on the album to see all the photos!
home from Hong Kong now, so the letters have turned into "Memories
from Hong Kong." Enjoy!
Forest Monastery and the Walled City
On New Year's
Day Ben and I took an organized tour through the "New Territories".
Under a sunny but hazy sky we headed north from the Kowloon peninsula
out past Sha Tin (where Jackie's loft and the Hong Kong Jockey Club are
located). On the way to our first stop we passed thousands of huge containers
lining the docks. Our tour guide pointed out that Hong Kong is the second
busiest container port in the world. There were thousands of these huge
containers sitting there waiting for the holiday to pass. It made me think
of the scene in "The Medallion" when Jackie is trapped inside
a container with the young boy. I could easily imagine Jackie staging
a chase scene through all of those colorful containers.
stop was Chuk Lam Sim Yuen - The Bamboo Forest Monastery. We were very
excited to see it, but wanted to be careful and respectful of this sacred
place. The Monastery was so beautiful and lively! Normally there are only
tour groups going through the temple buildings and grounds, but because
it was Chinese New Year we were bumping into hundreds of Chinese people
visiting the shrine to pray for their New Year good luck!
The tour guide pointed out two dragons on the roof of the temple fighting
over a pearl. She said it was another sign of good luck. In fact, the
whole design of the temple is made to keep out evil spirits and bring
good luck. For example, there are always large thresholds at the doorways.
This is because the Chinese believe that evil spirits have no knees and
can only hop in a straight line...so they cannot get over a threshold!
The tour guide warned us to step over the threshold to avoid bad luck.
We made sure we stepped over every threshold we came to.
a very large drum and a very large bell outside of the temple. The monks
used to ring the bell and beat the drum 108 times every morning and every
night, symbolizing the 108 sorrows that people must endure. But when the
city dwellers moved closer and closer to the temple, they asked for the
bell ringing and drum beating to stop. So now, the bell and drum are inside
of two small pagoda houses. We took a picture so that you can see how
close the city skyscrapers are to the ancient holy temple. In Hong Kong
the Old World exists with the new!
Inside the main temple the monks and nuns were preparing for their midday
ceremony. I felt so honored to be present for this. We were not allowed
to take pictures of the monks and nuns (even the nuns had shaved heads),
and we could not take pictures of the ceremony. But before they began,
we did manage to get a picture of the three huge beautiful gold Buddhas
and one of the "guardians" of the Buddhas in the temple. All
the statues and decorations were very detailed and lovely. Lots of flowers
and fruit (especially many oranges) were piled up in devotion to the Buddhas.
Behind the main temple was a wishing pond. The tour guide pointed out
that there were pennies in the pond, but that was not a Chinese custom.
She said so many westerners come through and throw pennies into the pond
that others have followed the tradition.
In front of the main temple in a garden was the four-faced god from Thailand.
This god has become very popular in China and was receiving quite a bit
of attention. People were praying and burning incense and bringing offerings.
Our tour guide said this god seems to like ladies scarves and perfume!
was Kam Tin (Kat Hing Wai), one of the few walled cities left in Hong
Kong. Many villagers in China used to put up walls to protect themselves
against bandits and pirates. This city, of the ancient Hakkas, has not
changed much in hundreds of years. The people living there have allowed
a few modern improvements in recent years. The walkways are still narrow
and the overhead hang is low (my son Ben had to duck a lot). The tour
guide told us that most of the villagers didn't like to have their picture
taken, but the older women of the village would be happy to pose. However,
they were professional models and we would have to pay $10HK. I got a
great picture I was more than happy to pay for. Several of the wonderful,
elderly women of the village posed with me while they were wearing their
traditional field work hats. The hats have a black drape that acts like
sunglasses and a hole in the top to allow heat to escape.
I took a picture of the iron gate that protects the entrance to the Kam
Tin Walled Village. The gate, which had been taken as a prize by conquerors
many years ago, was recently returned to its rightful place.
We got back
on the bus and rode to Lok Ma Chau. This stop allowed us to look across
the border into Mainland China. It was a surprise to see the rural fields
and farmlands just a few miles from the busy hustle and bustle of downtown
We've heard about how much the Chinese like their Lion Dances, but while
in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year we began to realize how important they
are to the people there.
