Sai Wan Swimming Shed is merely a 15 minute walk from the nearest MTR Station in Kennedy Town. Yet, it looks like decades away from all that Hong Kong is thought to be. Say Hong Kong and people across the world get images of a city of skyscrapers, of concrete and glass, of neon lights lit harbours.
And here is that beauty from the 1960s that must have seen thousands of hardy swimmers take a plunge into the South China Sea. This is also a place that gets perhaps the best sunsets in the city. Almost Always, a rarity in Hong Kong with its crazy and cloudy weather full of thunderstorms, and of course typhoons.
Once there were many in the town, scattered around city’s really long coastline. Then came the swimming pools and they started disappearing with Sai Wan Swimming Shed being the only one left. Hopefully it will survive as it has both: it’s loyal swimmers from decades and a new group of lovers: Instagrammers. Yeah, the modest swimming shed has become such an instagram sensation that one has to queue for hours to reach get a chance to walk over the beautiful shed.
Yet, the effort and the wait is absolutely worth it.
Pro Tip: Choose a weekday and you may cut the waiting time shorter by at least an hour. Pro Tip 2: Respect others, specially the swimmers as they have the first right to the shed. Also, do not take more than 15-20 minutes at the actual walkway as it inconveniences others. Also, do not peek into modest changing huts.
You can add to the adventure by adding a 2 hour long hike in the adjacent Mount Davis Hiking Path strewn with war time relics from the World War II. The place also marked the city boundary of the City of Victoria- the official name of Hong Kong then and you would find milestones marking that, old Army Batteries, structures, a private cemetery of the Euroasian community in Hong Kong (Bruce Lee is from the community). The hike is easy and rewarding especially on clear day for reflection pictures. A detailed post on that later.
Getting there: Take Exit B from Kennedy Town MTR station, then hop on any of the buses No.58, 58A or 59 and get off at Caritas Jockey Club Hostel Mount Davis. Then look for the Entrance as in the picture below. You can also walk along Victoria Road from Kennedy Town MTR station if you have time for taking in more views. It takes around 15-20 minutes.
And at the end, do not forget to bow down to the God Of Land, curiously blessing visitors in a swimming shed!
It was a beautiful, sunny, and oh not so humid morning of March 2007 when a bright streak of light woke the boy from Babhnan with a start. He looked out of the window and it felt like the plane was about to land on water! He looked around, a little startled, saw everyone composed and so did he. A red eye flight, his first international one, he had taken 7 hours ago from Delhi had brought him to Hong Kong, the city he would soon call home.
Hong Kong. That was a full 6,000 years after humans first set foot in the territory. 2200 years after it became part of the Chinese Empire for the first time. 500 after the first European came here, Portugese Jorge Álvares.
Hong Kong: a jungle of concrete and grass. Where the East meets West. The financial capital of the world. And the Disneyland and the Ocean Park.
Local tip: If you must, go to the Ocean Park, it is so much better than the Disney.
The village boy was a little nervous, but he was armed with his most trusted weapon: a well rehearsed abandon bordering on disdain. Whole buildings of glass, so what? It is just the glitter. The Khadi kurta, rugged jeans and Hawai Chappal- the JNU uniform that got him many stares- from immigration to immigration was part of that abandon, a carefully rehearsed one, though.
He followed the crowd running to the immigration, pretending he was not, as if he had been clearing immigration since he was an infant. A faint smile ran through his cheeks. The memories of entering glass buildings when he had first come to Delhi were back. That careful look- on people behaving ‘normal’ and imitating them.
That was the only nervousness the boy would ever have with this city.
Hong Kong was nothing that those cinematic ‘establishing shots’ made it to be. Yeah, Victoria Harbour is beautiful, but it was only as much the city as is India Gate Delhi. The Peak too, only as much Hong Kong as Gateway of India was Mumbai.
