Thursday, November 9, 2017

My Dragon Boat Paddling Lesson

Dragon boat racing is a big deal in Hong Kong.

When we first moved to China, we learned (and celebrated) about the traditional Chinese holiday - Dragon Boat Festival ---> commemorates the drowning of Chinese poet Qu Yuan, who, according to popular legend, drowned himself in Hunan province 2,000 years ago in protest to what he saw as corrupt rule. As local residents rushed to rescue him, they loudly beat drums and threw dumplings in the river to drive away hungry fish. Eventually, dragon boat racing, with its pounding of drums and flurry of paddles, became a traditional activity on this day.

Then after moving to Hong Kong, we saw dragon boat racing for the first time in Discovery Bay.

Last weekend mrC and I tried dragon boat paddling for ourselves. We attended a Dragon Boat Fun Day (Spousal Edition) hosted by the American Women's Association's Dragon Boat Team.

First I have to say, that I love the passion that these ladies have for dragon boating. Their energy was definitely contagious and set the tone for a great event.

The event was held at Stanley Beach (on the south side on Hong Kong Island) where the team holds practices. After a brief explanation, we were handed paddles, divided up into three boats and pushed out onto the water.

The first part of our lesson, was learning the proper paddling technique. It didn't take long for the amateurs to get wet during this part!

After some paddling practice, we had some fun races against the other boats. The race went like this: everyone would paddle a set number of strokes (say 50) and the winner was the boat who went the farthest.

We had a ton of fun learning how to paddle dragon boats. It's too bad that Stanley Beach is such a long haul from Discovery Bay. I think it would take me longer to get there, than the length of the practice sessions!

After the paddling session, about half of the people in the top photo walked to Stanley Market for a little Mexican food and post-paddling drinks. It was a great night!

Have you ever gone dragon boat paddling or watched a dragon boat race?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Hiking: South Lantau Country Trail (Pak Kung Au to Mui Wo)

I love seeing waterfalls on the hiking trail. I read somewhere that the South Lantau Country Trail is known for its waterfalls. I didn't think much about the weather going into the hike, but we hadn't had a lot of rain lately. That made finding good waterfalls a little harder, but I did find some. Small ones.

I didn't have to search for the sea views. They were plentiful and gorgeous as always. I don't think I'll ever get tired of views like this.

The hiking part was relatively easy. The trail was a combo of dirt and rocks ---> meaning you have to pay attention. There weren't any big climbs but there were some spots where it felt like we were doing a bit of light bouldering.

We took a little snack break at Nam Shan (there are also toilets). Then we picked up the Lantau Trail (stage 1) and followed it (backwards) to Mui Wo. It was only about 2.5 more kilometers into the village. We had a large group, but the The Kitchen was able to accommodate us for a shared lunch.

Getting there: I took the DB01R bus from Discovery Bay to Tung Chung where I met the AWA group at Starbucks. We caught a bus (3M, 23 or 11) to Pak Kung Au where we jumped on the trail.

Want more Lantau Island hikes?

What do you like to see when you're out the trail?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Kaiping, China: Two Days Exploring Diaolous

Throughout the year (September to June), the American Women's Association plans and offers several trips to Asian destinations. For my first AWA Asian Tour, I traveled to Kaiping, China to spend two days exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Diaolous.

Getting to Kaiping:

We took a bus from Sheung Wan to Shenzhen Bay border crossing. After passing through Hong Kong and China immigration, we boarded another bus for the long journey (4 hours) to Kaiping. At the Kaiping bus station, we transferred to hired vans for our trip.


Diaolous are multi-story residences built by returning wealthy merchants at the turn of the 20th Century that rise high above the traditional low-rise Chinese landscape. They were built to protect the wealthy owners from attacks by bandits. The exterior design of the homes reflect a distinctly western influence while (almost) everything on the inside is traditional Chinese.

We visited three diaolou clusters (or villages), each one becoming more upscale than the last. The diaolous themselves are all very similar: multi-storied so that multiple family members could live there, each floor basically set up for each family (parents on the main floor, first wife and children on the second floor, etc...), rooftops served as lookouts.

Majianglong Diaolou Cluster: 

We learned about watch towers here - built to protect the village from approaching bandits with holes for guns, pouring hot water or stabbing with large knives. Residents shared the duty of looking out for the village.

Our tour guide, Stanley

We saw many low rise buildings before actually seeing the first Diaolou. Many of these are still lived in and a couple have been converted into small restaurants.

Each Diaolou that we visited was uniquely different both outside and inside. The wealthier the owner the more levels and more elaborate the architecture.

We were able to walk through some of the diaolous (some are still owned by the descendants of the original owners). Most of the furniture we saw in this cluster was pretty simple and very typical Chinese.

Pictures of owners and descendants filled the walls. It is very hard to tell, but the images below are hand drawn.

The diaolous in this cluster were separated by bamboo forest which was absolutely stunning to walk through.

Mountains and rice fields made a beautiful backdrop to the Majianlong Diaolou cluster.

Accommodations: Country Garden Jade Bay Phoenix Hotel, Kaiping

We arrived in the night (and I was suffering from major motion sickness after traveling in the van), so to wake up to this view was quite surprising after spending the previous day in very rural areas. This hotel felt straight out of Las Vegas - everything was large, splendid, and over-the-top. The breakfast buffet was typical Chinese spread and the coffee was very good.

