Ferry Day 6 – You may have gathered by now that ‘Chau’ means island, and today took me over to one of the smallest islands so far, Peng Chau, which is just off the coast of Discovery Bay, Lantau Island, where I was on Ferry Day 2. The island is like a miniature dumbbell version of Cheung Chau, with just a few Family Walk trails to investigate. So here we go.
- Today’s distance (bike+ferry): 14.5 miles
- Time in saddle (pushing bike):2h 11
- Time on ferries: 2h
- Max temp (in sun): 47°
- Climb (feet): 955
- Calories used: 890
- Beaches: 2
- Beach/cafe time: 2h
This morning took a little longer than usual to get going because once I’d got all of my gear together and my bike unfolded, I discovered that a little repair work was needed, and here’s why: a feature of modern life everywhere is the pedestrian absorbed in their smartphone, but Hong Kong takes things to a new level, in my experience. Because I’m often wheeling my bike along on pavements here, people locked on to their screens fail to see what’s about to happen to them until the very last moment. Sadly, it’s not always soon enough. Last night as I cycled up to a traffic light on a quiet street behind Nathan Rd, a young woman walked right out in front of me from between vehicles waiting at the lights, her head bowed over her screen. I shouted as loud as I could, grabbing my brakes hard, but she did not respond in the slightest. She was actually still tapping the screen as I hit her, sending her phone flying and giving her the shock of her life. She wasn’t hurt, thank goodness, but grabbed her phone and scuttled across the road, still twenty feet from the pedestrian crossing, and narrowly missed another bike coming up behind me.
The repair work this morning was to my mudguard, which got twisted when I hit the pedestrian. For this fiddly task I was joined by an elderly street cleaner who was very keen to see what I was doing. We crouched together, side by side, both muttering about what needed doing, me in English and him in, I suppose, Cantonese, and he hummed in approval as I decided to flip the bike over and get my travel spanner out. We removed the wheel together, since his hands were now following mine to every task, including my carefully laid out washers, clips and bikenuts, which got a bit frustrating as he kept finessing the order in which I’d laid them out. He then pointed to all the possible places the wheel was rubbing, and we fine tuned it together. He hadn’t smiled once, but I got used to his company over this familiar chore. Finally his face did crack, when after thanking him I took out my flannel and wiped the sweat from my brow. He loved this, probably because he related to the problem. I’ve seen people working in gardens and on the streets with long cloths round their necks, ready to mop their faces as needed. The bike was running fine again, but I spent the day on high alert for any more sleepwalkers, which is really what they are.
We’re up to Pier No.6 today (aren’t the piers flying by?), which is the main route to Peng Chau.I had to travel on the ‘Ordinary’ ferry again, which meant waiting until 11,30, so I got a second breakfast (a peanut butter waffle which I may never entirely remove from the roof of my mouth) and took my place amongst the freight. There was a tremendous amount of cargo to get aboard, and I found I had to compete for space and safe passage aboard with the trolley-wielding locals who all wanted to grab their favourite spot on the deck. In the end I left them to it and parked my bike quietly behind a seat. The main downstairs seating area had aircon, for freight-haulers as well, so everyone bundled in there to take a breather. They haul enormous loads on and off the ferries, all by hand, then once aboard they sit in silence, wiping their brows or falling fast asleep, as we head out to sea.
I loved the feel of Peng Chau from the first moment I arrived. Three fishermen, whom I went on to bump into four more times during my brief visit, waved and apologised (whilst laughing) for nearly hooking me onto their cast. The island is car-free as on Cheung Chau, with only bikes and ‘Village Vehicles’ permitted. I followed the coast, and with a few minutes I was leaving Peng Chau by road bridge for another, even smaller island: Tai Lei.
I circumnavigated Tai Lei as far as you could, which took all of four minutes, stopping to admire the gathering of bright white egrets on an impressive tall rock in the sea, and also keeping an eye out for another creature. When I cycled beside the St Lawrence River in Canada during August two years ago, I kept hoping to sea a whale’s fluke, knowing that they often travelled that far inland. I never did manage to see one. Here I’m doing the same – with about the same expectation of success – but this time it’s the Chinese White Dolphin I’m longing to see. They’re known to inhabit the Pearl River Delta, which is the name for this entire region of Hong Kong and Outlying Islands, but it’s only here that they’re called this. Apparently they’re called humpbacked dolphins elsewhere. I can’t believe they’d be much in evidence in the busy shipping lanes, but perhaps here, tucked away in this peaceful stretch of water? No luck today, but I live in hope.
