Destinations & Articles
In Search of
My Chinese Roots
Published in the
Summer 2009 Issue of Canadian World Traveller
Text by Greg
Photos by Jean-Michel Dufaux (email@example.com)
and other sources
Chinese New Year in Hong Kong! What a wonderful time to visit this dynamic world-class city that rises so dramatically on the northern shores of the South China Sea!
However, this was going be much more than just another trip to yet another exotic foreign destination.
For me, this would be a long-anticipated voyage to explore one of my many far-flung and multi-hued ethic roots!
A Chinese Grandfather
My maternal grandfather was born to
Following Great Britain's abolition of slavery in 1833, Cantonese peasant farmers were
carried on ships halfway around the world in an effort to replace the freed
African slaves on the sugar plantations in what was then British Guiana, Britain's only South American colony,
during the mid-to-late 1800s.
I never knew my Chinese great grandparents, but growing up 'half-Chinese', I always wondered what it would be like to stroll down streets where almost everyone was Asian.
Now at last, I was about to find out on my brief but incredibly intriguing seven-day sojourn in Hong Kong!
One Country, Two Systems
Kong would prove to be the ideal place to begin my search for
my long-lost 'Chinese' heritage. Like Guyana where I was born,
Hong Kong had also been a British colony.
July 1, 1997, Britain ceded Hong Kong to China with lots of
fanfare, but much of the territory's previous way of life as a
British possession was guaranteed under the "One Country,
Two Systems" agreement, signed by the governments of the
United Kingdom and the People's Republic of China.
today's Western visitor, this means that English continues to
be widely understood and spoken in Hong Kong and its street
names, major commercial signs and almost all the menus of
restaurants that cater to tourists are in Cantonese and English.
don't be fooled by this. Centuries-old Chinese traditions,
superstitions, religious fervour, clan affiliation, ancestral
veneration and respect for one's elders are still strongly
adhered to by even the most chic and worldly of young
inimitable charm of the Chinese swept me away the minute I got
into line at the check-in counter for my late-night Cathay
Pacific flight from Toronto to Hong Kong.
ever-smiling, female attendants, wearing cheongsams
(close-fitting, floor-length traditional Chinese silk dresses)
and stiletto heels, immediately came up to greet me, and
taking note of my six-foot height, hastened to assure me in
perfect English that I would have a seat with plenty of
legroom for the 14-hour-plus, non-stop flight to Hong Kong!
arrival at Hong Kong's impressive Chek
Lap Kok International Airport, which was completed
in 1998, I found it hard to
believe that I was in Asia.
Manchester-born architect Norman Foster designed this
ultramodern, highly efficient, stunning gateway to
Hong Kong. Remarkably, the airport stands on its own man-made
island created just north of Lantau Island. It
took me just 20 minutes from deplaning to exiting the
airport's doors, including the unbelievably brief time to
reclaim my suitcase!
Lay of the Land
Using Hong Kong's surprisingly unclogged network of super highways, bridges and tunnels, it was just a short ride to the
Harbour Plaza Metropolis Hotel located on Kowloon’s waterfront.
Until my visit, I did not realize that the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong consists of the Island of Hong Kong; Lantau Island; Kowloon City, situated on the north bank of Hong Kong's natural Victoria Harbour; and
the expansive New
Hong Kong's New Territories extend northward from Kowloon to the border of the
Southeastern Chinese Province of Guangdong (often referred to in English as
Canton, hence the term Cantonese Chinese).
Sea of Islands
Kong also counts some 260 islets as part of its region for a
total land area of 1,108 km2 (427 square miles).
With its burgeoning population of just over 7 million, Hong
Kong is one of the most densely populated areas of the world.
there are two things to consider in this regard. Firstly, even
in the busiest parts of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon City, it
never felt overcrowded due to the propensity of the Chinese to
let everyone have their space. Not once did I bump up against
the immense, sparsely populated and officially protected forested areas and pristine secluded beaches of the
New Territories afford the visitor amply opportunities to
spend time away from the crowded city centres.
