Vacation, Christmas 2008, Ha Fu village (Shaoguan, China)

Pictures are at the hiking page..

Mission: To save RMB 150 each by infiltrating into the paid area of Dan Ha Saan National Park through a top secret, dangerous trail known only to a surviving few.
The final squad carrying out this mission consisted of four elite Trampers only:

Fashionable leader Francis Lee who puts the likes of Giorgio Armani and Vivienne Westwood to shame through his fashion innovations,

Francis modeling in his new flexible flap cap

the clever Carrie Lok who has a knack for solving complex problems using simple tools,

(she is known for discovering another great use for the hiking stick – to rise again easily from using a squat toilet)

debutante Lisa Alvino joining the ranks of the elite for the first time

and yours truly, who needs no introduction.

Typical HK-GZ travel

We followed the usual China mission protocol by assembling at Sheung Shui KCR station at 1830hrs on Christmas Eve and made our way to the great PRC capital (People’s Republic of Cigarettes capital – Smoky Shenzhen). And from there, we took a bus to the Guangzhou railway station reaching GZ at around 2200hrs.

The last train to depart from Guangzhou to Shaoguan was scheduled for 2300hrs. Unwilling to wait one hour, we rushed from one adjacent station to another in search of an earlier train that was to depart at 2230hrs. Of course, as to be expected, there was that occasion where the boarding gate was suddenly changed to another at the very last moment, causing several hundred passengers to suddenly make a beeline for the new gate. Luckily for those of us scurrying along the station’s low ceilings, the railway authorities had several informative signboards installed in strategic locations. They correctly read “MIND YOUR HERD” warning those of us rearing our sheep, goats and other cattle in the station to tread carefully.

Wo Shi Ouigwo ren – wah! (I am a foreigner – yes!)

We reached the platform seconds before the train was scheduled to depart. The only small problem was that we didn’t have any train tickets, BUT, wait, we had me!! A foreigner! Yes, China is probably the only place where foreigners are treated better than locals and it must have been either that or my charming looks that got us in the train, albeit in the corner of a stand-only, smoking compartment where we had to spend the next 1.5hrs traveling to Shaoguan. Well, out came the wine opener and two wine bottles! We were having a Merry Christmas in the unreserved compartment of a China train traveling to Shaoguan in the middle of the night!

Us partying in a smoky unreserved compartment on Christmas eve

The resourceful Carrie wasted no time exploring potential relationships with a Mister Someone; I’ll call him ‘Poser’, yes, Mr. Poser.

Carrie and Mr. Poser

Try, try, try again – till you succeed

We reached a cold, pitch-dark Shaoguan at 1.30hrs on Christmas day and treated ourselves to some excellent Lai Mean (some kind of noodles) at a Muslim restaurant.

Hello Shaoguan at 1.30AM on Christmas day

Excellent noodles available here

At around 2AM, we checked into a hotel and got up at 7AM to enjoy our Christmas present – Yum Cha at a decent restaurant with a good toilet! (the best meal and the best toilet we were forecast to have until the end of the journey). The thought of a clean toilet sent an excited Carrie and Lisa to the bathroom more frequently than ever. Each time they went, they were back a couple of minutes later claiming ‘Mission Accomplished’ but only to return to the loo the next minute, trying to outdo each other’s success in emptying their bowels!

The journey continued with a bus ride from Shaoguan to Yen Fa and another bus ride from Yen Fa to our village called Ha Fu. Mr. Lee, our guide, greeted us there with a great big smile. We then traveled to our host’s house in style – standing powerfully on a tricycle.

Ha Fu, here we come!

Our host, the village head, was also a Mr. Lee. His house was an enormous 3000+ square foot (2-storeys + rooftop + garden + Mahjong room) and appeared to be sparking new. To top it off, he had a dish antenna and two 40” TVs that could get more channels than I knew existed. The neighboring houses in the village were in stark contrast. They were mud houses and looked old, dilapidated and poor. Now, who says China is a communist country??