Yeah, the ‘heart’ of Hong Kong is all glass and concrete. Provided you could call that place, always in flux with people moving in and out as they would from any financial hub Hong Kong in the first place. No one calls Dubai airport’s transit area Dubai, right? That glass and concrete part is only that much Hong Kong. People come here, mostly on short time assignments and go. Without even knowing the city.
Beyond that exist well-knit communities in villages 300 to 400 years old still farming. Many of them are still walled in a throwback to the times gone by.
The village boy immediately belonged here, settled in the first he took as home with windows looking at sprawling bonsai mandarin plantations on one hand and a lush green hill behind. It was not love at first sight, but a lifelong romance had begun.
A romance that would take him to the Tai Mo Shan- a hike traversing over 5 waterfalls, largest over a 100 meters in a row, in a single hike! Startled? The boy too was- only till he took a nice long swim in the natural pool in the third one. Or to the Tung Lung Fort built in 1722 to guard against the pirates. Or the Bride’s Pool- another waterfall combined with a beautiful valley praying for the wife who lost her life while crossing the waterways, after whom the waterfall took its name.
Or the stilted villages like Tai O with their unfolding bridges taking you straight to further south east- Vietnam and Cambodia.
And the villages with their centuries-old traditions living on for centuries- the dragon dances, the bun festivals in which a very rustic looking person sees you and you being the only non-Chinese there starts explaining the history and the ritual. And then that he is Vice President or this and that in HSBC or again, this or that!
And yeah, the small bunkers, now shrines, dug by the Hong Kongers who resisted the Japanese during World War II with all their might, often making the biggest of the sacrifices. And the sprawling parks in the middle of the city with retired elderlies playing Mahjong all day, often also babysitting their grandchildren as both the parents would have gone to work.
Hong Kong is now home. Yeah, I often feel sad seeing a few of the fields in front of my house disappearing every year, yet, happy that forests make for them. Yeah, forests cover over 26,400 hectares of the total area of Hong Kong, about 23.8%- much more than during the World Wars.
Come, visit my home. But please please please, not on those 2 nights 3 days packages. I can share with you some best-kept secrets for a longer and better rendezvous with this harbor I now call home.
The boy from the River Manvar banks was back in Mekong Delta, ditching Da Nang, the up and arrived beach destination in Asia for the second time in a row within an year. No, he had nothing against the Seas. They always fascinated him. He now lives by the sea, in Hong Kong.
But the rivers are where the boy feels at home. Born and brought up in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the Gangetic plains also called Doaab, deltas are the place he belonged to. Places where everything revolved around the water earlier, most still does. He remembered the Monsoons: longingly waited for and scared off. Come, folk songs would plead the Gods of rains, but just enough to get us super crops, not to drown us, cut us off from the rest of the world for months.
As it is, he had realised that at the end of the day, every travellers seeks to find the home left behind somewhere deep within. Oh yeah- a quick note on Doaab- it literally means 2 waters- do is 2 and Aab is water in Arabic. That’s why Punjab is Punjab at both sides of the border- 5 waters, meaning 5 rivers. However much borders try to divide, rivers find a way to sneak out and unite. They just know how to.
This was what had brought the small boy to Can Tho, the biggest city in Mekong Delta and the fourth largest in Vietnam. The delta, like all other delta, has a fabulous history. Prehistory, actually, as almost all of the earliest human settlements started in deltas only just like the Indus Valley one.
The most fascinating thing about Can Tho, though, is that its past has a bridge to reach its present- a bridge called river Hậu River, a distributary of the mighty Mekong with its floating markets just like they were 300 years ago! Okay, the boats have become motorised, the wholesale ones jetties, many of them are now electrified and there are even floating (on the boats) petrol pumps! Everything else is the same: predawn rush of the wholesalers to these real floating markets with a bamboo pole with something hanging on the top- denoting what is that boat selling. If it’s fish then fish, vegetables then vegetables and if nothing- then boat itself!! Then come the boats selling breakfast and boats of retailers. Oh yeah and now also many tourists and some travelers too!
