Tag Archives: Hong Kong

Virgin Trip to Macau

When someone says Macau, what does that bring to your mind? Perhaps it was the glittering streets peppered with countless casinos. Some swear by its incredible fusion of (and inexpensive) Chinese and Portuguese food. Or maybe, just maybe, one’s memory will be of those seedy little shops with bright facade advertising massages at incredible rate, but often with hidden price for a “happy ending”.

For me, Macau equals to all these, and more.

Inside Turbojet Ferry from Sheung Wan to Macau

It was my virgin to Macau, a 45 minutes ride from Hong Kong by ferry. Incredibly, the terminal where we were to board the ferry was a mere 5-minutes walk from my house. It was a work-trip, a workshop for the Classified team, and I was invited as “guest”.

Views of Macau from Sofitel Hotel

The workshop took place from Saturday morning right to Sunday afternoon. The group of some 30 of us stayed at Sofitel Macau, an incredible hotel which was so luxurious I swear that I will never be able to afford one of such on my own. The bedroom, the conference room, the bathroom… everything was so well adorned I felt like a king for all of 1.5 days.

The Street of Macau at Night

On Saturday night, of course we spent the evening out trawling the confusing streets of Macau. After a wonderful dinner, some of us went out in search of a “decent” massage parlour. Without really realising it, we walked for more than an hour from the restaurant to the massage parlour. The walk was tiring, but I relished it because of the sights of Macau. The youngsters walking in opposite direction as us towards the harbour to catch the firework display (apparently, Macau does this every weekend in the month of September), the peddlers selling authentic homemade ice cream only found in Macau… it was a great orientation to Macanese’ life.

The Street of Macau at Night

And so on to massage. Finally we found the place tucked in a building full of… err, bars fronted by ladies dressed with a tad too little to leave much for imagination. I was tempted to snap a pic, but that might spur them on to coax my colleagues and I for “some happy time”. LOL. Anyway, we paid good money for sauna and a 2-hour massage, which were a very relaxing experience. Food is provided. We were so relaxed that I almost felt asleep in the resting lounge. Maybe we were just too tired from the day’s activities and all the walking.

Typical SIghts of Macau

The next day, after another long workshop in the morning and hugely satisfying lunch at the hotel, we were free to do whatever we want. Most of my colleagues have been to Macau so many times the novelty must have worn off. So I went off on my own armed with my Lonely Planet (what else?) to explore the streets of Macau.

Ruins of The Church of St Paul, Macau

My first stop, of course, was the Ruins of The Church of St Paul, one of Macau’s most famous landmarks. The Ruins of St. Paul’s refer to the façade of what was originally the Cathedral of St. Paul, a 17th century Portuguese cathedral in Macau dedicated to Saint Paul the Apostle. In 2005, the Ruins of St. Paul were officially enlisted as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Historic Centre of Macau. Built from 1582 to 1602 by the Jesuits, the cathedral was the largest Catholic church in Asia at the time, and the royalty of Europe vied with each other to bestow upon the cathedral the best gifts. With the decline in importance of Macau, which was overtaken as the main port for the Pearl River Delta by Hong Kong, the cathedral’s fortunes similarly ebbed, and it was destroyed by a fire during a typhoon in 1835. The Fortaleza do Monte overlooks the ruin.

Ruins of The Church of St Paul, Macau

The ruins now consist of the southern stone façade — intricately carved between 1620 and 1627 by Japanese Christians in exile from their homeland and local craftsmen under the direction of Italian Jesuit Carlo Spinola — and the crypts of the Jesuits who established and maintained the Cathedral. The façade sits on a small hill, with 66 stone steps leading up to it. The carvings include Jesuit images with Oriental themes, such as a woman stepping on a seven-headed hydra, described by Chinese characters as ‘ Holy Mother tramples the heads of the dragon’. A few of the other carvings are the founders of the Jesuit Order, the conquest of Death by Jesus, and at the very top, a dove with wings outstretched.

