Hong Kong parks are sociable places

Parks in Hong Kong are quite different to British parks in many ways. First of all, there’s very little in the way of grass here. Whereas British parks tend to be wide expanses of grass with some plants and trees and other things dotted here and there, the parks here are much more landscaped and ornamental, with flower beds and benches everywhere.

But one main difference that has struck me is that they are so well used. I suppose this is partly because of the number of people in such a small area, but I think it’s also down to the culture. People utilise the parks well; old people socialise, people exercise, play with children or just sit and watch the world go by. The following photos are from a park very near me. I hope they illustrate my point!

This park (like most parks) is beautifully landscaped with pagodas and waterfalls, and is kept immaculately clean.

Hong Kong parks - pagodas and waterfalls - Little Koo

There’s a large pond where terrapins and fish can warm themselves in the sun (can you see the terrapins on the rocks?)

Hong Kong parks - terrapins and fish - Little Koo

There’s a well-equipped playground with swings and climbing frames and other equipment.

Hong Kong parks - childrens playground

There are lots of pieces of equipment dotted around the park for the elderly to use to stay fit and healthy – and they’re well used! More often than not when I walk past a piece of equipment there will be someone on it. In the UK, something like that would never get used, but I feel like lots of the older generation here are very serious about looking after themselves. It may be part of the reason why Hong Kongers have such a good life expectancy.

Hong Kong parks - elderly exercising - Little Koo

In the early to mid-mornings there are often several groups of (mainly) middle aged ladies practising dances. One morning I was walking around the park and counted 9 separate groups – and the park isn’t that big! (Yet another sight you would never see in the UK)

Hong Kong parks - ladies dancing - Little Koo

First thing in the morning there are also usually groups of people practising tai chi, sometimes with fans or swords. I’ve not managed to get a photo yet but I’ll keep trying, it’s quite a sight!

Other forms of exercise are common too. There’s a jogging route around the edge of the park and there are usually a few people taking advantage of that, some with more effort than others! There are often people doing strange stretches and clapping their hands or hitting other parts of themselves (which I think is to boost circulation). Some people even run backwards! I feel like the locals have no inhibitions when it comes to exercise – anything goes!

I’ve seen a man practising his Chinese calligraphy with a sponge on a stick dipped in water. That’s quite a fascinating sight, and something that you wouldn’t see outside of China (or east Asia at least).

Hong Kong parks - practicing calligraphy - Little Koo

I’m very lucky to have such a lovely park close by, it really is a nice place to spend some time!

Thanks for reading!

Rachelnewsletter signup banner

 

Ping Shan Heritage Trail – a slice of history in a modern city

There’s very little that’s actually ‘old’ in Hong Kong – buildings that are past their best are often pulled down to make way for new developments. There are a few colonial buildings dotted here and there and the odd oldish temple but to see some old Chinese architecture you really have to go out of central Hong Kong and explore the New Territories.

The Ping Shan Heritage Trail is a very easy short stroll around an area that has preserved a little of its history. I have to admit that I saw better examples of older Chinese architecture in Guangzhou (see my blog post on that here) but this is the best I’ve seen so far without leaving Hong Kong!

The HK Antiquities and Monuments Office has a map of the Ping Shan trail on their website.

To start the trail, take the MTR to Tin Shui Wai station and leave by Exit C. You should already be able to see the Tsui Sing Lau pagoda from the station exit, so make your way over to that to start the trail.

Tsui Sing Lau pagoda

There is also a handy map by the pagoda. I took a photo of it so we could follow the trail!

Ping Shan Heritage Trail map

The next stop was the Sheung Cheung Wai walled village. There are people still living here!

Sheung Cheung Wai walled village

Inside the Sheung Cheung Wai walled village

I have to admit we couldn’t get very excited about the Yeung Hau temple. It probably didn’t help that we didn’t know anything about it, but we have seen quite a few more interesting temples in our time!

Yeung Hau temple

Yeung Hau temple detail

I quite liked the fact that there was the odd old building dotted around on the route.

Ping Shan old house

The Tang Ancestral Hall and the Yu Kiu Ancestral Hall are next door to one another. This was probably the most impressive sight on the whole trail (although the parked cars really ruin the photo!).

Tang and Yu Kiu Ancestral Halls

They were pretty interesting inside too.

