For the past few days, we’ve been exploring the western New Territories (apologies in advance for the length of this post as I’m summarizing a few days here). Hong Kong is divided into three main sections. The first is Hong Kong Island, where the Peak is located. This was the site of the original British settlement; in fact, the British owned the island outright and didn’t have to hand it over to China in 1997, but after some consideration, they decided it would be too isolated and difficult to maintain, so they handed it over with the rest of Hong Kong (of course, this is just my simplified summary of a complex situation!). The second section is Kowloon, which is right across the harbor from Hong Kong Island. We’ve yet to really spend any time in Kowloon, but it’s on the agenda for next few weeks as there's a lot going on there. The final section is the New Territories which spreads across the top of Kowloon like a fan; very few people who visit Hong Kong make it to the New Territories as Kowloon and Hong Kong tend to be the main attractions. Criss-crossed by mountains, it’s difficult to get from east to west on public transportation as you have to go down into Kowloon and then head back out in the other direction. As a result, we decided to stick close to “home” and explore what’s out here. As it turns out, there are lots of things to check out, most of which are well off the beaten tourist path.
On Thursday, we walked up to a Buddhist monastery for lunch. It was established fairly recently (in the 1990s), but it was pretty impressive nonetheless. Doug and I thoroughly enjoyed lunch there as it was all vegetarian; the sweet and sour tofu was the best I’ve had. Unfortunately, the boys didn’t enjoy it quite as much as we did which necessitated a quick stop at the Esso (the local gas station) for Gatorade and cookies (and helpful advice from the gas station attendant who spoke perfect English).
After that, we headed out to the Hong Kong Wetland Park. Although it’s oddly sandwiched between high-rise apartments in the New Territories and Shenzen on the mainland, it’s still pretty peaceful. We had some free coupons to enter the park (which was good as our local bank account was delayed in getting set u,p so we were low on cash and didn’t want to incur transaction fees by withdrawing from our American account), but we almost couldn’t get in as we didn’t have our passports (they want to make sure only tourists are using the coupons). Doug and I managed to convince them we were not from Hong Kong using our Massachusetts driver’s licenses, but they would not let the boys in without id (um – we’re two Americans with two little white boys – do you really think we’re trying to pull one over on you?). There weren’t many animals to be seen (although the mangrove forest had hundreds if not thousands of miniature crabs on the shore) and the heat was oppressive (as always), but the boys loved it regardless. Apparently in October, it is prime bird-watching grounds as birds migrating from Russia and other points north find this one of the few places to stop along the route, so Quin made us promise we could come back then.
Yesterday, we checked out Tuen Mun Park (we reside on the north edge of Tuen Mun; although not many have heard of it, approximately 1/6 of all Hong Kong residents reside in this metro area). There were definitely times where we felt like we were in another world as we strolled through (old men racing toy motor boats on a pond, bad karaoke, even worse dancing to the bad karaoke, etc), but it was a great place for the boys to stretch their legs. There’s also a random reptile house (free entry – gotta love communism!), and Berkley even befriend two local children (that's the boy sitting next to Berkley below ) who spoke impeccable English (alas – their school is filled – we already checked!).
Last night was just about the perfect night. We strolled down to a local outdoor Thai restaurant with our downstairs neighbor and had wonderful Thai food on the patio on a beautiful summer night. The night was only marred by the facts that Berkley fell and opened a huge gash on his knee on the way down (there were visions of ER visits on initial glance) and that the girl serving us (it was a family restaurant) was probably only a year or so older than our boys (producing some cognitive dissonance for me – more on that in a future post).
Today, we laid low in the morning and then headed down to check out Tuen Mun Ferry plaza. One of the local beaches is there; the best I can say for that is now that we’ve checked that off the list, I have no burning desire to go back. We also returned to the mall (the site of my panic last weekend) and successfully conquered it by finding the conveyor belt sushi restaurant and yogurt shop we wanted to visit. The boys couldn’t decide whether they like the sushi or Thai restaurant better.
In doing this exploring, I feel like we’ve mastered the MTR (which takes you all over Hong Kong) and the local light rail (which runs through the western New Territories). We’ve ridden a few buses, but the whole bus system is still a mystery. The nice thing is that this exploring has revealed all sorts of other places we want to go back and explore, things that aren’t written up in any guidebook. A village market near the Buddhist monastery, a street filled with outdoor restaurants, a night club. While there are still issues to be resolved (cough, cough – schools), I feel like we’re settling in nicely and are looking forward to all that we have yet to explore.