Just to keep me from feeling too discouraged about the white dolphins, a beautiful kingfisher decided to take this moment to make a dart along a shady stretch of river to my left, flashing its azure back and wings before disappearing. I kept to the path that ran a circuit of the north coast, and came upon a tempting beach, empty as were all the others, with an alligator-impersonating log. Not deterred, I was in the water as fast as possible, and yes, those are my footprints.I followed the track until it ended in the sea, then doubled back to a path I’d seen, passing my fisher-friends who were setting up on Aligator Beach. It led to another Lookout Pavillion, which are becoming such a familiar sight on these islands, and always a welcome bit of shade. The view was mostly into the bushes, so I’m guessing they’ve been allowed to grow back a bit since the place was built. I abandoned one last excursion before lunch, when I rounded a corner to find this:
I’ve followed a couple of these already – once coming out at just a weather station which meant I had to go all the way back down again – and I thought to myself, “Not today”. Perhaps I’m getting soft.
Lunch was a great experience. The highlight of this island, in my opinion, despite all of the lovely beaches and great views, is the backstreets of the small central village around the pier. It’s incredibly closely packed, with countless shops cheek-by-jowl, a friendly face (almost) wherever I poked my nose in, temples with food offerings at every turn, a square where they were preparing for a festival (of which more later), and I even managed to find a great lunch, in a booth. What more could you ask? Here’s a sample:
My lunch venue – airconditioned and nothing but boothsThere was a funny coincidence at lunch. I’d left my bike outside the only spot where I could keep an eye on it from my booth, then pointed at my neighbours dish rather than stare at a menu in Chinese (it was beef with bean sprouts, Pak Choi and noodles, and hands-down the tastiest thing I’ve eaten since we arrived). I was copying him in everything – he ordered iced lemon tea, I pointed and got the same; he pulled open a hidden drawer in the table for chopsticks, I pulled open a drawer (you can see the kid in the foreground doing the same). Then he and his buddy got up and left, walked over to my bike and started fiddling with the flagpole, chatting animatedly about it with each other. It was then that I realised that I’d stopped outside a Bike Repair Shop and they were the owners. They were obviously wondering what bozo had dumped their bike and left, but I didn’t want to rush my noodles, so I left them to their confusion for a while, paid, managed to be actually understood saying ho sik (delicious) for the first time , which made me love the place even more, then crossed to the Bike shop. They blanked me, is the honest way of putting it. Maybe my good mood pissed them off, maybe my parking, who knows, but we understood not one thing about each other, and then I left.
There’s a religious festival tomorrow, one that I had earmarked for investigation before we left England, called the Hungry Ghost Festival. The main square was done out in wonderful decorations and a group of musicians were practising in the square. I spoke to them with lots of sign language to tell ask them when their festival was, and I think it’s tomorrow, so I’m half thinking of breaking my own rules and making a return visit to see what goes on. The old chaps of the village just sat in the shade, Italian-style, watching others work and pointing or laughing from time to time.Biggest joss sticks so far. Made in Camberwell?Even though I was so enjoying being here, I had to choose an earlier ferry home or miss supper with Susie, so ended up greeting my friends on the Star Ferry a bit earlier than usual. I stopped off at Bauhinia Square to look at the famous statue. Yesterday people were posing in front of it but the base was wrapped in plastic after being spray-painted. This morning they were cleaning it as I cycled past and by tonight, on my way home, it was back to its gleaming best once more:
As usual in this crazy town, an unexpected event unfolded when you least expect it. It happened just after I took this photo. There was a very bored professional photographer who works at the monument taking pictures for people, whom I’ve seen several times there before. He came up to me and asked if he could have a go on my bike. I asked why, to which he said “You’ll see how I can ride it”. He offered me the three Canon cameras round his neck as security (which I took) so I stupidly agreed. He hopped on and took a very fast but wobbly turn around the square, his arm raised in the air as if he was on a bucking bronco. His friends at the other stalls were all laughing as he came swooping back towards me – I put out my hand to take the bike but he swerved once more and tried to do a fancy dismount as he braked hard, showing off for his friends now. Unfortunately he hadn’t accounted for my flagpole, which caught his leg as he swung off, snapped, and threw him in a heap on the ground. The bike, I’m glad to say, was totally unaffected as it rested against a metal barrier. I don’t know or care if he was uninjured. As you can imagine, I was pretty annoyed, and took the opportunity to introduce him to a couple of phrases of North London vernacular, spoken with feeling. I’ve been through a lot with that flagpole and have become very protective of it. He shouted “Sorry – sorry!”, but then just trotted off sheepishly back to his stall, forgetting in the heat of the moment that I still had his cameras. Two other stall holders came over looking concerned and wanting to help, and for the second time today I found myself squatting down next to my bike making repairs with helpful strangers. We all fiddled a bit with the piece of plastic that had snapped and I managed to improvise a slightly shorter flagpole, which pleased them both as well as me. I offered them the cameras, which they accepted, and I left quickly so that he’d have to sort out who were the new owners. Never a dull moment around here.
I think we’ll call that the ‘funny bit’ today, what do you think? See you soon for Ferry Day 7.