Tang Ancestral Hall Ping Shan

Tang Ancestral Hall Ping Shan Heritage Trail

My favourite building was the Kun Ting Study Hall. It was just a really pretty example of Chinese architecture.

Kun Ting Study Hall entrance

Kun Ting Study Hall upper floor

Kun Ting Study Hall Ping Shan Heritage Trail

I think this photo is of the Entrance Hall of the Shut Hing Study Hall, but I can’t quite remember!

Shut Hing Study Hall entrance

The last port of call (for us, as we didn’t go to the Ping Shan Tang Clan gallery) was the Hung Shing Temple. Again, it was hard to get a good photo!

Hung Shing temple

The building next door was also old, but it was being lived in! It had a very scary looking man painted on the main door.

Building next to Hung Shing temple

Door on building next to Hung Shing temple

At this point we were very near the Ping Shan light rail station so we caught a train to Yuen Long and got the MTR home.

Hong Kong light rail

The Ping Shan Heritage Trail probably took us as far out of central Hong Kong as we’ve been yet but it was very enjoyable – worth a visit if you’ve done all the main sights in HK!

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

newsletter signup banner

 

Sik Sik Yuen Temple – a busy Hong Kong place of worship

I think the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin temple (to give it its full name) is probably the busiest temple I’ve been to in Hong Kong. I’ve been a few times now and it’s always been bustling with people – some are tourists but many come to pray and have their fortunes told.

To get to the temple, go to Wong Tai Sin MTR station and leave by exit B2 or B3 and it’s right next to you – you can’t miss it. Very simple!

The temple isn’t actually very old, about 40 years, and it’s a mix of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian. It’s a complex of several shrines and worship areas, which all mean different things, but I’m afraid I don’t know much about it to be able to explain it to you! This is the main area where people go to pray, present incense to the shrine, or tell their fortune by shaking sticks out of a tin (the sticks have inscriptions on and the ones that fall out will tell you something about your future). Next to this area are also a large number of fortune telling booths.

Sik Sik Yuen temple 1

And here is me in front of the entrance to the main worship area! (a Chinese tourist insisted on taking my photo for me!) Obviously, this was pre-pregnancy ;)

Sik Sik Yuen temple 2

In front of where the above photo was taken are some quite interesting statues representing the Chinese zodiac:

Sik Sik Yuen temple 3

And here are some other views around the temple:

Sik Sik Yuen temple 4

Sik Sik Yuen temple 5

Sik Sik Yuen temple 6

Sik Sik Yuen temple 7

I quite liked this hexagonal building!

At the back of the temple complex is the Good Wish garden, which is generally pretty quiet. It’s not the finest example of a Chinese style garden I’ve seen in Hong Kong (I think the Kowloon Walled City Park is my favourite) but it’s a nice place to sit for a bit. There’s an honesty box which asks you to donate HK$2 (approx. £0.20) if you go in the garden.

Sik Sik Yuen temple 8

Sik Sik Yuen temple 9

I’d recommend a visit to the temple if you’re not familiar with temples of this type and want to see one ‘in action’. It’s an interesting place to visit!

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

Nan Lian Gardens and Chi Lin Nunnery

If you’re looking for a peaceful getaway for a couple of hours in Hong Kong, then I’d recommend the Nan Lian Gardens and Chi Lin Nunnery, which are right next to each other. They are also very easy to find – leave Diamond Hill MTR station by exit C1, turn left and walk round the corner (to the left). Cross the road and you are at the entrance to the gardens.

Both the gardens and nunnery were built very recently (there isn’t much in Hong Kong that is old!), but in a traditional style which is very attractive. The gardens have a recommended route which you are directed to walk round and you are not allowed to eat or drink (or presumably have any fun!).

One of the first things you come across in the gardens is a building housing a number of scale models of wooden structures from around China which are made without the use of any fixings such as nails (both the models and the original buildings). In fact, the Chi Lin Nunnery is made like this.

Other highlights from around the gardens include a banyan tree grove with tables and benches (a nice place to sit and chat or read a book):

Nan Lian Gardens banyan trees

There is also a tea house where you can learn about Chinese tea and have some tea ceremoniously made up for you, which is a lovely traditional pastime although the tea house is a little expensive. The tea house is housed in this long, low building:

Nan Lian Gardens tea house

There are also lots of structures, such as this bright pagoda in the middle of a pond:

Nan Lian Gardens pagoda…and other traditional style structures…

Nan Lian Gardens bridge

If you have been following the path marked for you, you will finish by the viewing platform, which has a nice view over the park.

