There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Macau (1), The Macau Peninsula: Part 3 of Hong Kong and Macau

This is the first of two Macau posts describing a longer visit than our 2010 daytrip (click here for that post). It covers little of the same ground.

As in 2010 we started from Hong Kong, leaving our Kowloon hotel at 8.15 for the Sheung Wan jetfoil terminal. We had not previously travelled to Central on the MTR at rush hour – an interesting experience which brings you into crushingly close contact with your fellow travellers.

Arriving early, we and drank coffee and waited for Brian and Hilary, friends for the last twenty-five years, and Hong Kong residents for two decades before that, to arrive from Ap Lei Chau. They were early too, so we caught the 9.45 ferry.
On a bumpy sea, jetfoils feel as though they are bounding from one wave crest to the next and just missing, but despite the continuous lurch and crash we completed the 65km journey in the scheduled 55mins. Construction of a Hong Kong-Macau bridge-tunnel-bridge started in 2009 and should have been completed last month (October 2016). It will cut the journey time to 30mins but although we saw pylons aplenty, there is much work yet to do. [update: it was completed Nov 2017 and should open July 2018].
The journey across the Pearl River Delta to Macau, which consists of a small peninsula and two joined islands, Taipa and Coloane
It is an old map, Macau is no longer Portuguese and Hong Kong airport is now on Chek Lap Kok Island

Macau’s raison d’être is gambling and shuttle buses wait to whisk punters from the ferry port to the casinos. We are not gamblers – I completely fail to understand the attraction – but we hopped aboard the Grand Lisboa bus anyway. Deposited in the hotel basement, we made our way through the casino, wallets unopened, to the waiting world above.

The Grand Lisboa is one of 19 hotels/casinos owned by the Stanley Ho organisation. Well into his 90s Ho probably has little control over the businesses he founded while his three surviving ‘wives’ (polygamy is technically illegal) and many children, own or squabble over his billions. Ho related businesses, including the jetfoils that brought us here, reputedly employ 25% of Macau’s workforce. Businessman, philanthropist, politician and (allegedly) gangster, Ho is also an art collector and the hotel lobby displays some remarkable pieces, including several large, intricately carved ivories - it is antique ivory… but even so…
Grand Lisboa, Macau
This photo comes from our sunnier 2010 visit, but it hasn't changed

A short walk took us to the Largo de Senado, the heart of Portuguese Macau. Little remains of Macau’s Portuguese heritage (for colonial history see the 2010 post) but the Largo looks the part (like the Grand Lisboa doesn’t).
Largo de Senado, Macau
In 2010 we visited on the 15th of November, a warm sunny day, unlike the cool 25th of November 2016, but being that little bit later meant we could enjoy the Christmas decorations.

Christmas decorations, Largo de Senado, Macau

Nearby a new shop was opening. A couple of dragons had been invited to dance…

Dancing Dragons, Macau
…to the rhythms of their youthful percussionists…
Youthful percussionists
…until all were satisfied that good luck had been guaranteed.
Good luck is ensured, the shop is opened and the dragons rest
Continuing north, past a small fish market…
Fish market, Macau
…and the façade of São Paulo Church (see 2010)…
Sao Paulo, Macau
…we encountered shops dispensing samples of the salami-like meat, which we tried in 2010 and again this year. I still wonder why anyone why anyone would think sweet salami is a good idea.
Sheets of sweet salami. A good idea?
After a snack lunch we continued to the Old Protestant Cemetery. The Portuguese did not permit Protestants burials in their Catholic Cemeteries and the Chinese wanted no foreigners in theirs, but prods – British, American, Dutch and Scandinavian – continued to die. Clandestine burials along the boundary wall separating the Macau peninsula from China were the only solution until 1821 when the East India Company bought a plot of land to create a Protestant Cemetery. It is no longer in use, but remains well maintained and is a very pretty place.,
Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
Pride of place goes to George Chinnery…
The grave of George Chinnery, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
…a London born artist who left for Chennai in 1802 aged 28 and spent the remaining 50 years of his life in Asia, the last 27 in Macau. He painted portraits of the rich and powerful, both Asians and Europeans and as the only European painter resident in Southern China in the mid-early 19th century, his depictions of the life of ordinary people and the landscape of the Pearl River Delta are especially important.
Macau Street Scene with Pigs by George Chinnery (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum)
Also buried here is the missionary Robert Morrison who compiled a Chinese dictionary for foreigners and translated the bible into Chinese….
Grave of Robert Morrison, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
…Captain Henry John Spencer-Churchill, RN, Winston Churchill’s great-great-grand-uncle, and American Naval Lieutenant Joseph Adams, grandson of John Adams and nephew of John Quincy Adams.
Grave of John Henry Spencer-Churchill, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
Most poignant are the simple, laconic gravestone of young men, often sailors, who died, far from home, from accidents and disease. Dates of death before 1821 indicate their remains were moved here from earlier unofficial interments.
Older gravestones, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau

Hilary had been keen to show us this cemetery and, as Lynne says ‘you can’t have a proper holiday without a good cemetery’.