Balmy Winter Weather
Kong's weather can be very unpredictable. One minute, it can
be overcast, with heavy mist concealing much of the city's
stunning skyline; the next, there can be clear blue skies and
brilliant sunshine overhead.
being the end of January during subtropical Hong Kong's
so-called winter months, the average temperature was a
comfortable 17 degrees Celsius (63 F) with absolutely no
chance of sleet, ice or snow.
us Canadians, this was positively balmy 'winter weather'. But
on our 'Duk
Ling Ride' aboard the motorized junk bearing that
amusing name, one definitely needed a windbreaker or sweater
to ward off the seasonal slightly chilly South China Sea breezes.
were the distinctive Chinese sailing vessels that plied Hong
Kong's harbour as far back as the Han Dynasty (220 BC-200 AD).
These picturesque, now mostly obsolete boats were often used
as ocean going vessels as early as the 2nd century AD. Today,
they are considered a colourful iconic symbol of Hong Kong's
Look Way Up!
boarded our junk at the Kowloon Public Pier for a morning sail
around Hong Kong's beautiful natural Victoria Harbour and enjoyed the
impressive water-level views of some of the city's 106
buildings that tower above 180 metres (591 ft), a statistic
that rivals most other world cities!
of the landmark buildings that loomed up so dramatically
before us on Hong Kong Island were the city's tallest, namely the
International Finance Centre; the 78-storey Central
Plaza, which houses the Hong Kong City Church, the highest
church in the world; and the 70-storey Bank of China Tower,
which was designed by famed Chinese-born American architect I.
Feng Shui Aesthetics
The Bank of China
not the tallest, is still one of Hong Kong's most recognizable
landmarks. However, we discovered that the building had
sparked lots of controversy when it was completed in 1990.
Hongkongers thought that its sharp-angled design and X-shaped
exposed structural elements did not conform to Feng Shui, the
ancient Chinese guiding principle of positive aesthetics.
good Feng Shui even dictates how ordinary Chinese place their
household furniture in a room!
Street Market For Every Reason
disembarking on Hong Kong Island, we made our way through the
forest of ultramodern high-rise office buildings to some of
the most interesting urban market streets that I have ever had
the good fortune to stroll.
most amazing thing about Hong Kong is how the city planners
were able to preserve the colourful busy street markets of the
1957 novel and 1960 film "The World of Suzie Wong",
cheek by jowl with today's ultramodern steel and glass office
narrow, crowded and often moderately inclined side streets
were a joy to explore. Stalls selling every imaginable type of
fish and seafood competed with those offering farm-fresh
vegetables, fruits and greens.
eggs were available next to a mind-blowing variety of teas.
Dried Ginseng roots and other remedies for promoting one's
health and curing every imaginable medical condition,
including male sexual dysfunction, were yours for the asking.
this was the week preceding Chinese New Year, many of the
stalls offered multicoloured blossoms, real and artificial;
exotic miniature fruit-bearing trees; candies in bright, shiny wrappers; and a wild assortment of decorations for
celebrating the arrival of the Year of the Ox.
New Year's firecrackers had been banned following a disastrous
Hong Kong fire; so now only colourful replicas were available
in the street markets. However,
there was lots of real red clothing for sale, including bright
red underwear for both men and women! As I discovered that
day, the 'couleur du jour' for Chinese New Year is definitely
Dim Sum par excellence!