Nan Lian gardens

Continuing along the viewing platform (so that you are walking away from the park) takes you over a bridge right to the entrance of the Chi Lin Nunnery, which is just across the road. If you don’t want to go over the bridge, there is an exit from the park by the viewing platform, which takes you to the road – simply cross the road and you are outside the nunnery.

Whilst you may spend an hour or so in the Nan Lian Gardens, you will probably spend significantly less time in the Chi Lin Nunnery as it isn’t very big (but you may wish to spend longer worshipping at the Buddhist shrines). The pictures below show the first main courtyard where you can admire the beautiful wooden structure and look at the lily ponds. However, you must not sit on the walls or steps – you will be moved on pretty quickly! There are a few chairs around the edge of the courtyard if you desperately need to sit for a bit.

Chi Lin Nunnery

Chi Lin Nunnery lily ponds

Chi Lin Nunnery 2

Continue straight on to reach the second courtyard which has a number of shrines around the edge. I didn’t take any photos in this area as I didn’t wish to cause offence. Each shrine is dedicated to a different Buddha and has an accompanying explanation.

The Nan Lian Gardens and Chi Lin Nunnery are beautiful examples of traditional Chinese style architecture, although they are very new and pristine so some people don’t like them. I’ve visited them a couple of times now and always found it to be a very relaxing and interesting experience.

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

Chinese food you may not have heard of

In the UK (and, I’m sure, around the world) there are many Chinese takeaways serving dishes that we’ve become familiar with, such as chow mein and sweet and sour pork. Most of these dishes are actually Cantonese (i.e. Southern Chinese) and don’t represent much of what is eaten around China. However, even the Cantonese cuisine in Hong Kong can be very different from the “Chinese” food that we’re used to. I thought I’d identify a few favourites that you may not be aware of!

Noodle soup

Noodle soup is a staple here, and very cheap. A large bowl can be purchased for HK$20-30 (£1.60-2.50). It basically comprises a large amount of thin noodles in a clear thin soup, sort of like a weak chicken stock. Usually you have something else in your noodles – such as shrimp wontons, which are like dumplings (see below). The picture below shows noodle soup with beef balls, which are basically processed beef in a ball shape! I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of noodle soup, as it’s quite bland. But it does fill you up if you want something cheap for lunch!

Noodle soup with beef balls

I read somewhere that Japanese ramen is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. This is a good thing! I’ve only come across it here, but it’s similar to noodle soup only with a lot more flavour and more interesting things in with the noodles. Also, I prefer to have udon noodles instead of ramen, which are thicker.

Dumplings

Chinese dumplings are very different to British dumplings! The Chinese variety comprises minced meat, shrimp and/or vegetables wrapped in a soft thin pasta-like package. They may be steamed, fried or boiled. There are loads of different types, from all over China. One of our favourites are xiaolongbao (pictured below) from Shanghai, which have a little soup inside as well as the meat. This makes them very difficult to eat without dropping the soup everywhere!

Chinese dumplings

Pork chop curry

I don’t believe that this originates in China but you can get it in many of the little cafés here. It is one of Tom’s favourites! It comprises a breaded pork chop cutlet in a thick spicy curry sauce, and is often served with potatoes and rice. Definitely not what I expected local Chinese food to be!

Curry pork chop

Sichuan hotpot

A hotpot is a bit like an oil fondue, where you dip your food into the bowl to cook it. However, in the bowl is a spicy broth with lots of chillis, Sichuan peppercorns and black beans along with a whole host of other things to add to the flavour. When we have this in a restaurant we have to ask them to make it a little less spicy otherwise it’s too hot to eat! There are loads of things that are great to cook in your hotpot. In the picture below you can see corn on the cob and dumplings. We also like to have beef, beef balls, broccoli, cauliflower, noodles, mushrooms and Chinese cabbage in ours, but the list is pretty endless!

Sichuan hotpot

Sichuan cuisine comes from the Sichuan province in south-west China, and is legendarily spicy. Tom loves it but I can only tolerate it in small doses! In fact, most Cantonese people struggle with how spicy it is as Cantonese food is generally not at all spicy.

