On Tuesday, July 8, fully intending to get caught up on our hotel-sink laundry effort, I signed the kids up for a two-hour Chinese Art class in the Kids At Art studio in our hotel. (That effort would be thwarted as I spent most of that time trying to contact Wells Fargo in an effort to allow us withdraw even more funds even more frequently.) However, with a promise to return with full payment, I left the kids to enjoy the full focus of the attentive staff.
I asked the teachers to use Mandarin as much as possible as they guided Xander, Vaughn and Quinn through new techniques with ink and paint. The kids created several paintings each with the intent of presenting their favorites to Betsy for her upcoming birthday.
That afternoon I continued to shirk my laundry duties, opting instead to sit and write by the pool as the kids frolicked in the cool water. When Betsy joined us after work, I commented on how very friendly the pool service staff was as they brought us our sandwiches, lemonade and beer. When we got the bill for HK$1,457 (US$188), we realized why. Holy hot pot, there went our dinner plans!
|Pictured: $57 worth of beverages|
Still the pool was the most beautiful one we’ve seen so far; overlooking the harbor and with a waterfall at one end. Plus we were treated like kings so we decided it was worth it and retired to the hotel room for the evening and curled up with some ramen and Chinese television.
July 9 was busy and memorable Wednesday as we left the hotel early for a day-long tour of Lantau Island before departing for Shanghai that night.
Lantau Island is twice the size of Hong Kong Island and the largest among the approximately 256 outlying islands within the territory. The tour began with a 40-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong to Lantau through the busy harbor filled with cargo ships heading off to or returning from long voyages. Luckily for us on a day where temperatures climbed over 100 degrees, we hopped from the air-conditioned boat to an air-conditioned bus that offered salvation after each broiling tour stop on the island. A sign posted at the front of the bus offered this sobering advice:
|I've always been suspicious of my right thumb and now I'm on high alert.|
Many of the 120,000 inhabitants of Lantau have jobs in Hong Kong (2 million total) and must make the daily ferry trip to work. They ride their bicycles from home and leave them parked together on the dock.
|But not a bike lock in sight.|
Our guide says there is very little crime on Lantau because most people can trace their family lineage back for centuries and very few people migrate to the island so basically no one can get away with anything. There are, however, several prisons (apparently for criminals from elsewhere) including a juvenile detention center that offered a nice incentive for good behavior for the day.
The first stop on the tour was a refreshing visit to the pristine Cheung Sha beach. We were pleased to see a barrier ringing the shore after hearing about the six fatal shark attacks around the island over the last 15 years and happily waded into to the warm surf.
The bus then took us to the unique Tai O fishing village, a former haven for smugglers and pirates that is now a popular tourist destination. We enjoyed a short boat ride that gave us a close-up look at some the remarkable, yet dilapidated, pang uks; fisherman's homes that are built on stilts to better endure flooding.
Fishing long provided the primary means of income in the village but overfishing has forced the inhabitants to rely on tourist spending. We passed stall after stall of very ripe, sun-dried, salted examples of meager fish, shrimp and mollusks that neither we nor anyone else on our tour dared to bring back on the bus.
|There's something fishy going on around here.|
We visited a temple where we had our first experience burning incense as a symbolic offering. In Chinese Taoist and Buddhist temples, worshippers light and burn incense which they wave our raise above the head as they bow to the statues or plaques of a deity or ancestor. One makes says a prayer of hope or thanks and then places the stick or sticks in a receptacle in front of the idol.
Next, our bus climbed the winding road up the mountain to the Ngong Ping plateau for a visit to the majestic Tain Tian Buddha Statue and the nearby Po Lin Monastery, where we were served a delicious vegetarian meal.
The monastery was built in 1907 and plans for the Big Buddha were made over sixty years ago with the project finally coming to fruition in 1990. The 202 separate pieces of bronze were gradually shipped to the island and then trucked up the hill before they were assembled in 1993 to form the 112-foot, 250-ton statue. The serene and dignified Buddha rests on a bed of lotus flowers with his left hand in his lap, signifying the giving of the moral treasures known as dhana, and his right hand is raised, representing the removal of affliction.