Same are the orchards inside, well connected with beautiful, almost mystic canals shaded by the coconut and palm trees, and the villages making rice paper, and so many other things, enough for one to get lost there alone for days.
Can Tho is not only about these floating markets though. It has equally enchanting night markets 4 of them- open all night, by the way, unlike many night markets across the word, Go and eat traditional delicacies there like a local. Or head to the cacao farms reminding you of your own mango orchards lost in the villages left behind, many even having homestays- basic enough to take you on a trip down the memory lane.
Then there are magnificent temples, really intricate and different from one another unlike most of our run of the mill Shivalas and Mosques you can’t even differentiate from one another.
Doing all this, you would pass by the Can Tho Grand Prison many a times. Hardy enough to believe in justice. It is for you. A backpacker drunk on youth, or a tourist which ended up there in a tour: do go, it would sober you down.
Did I even talk about the hidden gem? Remember the 1992’s French Erotica Movie, The Lover, that took the world by storm, nay, sensuality? That helped bringing erotica inn Most of it was shot in Can Tho, in a small town some 17 kms away, in an over 150 years old house that remains the same even today!I had seen The Lover as a young adult, with the tape tucked inside my shirt smuggled into a friend’s house in 1997 or so in Allahabad. There I was in the house, I knew ever since.
Gosh! I forgot Ninh Kieu Wharf, I went to every single day there! Overlooked by a really tall statue Uncle Ho, as Ho Chi Minh is called across the country? It runs parallel to the river with a beautifully decorated bridge to itself, not going anywhere, just, to walk by the river and remember your own Manvar, 4400 kms away.
Aboard a ro-ro ferry on the mighty Mekong river, the young man thought of Manvar, a small rivulet 4,800 kms away, seeing a small boy swimming in it decades ago. Stupid, no?
No. Be they in Bombay or Beijing, small town kids never go anywhere alone. Wherever they go, they go with their homes lost behind in their villages, Kasbahs or small towns. You can see that in their eyes- that sudden wetness that gives them away with all their longings and belongings. They might be proud of their journeys or disappointed with themselves, they would suddenly look away, seeking refuge in the same lost villages they grew up in. No matter what exiled them- be it hunger, war or career, their lost homes are the cross they carry alone.
Be it distress migration for the poor ones or chasing dreams for the more fortunate, the small town kids are destined for exile. Just like that young man aboard that Ro Ro Ferry in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
They know that despite all the speeches by the great leaders promising them the moon, they don’t get even proper roads that can connect Delhi with their villages. They know that they are the past of the country, running behind the metros by decades. They know that bridges don’t connect the past with the future, they only make fortunes for those promising these bridges!
They know that they would have to go, leaving all the memories behind and chase their dreams in places that could be anything, but would never become home.
The small boy from Babhnan knew this. He knew that every passing year is another year close to exile, that began at 12, just 12 when he was sent to a boarding school in nearby Gorakhpur. Home was no longer home, it was just a holiday. Holi, Diwali, Dussehra, Summer Vacations. His own agricultural fields were no longer his playfields where he would steal tractor rides. The “Middle School” Cricket ground in Babhnan that seemed like the biggest possible in the world had suddenly changed to a joke, a tiny joke on that, on the name of a cricket ground.
Slowly, the small town kids’ school bags would start getting heavier and their ‘holiday visits’ fewer. Gorakhpur for secondaries would change to Allahabad for grads, Allahabad to JNU for Research, Delhi to Hong Kong for work. With every dislocation changing friends, acquaintances, neighbors, everything.
Ironically, exile was never the saddest part of the story. It was the small boy from Babhnan not knowing that this a one way road- a point of no real returns. That those who fail and return would looked upon for their lives. That those who ‘succeed’ would have hardly any time for returning- for taking that stroll on the railway station that once defined their lives: that set them on the path of chasing their dreams as far as those trains could go. The same one from which this small boy from Babhnan started dreaming of traveling the world and telling the tales.