The Chinese talk a lot about luck, and Chinese New Year is their most
important time of year to do everything they can to guarantee good luck.
I thought we would only see the Lion Dance during the big parade. I was
wrong! There were Lion Dances everywhere. I have photos of the one who
performed at the hotel where we were staying. The hotel staff told us
when it would start so we put on our New Year's Day lucky red clothes
and went outside. The Lion Dance started on the sidewalk and ended up
going through the entire hotel. All 23 floors!
Noise if very important too to scare away bad luck and bring in good.
So a group of cymbal players and drummers beat rhythmically and loudly
the whole time the Lion was performing.
As you can see in the picture, the Lion starts up high on columns. These
columns are four, six and eight feet high. (I used my son Ben to indicate
height. He is 6' 4" tall). It was very impressive to see the Lion
Dancers shake and leap back and forth on those columns so high in the
air! They even jumped up on each other's shoulders on the high columns!
Then, the Lion leapt down to the lower columns and danced a bit and then
leapt onto the ground right in front of me! The biggest surprise, however,
was he ended his dance in that area (where guests arrive in taxis and
from busses) by spitting out a huge bunch of raw vegetables! Including
cabbage and the biggest carrots I've ever seen. Well, I thought "ugh"!
But that is the way the Lion further wishes good luck and prosperity.
Then he "spits" out a long banner with good luck wishes on it.
(There is someone to clean up after him by the way. But you can pick up
the pieces if you want to for your own good luck). Even the little corner
coffee lady got her own Lion Dance and bunch of vegetables spat at her!
We followed the Lion up to the lobby and lounge where this ritual was
repeated. And then he went out into the courtyard. That's where they had
the children feed red money packets to the Lion and pet his head. Then
he jumped up onto the stage, jumped up on shoulders and grabbed the dangling
bunch of raw vegetables (so he had more to distribute through the hotel).
Then the Lion Dancers made their way through the rest of the hotel. And
the very loud cymbal players and drummers followed with them throughout.
We went to have lunch at the hotel restaurant and were lucky to have the
God of Wealth, Choi-san, come through and give us red packets! There were
chocolate 50 cent pieces inside and we got his picture. We saw this character
several times throughout the city.
I took a picture of two little girls who were dressed up in the most beautiful
traditional silk oriental clothes at the Lion Dance. One gave me the peace
sign! We saw many small children dressed this way through the New Year.
Unfortunately my mall pictures didn't come out too well, but many of the
children dressed up like that were having their pictures taken with the
decorations at the mall (just like we have ours take pictures with Santa
Claus at Christmas).
Also at the mall we saw a troupe of nine sets of Lion Dancers preparing
to put on a show and make their way through the five levels of stores
to bring good luck and prosperity to the merchants. I have to say we left
before they started on their noisy way through the five levels.
We also took a quick picture of the skating rink in the mall. It seemed
so unusual. But China is starting to bring more qualified skaters to world
competition and so there has been a surge of interest. I wonder how they
keep that rink cold in August when it is so hot?
sent us two links to read about Chinese food and traditions. Then she
sent another letter! Here are the links:
the latest letter:
From the food page - I think we ate everything except JAI CHOI. We wanted
to try as much of the local food as possible. We found the
and I had cold chicken in wine sauce. Yummy. My son had beef with spicy
noodles. He loves spicy! We were lucky to find that shop open. Most of
the smaller businesses were closed for four to eight days in observance
of the Chinese
New Year. We walked past it the first time because not all the
odd numbered spaces run on the same side of the street. We were across
the street when we spotted it. We went in a tried to explain we wanted
a picture for Kath of the Kids Club. Luckily I had my Kid's Club membership
card with me because when I showed it to them, the memory clicked. They
were so happy about it!
On our first day we walked into Mong Kok. We were on the prowl for Dim
Sum. We found the London Restaurant, but it was NOT British. It was a
very busy Chinese Restaurant that also did catering. Part of the fun was
that it was full of Chinese families having their reunions for the new
year. Many were taking pictures of each other at the tables.
We were seated and the Dim Sum menu was presented. Heaven! Items were
in Chinese and English and we picked several. Our selections arrived -
some hot, some cold, all delicious. As with most of our other adventures,
my son and I got along pretty well with local customs and events by doing
our homework ahead, and being willing to figure out the rest (even without
speaking much Chinese). I did make one big mistake at the end of the meal.