Musuem of Sacred Art at Ruins of The Church of St Paul

Resisting calls for the dangerously leaning structure to be demolished, from 1990 to 1995 the ruins were excavated under the auspices of the Instituto Cultural de Macau to study its historic past. The crypt and the foundations were uncovered, revealing the architectural plan of the building. Numerous religious artifacts were also found together with the relics of the Japanese Christian martyrs and the monastic clergy, including the founder of the Jesuit college in Macau, Father Alessandro Valignano. The ruins were restored by the Macanese government into a museum, and the facade is now buttressed with concrete and steel in a way which preserves the aesthetic integrity of the facade. A steel stairway allows tourists to climb up to the top of the facade from the rear. It is customary to throw coins into the top window of the ruins from the stairs, for luck.

The Crypt @ Ruins of The Church of St Paul

The Chapel-Crypt was built on the same location where once stood the main-altar of the Church of St. Paul’s College. In the centre, on top of the granite rock, there is a bronze cross that marks a tomb, probably belonging to the founder of the College, Father Alexandre Valignano. In the caskets embedded in the North Wall lie the mortal remains of both devotees and laymen, who were laid to rest in this church. Finally, in the glass fronted reliquaries along the side walls, there are mortal remains of the Martyrs of Japan and Vietnam.

View of the Ruins of The Church of St Paul

From the ruins, I tried to find my ways to my next destination, but being the total map klutz that I was, of course I lost my way. In the process I got distracted by some very interesting sights of Macau, like this beautiful, pastel-coloured street right beside the ruin. It looked like something right out from an European postcard.

Cute Pink Scooter in Macau

And this oh-so-cute pink scooter. I would want one myself if not for the dangerous streets of Hong Kong!

Macau Beer from the Macau Soul

The afternoon was scorching hot and I was perspiring profusely, so you can imagine how relieved I was to have found a dainty looking cafe called Macau Soul along the many streets near the ruins. Did you know Macau has its own brew of beer? It tasted absolutely delicious, and it’s not only because of the weather. The beer was really good, and I wondered why it wasn’t marketed widely, like in Hong Kong at least. Macau Soul itself was run by a foreigner couple, who was so nice to me despite that I only bought a pint of beer. Definitely worth a visit if you are in town – check out their website.

Cannons @ Monte Forte

After some more walking, I finally managed to find the way to my next destination. Monte Forte was once a principal military facility and was one of the city’s strongest defence points. In the centre of the top platform, there was a 3-storey tower fitted with cannons on each floor. There were four rows of houses that served as military barracks close by. The Fortress was also equipped with wells and an arsenal that held sufficient ammunition and supplies to survive a siege lasting up to two years. The site also served as the residence of the first Portuguese governor, D. Francisco de Mascarenhas.

Monte Forte

Tucked in a corner with a winding staircase winding down was a tiny museum detailing the construction and preservation of Monte Fort. Unless you are really into this sort of history, the museum would otherwise serve as a pretty good refuge from the scorching sun. The aircond was at full blast and I was the only visitor.

Church of St Dominic

Leaving Monte Fort, I made my way to the main square of Macau (I can’t remember the name) to visit one of its more famous churches, the Church of St. Dominic.

Church of St Dominic

A fine example of eccelesiastical baroque architecture, this imposing church now contains the Treasury of Art (Treasouro de Arte Sacra, admission free), an Aladdin’s cave of ecclesiastical art and lirtugircal object in three floors.

Church of St Dominic

I hate it when tourists don’t respect the sanctuary of churches and keep using flash in their photography. There were plenty of such ignorant tourists flashing away in total disregard to the worshipers in the church.

Inside Turbojet Ferry from Sheung Wan to Macau

After the church, it was 5 plus in the afternoon, and I was totally beat. Although I have a 9.15 p.m. ferry ticket to go back to HK, I went off to the ferry terminal anyway in hope of catching an earlier ferry. Ended up I needed to queue for almost an hour, but the relief of reaching Hong Kon three hours earlier than planned was a relief after such a long weekend.

The Cobbled Street of Macau

So will I ever return to Macau again? I am not really a casino person. Sight seeing is more of my thing, but I don’t think Macau has that much to offer. Macau is to Hong Kong what Batam is like to Singapore; a quick, inexpensive getaway from the city, perhaps for the weekend. I could do that, but for now I should concentrate on planning for my three trips by year end :)

Click here for the full set of photos I took over my virgin weekend in Macau.