His friends listened to him with rapt attention about the places they had never travelled to. The places this small boy hadn’t either, the places whose details he pieced together with the: names of the trains and where they go with information he got from his parents, their colleagues, newspapers, name it.
So success or failure, these kids would be sort of jinxed, of not returning. Mahesh would better become Mat and work as a cyber collie, Lalita as Linda, is she was fortunate enough in a patriarchal society to be allowed to chase her dreams, they would dread to return.
And when they would for the occasional visits- nothing would be the same. The most promising kid in their class would have become a grocer they would have nothing much to talk about. The best batsman in their team would be selling medicines. And they both would be uncomfortable with the small boy from Babhnan’s success, the small boy with loss. Of the home. Forever.
Only mercy? He would be taking Babhnan to places, making that nondescript mofussil town, a mere blur on the map of the country known around, even if in his own smaller circles.
Fujian Tulou(s)- the magnificent, fortified earthen building were yet another revelation for me- the Hong Konger of almost 6 years! Such a shame that I knew nothing about them till a botched visa delivery for China- they asked me to collect it on the day before Chinese New Year holidays start and then when I reached, just after the lunch- last staffer was locking the office! With the holiday plan for Xiamen gone, I decided to go for a virtual tour and there they were! The Tulous, a whopping 46 of whom built between the 12th and 20th century are inscribed as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2008 as the legend goes- thanks to their circular shape confused to be nuclear reactors by the United States at the height of the Cold War! So Tulous were finally calling me and I was all set to make an amend and become a Tulou veteran.
Tulous, are mostly three to five story fortified buildings- most commonly circular or rectangular- built for communal living for a whole clan. Built to repel the attacks of the pirates with provisioning for ration for a full year, they often have just one gate. The ground floor will be meant for kitchens, first floor would be granaries and upper floors- with each living unit exactly of the same size- to ensure equality- meant for living. The tulous will also have concentric inner rings for bathrooms, wells and other provisioning. They mostly have a few wells as well.
Built by mixing earth with stone, bamboo, wood and other readily available materials, their walls are up to 6 feet (1.8 m) thick and additionally reinforced by branches, strips of wood and bamboo chips. With this much fortification, they were, of course, next to impossible to break into in the times they were built. Further, as our friend showing us around told us: often sitting by some kind of natural fortification like at the top of a hill (like Tianluokeng Tulou Cluster) or river- like Cuxi Tulou Cluster- once the residents see ‘bad men coming- and close the main door-often 40-50-inch-thick (1 meter to 1.3 m) wooden doors reinforced with an outer shell of iron plate’ the ‘bad men’ would have to ride on exceptional luck to defeat the insiders- sitting with granaries having all the ration for an year or more and gun holes guarding only entry!
Look at the photos again- the kitchens and granaries at the first floor have no windows, practically making the structure impossible to breach! Add the numbers inside- bigger tulous housed as many as 800 people- of the same clan and one might need a whole army to take on them!
Reminder: Though often called as Hakka tulous too- after the majority of the Tulous belonging to the Hakka people, not all of them are Hakka. Their neighbours in South Western Fujian known as Minnan people also have their own Tulous, mostly to the east of Yongding in particular in Nanjing and Pinghe counties.
How to reach: Just hop on a Shenzhen- Longyan high speed train (there are three in a day- get off at Longyan, hop on a local bus for Yongding county which is closest to three of the most famous Tulou clusters and you are good for an exciting weekend soaked with history and, of course, adventure! Otherwise, one can also couple the trip with Xiamen, just 2.5 hours away or can also go to Yongding station though that too is almost an hour away from the Tulou clusters.
Where to stay: Complete the experience by staying in one of the centuries old tulou like we did- don’t expect too much luxury though, the beds will be hard, as they are almost everywhere in China, you may or may not have an attached bathroom, but the experience of living in a building constructed 200 or even 300 years ago will be amazing!