I forgot that you're not supposed to tip in a restaurant. The tip or "gratuity"
is included on the bill. I tried to give the waitress back some money
and she said "no way"! I was embarrassed and didn't make that
We always drank Chinese tea with our meals (it was always offered). The
local waiters seemed pleased that we were so willing to try their specialties.
to say this is my last day in Hong Kong, but I have lots more stories
I was able to get back and take some more pictures of the tiles and will
share then as soon as I can get them developed. Unfortunately, the weather
was still dark and rainy while I was there, so I don't know how well the
colors will come out. During
my first visit to Jackie's Kowloon office I was hosted by Solon's assistant.
She kept saying it was her job to help out the fans, but she was so polite
and patient I wanted to say thank you to her here as well.
When I went back the second time, she was in a meeting and another nice
assistant helped me out. This is a very busy time for them and I appreciate
the time they took for my questions. I found out that Jackie will resume
work on "New Police Story" starting in February.
My son and I walked up the street after our second visit to the JC office
to the Festival Walk. That is the 5-story magnificent shopping mall in
Kowloon Tong. We were just in time to see not one, but NINE Lion Dance
teams setting up in the center of the mall. It was so colorful! There
were getting ready to dance together and then split up and dance through
the entire mall to bring joy and prosperity to all of the stores! Their
acrobatic dance talent is amazing and I know they have to practice a long
time to get it just right. They must have been proud to be the ones chosen
to perform in this huge, beautiful place.
We had to hurry back to Tsim Sha Tsui so we could get in one more Dim
Sum meal before we have to leave. We have really enjoyed the food here!
We have enjoyed everything here. And there is no snow!
One thing that has been constant here is everywhere we go we see the Hong
Kong Tourist Board commercials with Jackie. They play on public monitors...so
he seems to be everywhere.
Most people know all about Victoria Peak and the fabulous views. Because
it is Chinese New Year, EVERYONE is going to the Peak. When we tried to
get on the tram on Sunday it reminded me of the opening of Drunken Master
II when the crowd of people ran like crazy for the train...even jumping
in the windows to get a seat.
Today we went to the movies here at the big mall called Festival Walk.
All of the films were listed in both English and Chinese and the ticket
sellers spoke both languages too. We figured out the system and stepped
up to buy our tickets. The really cool thing was that you could pick your
seat in the theater! The ticketseller had a touch screen in front of them
and said the white seats were vacant,which ones would we like? That was
great. The movie we went to see was "Silverhawk" starring Michelle
Yeoh. Michelle starred with Jackie in Police Story 3- "SuperCop."
There was lots of great action and lots of fun. Both English and Chinese
was spoken in the movie and both Chinese and English subtitles were shown.
It was very interesting. I hope people around the world get to see this
movie. Michelle was great as a "masked avenger" and wow is she
in great physical shape!
I have a great interest in the Hong Kong film industry. I try to learn
as much as I can beyond even our hero Jackie Chan. Today my son and I
had a great thrill in meeting a Brit who has managed to do quite well
for himself in the Hong Kong film industry. His name is Bey Logan.
He started out as a writer for the martial arts magazine "Impact".
Eventually he made a name for himself and became known as a good writer
and dependable worker. He is living full time in Hong Kong now. He has
worked several times with Jackie Chan, most recently on "The Medallion".
He also produced Jackie's "My Story" and "My Stunts."
He was very gracious and gave us lots of his time to talk about Hong Kong
film. He is currently working on "Sword Searchers," which is
a film that Jackie will have a cameo appearance in.
I first learned about Bey on-line when reading about Jackie and Hong Kong
Cinema. If you ever have a chance to buy one of Jackie's films from Hong
Kong Legends, please do. The film quality is excellent, there are lots
of extras on the DVD's and Bey does a nonstop commentary giving all kinds
of tidbits about Jackie and the other actors in the film.
Bey's office is on Hong Kong Island near Central. I think people who live
and work on Hong Kong Island must be part mountain goat! It is SO hilly!
I thought my legs would fall off the first time we climbed those hills,
but in a week I have built up a little strength.
Another exciting day in Hong Kong!
