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The New Territories

Started: 2013-01-07 18:53:17

Submitted: 2013-01-07 20:03:32

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator explores the New Territories

At this point in our vacation I started to feel like the vacation was getting ahead of me; there was only so much planning I could do in advance before the whole edifice would come crashing down around me and we'd be left somewhere in Hong Kong with no idea what to do or where to eat our next meal. (I was, at least, confident we could find our way back to our hotel, either by using the excellent MTR system or (if all else failed) hailing a taxi and handing them the card I picked up at the hotel front desk with the name and address printed in both English and Chinese.) On most days I typed up notes on what to see the next day (often including specific details on the transit route and specific page references in our guidebooks, Lonely Planet Hong Kong and Macau and Hong Kong For Kids) on my personal wiki and 'printed' it out onto a PDF that I loaded on my Nexus 7. I didn't always consult my notes in detail, but the simple act of writing them down was often enough to embed the plan into my memory.

Before setting out I studied the options available for doing our laundry and decided that, while our hotel laundry was expensive, it was probably easier than trying to find some other option for clean clothing.

Bamboo scaffolding under an expressway suspended over Victoria Harbour
Bamboo scaffolding under an expressway suspended over Victoria Harbour

Wednesday, Boxing Day, was also a public holiday in Hong Kong. Kiesa suggested the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Tai Wai (an outlying area in the New Territories), which was handy because I'd planned most of an expedition in that direction. The subway route from our corner of Hong Kong to Tai Wai was a bit circuitous, so I suggested a different route involving a short ferry ride across the harbor. The only problem with the ferry ride was that it involved a good bit of walking to get to the ferry terminal in North Point and a good bit of walking to get from the ferry terminal to the Hung Hom Train Station. The ride itself was short and scenic, providing a new perspective of the Hong Kong skyline. Calvin didn't seem as excited as I'd hoped; he doesn't seem especially enthralled by boats unless they have containers or cranes.

Jaeger and Calvin watch a barge on Victoria Harbour
Jaeger and Calvin watch a barge on Victoria Harbour

Since Hong Kong was two-thirds of a day ahead of North America, the morning of our Boxing Day was the evening of Christmas Day back home. Before leaving the hotel I called Bethany to wish her a merry Christmas, and called my mother when we reached Tai Wo. (The international dialing rate on my local SIM card was much cheaper than international roaming on my Verizon plan would be.)

(While using my mobile phone in Hong Kong, I wondered about localization for phone numbers in other countries. My phone wasn't quite sure what to make of Hong Kong numbers; the special administrative region has no area codes and uses eight digits, separated into groups of two (like 1234-5678), but when I dialed local numbers on my phone, it displayed them as if they were the first eight digits of a US ten-digit number, 123-456-78. This worked just fine, but I found this a little awkward to read. I didn't see any obvious way to change the way numbers were formatted. I also wondered whether I could convince my phone to automatically add the appropriate international dialing prefix; the best I could figure out on short notice was to copy down the number from my phone's address book and then dial the international dialing prefix followed by the number. My phone seemed to recognize this as the same number; I wasn't sure if it actually recognized the dialing prefix or just did a string match on the last ten digits and called it a day.)

By the time we reached Tai Wo Station we were getting hungry and began contemplating lunch, though my official plan was to eat lunch at the Buddhist monastery that was our second stop. We found a tiny bakery right outside the train station and bought some snacks, including glutinous rice balls (in two flavors, filled with red bean paste or poppyseed), which Calvin didn't want to eat but I thought were sufficiently interesting. We found a bench on a bike path overlooking the local river to eat our snack.

Residential tower under construction in Tai Wai
Residential tower under construction in Tai Wai

After our snack, we headed to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, which happened to be free on Wednesdays. Calvin got bored quickly so Kiesa took him off to some child-centric part of the museum while I looked through an exhibit of a specific artist's paintings and calligraphy, then the New Territories Heritage Gallery, which traced the history of the New Territories through the handover to the present, and included some discussion of the massive infrastructure projects undertaken to build the new airport on Chek Lap Kok, and the expansions to MTR currently underway. I already knew much of the subject matter (often in greater detail), but seeing it presented visually was interesting, as well as seeing precisely how the displays presented the material -- especially the handover of sovereignty to the People's Republic of China. I think Calvin would have found the whole thing a lot more interesting had he been of school age.

Residential tower above the Hong Kong Heritage Museum
Residential tower above the Hong Kong Heritage Museum

I skipped the Cantonese Opera exhibit and met Kiesa and Calvin for a quick pass through the gift shop before heading out for our next destination: the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery. The access to the monastery was hidden behind a multi-story shopping mall; once I found it we climbed hundreds of steps leading up the hillside flanked with gold-colored statues. (One, at least, appeared to be holding a Buddha's hand citron.) At the top we headed immediately to the vegan restaurant and ate a proper lunch. (Many places we ate -- this one included -- had a laminated menu printed with photos and text in both English and Chinese, which made pointing out the food one wanted to the wait staff much easier.)

Stairs leading up to the 10,000 Buddhas Monestary
Stairs leading up to the 10,000 Buddhas Monestary
10,000 Buddhas Monastary
10,000 Buddhas Monastary

After lunch we looked around the grounds, including the main prayer hall which (contrary to the name) actually held 12,000 tiny golden Buddhas on the walls. Calvin was not sure what to make of the site or the incense, and was sufficiently scared by the angry idol flanking the Jade Emperor in another building that I left him behind with Kiesa to explore the rest of the (still-under-construction) facility.

Statues at 10,000 Buddhas Monastary
Statues at 10,000 Buddhas Monastary
Tai Wai from the hills
Tai Wai from the hills

We headed down the mountain and took the East Rail Line deeper into the New Territories to Tai Wo to visit the small Hong Kong Railway Museum, which traced the history of the Kowloon-Canton Railway. The museum itself was in the old Tai Po Market Station and the adjacent grounds and had a few small historic exhibits. ("Due to political difficulties", it mentioned obliquely, "through service" (into China) "stopped in 1949 and didn't resume until 1979.") Outside there was a diesel locomotive named after Hong Kong Governor Sir Alexander Grantham (as was the fireboat we saw on Sunday; another engine was named after his wife) and several historic coaches. Calvin was not very interested in most of the trains on display, even the narrow-gauge tank engine, but was amused by the push-button-operated model train in the 'sitting-out area'.

Jaeger and Calvin at the Hong Kong Railway Museum
Jaeger and Calvin at the Hong Kong Railway Museum
Calvin controls a model train set at the Hong Kong Railway Museum
Calvin controls a model train set at the Hong Kong Railway Museum

As night fell we departed the museum and began our way back home. We took MTR all the way back, which was somewhat circuitous and involved three train lines and two changes. Since we had a large late lunch at the monastery we decided to eat a lighter supper in our hotel room of snacks from the convenience store in the MTR station before putting Calvin to bed and preparing for our next day.

"Merry Christmas" in Tai Wo
Jaeger eats dragonfruit
Jaeger eats dragonfruit
For a parallel account of our fifth day in Hong Kong, see The Fifth Day (Boxing Day). For more photos see Photos on 2012-12-26.
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