Cuisine was a very elegant affair. After our
intriguing walk through the organized chaos of the street
markets, we entered the rarefied atmosphere of the
International Finance Centre Mall, located in Hong Kong's
Central District. Was I ever in for a big surprise!
the most exclusive shopping emporiums in Montreal, Toronto or
Vancouver could not compete with the scores of ritzy
international designer boutiques and specialty shops that were
filled with lots of chic and seemingly well-heeled young
shoppers. This certainly was living proof that "One
country, two systems" is no idle slogan.
arriving at the restaurant on Podium Level 3, we were ushered
to a table with a fine view of Victoria Harbour from the Hong
Kong Island side. Along with the usual delectable dim sum
tidbits, I tried my first thousand-year-old egg, which is not
really that old at all. In fact, they are duck or chicken eggs
that are coated in a clay-like plaster of red earth, garden
lime, salt, wood ash, and tea and preserved over a period of
about 100 days.
Pairs of Chopsticks
second new experience that day in the fine art of Chinese
dining, was remembering to use the correct pair of chopsticks.
shiny black pair was for serving yourself from the communal
dishes, which are usually placed at the centre of the table.
The second pair, which was ivory-coloured, was for eating from
one’s own plate or bowl!
Colourful Wan Chai
lunch, we took a leisurely walk through Hong Kong's Wan Chai
District, known equally for its lively nightlife, luxury
apartments, swanky hotels, shopping malls and modern office
during our afternoon stroll, we did notice an intriguing
makeshift devise protruding precariously from some of the open windows high above
the traffic-filled streets.
This ingenious devise was used to hang out clothes to
we made our way through Wan Chai, we stopped to buy some
roasted chestnuts from a street vendor and were warned by our
affable guide Andy not to throw the shells onto the sidewalk.
Apparently the fine is $1000 HK (about $150 CAD) for
infractions of the strictly enforced anti-littering and
anti-spitting laws. “So that's why Hong Kong's streets are
so spotlessly clean!” I exclaimed.
Riding the Ding-Ding
most memorable part of our afternoon Wan Chai promenade was a
ride on one the city's double-decker tramways. The historic tramway
system on Hong Kong Island dates back to 1904.
its fleet of 163 tramcars carry a daily average of 230,000
passengers on the six extensive tramway routes.
Kong's trams are brightly festooned with some of the most
creative transit advertising I have ever seen. So much so that
the tramcar ads seem more like mobile murals and have indeed
become an intrinsic part of the vibrant cityscape.
climbed to the upper level of our ding-ding, as the locals
affectionately call the trams. One of my travelling companions
bumped his head on the ceiling of the tram, which was an
amusing reminder that at six-foot-plus, he was obviously
taller and less agile than the average Hongkonger.
only $2 HK (about 30 cents Canadian) for a ride, regardless of
the distance, Hong Kong's trams are the best and cheapest way
to get a wonderful bird's eye view of the city's pulsating
more extensive travel, Hong Kong's modern sparklingly clean Metro
System will whisk you to almost every part of the
territory. The metro even runs under the deep waters of the
harbour to Kowloon and beyond.
Not Just a Flower Market
Chinese New Year Flower Market in Victoria Park is an
unforgettable experience. This annual festive event held on
the day before New Year's Eve is jam-packed with people, young
and old, who flock to the market to get their last-minute New
Year's shopping done.
atmosphere was much like that of a North American fairground.
Hundreds of stalls offered holiday decorations, including huge
fruit bearing and flowering plants.
because this was the Year of the Ox, many of the venders and
shoppers sported 'horned' headgear.
some of the novelty items on sale poked fun at local
politicians and institutions. But the most amazing thing about
the market was that its crowded aisles were designated as
one-way thoroughfares, which the throngs of merrymaking
Hongkongers actually adhered to!
final notable aspect of the event was when I witnessed several
Hong Kong families proudly posing to have their photos taken
in front of the rather formidable though weatherworn statue of
Queen Victoria located at the entrance to the park that still
bears her name.
a city that offers many surprises, this was one that I did not
expect. We dined at Cinecitta,
located in one of Wan Chai's fashionable 'Yuppie'
upscale Italian eatery featured a post-modern interior design
and state-of-the-art furnishings.
from classic black and white Italian films were projected on
the walls as we dined on some of the best Italian cuisine that
I've had outside of Italy. The restaurant's extensive Italian
wine list was equally impressive.