Hong Kong for Beginners

To the uninitiated, Hong Kong could be quite bewildering, even if you are armed with a map. To understand the basic geography of this “country” (effectively, HK is a part of China since the British handover in 1997), you could look at this map:

Hong-Kong-Map

The HK Island forms the main backbone of modern life in HK, where most of It is home to many nightlife spots, commercial buildings and expatriates. Located on this island are some of the more famous Hong Kong districts, including Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Central.

Kowloon and it’s surrounding districts, when grouped together, can be roughly termed as “Hong Kong”. This is the older part of Hong Kong, where you can see modernity and history clashes badly but not without character. Old buildings jostled for space with new tall skyscrapers in this bewildering maze small side streets and two-way expressways.

And then you can see a big area marked as New Territories. These districts from the biggest land mass of Hong Kong, and actually were part of China but now are under HK jurisdiction. Here you can see how HK was in older times, and some of the less corporate-like activities are still carried out, like farming, fishing, and industrial estates. Western influence has not fully transformed the New Territories, but this is fast changing. One can still see evergreen countryside and mountains, which are a rare sight on HK Island and Hong Kong.

And finally, you see some of the scattered islands such as Lamma, Cheung Chau and Lantau. These islands are not very developed, and populations are sparse. Collectively they are known as the Outlying Island and make perfect spots for a quick getaway from the city.

Wow, I didn’t realise I could describe Hong Kong in so much details, considering that I have just moved here three months ago. I guess I just picked up the knowledge along the way… especially I lost way traveling from one spot to another.

Yes, I am such a klutz.

A Tsuen Wan Experience

Tsuen Wan has been my home for the past three months, and during my entire time here I didn’t explore the various attractions this Cantonese district has to offer. Soon, it was my last weekend in the eastern district of New Territories. Armed with my faithful Lonely Planet, I set out for a day out around the area.

The day started off with some fuel for the stomach. With Joshua as my awesome companion for the morning (thanks dude), we set off to look for my favourite Hong Kong – the dim sum.

Dim Sum @ Tsuen Wan

If you are like me, who is unsure of where the best food is, here’s a hint; those cafe located away from the main street and nestled in the second floor of low rise buildings would be your better bet. This traditional Chinese restaurant – complete with China teapot and bustling trolleys – offered dim sum that were so yummy, it was only at Joshua’s restraint that I stopped at my second round.

My first time on HK mini bus!

After breakfast, Joshua has convinced to embark on my excursion using a mode of transport in Hong Kong that I never tried before, the mini bus! The experience was much better and safer that I thought. In fact it was more comfortable the shuttle bus offered by the hotel I was staying at. For a mere HKD4 the bus took me up the hill to my first destination.

Yuen Yuen Institute

The Yuen Yuen Institute is located on hectares of land around Sam Dip Tam, Tsuen Wan District in the New Territories. The area is interspersed with temples pavilions, monasteries and halls for various purposes.

Yuen Yuen Institute

It is the only temple in Hong Kong dedicated to all three major Chinese religions: Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. The first three Chinese characters of the Institute’s name denote the essence of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism respectively, so as to advocate the integration and realization of the three religions’ teachings.

Yuen Yuen Institute

The main building at the Institute is a replica of the Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan) in Beijing. During my visit, the temple was quite packed with weekend worshipers, though I managed to brave the crowd and absurd humidity to spend close to an hour there, before making my way to the next spot.

Sign post pointing towards Western Monastery & Yuen Yuen Institute

A short distance down from the Yuen Yuen Institute, the Buddhist Western Monastery offers a sharp contrast to what’s going on up the hill. This is a tranquil complex in which to pass the time, observing points of interest both architectural and spiritual.

The Western Monastery

After being greeted by a Bodhisattva statue in the entrance, the main building lies behind, styled as a classical Chinese palace.

The Western Monastery

This comprises of the Hall of Maitreya and the Great Buddha’s Hall above it. Further behind is a another two storey building where, depending on what time of day you visit, you may witness scores of monks chanting mantras.