We stayed in Tulou Fuyulou Changdi Inn– a Tulou more than a century old and with the owner Steven making you wonder what’s better- the warmth, the home away from home feeling he gives or his fluent English! With him you are mostly set with an itinerary from an insider who knows his stuff… So go on discovering the places- You will perhaps begin with Tianluokeng Tulou cluster meeting the slanting one of the oldest one built in 1308, and tallest at 5 stories and a village temple on your way back. Then you will meet the Chengqilou (承啟楼) nicknamed “the king of tulou”, of Gaobei Tulou cluster- with 15th generation Jiang clan living inside with 57 families and 300 people!
That done, you will be back in the Hongkeng Village with a Tulou cluster by the same name- enjoy your evening seeing them and then sitting/walking by the river in the village with Tulous on both sides! You may also have local wine brewed in one of the Tulous to top it all up! Wake up to the soothing sound of the river next day and head over to Cuxi Tulou cluster- I saw accommodation there too though could not find out much- and they looked far more basic than the one in Hongkeng, though, also far more older, if that does the trick for you!
Accommodate more Tulou clusters if you want to- though basically this is more or less all that one needs for an extensive and authoritative Tulou experience.
For those with more time on hand- go on to Fuzhou, not a city high on travel bucket lists but worth enough for a day for the 3 lanes and 7 alleys, founded in 2nd century AD and continuously inhabited ever since, itself! And beyond that lies the beautiful mudflats of Xiapu- a paradise for the photographers and also for anyone looking forward to a way back to idyllic life yet not spoilt by the modernity!
My detailed piece on Xiapu, around 6 hours by high speed train for Shenzhen, worth a standalone visit on itself, can be found here.
Xiapu? What is that? And where exactly- asked most of my local, Chinese friends, taking a little of my guilt of not knowing about this gem just 6 hours away by high speed aka bullet trains from Hong Kong- perfect for a long weekend getaway, okay even for a weekend one! Sample a few pictures to begin with while remembering that I am not a photographer- and think how this place would look in reality as well as to a real photographer! Quick facts about reaching there and other logistical details at the end…
Xiapu has the most beautiful mudflats in China, perhaps one of the most beautiful even in the world! Mudflats are many things. The coastal wetlands also known as tidal flats built by tides depositing mud by tides or rivers are a delight for the photographers with sun rays falling on them making fantastic patterns, sea gypsies (human ones) working on the mudflats, whole village on the sea, kelp growing half a meter a day and so on. They are also a retreat for those getting maddened by the urban chaos, a gateway to the times gone by- and of course a magic of walking on the water during high tides! Well, okay, only the feeling- as it looks like one is walking on the water and not the real thing, but even that is worth dying for, no?
Mudflats are also a celebration of sheer human endeavour- human capacity to farm even the sea! yeah, they farm all kind of seaweed there, as well as fishes and crabs and what not with all the colourful gear one can ever think of! Just sample this- and I was cursing myself to not get a fisherman resting in his boat inside but then… what I managed to get was no less impressive in any case!
And then there is the mother of it all! A blast from the past- a scene right out of a China of perhaps at least a few centuries ago- just that it is all faked. No, don’t let your enthusiasm dampen down even a wee bit, forget it getting killed altogether! They faked it with elan, down to the smoke from the fire by an old lady, but it is worth all the travel (some 30 kms from Xiapu town). It was, in fact, one of the highlights for me there!
And then, while you are there- there are much more to come! Like an ancient village- more than 300 years old that we first passed by, and then returned to, small sleepy towns, devouring vegetables filled steam bun by the roadside shops, and if you get lucky enough as we got- a full throttle religious/cultural parade celebrating something we had no idea of- but which was just breathtaking with all the fireworks, traditional clothes and what not! And of course the whole cities on the sea! With proper wooden houses!
How to reach Xiapu: Xiapu is just 6 hours away from Shenzhen on China’s High Speed Train network. It has a station of its own, well connected to the town.