Hiking Enthusiast’s Dream
anyone who loves the outdoors this is an experience not to be
Sai Kung peninsula is a pristine and largely protected area of
Hong Kong's New Territories. Its main hiking trails run along
the peninsula's Tai Lam mountain range.
peaks of the range rise dramatically from the surrounding sea
making some trails more challenging than others. But the
outstanding panoramic views of both land and sea afforded by
even an abbreviated hike are well worth the effort. Taking
rests along the way is no crime!
only did a part of the popular 100 km MacLehose
Trail, named after one of Hong Kong's last colonial
governors and enthusiastic hiker Murray MacLehose, but at the
highest point that we attained, we had a wonderful bird's-eye
view of much of the Eastern coastal area of the Sai Kung
Region including some of its fabled coves and sandy beaches,
which I vowed to visit and languish on some day.
How Fresh is Fresh?
After our exhilarating
hike, we took a refreshing boat ride and a short bus ride to
the seaside New Territories town of Sai Kung.
Local fishermen in
small multi-coloured boats moored alongside the docks offered
freshly caught live fish and an assortment of seafood that
defied description to their many keen-eyed local customers who
leaned over the docksides to point out their selection.
And just offshore, sea
birds hunting for their supper dove gracefully down into the
placid sea to snap up their own well-earned fresh catch.
New Year Seafood Feast
own extraordinary New Year's seafood feast awaited us at one
of the many restaurants that lined Sai Kung's colourful
each establishment, there were stacks of huge glass tanks. The
bubbling tanks contained an amazing assortment of live fish,
prawns, crabs, scallops, clams, oysters and many other edible
but quite scary-looking creatures of the deep.
idea was to make your dinner choices before entering the
restaurant. This would prompt a very nimble fellow, shod in
waterproof knee-high boots, to skip across the tanks and scoop
up your selection with his small handheld net.
our guide Andy was more familiar with our restaurant's exotic
live offerings and made the choices for us. In about half an
hour, the restaurant's talented Cantonese chefs had
transformed his live selection into a banquet fit for even the
most demanding of ancient Chinese emperors. This was a truly
Hockey Night in Hong Kong
Lan Kwai Fong is Hong
Kong's premier entertainment district. Located in the area
called Central, it is home to over a hundred bars and
restaurants, many of which open directly onto the street.
For anyone seeking a
late-night hot spot, this is the place. And for homesick
Canadians, there's even a sports bar that shows NHL hockey
games on its TV monitor.
I can't recall
its name, but you can't miss it. A Canadian flag hangs proudly on
the outside of the bar and a sizable collection of NHL hockey
paraphernalia and souvenir items grace its interior walls!
you name just one activity that everyone who visits Hong Kong
does it has to be shopping. Some elect to go bargain hunting
in the makeshift stalls of the night market on Kowloon's
where I found the perfect red silk tie with black Chinese characters
to wear on New Year's Day and the price was right.
may prefer browsing through the scores of high-end boutiques
that line Nathan Road where you can find genuine designer
clothing at one-third of the price you would pay in Montreal,
Toronto or Vancouver.
Road is Kowloon's main thoroughfare. Its chic shops are
covered from top to bottom with those huge neon signs that
turn night into day. The remarkable thing is that all of these
shops are open until 11 P.M. each and every night!
New Year’s Lion
first order of New Year's Day in Hong Kong is to witness a
Lion Dance. This ancient ritual promises its spectators good
luck for the coming year.
lion also has the ability to drive out any evil spirits from
the establishments where he performs, in this case, the
Renaissance Kowloon Hotel, located on Kowloon's waterfront.
as young as six years old are trained in troupes (often
affiliated with local Kung Fu clubs) to perform this intricate
acrobatic dance that has one young performer manipulating the
lion's head and the other its body.
lion's antics include jumping between the tops of a series of
freestanding, two-metre-high pillars.