The Western Monastery

This building is topped by a spectacular nine-storey pagoda. You are not able to climb up the structure, but a visit inside the pagoda itself will leave you all perplexed about Buddhism and Hinduism. I didn’t realise how similar these two religions are. Perhaps I am wrong, and if so, I apologise to my Buddhist and Hindu readers.

Sam Tung Uk Museum

After a meal at my favorite Japanese restaurant at Luk Yeung Galleria (coincidentally my last at that place), I walked a very short distance from the hub of town activities to Sam Tung Uk, which means “three pillar house” in Cantonese. The proximity of this heritage site to the MTR station caught me by surprise; I must have passed this place a hundred time during my stay there, but yet I didn’t think of it as a place of significance. How uninformed I was.

Sam Tung Uk Museum

Sam Tung Uk was built by a Chan clan under the leadership of the clan patriarch, Chan Yam-shing, in 1786 (during the reign of Emperor Qianlong). The Chan clan was originally from Fujian; they had moved to Guangdong, and then to Hong Kong to engage in farming. The site has been carefully restored and opened to the public as a museum.

Sam Tung Uk Museum

The entrance, assembly and ancestral halls, and twelve of the original houses are preserved. Other rooms have been modified to accommodate a reception area, an orientation room, an exhibition hall, a museum office, and a lecture theatre.

It was here that I fully grasped the heritage of my ancestors, who are from the Hakka clan in China.

Waterfront along Castle Peak Road - Ting Kau

From the museum, I decided to hike my way back to my hotel, going past the beautiful waterfront along Castle Peak Road and Approach Beach. Usually the journey takes about 10 mins by shuttle bus; and to my horror that afternoon, it took me a good two hours to walk back under the scorching sun.

Nevertheless, I am glad that I have made the journey, and these memories will remain with me.

Waterfront along Castle Peak Road - Ting Kau

Approach Beach, Ting Kau

Approach Beach, Ting Kau

Royal View Hotel & Ting Kau Bridge

So, will I be back to Tsuen Wan again? I would think I have a good reason too… but lately I start to feel that reason is drifting further and further away from me.

Click here for the full set of photos I took at Tsuen Wan on that day.

Hong Kong Funeral

I went to pay respect to the mother of a friend of mine just now, who has recently passed away. It was my first Chinese funeral in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Funeral

The solemn but loud occasion took place in a centralised funeral parlour located in Hong Hum. My friend’s was located at the third floor, sharing the facility with four other family. The highly efficient machine of Hong Kong commerce was humming along effortlessly.

What astonished me was how Hong Kong people transformed the ritual of a funeral into a spectacular art form on its own. Colourful paper offerings, loud clanging music, heart-stopping movement, and hypnotising chants filled the hour I spent gaping at it all.

But lest I got distracted by the unfamiliar bangs and noises. The pain of the family was real. Behind his stoic expression and watery smile, I sensed a deep well of sadness behind my friend’s eyes.

Stay strong, Vincent. My thoughts are with you.

(Photo Credit: filmmaker in Japan)

The Day I Left Singapore… for Good

Housepacking in Progress

About a week ago I returned to Singapore to pack up my belongings to be moved permanently to Hong Kong. In was an experience of joy and pain in equal measures, but I am glad I did what I did. It was painful to see your belongings – the equivalent of ten years of your life – being packed into nondescript boxes. Watching your life being reduced to mere piles of stuff has the effect of bringing unknown tears to your eyes.

The final moments...

The few days I spent in the sunny island of Singapore were also a flurry of appointments with friends, back-to-back. It was like… my farewells all over again. But the feeling was different. This is it. This is final. When I handed over my keys, I know I no longer call Singapore my home.

The end of a chapter… and another one begins.

(Photos from the long weekend here)

A Saturday Excursion to Lantau Island

Over the weekend one of my BFFs came over to Hong Kong for a visit. I left the planning to her, and to my surprise she wanted to visit Lantau Island, a place I had always vowed to go but never did.