Where to stay: Though very small, the town has many nice budget hotels. We stayed in Hotel Hanting Express, a nice chain hotel we had stayed in Fuzhou as well and will recommend that. Interestingly, the bathroom in our real big, almost a full apartment size by Hong Kong standards, looked strangely like a spaceship- really quirky. Hotel was spotlessly clean as well. For Backpackers: Xiapu has no Hostels yet, but the hotels themselves cost just about the same- Ours cost us about 30 USD a night, that is it. (Photos at the end.) How to see places: Xiapu has many places to see- most importantly Dong Bi, Xia Qing Shan, Ba Chi Men, Xiao Hao, Beiqi, Nan Wan, Yangjiaxi, Sha Wan, Yantian and so on. But as they are all located at distances some even 30 kms from town centre, and the timings would be odd- some for sunset, some sunrise, some mid day and so on- so best would be to book a Guide. It would be fun though- you watch sunrise, come back to hotel, have breakfast, go out again…
That said, Lin is the most famous, and celebrated on Tripadvisor and other travel websites, of them all! And he is miraculous! His WeChat contact number is: 15359700706. He is a local, a sweetheart who knows the place like the back of his hand! His English is just about okay, but he is a master of Baidu translation- like even if it looked bizzare in the beginning to converse like- we speak to Baidu, it translates, then he reads and he speaks to Baidu, and so on- but we had longish conversations even about his family, India! It made us feel so rooted!
What to do in Xiapu: Nothing much other than soak in the vibes of China that it had been a few decades ago- not too many malls, though a real big Wallmart- lazy, laidback life unlike other cities in China where they keep building something everyday! I loved to roam around in the night…
P.S. 1: Fujian is a Mecca for vegetarians, such a pleasant surprise in China.
2. You can couple Xiapu trip with Fujian Tulous in nearby (just 2 hours by train) Yongding county in Longyan prefecture-level city. Wait for next post on that.
There are cities in the world. And then there is Hong Kong. The only one. Yeah, there’s no city in the world like this one. You don’t believe me? Fine- name one in which you can come out off an all glassy mall selling the top most branded stuff and climb a hill- right away. Yeah. That’s Hong Kong.
Dragon Boat Race
Which other city in the world can you find an all new, just out of the showroom Mercedes waiting for a tram, locally called Ding Ding, pass by. Yeah, that too not as a ‘tourist trap’ but an actually functioning public transport system used by thousands of the locals like me for their daily commute.
Pok Fu Lam Dragon
And while we are at this- which other city have you seen using every possible mode of transport, of course barring bullock carts? We have ferries linking not merely outlying islands to the city but even parts of the city- like Star Ferry linking Hong Kong Island to Kowloon operating since 1873 in various forms and still using one built in 1956! Quirky fact here: The company was founded by an Indian Parsee merchant Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala as the “Kowloon Ferry Company” in 1888- that 126 years before you know who became Prime Minister of where. We have tramways established in 1920s and still operatioal. And Samapans aka local, Chinese boats, and Metro Rail network, and buses, and mini buses and light rail and name it- we have it.
Cheng Chau Bun Festival
We are city which has the sea and the hills, and a jungle of concrete and glass and many real ones, falls 100 an dmore meters high and rivers mere 4 kms long. Of course we draw a lot of tourists because of this. And they come here with eyes dazzled with all the glitter and the organised chaos in its flea markets- Ladies Market in Mong Kok and Temple Street Market in Yau Ma Tei taking the cake.
Tradition can be sexy too!
They look at their travel guides and do the stuff- Must Visit in Hong Kong, 1 day in Hong Kong, 3 days in Hong Kong and all that! They religiously visit the Victoria Harbour- the identity of the city, its establishing shot as they call it in cinema studies, and the Victoria Peak which gives a magnificent view of the city of light (pollution) that gets instantly Instagrammed and Facebooked. Some of them do manage more of a real taste of the town and go to Tai O, the stilted village of our own, to Lamma Island and Cheung Chau where no motorized vehicles are allowed barring small ambulances and other necessary- government owned ones. Yeah, there are places in Hong Kong where no cars are allowed!