Lion Dance, not to be confused with the Dragon Dance, is
performed to the rhythmic and startlingly loud beat of
portable Chinese drums, cymbals and gongs, enthusiastically
supplied by other members of the troupe.
there is a fierce but generally friendly rivalry between Hong
Kong's many Lion Dance troupes for the right to perform at
Bruce and Me
Avenue of Stars is a wide pedestrian-only boardwalk that borders Victoria Harbour.
'star-studded' avenue celebrates Hong Kong's many past and
present movie stars, among them none other than the legendary
His bronze, life-sized
statue was definitely the main attraction for the hundreds of
locals and tourists who patiently waited their turn to have
their photos taken beside this enduring icon of the Kung Fu
movies. I have to admit that I too waited my turn for my
moment with Bruce!
Time to Pray
things struck me on my visit to the Wong Tai Sin Temple, a
traditional Taoist temple established just north of Kowloon in
first was its location. It
was surrounded on three sides by modern high-rise buildings.
second was the crowds of worshippers. They were old and young,
of every socio-economic class, lined up for blocks to get in.
third and most impressive thing about my visit was the obvious
reverence in which the temple adherents held their place of
worship. Even though there were thousands of people in a very
confined space, there was no pushing or queue jumping and it
was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.
main mission of the worshippers that special day was to pray for good fortune
and health in the coming year, the Year of the Ox, and the air
was thick with the fragrant smoke of the incense sticks that
just about everyone tightly clutched in his or her hands.
Fortune Sticks Anyone?
entering the temple's Grand Hall, I joined the crowd in
kneeling in front of its main altar, making a silent wish and
shaking a bamboo cylinder containing numbered fortune sticks
until one of them fell out. I
was then instructed to exchange this stick for a piece of
paper bearing the same number.
to that moment, this ritual was all a mystery to me until our
guide Andy explained that I was taking part in an age-old
fortune-telling practice called Kau Cim. Clutching my precious
bit of numbered paper, I entered an adjacent building that
housed row upon row of fortune-teller booths.
Andy led us to one of the booths that had a sign that read
"English Speaking". The lovely lady who read my
fortune based on the number from my fortune stick immediately
divined my part-Chinese heritage.
Westerners may take this
timeless ritual lightly, but for millions of Chinese, a
trusted fortune-teller's forecast is very serious business.
"The Golden Age"
in the fashionable Tsim Sha Tsui District of Kowloon, the T'ang
Court justly deserves its two Michelin stars.
This restaurant's décor
and fine furnishings were obviously carefully chosen to
reflect the elegance and good taste associated with the Tang
Dynasty, China's golden age.
if this wasn't enough, the delectable Cantonese-style
haut-cuisine dishes were stylishly presented to us by an
attentive yet discreet staff.
wished we could have lingered much longer to soak up even more
of the T'ang Court's refined atmosphere but we had to be on
our way to view Hong Kong's spectacular New Year's Night
Everyone Loves a Parade!
was definitely a parade with a difference! The line-up
included everything from the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders
from Good Ol' USA to Russia's Brass Band of the Moscow Cadet
Music Corps, who incidentally thrilled the crowd with their
short disco-dancing routine à la John Travolta.
we arrived at the viewing stands, we were presented with
headbands, which naturally featured 'Ox' horns, noisemakers
and shiny silver light reflectors.
parade began with a float decked out to resemble a Cathay
Pacific plane. It was followed by a contingent of
the airline's female and male flight attendants looking as
smart as ever in their snappy uniforms.
expected, most of the 39 performing groups in the
hour-and-a-half-long parade were from Hong Kong and other
parts of China. But underscoring the international appeal of
Hong Kong, other participants hailed from as far away as
Denmark, Japan, Korea, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Thailand
and the US.
time sped by quickly and judging from the wild response of the
spectators, Hong Kong's Cathay
Pacific New Year's Night Parade certainly was
one very happy party and the perfect way to usher in the Year
of the Ox!