Lantau is a Cantonese word that means “broken head”, but Chinese call Hong Kong’s largest island Tai Yue San (Big Island Mountain), a name that refers both to its size and elevation.

Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car - Crystal Cabin

(Actually, “Lantau” also means something else in Cantonese, but I am too much of a good boy to explain it here, hehe.)

Our original plan was to visit the island at noon, but due to some mishap (a distressing combination of failed telco connection, excessive shopping, late sleep in and general miscommunication), we spent hours trying to get our troop together, during which Cheryl was evidently getting more and more anxious by the minute.

Enroute to Lantau Island

Nevertheless yours truly managed to elicit a smile from her for the camera, even while she was frantically trying to reach out to her travelmates at the end point of the MTR line, at the Tung Chung station. This is the point where we were to board the cable car up to the peak of Lantau Island.

At Tung Chung MTR

The 5.7 km Ngong Ping 360 is a cable car system linking Ngong Ping with the centre of Tung Chung, where the MTR station is located at. The two of us bought the most expensive package, which include a return trip in a crystal cabin and entry to some shoes at Ngong Ping.

Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car

So, what is a crystal cabin?

Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car - Crystal Cabin

You got it right – it’s a glass-bottomed cabin! Those close to me will know I am terrified by heights, so it was a downright reckless decision for me to even consider boarding this cabin. But board I did, and to be honest, the ride up wasn’t as terrifying as the ride down. The floor cabin felt fake somehow, like a large LCD display.

The scenery on the way up was amazing. We saw the famous Lantau Trail, which takes hours to hike from the Ngong Ping plateau to the peak of Ngong Ping Village. Every now and then we also saw some lone tombs (perhaps of famous people) which were reasonably well kept. They made me wonder, how on earth the relatives of the deceased come to visit every year? There was no visible trail, no flat ground for helipad of any sort… that remains a mystery to us.

Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car - Crystal Cabin

Finally we reached the upper cable car station is the 1.5-hectare Ngong Ping Village, just west of the Po Lin Monastery complex (under renovation during our visit) and includes several themed attractions; Walking with Buddha and the Monkey’s Tale Theatre. These were included in our package but due to the short time we had for the trip, we couldn’t make it for either shows.

At Ngong Ping Village

To be honest, I found that Ngong Ping Village is a perplexing mix of Chinese architecture with Western modernity. Although the buildings were definitely oriental, the shops are not. You get to see some Western cafe, popcorn stall, even a Starbucks. Which kind of a bummer for those looking for an authentic Chinese experience, especially with the gigantic Buddha statue nearby.

At Ngong Ping Village

On the hill above the monastery sits the Tian Tan Buddha, a seated representation of Lord Gautama some 23 m high (or 26.4m with the lotus or just under 34 m if you include the podium). There are bigger Buddha status elsewhere, but apparently these are not seated, outdoors or made of bronze.

Tian Tan Buddha Statue at Ngong Ping Village

It weighs 202 tonnes, by the way. The large bell within the Buddha (in which you are not allowed to take photos) is controlled by computer and rings 108 times during the day to symbolise escape from what Buddhism terms the ‘108 troubles of mankind’.

Tian Tan Buddha Statue at Ngong Ping Village

The podium is composed of separate chambers on three different levels. In the first level are the six statues of Bodhisattvas, each of which weights around two tonnes.

Statues of Bodhisattvas at the Tian Tan Buddha

On the second level is a small museum containing oil paintings and ceramic plaques of the Buddha’s life and teachings. No photography is allowed at the museum. Entry is free if you eat at the monastery’s vegetarian restaurant, Po Lin Vegetarian Restaurant. However, you can also opt for a cheaper ticket which allows you some vegetarian snacks (redeemable at the monastery at the foot of the hill), or exchange it for a bottle of water and an ice cream of your choice.

Tian Tan Buddha Statue at Ngong Ping Village

Cheryl and I opted for the later, of course. The weather was scorching hot, and the climb was decidedly arduous. However, it’s well worth climbing the 260 steps for a closer look at the statue and surrounding views, which was breathtaking for city dwellers like us.

