Hello out there! It’s been nearly three months since my last post. I’m not going to go into the details of what distracted me. What’s important is I’m back and ready finish writing about this trip I took more than 6 months ago (and the trips I’ve taken since then). Yay?
The next stop on my Hong Kong itinerary was Ngong Ping 360, which is just a fancy name for a bunch of tourist attractions on Lantau Island, a small island off the western coast of Kowloon. However, we couldn’t resist a quick ride on the Disney themed MTR first. Hong Kong Disneyland is also on the island and there’s a special train with Mickey shaped windows and handles, special plush seating, and statuettes of popular characters all throughout the train.There are many ways to get to this island including the aforementioned MTR, ferry (not for those who experience motion sickness!), and cable car. Fun fact à la Ted Mosby: If you look closely towards the right of the photo, you can see a yellowish path running under the cable cars. This path was originally created for the purpose of repairing the cable system. However, as evidenced by the amount of people I saw walking along it, it is also used as a hiking trail. The cable car drops everyone off in Ngong Ping Village, which is a long street full of shops for tourists. Some of them actually had pretty nice things. Great fun for those of us who like looking at random things! I originally chose to go to Lantau Island because I like visiting the Bid Buddha (literally called 大佛 in Chinese). This is the world’s largest Buddha statue.However, I suspect I just like seeing all the cows that wander around here.This is also the site of an active temple. We actually shared a cable car with a nun on her way here. As a frequent traveler here, she had a special pass which let her on the cable car.Here is a Guan Yin statue surrounded by lotus plants(not currently in bloom)and some giant incense. They were taller than me!
We actually got here quite late, since we were staying at the other far end of the city. We also had lunch and stopped for snacks before arriving. Which meant we didn’t have time to see any of the other attractions on the island, not even for a vegetarian meal serves by the Buddhist café next to the temple. Priorities.
After seeing 大佛, we rushed back to make the last cable car back down the mountain-total waste of the 360 Sky-Land-Sea passes (passes for cable car, buses, and ferries) we bought. It’s okay though. We still had fun (cows!) and we even managed to get on one of the crystal cable cars with see through bottom(not actually better than a normal cable car, in my opinion).
We finished our night with a quick browse through CityGate Outlet Mall, locate at the other end of the cable car, and some Kobe beef at the food court. This was a fun, cow-filled day.
Unlike most (all?) American cities, Hong Kong doesn’t have suburbs and is instead mostly surrounded by ocean and hilly forests. These forests are filled with way too many monkeys. In 2009, the Hong Kong government launched a 5-year Monkey Contraception Project, a city-wide project to administer contraceptives to wild monkeys. Every few months, volunteers from the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, and any Hong Kong residents who are interested in participating spend a day in the forest spaying monkeys. When I was visiting in April, I was given the opportunity to tag along on one of these outings. At the start of the project, giant green cages were set up at various sites. They keep the door of the cages open so the monkeys can wander in and out and get used to the cages. Every few days, some volunteers go around putting peanuts on the floor of the cages to attract them inside.Then, on a project day, a program leader will visit each green cage and close the ones that have a good number of monkeys in them. Somehow, there are always more monkeys looking in than monkeys trapped inside. “Ha ha, suckers!”All the volunteers then head over to the site and start set-up. Generally, 3 stations are needed – one for capture, one for examination, and one for surgery. It was rainy that day, so we had tents.To get the monkeys out individually, smaller cages are set-up on one side of the green cage while volunteers push the wall of the other side to make the cage smaller.Once a monkey finds its way into a small cage, the walls of the small cage are collapsed until the monkey cannot move. That way, a volunteer can administer a tranquilizer shot easily. Then we simply waited for the monkey to fall asleep before taking it out.A volunteer then carries the monkey over to the examination area where they check the gender and take measurements. If the monkey is female, they shave her to check if she’s been spayed. They also take note of and treat any wounds. Apparently these monkeys are vicious and will attack simply if looked at the wrong way. One monkey had a finger that was bitten off…The monkeys also like to store peanuts in their cheeks, so a volunteer will often have to massage their faces to get the peanuts out.If a female monkey has not been spayed, it’s on to the surgery station. The vet performs the surgery laparoscopically and pokes small holes in the monkeys