Hiking: Shui Hao, March 21-23 2008

All the pictures are here. They are a must see.

It starts
On 28th March 2008 at 1900hrs, 8 prominent players -Chris, Ben, Vince, Suzanne, Claire, Winnie, Carrie and Andy- gathered on the tail end of the Sheung Shui KCR platform to embark on a China hiking mission. Team leader Francis showed up 30 minutes late at 1930hrs with a high-capacity, voluminous styrofoam cooling box specified to carry at least 20 bottles of beer and plenty of attitude.

Before reading further, I suggest you soak up some of our attitude by admiring this photograph (hint: the message is in our fingers)

The journey
We crossed the border over to the cigarette capital of China (sleazy and smoky Shenzhen) at 2000hrs and rendezvoused with the captain of our chartered car to Qingyuan. The rest of the day was spent in traveling to Qingyuan and resting for the night at a 58-bucker hotel.

On 29th March 2008 at 0910hrs, we boarded a deluxe bus to Yeung Shaan in Northern Guangdong. Resourceful as ever, Francis was drying his wet towel on a makeshift clothe hanger on the bus.

Knowledge unlimited
The more rustic feel to the journey began when we boarded a rickety bus from Yeung Shaan to Shui Hao with rock hard seats. Greenery and acres of fields started filling the views on all windows. Francis engaged himself in a local geography debate with a so-called ‘local’ on the bus and stripped her of any credibility over her knowledge of the terrain and neighboring mountains. Francis was more local there than any other person on the bus!

The place
We reached Shui Hao in the afternoon and took a boat across to Tai Tong Tsuen to meet our host, Mr. Fung. The muddy river was flanked by ancestral houses on one side and fields on the other. Tall, majestic, zigzag-shaped mountain ranges surrounded the village giving it an awe-striking look. The overcast weather left the peaks swathed with smooth strands of mist.

Mr. Fung greeted us with open arms and he was soon joined by his older-looking wife. Francis appeared a little nervous since he had mistakenly addressed her as his mother instead of spouse the last time we visited! She looked even older this time but there was no need for reconciliation or apologies since she didn’t seem to recall the insult. Time (or amnesia) must have erased unpleasant memories!

The poets
Gathering at the rooftop, all 9 players were full of spunk and many of us wanted to sleep on the rooftops to appreciate nature in its true form. Carrie, Claire, Francis, Ken, Ben and I voted ‘rooftop’. Each of us also played weatherman and predicted clear and sunny weather for the following days. Carrie was so touched by the views and the rustic feel that it brought out the poet hiding in her.

[I’ll sleep on the rooftop] “With chickens as my neighbors and sky as my blanket!” she exclaimed.

We embarked on a beautiful self-guided hike on Friday walking through several flower orchids and bamboo forests. Francis emphatically explained how we could look for a white coating on the tree to ascertain the quality of the surrounding air. “I bullshit all the time, but this time I am serious”, he said to establish his bulletproof credibility.

The views were captivating. Francis was so overwhelmed by the beauty that he stopped at each magnificent view and exclaimed – “If I die, bury me here”.
“No, bury me there”.
“Bury me here”.
I put his fears to rest and assured him that we would slice him into many different pieces and disperse his remains in places as we saw fit.
“But, take my heart back to Hong Kong”, he said sentimentally, letting all our emotions pour!

We got back in the evening to do some shopping –and shopping on these trips means buying beer & peanuts-. The styrofoam box was carefully placed inside the Tai Tong Tsuen version of the Welcome supermarket trolley and off we went. Claire, Ben and I had the honors of navigating the ‘trolley’ to the other side of the village. A local girl was kind enough to assist in maneuvering by shining her torch (or ‘flash light’ according to Suzanne) on the road ahead.

To Sleep Or Not To Sleep?
After dinner on Friday, I headed straight for the rooftop to eagerly join our rooftop party. The admission fee was, of course, a beer. 1 hour passed. Francis joined me. 1 hour passed. Ben joined us. Time struck 12 and there was no one else! All the spunk from the morning had vanished! The remaining players were too tired and went to sleep leaving only 2 of us, Ben and yours truly, to sleep on the rooftop! Brave and undeterred, Ben and I got out our sleeping mats and made our makeshift beds underneath the overcast sky. Another hour passed. I think I almost fell asleep. I was picturing a lush garden being watered by a gardener with a water hose. The fresh smell of the first drops of water falling on land and the sprinkles from the water hose were falling on me.