They do go to the overrated Disneyland, the real gem of a theme park named Ocean Park with rides turning you upseide down over the sea- scaring the crap out of you and to real big, 250 tons Big Buddha aka Tian Tan Buddha- mostly to find it hazy and misty- damn you Hong Kong weather! But then, most of then don’t really get the real feel of this city!
The feel that lives in its festivals! Hundreds and hundreds years old festivals still being celebrated with the same zeal and same way- sans of course the police, the medics and the tourists! They give you the real feel of the city- continually inhabited by homo sapiens since pre historic time but not much more than a fishing village till even 400 years ago and its transformation into the megapolis it became.
Watching these festivals can in fact stun you into an amazed silence! That high flying banker you always see in sapper business suits doing a lion dance dressed as a lion right to the head gear! That beautiful doctor you go to as much for flirting as for medicine playing the drum like a boss leading the real tall dragon that needs hundred and at times even more people to carry it!
My absolute favourites is the Fire Dragon Dance in Pok Fu Lam village that coincides with the Mid Autumn festival usually in Oct! Best part about this almost absolutely non touristy festival is the super long dragon taken to each and every house in the village to bless them maneuvering the real narrow lanes and by lanes. Added advantage: You could be the only “non Chinese” attending the same and thus given a pride of the place, like I was, with locals wanting to tell you all about it- that it is celebrated to thank the Gods who helped villagers fight a particularly nasty Plague that ravaged it centuries ago. Second best thing about this one is that unlike the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance- which is way too touristy, you don’t have to see it from afar- other side of the barricades. You can actually touch, put incense into the dragon and can even carry it if you are daring enough to face both hot ash and bends in the narrow lanes unknown to you!
Close second on the list is the Cheng Chau Bun Festival, or Cheung Chau Da Jiu Festival- a Taoist Festival marking a Taoist sacrificial ritual held on 8th day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar, usually in May or June. It disbelieved to be celebrated, again, after the Gods responded to the villagers pleas for ending a plague and protecting them from pirates. The wishes are believed to have been granted once the villagers brought an image of the god Pak Tai to the island. Even since, they parade the deities through the village lanes to chase out evil spirits. Funniest part of the more of a carnival than festival comes at the fag end- with the famous Bun Tower climbing competition- where men and women climb atop real high bun tower to snatch the buns symbolising good luck for the new year. Note that this a mere One Village Festival- yeah, it is that unique!
Then there, of course, is the Dragon Boat Festival, a very typical Chinese festival held on the 5th day of the 5th Lunar month (normally in May or June) that has gone truly international with dozens of international teams participating! The festival- believed to be celebrated in memory of he story best known in modern China holds that the festival commemorates the death of the poet and minister Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC) of the ancient state of Chu during the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty. Qu was upset over the king aliging with a rival state of Qin, as he suspected its intentions and was exiled for his opposition. His fears came true however, and Qin captured Ying, the Chu capital. Deeply sad Qu Yuan committed suicide by jumping into the Miluo River. It is believed that local people who greatly respected him raced out their boats to save him but could not. From there comes the Dragon Boat Race! Failing to find even his body, they dropped balls of sticky rice into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu. From there comes zongzill the rice wrapped in bamboo, reeds and many other forms of leaves that is now famous across South East Asia!
Yet, Dragon Boat Festival was a very local festival until 1976 when Hong Kong first organised an ‘international’ dragon boat race with just one foreign team from Nagasaki, Japan, off Shau Kei Wan. Who would have known that the race would grow this big and become such an international event with over 200 national and international teams participating! So next time you plan a visit try looking around for dates which may accommodate joining one such festival at least! As it is if you haven’t seen any of the Hong Kong’s quirky festivals then you haven’t seen HK at all!