Lantau Island Outing
Island, which lies west of Hong Kong Island, is sparsely
populated (45,000 compared to 1.4 million on Hong Kong Island)
and its terrain is quite mountainous and heavily forested. The
island has often been described as the 'Lung' of Hong Kong.
as we discovered on our brief visit, northwestern Lantau is
now experiencing rapid population growth in its newly
established towns due to their proximity to the manmade island
where Hong Kong's International Airport now sits. New tourist
attractions and facilities are also bringing more visitors to
Lantau Island, which is almost twice the size of Hong Kong
aspect of Lantau Island that happily defies change is the
historic village of Tai O located on the farthest point on
Lantau's northwestern coast. This tiny picturesque seaside
community is home to the Tanka people who built their homes on
stilts above the tidal flats for generations.
strolled through the town's main market street past several
stalls offering souvenirs made by local artisans from the
region's beautiful multicoloured seashells.
street venders displayed enormous fresh and dried fish and
other freshly caught seafood in their tiny stalls. This
colourful but somewhat pungent smelling street led us to a
manually operated little drawbridge that spans the narrow
creek that divides the town.
the drawbridge was built, the only way to cross the creek was
on a "ferry" that was pulled back and forth by
ropes! That system for crossing the creek lasted for an
incredible 85 years in Tai O, attesting to the town's
resistance to change!
May I Have the Envelope?
This being the time of New Year's celebrations, the lion dancers were going from shop to shop in Tai O. It was at this time that I found out how the performers are paid.
Part of the lion's dance involves "biting" a head of lettuce that is hung up by the shopkeeper or homeowner over the entranceway. And hidden in the lettuce is a little red envelope called a Lai See, which contains money. The greater the sum, the greater the good fortune!
As part of New Year's celebration, similar Lai Sees are given to children, single people and lower-echelon employees.
second stop on Lantau Island was to see the impressive Tian
Tan Buddha, said to be the world's tallest outdoor bronze
The Big Buddha, as it is sometimes called, is a
huge attraction for both local adherents and the thousands of
foreign visitors who flock to see the shrine each year.
we climbed up the shrine's 286 stone steps, we realised that a
persistent heavy mist, which hung in the air like a giant
curtain, would somewhat obscure our view of the Buddha's upper
body and head.
Though we were disappointed at not seeing the
entire 34-metre-tall (110 ft), 250-tonne (280 tons) Buddha,
the mist actually added a mysterious and almost mystic aura to
this monumental and highly revered religious site.
made a brief visit on the inside of the hollow bronze body of
the Buddha where we encountered many walls displaying hundreds
of memorial plaques of deceased revered notable individuals
that had been paid for by their relatives and friends. Then
along with the hundreds of other pilgrims to the shrine, we
headed back down the 286 steps to the Po Lin Monastery, which
lies in the shadow of the Big Buddha. Here we enjoyed a simple
but satisfying vegetarian meal prepared by the resident monks.
Village Theme Park
The perfect return
route from the Po Lin Monastery is a stroll through the nearby
Ngong Ping Cultural Village, a sort of Chinese version of a
North American theme park.
It boasts several attractions
including the moving 'Walking with Buddha' pavilion and the
amusing animated film featured at the 'Monkey's Tale Theatre'.
After sipping on an American-style coffee at one of the
village's many cafés, we headed for the terminus of the Ngong
Ping 360 cable car ride.
Ping 360 cable car ride is a spectacular 5.7km (3.5 miles), 25-minute
trip that begins from Tung Chung in Landau.
then crosses Tung Chung
Bay and touches on the Hong Kong’s airport’s island before
turning towards North Lantau and
the Ngong Ping terminus where we boarded one of its spacious cars for our return trip from Po Lin Monastery.
again the heavy mist that day obscured most of the panoramic
views from the huge windows of our cable car, but we could
still catch glimpses of Lantau's verdant slopes and the calm
waters of Tung Chung Bay as we went over them. On a clear day,
this would be one Hong Kong ride not to be missed!