Something didn’t seem right. My eyes opened. It was raining! I woke Ben up and we headed indoors finding ourselves whatever space we could to escape the rain.

It’s Friday
The next day morning we woke up to find the ‘weatherman’ inside each one of us shamed. It was raining. Moods soured. Francis was about to call off our long walk planned for the day but we took a vote. I voted ‘aye’ for continuing with the walk. Claire did too. 1 more hand went up. Soon, majority won and we unanimously predicted that the overcast/rainy weather would last a couple of days so it wouldn’t make sense to postpone anyway. However, it was time to equip ourselves with raingear. This awakened the fashion giants inside each one of us.

Suzanne’s Secret – The Sexy Attire
The rain brought us geniuses to a grocery store which also sold 23-bucker Jianglu raincoats. I went for a blue raincoat. So did everyone else except Francis, who was sporting an imported 7-11 poncho. On that topic, Francis was explaining to us how he recently discovered another use for the poncho. I have heard about a barf bag but never before had I imagined a ‘turd’ bag! Francis explained that he would take the poncho with him to the top of a mountain, do his business and have the evidence neatly wrapped up in a plastic bag for easy disposal. I am sure there’s an environmentally friendly way involved as well but I will refrain from going into details. I am sure great inventors like Thomas Edison would have looked at Francis Lee with great envy had they been alive!

Anyway, going back to the subject of raincoats, Suzanne wanted to be different and cooler than the rest of us. She went for a red astronaut suit. No kidding, she really did.

Initially, Chris and I decided to ostracize her for trying to be different. We disallowed her from getting into the tricycle we were going to take next to the start of the hike. But, we eventually forgave her and let her on board when she finally confessed – “I look like an Easter bunny”, she said. At least the next day was Easter Sunday.

Super Mr. Fung
Mr. Fung had a ‘super’ attire himself. I’d like to call it the up-up-and-away attire. The gifted Superman wears a red cape and red boots. Super Mr. Fung wore a shower curtain for a cape and blue boots. Superman wears his underwear on top of his pants. Super Mr. Fung might be from the village, but he still knows how to wear his underwear properly. Super Mr. Fung also sported a sexy fisherman style hat and raced up and down the mountains effortlessly. Suzanne couldn’t help but falling for him. And fall she did, albeit literally, and many times at that because of the slippery terrain. The rest of us weren’t spared either. We all slipped, fell and woke up to find our raincoats turn brown from the wet mud.

The Hike
Beautiful! Undulating mountain ranges, lush green fields, gorgeous terraces, pure air, natural trails and friendly villagers welcomed us. Pictures speak a thousand words, so check this out.

The Fight
The long walk made us all hungry and the goats on the trail triggered Francis’ several thoughts. First he was talking about lamb roast and how tasty it was. But, suddenly during a group picture, unable to control his emotions, he blurted out to Claire – “You are my lamb!” I am not sure if that meant he wanted to eat her or if he fancied her or both!

After that, the group broke into a Chinese style Kung Fu fight. I was armed with my umbrella and the rest of the troupe was using their hiking sticks as lethal weapons.

Saturday, 2008-03-23, what’s with the weather?
Much to our surprise, we woke up to a sunny day and again, we were completely wrong about the weather! We embarked on another exotic Francis-led hike on foreign soil. We started by boarding a bus to Yueng Shaan and taking another bus to the start of our biking trail. Yes, ‘biking’ trail. We hired motorcycles from there to the start of our hiking trail. The motorcycle ride was picturesque. We whizzed past beautiful lush fields on our chauffer-driven Yamahas.

Francis used his navigational skills to guide us towards Shui Hao crossing a village called Seui Chum Tsuen on the way. Our guiding star was a “V” shaped mountain range that we had to walk towards. Surprisingly, in spite of using only primitive navigational methods, we had no problems reaching Shui Hao. In fact, we even found a minivan driver who offered to drive us back to Yeung Shaan for free!

Could Chris have been abducted?
5 of us -Chris, Suzanne, Claire, Ben and I- were to leave for Hong Kong on Saturday evening. Francis flagged down a bus for Qing Yuen and helped us get on board. Luckily, during the journey, we transferred to another bus bound for Guangzhou. Chris mentioned how he had thoughts about spending one night at GZ to check the place out.