Tian Tan Buddha Statue at Ngong Ping Village

After such an exhausting hike, Cheryl and I made our way down the hill and made a beeline to Ngong Ping Tea House for some authentic tea cultural experience, of which we were not disappointed.

Tea House at Ngong Ping Village

Okay, not to say I am not a cultured person, but I do think one has to go through a lot of trouble just for a tiny cup of tea.

Like Cheryl said, we should have culture with convenience. LOL.

That marks the end of our excursion to Lantau. How much did I spend? Well, we spent about HKD290 for the cable car package, about HKD50 for entry to the Tian Tan Buddha exhibition hall, and another HKD100 for the experience at tea house.

A bit steep, you say? Well, here’s a recommendation for you:

"Budget Cabin" at Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car

The budget cabin! Just make sure you remain perfectly stationary during the 25 minutes ride, failing which the fall will not make a pleasant experience…

… I am joking of course. The said “cabin” is probably for some maintenance work, but it cracked us up nonetheless.

Click here for the full set of photos of Cheryl’s trip to Hong Kong. Hope you had a blast, girl… and thanks for listening to my endless problems. I told you, your turn will come! Hehe.

Beer Festival @ Lan Kwai Fong

It’s summer in Hong Kong. Like you won’t believe it. Everywhere the weather is sweltering. Airconds are in full blast.

But with the hot weather, comes the annual Lan Kwai Fong Beerfest.

The festival was held from July 11-12th from 1pm-late. Being held for six consecutive years, the Beerfest features food and beer from around the globe, live music and dance shows, drinking and eating competitions and cooking demonstrations.

Beer Fest @ Lan Kwai Fong

Being the beer fanatic that I am (check out my beer belly for proof), of course I went to and indulged at this thrilling festive event! The entire Lan Kwai Fong was transformed into a carnival-like street fair, with multitude of booths spilling the sidewalk hawking their beer. And not mere pints, mind you. You buy them by the yard.

Beer Fest @ Lan Kwai Fong

Thanks to Kevin, Keith and Connie for such a fun night out. I know, I am a bad influence :P

Full set of photos here. I didn’t have my camera with me, so used their phones for this set.

Justin & His Awesomeness Hit Hong Kong

And so, the famous and ever popular Justin Jap visited Hong Kong together with his buddy Vic for the week. Words from the street had it that they terrorised people all over Hong Kong, from Tin Shui Wai to Tsim Sha Tsui to Ocean Park to The Peak…

Honestly, this duo of energiser bunnies visited more places in Hong Kong in one week than I did in one month.

View from The Peak, Hong Kong

The three of us made an unlikely trio (mainly because of the age gap) to brave the slopes to visit The Peak. It was the first time for me to visit the hilltop at night, and I eagerly anticipated the famous 8 p.m. HK night light show.

Which was a huge disappointment.

The night continued through the winding streets of Lan Kwai Fong, where drinks were had and secrets were spilled.

Ooohhh… I will never see Justin the same way again. LOL.

Justin & I @ Lan Kwai Fong

Thanks babe. Hope to catch you again before you fly off for your studies.

Full set of photos from the night here.

A Pilgrimage to Wong Tai Sin

A Pilgrimage to Wong Tai Sin

(Photo by beatdrifter)

I am neither a superstitious nor religious person, but I do believe in a divine encounters. I believe that if there are things out there bigger than yourself, than the universe, that defy explanation.

Wong Tai Sin holds an iconic status in the world of Taoism. I have learned enough from Hong Kong drama series to know this is the place to go if I needed to pray for something.

I remember praying here during my interview trip for blessings so that I will get the job. And I remember returning here to repay my gratitude for getting the job that I want.

And yesterday I went back again.

I held up the burning jossticks, stood under the incessant rain, and muttered to the heaven above on my wishes, my fear and my hope. I forced myself to speak slowly so that Divinity can catch my torrent of Cantonese words.

As I neared the end of my prayer, my heart clenched in sadness and my eyes welled up in tears. Things have been so bad and so uncertain recently, that I am living in a constant limbo not knowing what will happen. I straddled between doing what is right and what is wrong.

I want this so much, with all my heart. It spells all my hope for the future.

I can’t imagine living my life any other way.