Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tai O, at last

You're on your own in life
At long last, after at least a year of meaning to get round to it, we went to Tai O.
Tai O is a fishing village on Lantau, pretty much as far as one can get from Central. We had to take a ferry to Mui Wo, where I annoyed a man in the crowd as we embarked, provoking him to complain about "these fucking rude people".

I did think of pointing out to him that swearing fairly uncontrollably just because somebody was barged past you by the surge of the ferry-mad crowd is also quite rude, but I played it safe. It is Rugby Sevens weekend, so Hong Kong is full of barbarian gweilo after all. (I've yet to attend the Sevens - I did move away from England partly because I wasn't comfortable with crowds of yelling drunkards, so I don't really see the appeal.)

Mui Wo was holding a lion dance and interminable banging of drum festival, so we hid in the Turkish restaurant for an hour before we took the number 1 bus to Tai O. That's half an hour of oscillating over the mountain and down to the coast again, by which time I was groggy and confused.


This was by far the best state to be in, because Tai O was completely rammed with people, all intent on jostling one another and standing stock still when you wanted to get past. I didn't want to spend all Sunday stood next to a stall selling dried fish, but luckily a man went past us pushing a cart of polystyrene boxes. We travelled in his wake through the crowd of bumbling humans, eventually crossing a bridge and deep into Tai O.

I had ulterior motives for visiting Tai O. In the second draft of The Great Old Game, some of the action will be happening in a fairly deserted old fishing village, where Bad Things are going on. Tai O is pretty perfect for this; there's lots of narrow alleyways between the stilt-houses, an abandoned concrete block house, and a disused police station, all of which offer locations for nefarious deeds and Bad Things to skulk.

Many, many barrels of wonderful, wonderful shrimp paste
There's also a terribly strong stench of fish. It's actually fermenting shrimp paste, which as they're the cockroaches of the sea, can't really be termed fish, but my nose wasn't going to accept that argument. Down by the shoreline, away from the market, blue pastic barrels packed with the paste sit and ferment.

Something bad will happen there, that's for sure.

But today, the only bad thing was the smell, and the sight of the hills above us on fire. Occasionally a helicopter would fly over to drop sand on the fire. After last week's pollution special, you'd think we didn't need any more sand in the air, but on it went.
No, no pollution here

We walked to the end of the coastline, where the path abruptly terminates in Military Land, and then back again, stopping to photograph every cat, rabbit, dog, and flower that we saw. Tai O is teeming with life. We stopped by a bridge over a fairly unpromising mudflat, but realised that it was infested with mudskippers and tiny, iridiscient crabs: the more we looked, the more the crustaceans sprang from the ooze.

In Central, I suppose the most you'd get would be a dead fish. Then again, you don't usually get to sit on a bench in central and listen to the crackling of a fire on the hillside opposite you. I'm not sure whether that counts as a positive amenity or not.

Back in the village itself, there were a variety of photogenic animals and alleyways to record before we could drag ourselves back to the bus station. That too was an enjoyable rollercoaster over the hills to Tung Chung; I hadn't needed to go to Ocean Park for a ride after all.

Other photos of Tai O here


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