Hong Kong: Po Toi Island & Christmas

Winter has finally hit Hong Kong. The locals are dressing as if we’re in the Arctic and there’s a December chill in the air which means only one thing – Christmas is coming! Sadly, before my festivities can begin (in Asia’s very own answer to Lapland, the Philippines no less!) I have to tie up various loose ends at uni. My final couple of weeks in Hong Kong of 2014 have mainly been spent discussing transnational legal processes and Camus’ The Outsider. Despite this, the majority of my work got done last month (hence the sporadic updates) and so I have had a few opportunities to enjoy this wonderful city for the final time this year.

Superpass

Wishing you a Superpass!

A particularly novel tradition which exists here in Hong Kong is ‘Superpass’, a gathering which takes place before the exam period begins in order to wish everyone good luck with their studying. The point is not just to pass but to ‘superpass’! In the UK, we would probably mark such an occasion with a meal or a few drinks together before exams. In Hong Kong, the occasion is celebrated by hacking a large roasted pig with a butcher’s knife.

I’m sure there was method in the madness but I’m not quite sure I fully got it. Anyway, my fellow floormates and I gathered round the large pig and one by one had our names called. The point is to to carve into the pig with a clean cut. If you can cut all the way through, it means you’re going to pass. If not, you’re doomed to fail. I did feel as though some students took this ethos a little too seriously and I can’t imagine it did wonders for some people’s self-esteem when they didn’t manage a clean cut. I think some of the students must moonlight as butchers as they did an impressive job. Either that or they imagined the pig was someone they really didn’t like.

When it was my go, I got a cleanish cut, with a bit of wriggling from the knife. Apparently so long as the knife does not stop making contact with the pig you’re fine. So really I’ve got nothing to worry about when results day comes. You also get a nice little red envelope (above) with HK$1.30 inside, which apparently represents a high GPA (Grade Point Average). I’m not sure how or why but it’s a nice gesture. I’ve heard of rabbit feet, lucky clovers and horseshoes but never a roasted pig and $1.30 as lucky charms. Welcome to Hong Kong.

Po Toi Island

Po Toi Island
Po Toi Island

With work driving me mad, I decided to reward myself with a day off over the weekend. I want to save some of the more typical tourist attractions in Hong Kong until my dear old Ma comes to visit in January, so I opted for another off the beaten track hike by visiting another of Hong Kong’s outlying islands. This time I headed to one of its southern most islands, Po Toi. It’s particularly convenient as the ferry terminal is in Aberdeen (which is only slightly more uplifting than its Scottish namesake) or Stanley. The ferry departures are sporadic and vary between Stanley and Aberdeen, though the full schedule can be found here. It’s HK$40 for a return trip and the ferry takes around 60 minutes from Aberdeen or 30 minutes from Stanley. I took the 10am trip from Aberdeen and returned on the 2pm boat which gave me plenty of time to hike round the main route on the island.

It was a pretty choppy ferry ride, and was probably the coldest I’ve felt since arriving in Hong Kong, which made quite a refreshing change. The ferry was mainly made up of locals which was also quite nice. It gave me a real sense of getting away from the tourist trail. Just less than an hour later, we pulled up at Po Toi Island ferry terminal and I disembarked onto the small island, just as the sun came up. For my hike, I used my usual trusty source to work out my route and headed off. There’s a tiny beach when you exit the ferry on your left, as well as a seafood restaurant which is highly praised, though I didn’t get chance to go in.

The whole island had a rugged, unkempt charm to it. It was like a slightly dishevelled fisherman’s village, and even the hiking trail was called the ‘Rugged Trail’, but it still had a certain charm. It was definitely miles away from the high-flying Hong Kong city.

Lunch?
Lunch?

The trail isn’t a particularly long one, but you get some great views of the island and the water that surrounds it. I saw some of the bluest waters I’d ever seen when looking across the South China Sea (or East Sea, as my Vietnamese friends would be quick to remind me), especially when the sun came out. It didn’t warm up much but it’s much nicer to walk in the sunshine. I dread to think what’s in store for me when I continue hiking back home. The scenery on the island was great too, with the rocks looking as though they’d been directly lifted from a Pixar film. I also managed to inherit a faithful hound along the way for some of the walk and, in true Lassie style, after we were separated for about an hour, the mutt found me again further along in the trail. It is the season of miracles after all.

The whole trail took me about 2 and a half hours, including a stop for lunch and a brief diversion to take a look at Palm Cliff, which again looks like it was made by computer graphics. It’s rugged and a bit dilapidated in places, but there’s an almost fairytale quality to Po Toi. It wouldn’t be out of place as a setting for a Disney film. From its spooky abandoned houses to its imaginative rock formations to the deep blue sea that surrounds it, it’s a nice, quiet destination if you want a hike that’s so far removed from Hong Kong, your mobile phone thinks it’s in China.

Palm Cliff
Palm Cliff

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

I’ve felt quite detached from the festivities this year. That’s not to say Hong Kong isn’t going mad for Christmas. You can’t move for the annoying jingly Christmas music they play in supermarkets or the Starbucks Christmas cups which have been around since about October. With a mix of all sorts of cultures, Hong Kong definitely goes for it at Christmas. But, for me, it’s been less in my face. I’m not watching TV so I’m missing adverts about the DFS sale or Monty the Penguin. I’m not hearing Band Aid or Mariah Carey played on a constant loop on the radio, and getting an advent calendar wasn’t really practical this year.

As such, I wanted to do something festive before I left Hong Kong. I know the Philippines goes all out for the festive season (they’ve been celebrating it since August or something) so there’s no fear that I’ll be in the spirit of things before the big day. But I wanted to mark the occasion here in Hong Kong. The trouble with Hong Kong is that they go for a glitzy Christmas so it’s all about theme parks and shopping centres. They don’t really do Christmas markets or ‘traditional’ Christmas stuff like in Europe. My best bet was to head to the giant Christmas tree in Statue Square in the centre of the city. It was a nice way to kill an hour, getting some nice pictures and listening to the alternative, Indie-themed selection of Christmas hits they had blaring out. It certainly made me feel more festive and excited for the next few weeks.

DSC_0301Next week – the Philippines! See you in 2015, Hong Kong,,,

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