*Our original accommodations were changed because the government effectively closed old town Chikan where we were supposed to stay (this is common in China - when the government decides to do an overhaul, the local residents are offered a relocation deal with the opportunity to return when the renovation of the town is compete).

Zili Village Diaolou Cluster:

There was an instant notable difference to the diaolous we had seen at Majianglong. After crossing some wooden bridges and stopping for a quick coffee at a little cafe, we reached the towers.

The furniture inside was more ornate with grandiose details.

The rooftop terraces were also grand with large pavilions on the top and plenty of space to enjoy the 360 degree views.

The village and diaolou properties felt like a park. There were ponds with geese and many places to sit and enjoy the beauty of the countryside.

There were many locals working on the rice harvest.

Jinjangli Diaolou Cluster:

The entrance to this village felt like we were entering a walled fortress.

After browsing a small museum, we walked through the tight alleys of the village to reach the featured diaolou: Ruishilou. At nine-stories, this was the tallest diaolou that we visited.

Inside, the furniture was yet another bar above the previous houses. It wasn't flashy, but definitely more substantial.

We saw windows with glass panes for the first time, although there were still bars on the windows. To open, the glass panes slid left or right like a barn door.

The top of this tower was very ornamental, but not open like the towers with pavilions. The top floors had more covered common areas with watchtower features on the outside.

We stopped quickly to view Zhongjianlou and Bianchouzhulou, China's leaning tower of Pisa!

A special treat was having lunch in a diaolou turned into a restaurant, AMO's ---> and it was the best Chinese food I've had. After lunch the owner gave a grand tour. I highly recommend this spot for a meal if you are touring the Diaolous in Kaiping.

Our last stop was to Chikan Old Town, built on a river. This is where we were supposed to have accommodations before the government closed it down.

Normally Chikan would be bustling with markets, but we only saw buildings deserted and barricaded with bamboo scaffolding. Even the pedestrian bridge was closed.

Despite being closed, we were still able to meet some of the locals who still come and set up tables to sell their homemade food. I bought some peanut brittle that was so delicious.

Chikan Old Town is so historically picturesque that it has often been the set of many movies. Part of the town was officially turned into Chikan Studio City and it's nickname became Chikan Movie Town.

My visit to Kaiping was just what I expected: historical, authentic and educational, but most of all fun (well, minus the van sick part). Now that I'm getting the hang of the AWA website, I'm looking forward to signing up for more trips.

Have you ever been to a UNESCO site?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Infected Zombie Run 5K in Discovery Bay Recap

I'm so excited to write a race recap ---> even if it was an un-timed fun run!

It was almost two years ago when I ran my last race in Shenzhen, so I was pretty excited to finally be in a place where I could run again. So over Halloween weekend I ran The Infected Zombie Run 5K.

The Infected Zombie Run 5k is a charity run for an organization called Soap Cycling. This organization recycles hotel soaps and distributes the new soap to children in disadvantaged communities around the world, especially Asia.

This event was a perfect way for me to see how I could do in a 5K event. 1) It was right in our neighborhood, 2) mrC was available to join me adding to the comfort factor (and he invited his co-worker who was in Hong Kong), and 3) since it was a fun run, I figured there would be a lot of non-competitive people running.

(I had originally planned to wear a costume, but it was way too warm for my idea. Instead I went for Halloween colors in my black shorts and orange racer back (affiliate).

The theme of the run is to escape zombies that have invaded your neighborhood. Here's part of the email we received prior to the event:
Dear Runners,

A zombie virus has emerged and spreading rapidly across Discovery Bay, putting the entire human race at risk of extinction. Details of the evacuation are as follows:
Each runner received a belt with three flags attached. Each flag represents a life. As you run, zombies (volunteers dressed in zombie makeup wearing red shirts) try to take your flags. The goal is to finish with at least one flag (that means you lived).

This was the first time the Zombie Run was being held in Discovery Bay. It had a few hiccups (it didn't start on time, the organizer tried to explain the rules and route to about 150 people without a micro/megaphone and the set up at the finish had people stopping before the final loop through the park), but most people were happy to overlook these bits and have fun.

The course was a simple out and back with a loop through the park at the end. The Zombies were waiting for runners along the promenade and in the park. It was quite fun trying to avoid them. I actually had all three flags when I entered the park, but the zombies waiting there were much more eager to grab them.

At the halfway point, runners received dog tags. One dog tag was placed in a draw at the finish line for a chance to win a prize. mrC's co-worker won a t-shirt, but it was too small, so he gave it to me ;)

The goodie bags we received included several coupons, a race tee and a sweat towel (which comes in handy living in Hong Kong).

Even though we had to run up and down two hills, the race went really well for me. My knee felt good and I saved my walks for when I needed them (up the big hill) and when I ran out of gas near the end. I don't think much about my times anymore, but I was excited to see that I had negative splits for the first time in FOREVER.

I really hope this event returns next year. Until then I will be looking forward to another 5k in Hong Kong sometime soon.

Have you ever run a Zombie Race?