At about 2100hrs on Saturday night, we reached the great city of Guangzhou. I immediately got us on 2 taxis and we headed straight for the Fo Che Dung Chaam (GZ East Station). After dinner at KFC, we bought tickets on the 2256hrs train to Shenzhen and made our way to the platform.

I boarded the train. Claire followed. Suzanne was next. Ben came in as well. Then Suzanne and I sang in chorus, “where’s Chris?” The train doors shut tight. The 4 of us wore a worried look on our faces. Suzanne and I decided to run the length of the train to look for him. No luck. We played scenarios in our heads. Short of an alien abduction and falling through the toilet onto the tracks, we exhausted all other scenarios on Chris’ whereabouts.

My phone rang. Much to our relief, it was Chris. “I got separated and now I am at a room in Xiangnan hotel next to GZ station”, he said. He explained that he stepped out of the train to ask a security guard on the platform about seating arrangements and the doors shut on him. He then decided to get himself a room in a hotel instead of making the trip on the next train. Well, his wish for spending a night in GZ had come true!

All the worry about Chris suddenly turned to amusement! Suzanne was imagining a cartoon character running to the doors only to see it shut. Ben joked that at least we had the chips that he left behind!

And the time is…
We looked at our watches. It was 11.56PM (4 minutes before the Lo Wu border to HK was to close). Thus, began our cross border marathon.

Unfortunately, other than building our physique, the running didn’t quite help! The China border was closed when we reached there at 12:04AM. We then had to go to the border at Huang Gang which is open 24hrs. We reached Hong Kong at about 1.30AM.

This was a fantastic trip. Just one thing left to say – Mr. Fung is under the impression that this gesture means “Very Good”.

So, the next time one of you visits Mr. Fung and he gives you the middle finger, please say ‘thank you very much’.

Thanks to Francis for organizing this memorable trip.

Hiking in China (Tai Tong Tsuen)

Pictures here.

It’s always amazed me how man cannot live (literally) without the effort of farmers and yet most of the hard working, productive farmers are on the bottom rung of the ladder of financial well being. Wouldn’t your product be worth tones of money if it’s required for the survival of human race?!

Well, I know the answer to this now – farmers (the most of them) are good people with relatively fewer wants and needs. They are happy with what they have and that is a gift on its own. (Or maybe they are yet to be trapped by materialistic wants which city dwellers including myself see no dearth of)

Anyway, Francis and I made a trip to Tai Tong village which is South of Yeung Shaan and Shui Hao. Our travel path was HK->SZ->GZ->Qing Yuan->Yeung Shaan->Chung Gwo->Tai Tong Tsuen. The whole journey took around 8 hours since we left on a public holiday (Ching Ming festival).

The village was beautiful and so were the inhabitants. By the way, here’s an English speaking friend I made during the trip. She reminds me of a talking parrot.
(3.5MB video)

Video – Miss Chan

Day one hike:
We hiked from Tai Tong Tsuen to Shui Hao. That’s where we went on our earlier village seeing trip! Sharp peak from Shui Hao brought back memories.

We passed many villages along the way and it always fascinated me how villagers would open the door and say yum cha, sin (come in to drink tea) without even knowing who we were!! Easily trusting, non money-minded, not greedy, not materialistic and happy? (Is that even possible?!) Well, I guess they haven’t had the opportunity (?!) of seeing life in the city or wallowing in the many luxuries that deep pockets are known to bring in abundance.

Day two hike:
We hiked near Batwan which is North of Chung Gwo (16Kms). Farms atop mountains were pristine and pure. Buffaloes and cows added a rustic feel to the atmosphere. Water from a source on top of a mountain gushed through pipes and generated electricity for the villagers. The sight was picture perfect.

Day three hike:
Day three was spent cave exploring near Mr. Chan’s house (our guide – his house is where we stayed). Stalactites and stalagmites occupied the caves. Evidently, people had been cutting many of these formations for selling in the city. They are apparently used in sculpting as they are soft and chisel-friendly.

That evening we returned to HK where we had one heck of a huge queue to join! It seemed as thought everybody in China was returning to HK!

Fabulous trip!

My room

There were four generations under one roof. Great Mr. Chan, Grandpa Mr. Chan, Son Mr. Chan and new Miss Chan

Village one


Cozy for now BUT will be dinner soon!


Is everybody returning to HK today???

Shuihao Trip

To Shuihao:

Pictures from this trip are a must see and are here.