stomach area – one for the mini camera and 2 for surgical tools. The monkey’s stomach is puffed up using carbon dioxide and then the vet simply lifts the ovaries and makes a small snip to separate it from the uterus. Then the instruments are removed and the holes are treated with “skin glue.”Finally, the monkey gets a small tattoo to indicate the she’s already been spayed. The monkeys get a different tattoo depending on when/when she was spayed.If a monkey is male or a female who has already been spayed, s/he gets placed inside a temporary holding cage. They are placed like this to help them keep warm.Once all the monkeys in a holding cage are sufficiently awake, they get moved back to the green cage. It was chilly that day, so we waited until all the monkeys stopped shivering to move them.Once they’re in the green cage, it’s like nothing every happened. This is a monkey eating peanuts again after being abducted by us. Once all the monkeys wake up and are back in the green cage, a volunteer opens the big door and they all run away.This next picture is in fact not of a deformed monkey, but a cat who lives at the hiking rest stop where the volunteers all met. It’s tail is naturally curly!Usually, there are more monkeys and the volunteers would travel from site to site working all day. But since it was so cloudy and drizzling, not many monkeys were out and about. The sun came out as we were leaving and on the drive down the hill. I saw tens, maybe even hundreds, of monkeys hanging out like they ruled the place. After the 5-year program is over, the government will continue to monitor the monkey population while waiting for all the baby monkeys to grow up.
After having some dim sum with Alex’s grandma one day, we took a quick trip through Nan Lian Garden (南蓮園池) located in the Diamond Hill district. The garden and surrounding Buddhist temple complex (includes an active nunnery that was founded in 1934) was a project headed by the Hong Kong government and opened to the public in 2006. It’s currently run as a public park/museum/religious center.
This is actually one of the larger Chinese style gardens in the city and includes a gift shop, restaurant, and exhibition hall. While we were there, they had a small exhibit featuring miniature replicas of famous wooden buildings that were built during the Tang dynasty. This one is of the main hall of Nam Chan Monastery built in 782 AD in Shaanxi province. We totally didn’t take this snapshot while the guards weren’t looking. Shhhh.To the side of the garden is a Buddhist temple with halls filled with sculptures and shrines where people can come to pray. We ran out of camera battery at this point, so don’t have any photos of this section.This fun fountain is shaped like a lotus and each side features a different kind of sundial. However, it too overcast when we passed by it, so we couldn’t actually try using it.The garden’s design was based on blueprints of Jiangshouju, a Tang dynasty garden built around 596 AD. This particular garden had a strong water focus with small hills, plants, and rocks arranged to instill a sense of peacefulness and “leisure in the mind.” The garden grounds are currently managed by the Chi Lin Nunnery.
So about an eternity ago (in early April), I ran away from my problems (I had just finished a 10-week period of working nonstop. Stress had wreaked havoc and I needed a vacation bad.) and flew out on a 2 week trip to Hong Kong and the Philippines. After a 14 hour flight direct from Chicago to Hong Kong, I spent maybe 8 waking hours in the city (ate at a Michelin rated restaurant!) before heading back to the airport and boarding a 1:00 am flight bound for Cebu City.
Flash forward 3 hours later – we landed, made our way through the airport, and followed some other tourists to take a taxi from the airport. This sounds straight forward enough. However, Alex had been reading a little bit too much about the dangers of riding a taxi in the Philippines. While in the car on our way to the city center, he proceeds to whip out his phone and fake a phone call to a “friend” in the city telling him/her that we will meet in half an hour. To further prevent the taxi driver from bringing us to the middle of nowhere and murdering us, he tells the driver to drop us off at a landmark building across the street from the B&B.
Next thing you know, we ended us being dropped off a couple blocks away from the landmark even further from the B&B. There we are in a foreign country standing in the middle of the street with suitcases at 5 am at the height of summer in Cebu while random people in motorcycles kept whizzing by. However, thanks to Google Maps and my super awesome map reading skills, we slowly made our way closer to our destination.
But alas! We wandered up and down the street for another hour looking for building number 94, but it was not where it was supposed to be. We started walking around asking random people we found until finally, a nice security guard at a 24 hour convenience store got into a taxi with us to help us look. A minute later, just 2 block further up than where we had walked stood the B&B. We immediately, paid the taxi driver, checked in, took our showers, and fell asleep.