at the top. As mentioned, there was no flat section of the steps where we could give our legs a break. Managed to do the whole ascent without stopping; the steep steps continued relentlessly for around half an hour and my legs burnt of lactic acid about two minutes in. We had an amazing view of Tai Tam Reservoir at the top, a huge body of rich blue water surrounded by hills that formed a country park and connected by a Harry Potter-esque bridge.
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Tai Tam Reservoir seen from the first Peak

Again, the trail ran all the way down to the bottom before going up the second Peak and third climb in total. We were drained after the first Peak so kind of just zoned out mentally on this last ascent, going up the steps one by one without thinking. Think we made it to the top after around twenty minutes. View from here was of Stanley peninsula, a coastal village on the south of HK Island. Felt like a mini paradise with endless ocean and small islands resting behind these well-kept settlements; seemed so distant from the hectic noise of HK city. Thankfully an easy descent from here into Stanley village. Despite being the most challenging, the views on this hike were amazing and easily worth it. My second favourite hike I've done in HK, behind the one we did the following week.
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Stanley Peninsula from the second Peak, and the sign at the end of the trail

Week 28 (1st-7th Feb)

Climbed Tai Mo Shan, the tallest mountain in HK. Easily the best hike I've done. Two parts to it, the first being visiting the four waterfalls at the base of the mountain and the second climbing up to the top. Reason why it's the best hike in HK in my opinion is the view at the top; the mountain is located in north HK and quite close to the mainland border. From the top you can see Shenzhen (richest city in China by GDP and population of 12.5 million), and then if you rotate 180 degrees you can see the HK skyline too. It's also in a cool setting, surrounded by a mountain range that is dry and clay-coloured as opposed to being covered in the tropical vegetation we're used to in HK.
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Mountain range next to Tai Mo Shan

The four waterfalls at the base were fun to get to; felt like a jungle adventure with low-hanging vines and tropical plants alongside the broken paths. The falls were named Bottom Fall, Middle Fall, Main Fall and Scatter Fall according to height. The best was Main Fall, around 30m high and the only one with a plunge pool. We'd brought swimming trunks as we didn't expect the water to be so cold; the thick jungle canopy meant that the water was always in the shadows, so it was like stepping into an ice bath.
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Waterfalls at the base of Tai Mo Shan

The ascent from the waterfalls to the Tai Mo Shan peak took about two hours. Unlike Violet Hill and the Twins Peaks, the gradient was fairly shallow, so it was more time-consuming than challenging this time. We chose a good day to climb it; some days are smoggy so visibility is poor, but this day was crystal clear. At the top we could see well into Shenzhen, under 20km away from us at this point, and could clearly make out the Ping An Finance Centre (world's 4th tallest building). It was too far for my phone to capture unfortunately, but I've attached a stock image for reference. Despite all of its surrounding buildings being skyscrapers, the Ping An building stood out drastically; its height was immense and almost surreal, as if it were from outer space. The neighbouring skyscrapers only reached about two-thirds of the way up, if that. Looking at it, even from such a distance, was just an unreal experience; we were silent with awe for about five minutes.
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The peak of Tai Mo Shan and view of Shenzhen (vaguely in the background), unfortunately not captured to the same extent by my phone as our eyes. Stock image of the Ping An building is what we could see fairly clearly in person, and it was astonishing

The first time we saw the HK skyline, we were amazed at how tall and grand everything was - it's the city with the most skyscrapers in the world - though having been here for over six months it no longer gives us that feeling of awe. Seeing Shenzhen, however, was breathtaking. It was like HK in terms of building height and density, but just on a much larger scale; it seemed to span infinitely and made HK look timid in terms of land area. Can't explain how stunning it was; like nothing I've ever seen before. The coolest thing, though slightly frustrating too, is that in normal times we'd be able to get a high-speed train into Shenzhen and be there in under half an hour. Really do hope I'm able to visit Shenzhen while I'm in HK as it literally is 20km away.

The HK skyline was behind us whilst facing Shenzhen, with the defeated ICC - only the 12th tallest building in the world - surrounded by a seemingly small and lame city now. If we looked to our right whilst facing Shenzhen, there was a beautiful reservoir surrounded by green hills. Amongst these hills in the distance was the Tsz Shan Monastery, home to a gleaming white statue that is the 15th tallest statue in the world and would catch even a blind person's eye. Despite being at the top of a mountain almost 30km away, we could make out its head and arms distinctly. It stood out so vividly from the hills and was absolutely immense, standing at 76m tall and rising above some nearby apartment blocks. It also seemed to glow; it was a vibrant white colour, given by its special 'self-cleaning fluorocarbon paint'. Closest I can get to describing how we felt whilst we admired the Ping An building and then the Tsz Shan statue was just pure awe.
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HK skyline and reservoir. Third image is a zoomed in segment of the second image; the bright white figure in the background is the statue as seen from Tai Mo Shan. It's insane

There are loads of mountains in HK, and lots of them have these big weird white footballs on top. Turns out they're observatories, and HK's main one is on top of Tai Mo Shan. There's telescopes around the outside of the football, and I'm guessing inside there is a big one as well. Literally looks like a football, with a hexagonal pattern on the surface.
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Observatory on top of Tai Mo Shan

Week 29 (8th-14th Feb)

Broke up for half-term midway through this week. Put up Chinese New Year (CNY) decorations in house. Biggest holiday of the year here in HK; normally streets are absolutely packed and everybody lets loose. Unfortunately, the government cancelled the fireworks display and parades this year, so the streets were actually quieter than usual as everybody just stayed at home with their family. Despite the city centre having a bit of a dead atmosphere, we went out for a hot-pot meal on the day as we felt we needed to do something authentically Chinese at CNY. Hot-pot is where there is a pot of boiling water on the table, and there are raw foods (e.g.) chicken, pork, leek, pak choi and noodles around it. You choose what you want to eat and cook it yourself, and it's a very sociable meal to have. Other than that, CNY was unfortunately a bit dead.
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CNY decorations around school/house and hot pot, the highlights of an uneventful new year

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Sorry for not writing for five weeks, just felt that it'd be better to wait to have more to write about other than hikes and restaurants. Tai Mo Shan was honestly insane and I could've written a whole entry about that, the Ping An Finance Centre and the Tsz Shan Monastery statue. Was banking on CNY being more eventful than it was, but luckily Tai Mo Shan made up for it in terms of giving me material.

As mentioned, daily cases seem to be fluctuating around high single/low double digits now, so it looks like things have settled after that mini outbreak during the fourth wave. I think the government might need to wait and see if cases shoot up again immediately after CNY - they need to be wary of an outbreak from mingling, partying and large gatherings - however given how dead everything was on the day, this probably won't be necessary. They may well have avoided another outbreak by cancelling all events, and seem to have done enough to discourage people from gathering in big groups. Fingers crossed stuff will begin to reopen soon, and we can explore more of what HK has to offer in terms of venues and events. No rugby 7s this year unfortunately, but the famous Happy Valley racecourse is on my to-do list, whilst junk (boat) parties might well be allowed again soon too.

Dave

Posted by David Zhao 00:00 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged cny

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