Date at Harbour City
During our early supper at Harbour
City, located in the Tsim Sha Tsui waterside district of Kowloon, excitement definitely was in the air as this was the night of the extraordinary, annually held Lunar New Year Fireworks Display over Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour!
Harbour City is an immense commercial complex that was built on the former site of wharfs and dockside warehouses.
Peking Duck & Cruising
Our Harbour City restaurant's signature dish was Peking duck. As we tucked into the several courses of this quintessential Chinese speciality, one of the many cruise ships that count Hong Kong as its premier Asian port-of-call sailed by the restaurant's huge picture windows.
The reflection of the ship's cabin lights shimmered romantically in the waters of the harbour.
our vantage point on one of Harbour City’s rooftops, the
fireworks display exploding over the Victoria Harbour was
dazzling backdrop was the illuminations on high-rise buildings
on the Hong Kong Island side of the harbour and the
accompanying laser show.
the usual eye-popping, ear-shattering finale, one of the three
barges in the harbour used to launch some of the fireworks
caught on fire. According to the local English-language paper,
China Morning Post, this unfortunate event and the
fact that an important city official had previously drawn an
unlucky fortune stick numbered 27 at the Sha Tin Temple, meant
that tough financial times were in store for Hong Kong!
assessment of the future of economically dynamic Hong Kong in
the coming Year of the Ox would probably not turn out to be a
true, but it indicates the powerful influence that Chinese
beliefs and superstitions have on even its most level-headed
Fierce Temple God
After the Wong Tai Sin Temple, where I had my fortune read, the Che Kung Temple is definitely Hong Kong's second most popular shrine.
We visited this renowned Buddhist temple, located in the Sha Tin District of the New Territories, on the third day of Chinese New Year, which is the birthday of the shrine's demigod Che Kung.
He was a fierce general from the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 AD) who was elevated to Buddhist immortality on account of his heroic deeds.
His much-venerated towering bronze statue, which stands several metres tall in the main hall of the temple, is indeed an awesome sight to behold!
Che Kung is considered by many to be Hong Kong's undisputed god of gambling and as such, thousands of worshipers gather here on his birthday to pray to him for good fortune in the coming year.
Winds of Change
Incense sticks and huge arrays of colourful paper windmills were for sale just outside the temple walls.
Apparently, paper windmills purchased at the temple blow good luck winds into your home throughout the year when placed in a window or doorway.
As the day wore on, it was amusing to see the discount signs for the windmills go up. But on a more serious note, I was once again totally astounded by the fervour of both young and old devotees
at this impressive and obviously highly revered place of worship.
Off to the Races
The Hong Kong Jockey Club's Sha Tin Racecourse is conveniently close to the Che Kung Temple. This stunning facility was built in the New Territories in 1978, but the club’s Happy Valley Racecourse on Hong Kong Island, dates back to 1846.
Sha Tin's total capacity is 85,000, which in itself attests to the average
Hongkonger's passion for horseracing and gambling. As a matter of interest,
this state-of-the-art racecourse had the honour of being the main venue
for the equestrian events of the wildly successful 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
The day we visited Sha Tin was the 3rd Day of Chinese New Year. There was a near sell-out crowd due to the suspicion that on this day, one should avoid contact with family members and close friends.
It is believed that if you have an argument with someone on this day you won't speak with him or her for the entire year!
I wish I could say that my quest to find my Chinese roots ended in the historic heritage village of Ping Shan. It didn't, but this was as close as it got. My mum's maiden name was 'Cheong' but it could just as well been 'Tang' when I alighted in the village of Ping Shan.
Ping Shan has one of the longest recorded histories in all of Hong Kong and the lineage of the Tang clan is firmly rooted right here.
Considered one of the "Five Great Clans" in the New Territories, the Tang clan can amazingly trace its roots as far back as the twelfth century.