We moved on to the A-Ma Temple, in the south western corner of the peninsula, a bus ride away.

As regular visitors Brian and Hilary were able to introduce us to Macau’s remarkably efficient bus system. Routes are well mapped and each stop has a schematic for its particular route with the stops named and fares clearly shown. The stop are displayed and announced on the bus in Chinese and Portuguese. The one small difficulty is that drivers do not give change, but Hong Kong dollars, notes and coins, are accepted at parity with the local pataca so we managed to scrape together the exact money for our fare.

The bus dropped us outside the temple, a series of shrines straggling up a rocky promontory. Built in 1488, A-Ma predates the city which may have been named after it, Ma-ge (The Pavilion of Ma) the first Portuguese arrivals were told when they asked where there were.
A-Ma Temple, Macau
A-Ma (The Mother) known on the mainland as Mazu (Maternal Ancestor) or more formally as Tianhou - Tin Hau in Hong Kong - (Empress of Heaven) is the Goddess of the Sea, a deification of the allegedly historical 10th century Fujian shaman Lin Mo.
A-Ma protects sailors, and several rocks have been decorated with fishing boats.
Painted Boulder, A-Ma Temple, Macau
Some sources describe the temple as ‘Buddhist’ though ‘Mazuism’ occupies the grey area where Taoism blends into Chinese folk religion. The temple has Buddhist and Confucian elements, but such distinctions are of little importance in southern China - any gods will do, as long as they bring good luck.
Shrine, A-Ma Temple, Macau
In this spirit of ecumenism Lynne bought some incense sticks…
Lighting Incense sticks, A-Ma Temple, Macau
…and offered them with due reverence.
Placing incense sticks, A-Ma Temple, Macau
We climbed to the highest point of the temple, lit some more incense sticks and descended.
Shrine at the top of the A-Ma Temple, Macau
Walking back towards the Mandarin’s House we passed the ‘Moorish Barracks’ a strange hybrid of a building erected in 1874 to house an Indian regiment the Portuguese brought from Goa to aid the Macau police….
Moorish Barracks, Macau
…and the little Portuguese style Largo do Lilau, in one of the first Portuguese residential areas. Its spring was once Macau’s main source of drinking water – 'one who drinks from Lilau never forgets Macau', as the saying goes.
Largo do Lilau, Macau
The so-called ‘Mandarin House’ was built in 1869 by Zheng Wenrui. His son, the far-sighted political reformer Zheng Guanyin (1842-1922) lived here while writing his masterpiece ‘Words of Warning in a Prosperous Age’, a book which influenced, among others, Lu Xun (we met him in Beijing in 2013) and Mao Zedong.
The Mandarin House, Macau - it doesn't look much from the outside
It was the largest family house in Macau, but in the mid-twentieth century the Zheng family moved out and the house was let – sometimes to as many as 300 tenants and  living conditions became poor.
The Mandarin House, Macau
The Macau government acquired the house in 2001 and carefully restored it.
The Mandarin House, Macau
I have always admired the way the Chinese can create oases of peace amid vast bustling cities and this house, with its spacious and beautiful rooms, exudes quietness and calm.
The Mandarin House, Macau
Part of me would like to live in a house so sparsely but elegantly furnished, but lacking the self-discipline I know I never could.
Macau is still divided into its original Portuguese parishes. We continued towards the centre through the streets of São Lourenço…
Sao Lourenco district, Macau
….and dropped into the mother church. One of Macau’s oldest churches, São Lourenço was built by the Jesuits in the mid-16th century. The exterior received a 19th century make-over, but the interior remains calm and unbothered by baroque.
Sao Lourenco, Macau