More about the Hong Kong Jockey Club:
I wondered where all the money went that the club must get from the thousands
of people there trying their luck. It is very popular for the Chinese
people to bet on the horses, especially with their Chinese New Year money.
I was very glad to hear that many Hong Kong charities benefit from the
profits gained from the horseraces.
We got more than our money's worth on the tour. We saw the wonderful facility,
including the paddock area where you could see the horses up close. We
were seated on the top floor of the private members box enclosure. That
means we had lovely tables to sit at to eat a huge hot buffet dinner that
was provided as part of the tour. At the front of our tables was a big
glass door where you could see everything happening down on the racecourse.
There were tall, tall screens down beside the track that showed each horse
as he was led to the gate. The screens also displayed the race while it
was going on.
Because it was cold, we stayed inside the glass to eat and pick our winners.
When each race was run, we stepped outside into the "box" seats-
up high so we had a very good view. WE would yell and cheer our choices
on as they ran the track.
It was all so beautiful- those horses were in such great shape! To see
them run was thrilling. Our tour guide instructed us that Chinese people
play jockeys more than horses. So it was fun trying to figure out who
might win based on the jockey's reputation and how the horse looked. We
were also given $60HK by the club as part of the tour to use to place
bets. We only used that money and we won some and lost some...but came
out even for the day- which was our plan. I said that if we had actually
won money ahead we would give it to charity. It was very generous of the
Jockey Club to let us ordinary people live like Emperors for a day.
lot about Hong Kong that reminds me of New York City. Lots of hustle and
bustle, people crowding the streets walking everywhere, so many different
kinds of businesses. BUT the one thing that is VERY different is that
Hong Kong, for a big, big city is so clean! The taxis, busses and even
the subway (MTR) is kept unbelievably clean. And because it is Chinese
New Year there are thousands more people than usual using these every
day. You rarely see anyone doing the cleaning (except for someone sweeping
the street here and there), but they do manage to keep it all so clean.
There should be an award for this.
You no doubt have seen the well-known neon signs lighting up the streets
either in pictures (or from your trip in August). But since it is Chines
New Year there is even MORE neon everywhere. This is in addition to the
traditional red and gold hangings with well wishes, pictures of the monkey
everywhere, bows, balls, paper firecrackers and pictures of the other
gods bringing good luck to the new year.
Throughout the streets there is wire fencing with neon decorations and
wishes for the new year. At the Victoria Harbour waterfront all of the
skyscrapers have a wild array of animated neon designs. (You will have
a better idea when I get back and can post some pictures.) The night we
were in the harbour for the fireworks, in addition to all the neon and
decorations, I think every business and apartment building had every light
on they owned. Whew! I'm glad I don't have to pay that light bill! That
makes me wonder how their power is generated. I will have to research
It is hard to sleep. Mostly because we are so excited about where we are
and what is going on. But also because it is so bright and colorful and
noisy! One of our tour guides said that's because the Chinese believe
that red is a very lucky color (I'm sure you knew that), and that making
noise is lucky. So believe me...it has been very noisy! We love it!
My son, who
is with me, is grown up. We are not gamblers, but the "Come HorseRacing
Tour" sounded so beautiful and exciting, we signed up.
Wow! Or Wah! I should say. The Hong Kong Jockey Club in Sha Tin is a huge
and breathtakingly beautiful facility. It's design is impressive and it
is set into the mountains in a very efficient manner. (Everything seems
to be efficient in Hong Kong). The Chinese feel so strongly about their
horses that they are cared for very, very carefully in the stables at
the racetrack. They have air conditioning when it is hot and a swimming
pool! They even get two months off in the summer (July and August) like
the school children.
We saw this care firsthand when one horse was injured on the racetrack.
He stumbled and started to limp. The jockey immediately got off and walked
beside the horse. Within a few seconds the race was over and a doctor
(veterinarian) was right on the scene. Then a horse trailer pulled up
right onto the course and a crew jumped out. Helpers came running from
everywhere. Since the horse had stopped right by the fence where all the
people where, they unrolled and held up a green screen material to shield
the horse. A second doctor arrived and checked the horse as well. Then
they loaded the horse up into the trailer and took him away.