On our arrival at the town's unpretentious main square, none other than Ping Shan's favourite son
William Tang came up to greet us.
Canadian-educated, world-famous Hong Kong fashion designer, clad in his signature leather jacket, proceeded to take us on a fascinating tour of his nearby, privately owned ancestral home!
On entering his beautifully restored multi-storied ancestral village residence, an amusing anecdote was created by us having to step over the rather high threshold of the entranceway.
I had previously been told that the reason for the high thresholds in village homes was to keep out the chickens and other village livestock! Now I learnt that the real reason was to remind visitors that they were entering a place that should be treated with reverence.
The house was filled with Tang family mementos included framed faded photographs of William's ancestors and interesting artefacts and furnishings of many bygone eras.
Funnily enough, I actually felt that I would be quite at home living here and once again my thoughts turned to the Chinese great grandparents that I never knew.
As William had to leave for a
scheduled interview with two attractive female reporters from
a local TV station, his charming sister Kwai Man Tang and Kathy To, the local representative of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, gladly took over from him to act as our guides for the rest our afternoon tour of Ping Shan.
School and Timeless Pagoda
After touring the two levels of the fascinating Kun Ting Study Hall, which was built in 1870 by Tang Heung Chuen, a 22nd-generation ancestor of the Tang clan, for students preparing for the imperial civil service examination, we strolled over to the site of Hong Kong's only truly ancient pagoda.
The original five-storey Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda, which means "Pagoda of Gathering Stars", was built by Tang Yin-tung, a seventh generation ancestor of the clan, more than 600 years ago! It was damaged by strong winds and subsequently rebuilt as today's still impressive three-storey pagoda.
The really fascinating part of the
Ping Shan Heritage Trail was visiting the recently established hilltop
Gallery, which is housed in the Old Ping Shan Police Station built in 1899 by the British.
Happily, in 2007, the defunct colonial-styled police station was wonderfully restored and became the repository for many of the Tang Clan's treasured artefacts from its long line of notable ancestors.
The gallery even includes a case displaying the historic outfit worn by our charming 'clan guide' Kwai Man on her own wedding day. How I wish I could have found such a remarkable tribute to the Cheong Clan!
Bowl of Plenty
The Heritage Trail led us to
our final stop, the Tang Ancestral Hall, which was constructed by Tang Fung-shun, a fifth generation ancestor of Tang clan some 700 years ago.
The hall's impressive two internal courtyards were about to become filled by the 400-plus closest family and friends of our hosts William and Kwai Man Tang!
Earlier when I had visited the open-topped ancestral hall, I had noticed what looked like slide projectors on each of the dozens of tables that were set up for the banquet. Now I found out that they were actually mini tabletop gas ranges that would keep the Pun choi warm!
And what is a Pun choi you may ask. Well, this is a classic New Year's dish originating in the New Territories.
A huge piping hot bowl of stew containing cabbage, bok choy, tofu, fish balls, meat balls, pig's skin and duck is served up to each table at a communal New Year's banquet.
Each year, a small army of volunteer village cooks prepares this exotic feast, which may or may not be to everyone's taste, but I found it quite delectable.
I knew that I had become an honourary clan member when Kwai Man brought over a glass of the Chinese version of mulled wine to me and only me at our table of ten!
Kung Hei Fat Choy!
For those not familiar with that greeting, it's Happy New Year in Chinese. And what a happy time it was to be in Hong Kong to celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Ox and to re-establish my Chinese connection!
As I stood on one of the breathtaking lookout points on Victoria Peak, high above Hong Kong's forest of futuristic skyscrapers and its shimmering harbour on my last night in this scintillating city, I began
to understand for the very first time the contradictions inherent in my late Chinese grandfather Ol' Cheong.
After all, he was Chinese yet Western - every bit like contrary yet totally loveable Hong Kong!
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Hong Kong Tourism Board
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