Nearby, the neo-Classical Theatre of Dom Pedro V, built in 1860, was one of the first Western style theatres in a East Asia.
Theatre of Dom Pedro V, Macau
The theatre has seen periods of neglect, but is currently open, in good repair and well-used.
Inside the Theatre of Dom Pedro V, Macau
It was now late afternoon, so we took another bus up to Macau’s northeast corner and checked into the Mong-Ha Pousada, a former army barracks, now a training hotel for the hospitality industry.
Our room was pleasant and we had a rest, a shower and shared a bottle of wine with Brian and Hilary before heading back towards the Temple of A-Ma for our evening meal at La Lorcha where they ‘endeavour to offer [their] customers the best dining experience they can have in Macau bringing a centuries-long cuisine resulted from the combination of Portuguese sailors with the local Chinese community.’ (from their website, grammar and spelling adjusted). This is, I presume, the definition of Macanese cuisine.
Lynne and I started with octopus salad, Brian with the caldo verde he enjoys so much in in Portugal (and Hilary’s starter is hidden behind a very familiar bottle of Dão). So far so Portuguese.
Dinner at La Lorcha, Macau
Like us, Brian and Hilary are no strangers to Portugal, but they knew Macau first and approached Portuguese food from that direction. For Lynne and I it is very much the other way round and we thought we had made very Portuguese choices for the main course too, pork and clams (eating clams for the third day running was an error that was nobody’s fault but mine) and ‘African chicken’, assuming it to be chicken piri-piri by another name.
We were wrong, ‘African chicken’, chicken covered in a peanut, tomato and chilli sauce, is a Macanese speciality. Whether it really has African origins or was invented in a Macau hotel in the 1940s is open to debate, but it is said (by The Guardian, among others) to be ‘Macau’s favourite dish’. Lynne’s verdict - ‘all right, I suppose.’
We were disappointed by the meal which seemed uncharacteristically heavy by Cantonese or Portuguese standards - and by the rather surely service. Tomorrow we eat at the legendary Fernando’s, so I will withhold my judgement of Macanese cuisine until then.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Transit of Lamma: Part 2 of Hong Kong and Macau

In 2004, on the first full day of our very first visit to Hong Kong we took the Peak Tram to the top of the island and walked round Victoria Peak. We shall do it again this week. We had excellent views over Kowloon and the harbour and, as we moved round, of some of the ‘outer islands’, the huge bulk of Lantau – far bigger than Hong Kong Island – lurking in the misty distance. Further round,  little Chung Chau, may not have been visible, but we visited in 2005 and again in 2010 lured by the seafood restaurants lining the dock. Closer was Lamma Island, its flat northern end dominated by a huge coal-fired power station. ‘I don’t think we’ll bother going there,’ we said. We took no photograph, 2004 was our last year using film and we did not waste film on ugly things, but the map below gives an idea of how these places are arranged – and you can use your imagination for the rest.

Hong Kong
Thanks to my friends at TravelChinaGuide who so ably organised our 2005, 2010 and 2013 visits
Shortly after their marriage and long before we knew them, our friends Brian and Hilary took up teaching appointments in Hong Kong. They stayed for 20 years, returning to England with their two Hong Kong born children in the early 90s. For the next 15 years Brian and I taught mathematics in adjacent classrooms, shared an office and discovered we had interests in common: walking in the countryside (Brian features in most of the walking posts on this blog), good food, fine wine and malt whisky (always quality, never quantity, we are unfailingly abstemious) and travel.
Brian and Hilary did not return to Hong Kong for some years, but once they were retired and both their (now adult) children had returned there to live, visits became regular.

We had long planned to meet up in Hong Kong and enjoy their insider’s view, and this year the plan finally came to fruition. The first trip came as a surprise. ‘Lamma Island,’ Brian emailed. ‘Meet you 11.30 at Yung Shue Wan.’ Yung Shue Wan is right beside the power station.

Lamma Island, Yung Shue Wan and the power station can be seen in the north east of the island
They would take a ferry from Aberdeen on the south side of Hong Kong Island (near Ap Lei Chau on the top map) while we would travel from the outer island ferry terminal at Central. Our quickest route was to hop on the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) at nearby Jordan Station, hurtle under the harbour to Central Station and walk to the ferry terminal. But we had ample time, so why spend a pleasant morning grubbing about in the bowels of the earth?

Like yesterday evening we strolled down Nathan Road, this time turning right at the bottom past the Peninsula Hotel. The Peninsula has been offering ‘the best of Eastern and Western hospitality in an atmosphere of unmatched classical grandeur and timeless elegance’ (their web site claims) since the 1920s. Grandeur and elegance do not come cheap.

