Monday 11 August 2008

Ancient and Modern

Lantau the ancient

The area we went to this weekend, Tai O, is what is charmingly known as a “low-rise village”. (You get there on bus 1 from Mui Wo ferry pier – it might be a good idea to knock back a few sedatives before you make this journey, it's a tad on the hairy side). It feels a bit more authentic than many places here, and life has clearly continued here largely unchanged for a good few decades. Tai O doesn't tart itself up for the visitors, so we got a glimpse of village life, warts and all. There are some excellent pics of Tai O here, but I detect a touch of the Photoshop here and there....

Historically Tai O was the seat of the Imperial government's never-ending battle against piracy around Hong Kong. However, if stories are to be believed, plenty of piracy and smuggling actually began here. It's the perfect location for it really – the village is very sheltered, there are lots of little lagoons around, and the police station is way out on the promontory. In fact, we went there on a tip off from Time Out Hong Kong, which recommended visiting the old Tai O police station, which was built in 1902. It looks intriguing – from the gate. There's no way to get close to the building, you can just peer through the undergrowth and make out bits of the colonial architecture. It looks pretty dilapidated, so probably for the best.

The stilt houses of the village are not as romantic as one (= I) might expect. As Ross pointed out, it's hard for anywhere to look romantic when the tide is out and the village is basically suspended above a stinking muddy swamp. His words, not mine! The fact that it's known as “The Venice of Hong Kong” says it all really. There are basically two sorts of dwellings – sweet little “village houses” which often have really pretty gardens and bonsai trees; and stilt houses. Some of these stilt houses are absolutely minuscule. They line the seafront, and are all painted silver, which lends them an odd futuristic look. As usual, I would have been much happier if everyone was out, so I could be a bit nosier looking into the houses!

We queued for ages for some accurately-named Yummy Yummys. A guy on the main street had a big waffle iron type thing, and a bucketful of custardy-doughnuty batter. With the aid of a charcoal fired hot pot, he produced these snacks, which were truly scrumptious – hence the queue.

Anyway, back to the slightly less toothsome... Shrimp paste is made here, and the overbearing smell and taste of it lingering along the streets took me right back to Kukup. The shrimp are ground, then fermented in big barrels (hope you can imagine the smell now...) then spread out of wide shallow baskets to dry in the sun.

We also had the rare opportunity to wander around the empty Yeung Hau temple, I'm not sure photo-taking is strictly condoned, but I made a generous donation...

Check out the super-dooper Chinese opera - for which I have not yet acquired a taste. This was in the village hall. All day.

Lantau the modern

On the northwest coast of Lantau sits Hong Kong International Airport, which started operations ten years ago, replacing the infamous Kai Tak airport. The villages of Chek Lap Kok and Lam Chau were taken over and levelled in order to build the new airport, but the existing land only provided about 25% of the total area of the complex – the other 75% was created through good old land reclamation. The airport is one of the busiest in the world, which makes it all the more remarkable that it has won several Best Airport awards. It also makes Heathrow look a bit like an olde worlde reconstruction of what airports used to look like. Must admit though that it was plagued by Terminal-5-type issues when it first opened – happily resolved now.

The historic fishing village of Tung Chung has been completely transformed by the Airport Core Programme – it is now the first New Town to be built on an Outlying Island, and has fully embraced the 40-storey glass-and-steel tower block look.

This side of Lantau is also home to Hong Kong Disneyland, at Sunny Bay.

1 comment:

  1. Hello!

    Sounds like you're having an amazing time. Hadn't you better slow down on the sight-seeing, though? Surely you'll run out of things to do soon!

    We're really enjoying Washington. Scott finally arrived for good a couple of weeks ago, and we spent last week touring round the Chesapeake in a red Mustang convertible. Ross would've loved it. Back to reality this week, though. Scott started his new job at the Embassy yesterday - and I've only got four more weeks to go after this one. Hurray!

    Anyway, am really glad you're having so much fun. I think my favourite pearl of HongKong wisdom so far is the distinction between public and private chopsticks. Sweet!

    speak soon, lots of love,



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