Wish I had that in Hong Kong

The neighboring houses. Who says China is communist?

Mr. Lee’s villa was surrounded by high hills that were home to some majestic rock formations. We spent this Christmas day settling down and going on a stroll to familiarize ourselves with the neighborhood.

It’s just your imagination

The next day, we were off to explore some majestic rock formations that Dan Ha Saan is famous for. Now, imagination is a beautiful thing. Much like beauty, it primarily lies in the eyes of the beholder. For instance, first we saw the formidable Bar Castle which definitely did look like an old European castle. Then we saw the 1000-faces rock which was supposed to depict the pain and suffering of many people during war times. Then there was the ‘Teapot’ rock. I thought that looked like the Taj Mahal but Mr. Lee insisted it was a teapot as he pointed to one extreme that was supposed to be the stout of the teapot. And then we saw the Camel-kneeling-down rock (?!) At that point, I realized that the Emperor had no clothes on and my brain started imagining every other rock as the ‘$’ rock. Well, you had to stretch your imagination to see the ‘$’ sign. And then, there’s my favorite rock – Frog-bending-down-trying-to-drink-water-from-the-river rock. Yeah, sure, but Mr. Lee insisted there was one!! Of course, when everyone else was able to “see” it, I had no choice but to be able to see it too which is when I let out the usual “Aaaaah-THERE-IT-IS” sigh of relief and misguided belief!

Bar Castle rock

Teapot rock

1000-faces rock

But then again, sometimes there is no need or no room for imagination.

Francis “imagining” at the site of the ‘Female’ rock

The whole day was spent navigating around beautiful trails and exploring different rock formations. Our guide was as enthusiastic about rock formations as he was about his international clientele. He greeted every other villager in town with a ‘I-got-one-Indian-dude-and-a-Filipino-chick-with-me’ message. We were his prized booty. In fact, he even impressed me by singing an Indian song in his version of Hindi (‘ah’ would become ‘lah’ and ‘ra’ would become ‘lah’ and ‘hoon’ would become ‘Fu’). The song in Hindi is called ‘Aa Va Ra Hoon’ and in his ‘Hindi’ it translates to ‘Lah Pa Lah Fu’. Here it is:

Mission Dan Ha Saan

December 27th 2008 was the D-Day. It was time for Operation Dan Ha Saan. On this drizzly Saturday morning, we set off on a lonely trail fraught with thorny trees and unexplored caves to the ‘backdoor’ entrance of Dan Ha Saan.

The dangerous backdoor trail to Dan Ha Saan

Smiling in the face of danger

We were ordered by our Commander Lee to walk quietly. Pin drop silence. Carrie slipped a few times but recovered quickly enough to carry out the mission. After around 2 hours of surreptitious hiking, we were inside the Dan Ha Saan territory and we hadn’t paid a dime. Woohoo! Mission Accomplished! (and that’s the real ‘Mission Accomplished’ NOT the George Bush version!)

The paid area of Dan Ha Saan had an international touch to it. The Government encourages every visitor to take utmost care around the park. You have to eat with care, walk with care and if you happen to slip, you’ve certainly gotta “Slip With Care!” And that’s what the signboards said!

If you want to slip, you’ve gotta slip with care

We explored more rock formations and temples and eventually treated ourselves to an excellent, well deserved dinner at a classy restaurant in Yen Fa.

Great dinner after accomplishing our mission

On the 28th of December, 3 members of the hiking squad – Carrie, Lisa and I returned to Hong Kong while squad leader Francis decided to stay on to pursue further adventures (I have a feeling he wanted to go back to Dan Ha Saan to rekindle his imagination).

Great trip! Thanks to Francis for organizing it and for any mainland Chinese Government official reading this, we did *not* get into Dan Ha Saan illegally. I repeat – we did *not* get into Dan Ha Saan illegally. It was just our imagination.