There is one Sichuan dish that has made it to UK takeaways – Kung Po chicken – but it is nothing like the original! The UK version comprises chicken and vegetables in a slightly sweet thick pink sauce. When you order it here, you are given a plate of diced chicken, chillis and peanuts (and maybe some other veg) with a very small amount of brown sauce. It’s really nice, but very spicy!

Dim sum

I couldn’t leave without mentioning dim sum, perhaps our favourite Cantonese cuisine. I know you can get it in the UK, but I hadn’t had it very often until we came here. Dim sum is essentially a meal of small dishes which you select from a large menu. Some of our favourite dim sum dishes include BBQ pork buns (pork cooked in a sweet sauce inside a sweet breaded white bun), dumplings of many different varieties, stuffed peppers (the stuffing is often minced pork) and glutinous rice dumplings (a large ball of sticky rice with other ingredients mixed in, such as chicken, prawns, egg and mushrooms). Depending on where you go, dim sum can be pretty cheap too, and we’ve had meals where we’ve left completely stuffed and the bill has come to HK$120 (£10) for the two of us.

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

Chinese characters made easy – part 2

Following on from my previous post about Chinese characters, I’d like to teach you all a few more. They aren’t as difficult as you think!

Let’s start with this one…

Chinese character door

門 = door/gate

This character reminds me of two swing doors, like in a Western movie! It definitely makes it easy to remember that it means door or gate.

Chinese character water

水 = water

The Chinese character for water looks a bit like a river flowing between two banks, don’t you think? (I will admit that the ‘font’ used in this one makes it look a bit tenuous…)

Chinese character East

東 = East

The character for East reminds me of one of those old projector screens that we used to use with an OHP (overhead projector). Or maybe an easel?

Chinese character vehicle

車 = vehicle, car

This character very much reminds me of what it represents. It looks like a cross-section of a car, with the vertical line representing the axle, the two wheels in cross-section at the top and bottom, and the motor in the middle.

Chinese character mouth

口 = mouth, opening

Definitely one of the simplest characters here, it even looks like an opening.

Chinese character day

日 = day, Sun

A mouth with a line through it is the Sun, and is also used to represent a day.

Chinese character mountain

山 = mountain, hill

This one looks like a mountain in overall shape, or three very skinny hills(?). Unsurprisingly, it’s used all over Hong Kong, as there are so many hills and mountains!

And finally, a pair of characters that you also see everywhere:

Chinese characters exit

出口 = exit

Quite why exit is symbolised by two mountains and an opening, I don’t know. But it is.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed learning some more Chinese characters! You never know when they will come in useful!

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

Chinese characters made easy

Neih hou! (Hello!)

Our Cantonese lessons have mostly involved speaking and using the romanised script (such as neih hou, above), but Tom has been teaching me some of the Chinese characters. It’s really interesting! Chinese characters have evolved from a pictoral language, so some of them are fairly obvious. See if you agree…

Chinese characters one twoChinese character three

一, 二, 三 = 1, 2, 3

I thought we’d start with some numbers. Nice and easy.

Chinese character - centre中 = centre/middle

This character also looks like what it’s trying to convey. A box with a line down the middle = middle. It’s also the first character of ‘China’ in Chinese, which literally translates as ‘middle country’.

Chinese character - man人 = man/person

You can sort of see that this looks like a person. In a museum I saw a video showing how different characters had evolved over the centuries, and this one started life as a much more intricate picture of a person but has been simplified over the years.

Chinese character - big大 = big

I remember this one because it looks like a man stretching out his arms, saying “It was this big!”

Chinese character - fire火 = fire

And this one looks like a man waving his hands in the air saying “Help! Help! There’s a fire!” (or that’s how I remember it…)

Chinese character - west西 = West

Now they get a bit more tenuous. To me, this character looks like pi on a table. So that’s how I remember what it is!

Chinese character - noon午 = noon

And this one looks like a bird on an aerial…

Ok, that’s enough characters for today. As you can see, some of the characters are fairly easy to recognise, and I reckon I’ve learned somewhere between 20 and 30 already. However, they aren’t all as simple as the ones I’ve learned so far! For example:

Chinese character - bay灣 = bay

Thanks for reading!

Rachel