Peninsula Hotel, Kowloon

From the tip of the Kowloon peninsula we took the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island, at just over a kilometre one of the world’s greatest short journeys.
Star Ferry Dock, Kowloon
Hong Kong is an unsentimental city, anything no longer paying its way is ruthlessly discarded for something newer, bigger, shinier. But there are exceptions. With six tunnels, three road, three rail connecting Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, the Star Ferry, popular with tourists, but ignored by locals in a hurry is no longer necessary. And does it make money? With a regular fare of HK$2.20 (25p), I doubt it, but we did not pay the regular, or indeed any, fare.
On the Star Ferry, Hong Kong
Octopus cards, like London’s Oyster but with more legs, are the best way to pay for public transport. With an Elder Octopus card, available to over 65s, residents and tourists alike, bus, MTR and ferry fares are a flat HK$2, except the Star Ferry, which is free. Hilary deserves the credit for discovering this and we had taken her advice and acquired cards while passing through the airport yesterday.
Passing the ferry going the other way, Star Ferry, Hong Kong
The Star Ferry dock is adjacent to the Outer Islands Piers and after a short walk and a brief wait, we were on our way to Yung Shue Wan (lit: Banyan Bay).
Leaving the Outer Island ferry terminus
Modern catamarans lack the romance of the old-style ferries but are swift and efficient, our journey taking just 20 minutes.

With no cars, and no buildings allowed above three storeys our first impression of Lamma was of a peacefulness entirely alien to Kowloon or Central.

The island is noted for having many artists and musicians among its 6,000+ residents and Yung Shue Wan, a pleasant little fishing town and by far the largest settlement, is also home to many middle-class commuters and European expatriates. We did not even notice the power station as we sat in a small park and waited for Brian and Hilary, who arrived a few minutes later on the Aberdeen ferry.

Lynne arrives at Yung Shue Wan, Lamma Island
Despite Yung Shue Wan’s wealth of sea food restaurants we did not linger, but set off south...

Leaving Yung Shue Wan with Brian and Hilary
…walking a track which dipped to the coast where we paused for a roasted bean in a beach side café. As we continued the path rose gently. The landscaping meant we had seen little of the power station, but we could not avoid it completely.

The power station, Lamma Island
The path rose to cross the spine of the island, traversing countryside that felt almost wild, a new Hong Kong experience for us.

Lynne and Hilary nearing the top of pass, Lamma Island

Once over the pass we could look across to the south side of Hong Kong Island…

Looking over to Hong Kong from Lamma
 …and, a little further on, down into Sok Kwu Wan and the largest fish farming site in Hong Kong.

Sok Kwu Wan and its Fish Farms

Descending to sea level we rounded the end of the bay and entered the town, which consists largely of seafood restaurants on platforms over the water. The 5km ‘transit of Lamma’, a very pleasant and easy walk at a gentle pace had taken a little over an hour and a half, including coffee stop. It was now past 2 o’clock and I was not alone in feeling ready for my lunch.
Sok Kwu Wan from the end of the bay
(the distant high rises are, I think, on Ap Lei Chau an island so close to Hong Kong you can walk over a bridge to it)

We selected a restaurant and ordered the seafood feast; scallops in their shells with glass noodles and breadcrumbs, prawns, clams in black bean sauce, fried cuttlefish rings, Chinese vegetables and fried rice were washed down with several bottles of beer. It was as fresh as it should be in such a location and all expertly cooked.

Feeling well fed and contented, we left the restaurant and walked past the fishing harbour to the ferry piers.
Fishing harbour, Sok Kwu Wan, Lamma Island

We intended to take a ferry back to Aberdeen and then walk to Brian and Hilary’s daughter’s nearby apartment. Sok Kwu Wan ferry port was not as sophisticated or well signed as its Central equivalent and we found ourselves standing on one pier, watching the Aberdeen ferry depart from the next. Ferries are not frequent, so we took the next one to Central.
Back in Central there was no point in going all the way across the island just to come back, so we confirmed tomorrow’s meeting place for our two-day jaunt to Macau, said goodbye to Brian and Hilary and strolled back to the Star Ferry.
At this point I must apologise for my lack of diligence with the camera. Not only did I (untypically) fail to photograph the food, we also spent the day with old friends and the only pictures I have of them are of their backsides. So, a ‘sorry’ to Brian and Hilary and to prove they are fully rounded three dimensional individuals, here is a front elevation, taken in the less exotic, though still very pleasant, surroundings of the Lake District.
Brian and Hilaru (and Lynne) front elevation, somewhere near Elterwater, 2012
Later we went for a stroll to purchase some peanuts and to price a bottle of Famous Grouse I had spotted in a small shop in Woo Sung Street. They want just over HK£100 (£11) so I bought it.
Unsurprisingly we were not very hungry in the evening, but fancied something small. As all Chinese dishes are shared, we decided to share a single dish and returned (yet again) to Woo Sung Street and its Temporary Cooked Food Hawker Bazaar.
The endearingly scruffy Woo Sung Street food hawkers bazaar as it appears in daylight
Always game to try something new, we chose goose intestines (we try these things so you don't have to). The intestines themselves, like an overly al dente non-vegetarian spaghetti, were forgettable, their purpose presumably to add cheap protein to an otherwise vegetarian dish, but the sauce and vegetables made it all worthwhile.