Friday, February 25, 2011

Trees and More Trees!

There is a lot of really lovely vegetation here. I think this one is a bougainvillea tree.  They bloom year around.  It's actually much greener that l thought it would be, and they do make an effort to add parks and  green patches of trees and shrubs stuck in little spaces along the streets.  There is very little grass for kids to play on.  Each apartment has it own set of playground equipment and usually an indoor play area as well, but not grass.  For that you need to go to a soccer field, but l don't think its there for kids to run on. Depending on where you are, there are kids riding bikes around but not in our area.  In parts of the New Territories where you are right at the mountain edges the hill sides are just like a jungle and there are monkeys, wild pigs and crawly things!!  Some of the snakes are extremely poisonous.

These trees were in the Chin Lin Nunnery park and were just starting to bud out.  I'm sorry l don't know the names of much of the vegetation.  Most of the pictures l took because I liked the shapes!!

This is a bonsai tea plant.

These next three are banyan trees.  They have such a neat shaped root and bark system.  Really gnarly and twisted and can grow to be massive in size.

I love the look of all the roots, but if you had an actual lawn it would be nasty to keep mowed!   From a distance the green ground looks like lawn but as you can see its some kind of ground cover.

I don't think these are bougainvillea's but something else.  The flowers are too big to be bougainvillea.
This is a banyan tree again but l liked all the dried stuff hanging from it.  Don't know why it's like this, but it looks cool.

This one is interesting because of the woven trunk it has.  The leaves on the top are like the ones to the right and fan out.

These next three are of a banana grove taken at the Kowloon Walled City Park.

Close up of the bananas.

I love the look of all the tropical trees and bushes.  There are lots of varieties of palm trees.  Some are huge and some fairly small with different looking bark on the trunks.

Jocelyn thought this was a monkey tree so l'm taking her word on it!  It is rather crazy looking with its bare red branches sticking out.  It looks like they could start twirling around and take off!!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mountain Biking

During the Chinese New Years holidays we went to stay overnight at Ryan and Jill's for a visit and also Blaine wanted to try mountain biking with Ryan.  I stayed safely at home with the kids and played crash the cars with Keegan, and read books with Hunter.  One afternoon Blaine and I took Hunter to the Yogi Bear movie.  We had never been to a 3D movie so it was new for us.  The theater was fairly small with  big comfy chairs and we had fun eating caramel popcorn and watching Blaine's boyhood cartoon character!!  Hunter sat on his booster seat and didn't move through the whole thing except to munch on his popcorn!  Never seen him be so quiet or still!
They rode north of Tuen Mun up into the mountains and saw some pretty country.
Taking a breather!!  Climbing all the stairs at school paid off for him  on this trip!!!
The paths are not always so smooth, but l think that's the thing they look for when  mountain biking.  It wouldn't be a challenge if it was nice and even!

This one looks easier and smoother, and at least it looks to be going down hill!  I think  trail riding is getting more popular here and there are more paths becoming available as it is no longer banned in the country parks.  To ride in the parks you must apply for a permit.

Bridge crossing over a dam. There is the odd person who rides a bike  in the traffic but mostly its suicidal to try.  The other day I was on a bus and there was an old guy trying to get across some traffic and the buses were honking and annoyed because they had to slow down and they were sitting right on his back tire.  In some places there are bike rentals and  set paths to use, but you can't just ride anywhere you want to.

Typical hillside here.  Lots of vegetation and who knows what all lives in there!  Thankfully they didn't see any snakes!

Ryan heading up the stairs.  Blaine said he learned to carry his bike as there are lots of stairs in the hills.  It takes some skill to be able to ride the stairs, as some of them do.  Ryan had a pin put  in his shoulder because of his stair riding, a couple of years ago.

At one point they heard firecrackers going off and it was incredibly loud.  A few min. later the police and ambulance came by.  I guess these people didn't get the memo about it being illegal to shoot off firecrackers in Hong Kong!!  Blaine survived his first attempt at mountain biking and was still walking the next day, so it was all good!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bridges and Tunnels

This is the Tsing Ma Bridge which spans the Ma Wan Channel, and  is the worlds longest span suspension bridge which carries both rail and vehicles.  It is 2.2 kilometers long and connects Hong Kong with the International Airport on Lantau Island . The bridge consists of a six-lane open roadway with two railway lines and a two-lane road enclosed beneath.  If a particularly severe typhoon strikes, and the bridge has to be closed to road traffic, the trains and some road traffic can still get back and forth to the airport  with passengers. 

Tsing Ma Bridge at night.  At night all the bridges are lite up and are very pretty.
This is the Ting Kau Bridge.  It is a 1,177 m cable-stayed bridge crossing the Rambler Channel and adjacent to the Tsing Ma bridge. It is the worlds first 4 span cable-stayed bridge.  I like it because the cables look like ships sails, and looks rather delicate from a distance.

Stonecutters Bridge is the latest bridge to be opened and crosses over one of the container terminals.  I think the name is rather neat.  It is named after Stonecutters Island.

Rambler Channel
Stonecutters Bridge.  There are many more bridges beyond these few, connecting islands to the mainland, and islands to islands. There is a plan to have a series of bridges and tunnels that will connect the west side of Hong Kong to Macau and the mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai, which are situated on the west side of the Pearl River Delta.  I'm not sure if this has begun or not.