I also noticed that an ambulance follows behind the horses and riders
on the racetrack during each race. What a great idea! So if there is an
accident and a rider is injured, he can be attended to right away. Of
course, this also keeps the schedule of the races on schedule, but I was
impressed with this kind of thought put into taking care of what might
More on the races later.....
weather was quite cold and rainy. Very unusual and very New England-like.
I asked at the front desk if the fireworks would be canceled because of
the weather and the woman behind the desk was emphatic. "Oh no! Fireworks
We got picked up at our hotel by the tour guide and made our way further
down the Kowloon peninsula to pick up the others. Even though it was two
hours before the fireworks were to begin, the area near Victoria Harbour
was already very crowded. The tour guide was worried that we might get
stuck at the Peninsula Hotel because they were starting to block off the
streets. However, we did make it through and went via the underground
tunnel to the Hong Kong Island to catch our boat.
Our tour guide had two cute stories to tell as we made our way. The first
was that the tunnel was nicknamed "No Excuse" tunnel. That's
because before the tunnel was built, the only way to get back and forth
between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon was the ferry. The last ferry was
at 11:30pm. If you missed it, you couldn't get home. If you didn't want
to get home, you just called and said "sorry, I missed the last ferry
and can't make it home". Now that the tunnel is built and open 24
hours a day there is no excuse not to get home every night.
The other story is about the red packets that everyone gives out on Chinese
New Year. Our tour guide said that they believe the evil character called
the "Lin" monster likes to eat children - because they are tender
and juicy. The monster doesn't like to eat adults because they are tough.
The Lin monster does not like the color red. Since parents cannot always
be with their children, they give them the red packets to ward off the
Lin monster. Now parents know that if a child is only given a red piece
of paper, they might lose it or throw it away. If they put money in the
red packet, the child will be sure to keep it. And so- it is tradition
for older people to give younger people these red packets...which are
also for good luck and prosperity in the New Year.
Even though it was cold and a bit rainy (I even wore my winter coat) the
fireworks were really wonderful as seen from our boat in the harbor. So
many colors and shapes (oval and lips shapes even). They were shot from
three large barges in the harbor. There were even fireworks ON the barges.
My favorites were the ones that looked like they kept getting bigger and
closer and bigger and closer.
The Marine police boats kept the large flotilla of boats behind a certain
point in the harbour for safety. They kept going back and forth and warning
boats getting too close to the borderline. But if we called "Kung
Hei Fat Choi" they called back and waved.
When it was over all of the boats went to shore in an orderly manner.
I noticed a large, lovely private white yacht among the boats. I wondered
if some celebrity we know was on that boat watching the fireworks? If
so, it was a terrific location.
As with last night's festivities, the large crowds made their way back
up the peninsula in an orderly fashion. As we walked, all of the children
looked very happy.
And so was
I could write a hundred stories about being here in Hong Kong for Chinese
New Year! I've been keeping a journal and will tell you everything. (Probably
more than you want to know...but you can edit).
The Big Parade was last night and was fantastic. But earlier in the day
we were on a tour of the New Territories and they said something about
Jackie I wanted to share right away. The tour guide said the name Kowloon
meant Nine Dragons. There are actually Eight mountains representing the
dragons, then the emperor was in residence (also considered a dragon),
he made the ninth dragon, so they called it nine Dragons. She pointed
out Jackie's JC Group office as we went by and told us that since Jackie
is also dragon, they now have TEN dragons in that area...and that makes
it very, very lucky.
So Jackie has added to the luck of Hong Kong in many, many ways. I wonder
if he knows he's on the tour? Probably.
All for now...much more to see and do.
I did get a chance to go to the JC Group office but it was raining and
dark, so I will go back again to take pictures of the tiles that are up.
Some are on the building and some are on the wall OUTSIDE the building!
But one thing I can tell you is that they need more tiles. Send more tiles!
My son Ben and I got to see Jackie just briefly. He was gracious, of course,
but it was heartbreaking to see the heavy sadness in his eyes from all
the sad recent events. I was a bit tongue-tied since it was my first time
meeting him and we didn't expect him to be there...I wish I could have
said something to lift his burden.
Will tell you more of my trip to the American International School when
I return. I got to speak to the principal who was VERY nice.
The big parade is tomorrow and the fireworks the next night. There's so
much going on! Happy Chinese New Year.
back frequently for more letters from Mary!
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