Day 1: 27th October 2006

It starts:
On the 28th of October 2006, I joined Francis on a trip to Yangshan in the Northern province of Guangdong. Vivian and Karen had also decided to join in the last minute. Requiring to be present at the Sheung Shui KCR station by 7PM, I had to literally run from my office in Central to try to make it on time! We had a bus to catch from Shenzhen to Qingyuan at 7.50PM! After having made Francis wait over 15 minutes for me at the Sheung Shui KCR station, we continued to Lo Wu and I found myself in the dreaded foreigners’ queue in Lo Wu border at 7.30PM. At that time, both of us were fairly certain that the chances of our making it on the 7.50PM bus to Qingyuan were fairly low! Keeping all that in mind, I still decided to run my way across the border. I was at the last of what seemed like an endless queue! Friday nights are always big nights for Hong Kong gwailos to cross into Shenzhen! I saw two of the ‘Mainland Chinese’ queues empty and I gestured to a standing policeman that the foreigners could actually queue up there since the foreigners’ queue was incredibly long. Call it a stroke of luck, but I succeeded! I soon found myself as the first person in the queue and I crossed the border into Shenzhen by 7.40PM, even two minutes before Francis showed up! We made a dash for the bus stop and managed to get on the 7.50PM bus to Qingyuan!

Qingyuan dinner and hotel:
Qingyuan is around 2 hours north of Guangzhou in the Guangdong province. We reached there at 11PM. After getting off the bus, we found a yum cha place still opened and so, we decided to grab dinner. I learned during this time that Karen had already made reservations at a nearby 4-star hotel at RMB 268 for a twin-shared room. The very idea of paying 268 bucks for 7 hours made Francis laugh! So, Francis and I decided to explore neighboring hotels leaving Karen and Vivian to enjoy a “comfortable” room at RMB 134 each.


Karen and Vivian’s hotel: (RMB 136 each for 7 hours – night -)

Francis spotted what looked like a fleet of stairs leading to some attic. I was actually surprised to know that the stairs actually lead to the reception of a mediocre hotel! The charge for one night was indicated on a board at RMB 88 per night. Francis thought that a neighboring hotel that charged RMB 100 was better “value for money”! But, just as we began to walk off, the guy at the reception brought down the price to RMB 60 a night, well, that was a bargain! At 30 bucks each, that was indeed a great deal!

Our hotel: (RMB 30 each, no air-conditioning)

Day 2: 28th October 2006

After grabbing breakfast at a restaurant in Qingyuan, we headed towards the bus stop to catch a bus to Yangshan which is situated further north of Qingyuan. From Yangshan, we took yet another noisy bus to Shuihao. The scenery that rolled out from the windows was fascinating! We saw layers of mountains with serrated tops gracefully declining to form curve shaped valleys under an azure sky. Glitters shone from a river on the right – it was a fantastic experience.

On the 29th of October at around 1PM we reached Shuihao. Our baggage and Hong Kong clothes clearly made us look conspicuously different from the locals thus inviting plenty of sharp stares!

Francis and the tailor:
Like a Shuihao local, the first thing Francis did in Shuihao was to find a local tailor to get a custom bag stitched! It amazed the three of us that Francis could just belong to a place where he had just landed. But, knowing that Francis is one of those guys who travels around the world to unimaginable places and stays atop mountains in the freezing cold and goes without food or water for days, well, I guess this was a piece of cake!

Choosing villages:
Crossing an old and dilapidated bridge from the bus stop in Shuihao to the villages on the other side is indeed a scenic experience. Villages lie on one side of the bridge and a shanty town lies on the other. We saw two villages around 5 kilometers from each other. We had to make a choice of place to stay.
Choosing between Shangri-La (Dai Tong Tsuen) and Peninsular (another village) can always be hard. I thought Shangri-La which was situated deeper inside, had a better garden and so did Vivian and Karen. Francis also preferred Shangri-La and thus the decision was made in less than 10 seconds! After going through a shanty town, carefully ignoring each barking dog, we eventually reached a river we had to cross. A boatman with an antique boat gave us a stare from the other end of the river. We were waiting for him to start the engines when we realized that it was a “manually” operated boat! The boatman had a huge row with a pointy spear at the other end. He had to dig his row into the river bed and walk along the length of the boat to propel it forward! This was his job 365 days a year. The pay – RMB 10 from locals for the whole year and RMB 1 from all else for a roundtrip! Who wants his job?



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