This weekend I’m off to Nanjing for the Lantern Festival, but first I have to brave Shanghai Railway Station in order to get there. All my trips so far have exited from Shanghai South Railway Station, an architect-designed masterpiece of a modern station, more like a UFO than a transport hub. On the other hand, Shanghai Railway Station, I’d heard, is one place in Shanghai you need to carefully guard your belongings. And your children. And your chickens, if you have them.
On my last day in Hong Kong I had a hankering for Cantonese roast duck, and after a morning rattling around on the tram I got off at a randomly interesting spot, and wouldn’t you know it? A roast duck restaurant appeared soon after. The duck was moist and tender with a crisp skin, and a delicate hint of five-spice. Perfection.
High tea at the Peninsula Hotel is a Hong Kong institution, but after seeing the grumpy faces in the long, long queue we decided to head over the road to the Intercontinental Hotel and see what they had to offer.
What a pleasant surprise it was – no queues, fabulous Hong Kong harbour views from floor-to-ceiling windows, and high tea in an art-deco inspired server with a choice of coffee or Mariage Freres teas. Delights such as rose scented raspberry cheesecake, green tea delice, scones with earl grey jelly and clotted cream, and miniature individual balck forest gateaux had me in high tea heaven. And guess what? You pay a lot more at the Peninsula to stand in a queue for an hour then sit in a dark lobby with no view.
Lamma Island is about 30 minutes in a ferry from Central Pier No 4 on Hong Kong Island, but about a thousand years away in terms of its vibe. There’s nothing frenetic, noisy or crowded about it, and it has great beaches. There are no cars, just lots of fishing boats and waterfront restaurants. And space – a surprising amount of untouched space.
After a bracing walk up and over the middle of the island we walked along the main pier of Sok Kwu Wan village, looking at all the fascinating seafood in the restaurant tanks – fresh garoupa, huge squid, prawns and giant razor clams. We settled in to the Peach Garden Restaurant and ordered a whole steamed snapper, with a ginger, coriander, soy and sesame oil sauce.
I’m in Hong Kong this week. Hong Kong is known as Xiang Gang (香港) in mandarin, literally meaning ‘fragrant harbour’, but it’s the word for fragrant that also means a savoury, appetising smell, or the smell of incense. A really apt name for it, don’t you think? For the next few days I’m planning to absorb all the smells, fragrant or otherwise, and as many of the tastes as possible. I’ll report back.
In Australia, home fireworks are illegal and I’m guessing there are a lot of one-handed amateur fire-work enthusiasts who can explain why. Here in China, however, anything goes. Not that home fireworks are strictly legal, it’s just that everyone ignores the rules and sets them off anyway. But in such a densely populated city, where should you set them off? A level, fire-proof surface with no passers-by would be ideal……..how about the middle of the road? OK, OK so there are a few passers by, on bikes and on scooters, but they can swerve can’t they??
Place your box of fireworks in the middle of the road. Remember not to bother about the frequently crossing powerlines overhead. Light the wick with your cigarette just as a car passes. Retreat to a safe distance of 2 metres.
Watch with excitement, and with your ears covered, as your box takes off! At least twenty fireworks, one after the other, rocket forth – stars, peonies, chyrsanthemums, spirals. and pony tails. All-banging, all-whistling, all-smoking fun! (avoid the temptation to go and poke your box with a live Super Sparkler when one appears to mis-fire).
Can you imagine what it would be like inside a firework? Now magnify the noise, the hiss, the explosion, and the light by about a thousand. That’s Chinese New Year. For hours we were surrounded by a 360 degree cacophony of light, noise, sulphur and smoke, whistles, hummers, crackles, shells and cheers. The sky turned red with smoke, and the Tiger felt well-welcomed. Happy New Year!