Besides the mind boggling bridges, Hong Kong has at least 15 tunnels.  Some go under the ocean and some through the mountains. There are 3 tunnels that go under the ocean in Victoria Harbour, and they are considering putting in a fourth.  These go from the Kowloon side to Hong Kong Island.  They are all toll tunnels, with the price being $30. (the western one is more expensive and people won't use it as much because of that)  There is always a lot of congestion coming and going to these, (because there are 6 lanes funneling into 2 lanes through the tunnel) but it beats lining up for a ferry like you used to do at one time.  I can't imagine what it was like to have to take the old Star Ferry's back and forth.  They are fun to go on once in awhile but if that was the only way across it would get old fast.

File:HK Cross Harbour Tunnel.jpg

All of the other tunnels are through the mountains.  We have the old Kai Tac Tunnel just below us here.  When you see how the city is built along the ocean, up and down the mountains, on little islands all over the place, the mainland and on the big island, it is an amazing feat of engineering and perseverance.  If you can't get across build a bridge or go underneath, or tunnel right through and if there isn't enough land to build houses go up into the sky.  It's an incredible place.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Year of the Rabbit

Chinese New Years is the biggest and most important holiday of the year. In some ways it is much the same as ours.  This is the time to get together with family and bring in the New Year.  It lasts 15 days but of course some only get a few days off, and there are all kinds of celebrations going on for the two weeks.  It is still called the Spring Festival on the mainland.  The end of the month is called the "Bitter Moon"  because it is the coldest part of the year in Hong Kong.  It is a very busy time of year as family members clean house, (to get rid of the bad spirits from last year) get haircuts, buy new clothes and cook, all of which are prohibited during the holiday.  Debts and feuds are settled, and employees get a one-month New Year's bonus.  There is a legend that at one time there was a beast who came to eat the villagers and they were told that red and noise would scare him away so that is why red and fire crackers are so important in their culture.  It's also a time to go to the temples to pray and light incense and remember your ancestors.  At the small temples that are all around l've noticed there are more people visiting than before.
You see a lot of decorations like this.  They are firecrackers with all sorts of symbols on them and they come in small sizes like this one to huge ones. On New Years Eve families get together for a feast, wear new clothes (not black and white, but something with red) and stay up all night visiting and playing games. Some of the foods that are important are fish, dumplings, spring rolls and Nian Gao, which sounds like getting higher year by year, which means they will prosper.  There is a lot of punning with the words for food.  The sounds of the words can mean two things, like chicken (gai) can also mean luck, so you would want to eat that for luck. In the morning the children will receive presents and the red packets with money in them. I love the bright red color everything is.
These little red packets are called lgi-si.   It is a small red and gold envelope in which new bills (usually $10 or $20) are enclosed and given as gifts by married people to children and singles, and also to people like the security guards or anyone else you want to say thank you to for a job well done.  Families will give a lot more to their children and loved ones.  The only symbol l know is the one on the right and l think it's wishing you "abundant gold and harmony" On the second night of the New Year there is a 20 min. fireworks display over Victoria Harbor.  (Individuals are not allowed to use fireworks here)  You get a good view of the display from Kylie's balcony, which is much easier than trying to find a spot amongst millions of people doing the same thing!!

Hunter in front of a colorful dragon at Renaissance School.

Because it is also known as the Spring Festival, flower decorations are all over.  These cherry blossoms were so fresh and pretty, and they had them the whole length of the mall.  Also orange trees are everywhere now and Kumquats are also popular.  Candied Kumquats are sold in the stores.  Chinese New Years ends with the Spring Lantern Festival on the 15th day.
  Live tree in Sky Tower lobby with red packets attached.

 Cherry blossoms, and red packet trees in the mall at Festival Walk.  Notice the rabbits all over the banners.  It's very pretty.

Hunter getting his Chinese New Years packet with money and chocolate money.

 Keegan trying to eat his chocolate with the wrapping still on.

My Narcissus plant bloomed right on time! 

Rachel and her red packet.  I think they all liked the chocolate the best, but give them a few years and it will be the other way around! 

We stayed over at Ryan and Jill's last night so Blaine and Ryan could go mountain biking in the morning (more of that next week).  Keegan and l playing smash up the cars!  He was enjoying the smashing way to much!!

 Funny how kids love to play in boxes!!

Well we've experienced our first Chinese New Years, and it has been an education in another cultures  way of celebrating.  In some ways it is the same the world over, family getting together, and favorite foods.  Today on our way home from Ryan's the line ups for buses was unreal, and our bus which began out in Tuen Mun, was filled to capacity by the second stop, with people dressed up and going to visit family for  New Years Day.  The little kids were so cute  with many of them in their traditional Chinese outfits.  When we went by one of the temples which has a huge plaza around it, it was packed with people lined up to get in.Tomorrow at the harbor is the big fireworks display of the year. It is funny to see all the little shops along the streets closed down.  I don't know if the malls close or not.  I think most restaurant's  are open and some of the grocery stores stay open. Tomorrow we are all getting together at Kylie and Jocelyn's for supper, play some games and watch the fireworks from their balcony.  It's good to be with our family and make new memories in a land of such ancient traditions.