Hong Kong has over 200 outlying islands, and only a handful are inhabited. North of Sai Kung Peninsula (西貢), at the intersection of Mirs Bay (大鵬灣) and Long Harbour (大灘海), the small Grass Island or Tap Mun (塔門) lies across the South Channel from Ko Lau Wan (高流灣) Village in northeast Sai Kung. At its peak, about 2000 inhabitants lived on the Grass Island. They were mainly farmers or fishermen. Today, only about 100 residents stay on the Grass Island, mainly as shopper or restaurant keepers to serve the influx of tourists during weekends and holiday, when the island would turn into a large camp ground for leisure seekers from all around the city. Simple seafood eateries, a ferry pier, a Tin Hau Temple, an abandoned school, unique rock formations, old village homes, and a few stores catered for weekend tourists, Grass Island is a getaway destination for anyone who is willing to venture this far out from the city.
From Wong Shek Pier in Sai Kung, we took a local ferry out to the Long Harbour (赤徑海) heading towards Grass Island.
Other than a newer cluster of buildings built in 1964 with a charity aid from New Zealand, most village homes on the Grass Island are located near the pier.
Near the pier, we stopped by a simple eatery for lunch. The local squid is really fresh and delicious.
Sea urchin fried rice is a popular dish in many fishing villages in Hong Kong.
We also ordered the fresh catch-of-the-day: two small sea bream caught in the morning.
A few dragon boats were lying around a small waterfront area.
During Tuen Ng Festival, there would be a dragon boat race at the Grass Island.
A small trail off the main street of the Grass Island led us to a popular open area above the eastern shore of the island. The space is crowded with camping tents, kite-playing visitors and feral cattle.
The sloped open lawn seemed had endured heavy foot traffic throughout the years. The silhouette of the iconic Sharp Peak on the Sai Kung mainland provided the best backdrop for Grass Island. In a clear day, the water should have been blue and Sharp Peak lush green.
From the hilltop overlooking the open lawn, we followed a off the beaten trail that winded through dense woods for half an hour and eventually arrived at the rocky beach of Che Wan (車灣). This was probably the most difficult hike on the island. Our aim was to seek for a seaside rock called the Dragon’s Neck (龍頸筋).
The Dragon’s Neck (龍頸筋) is one of Grass Island most famous natural feature. It is frequented by hikers as well as visitors who come for fishing.
Back to the top of the lawn, we followed another footpath down the east coast of the island. Along the path, some visitors set up tents and picnic areas, some went for fishing at the rock beaches, some braved the cliffs for rock climbing, some continued to fly their kites on the windy slopes. The Grass Island is truly a small leisure paradise for all.
Another well known rock feature was the Lui’s Stacking Rocks (呂字疊石). Two similar stone cubes, one sitting on top of the other, resemble the Chinese character of the surname “Lui”.
Looking at the Lui’s Stacking Rocks (呂字疊石) from afar, it was hard to imagine how the stacking rocks were formed in the first place.
The entire day was cool and grey while we were on the Grass Island. The wind was a little strong, and so as the waves.
Ko Lau Wan(高流灣) at Sai Kung Peninsula seemed pretty close from the southern tip of the Grass Island. The sea was a little rough in between, in the 400m wide channel of Tap Mun Mouth (塔門口).
The utilitarian New Village of Tap Mun was erected in 1964 by a charity from New Zealand. The houses are still occupied today.
After the New Village, we were getting close to the pier again.
We could see the incoming ferry while on our way walking to the pier.
As we boarded the ferry, the sea and the fish farming areas seemed calm and relaxing.
After half a day on the small and remote Grass Island, it was time for us to return to Wong Shek Ferry Pier in Sai Kung.
On the northern slope of Tai Mo Shan (大帽山) at a place called Pak Ngau Shek (白牛石) in the area of Lam Tsuen (林村), 148 hectare of organic farms, botanical gardens and mature forests terracing up to the summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) reveal over half a century of efforts by the Kadoorie Farm (嘉道理農場). Established in 1956, Kadoorie Farm has always stood at the forefront of Hong Kong’s agriculture, experimenting on new techniques and providing agricultural aid to farmers in need of support. In 1951, the Kadoorie brothers (Horace and Lawrence) established the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA) in an attempt to help the sudden influx of Mainland farmers into Hong Kong during the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940’s. They picked Pak Ngau Shek (白牛石) near Lam Tsuen (林村) to establish an agricultural facility engaging in experiments on profitable and effecting farming and animal breeding, and training the new farmers with their developed techniques. Today, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (嘉道理農場暨植物園) diversifies their effort to promote organic farming, sustainable living, nature conservation and education. They also run extensive rehabilitation program for wild animals in Hong Kong.
Linked by 9 km of roads and 8 km of trails, various highlights of the Kadoorie Farm spread over the slope of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山).
One of the big highlights at the lower section of Kadoorie Farm is the “Eco Garden” (生機園), exhibiting different types of self sufficient and compact farming in a community scale.
The garden presents natural and organic ways to maintain soil’s nutrients and insect control, and the best combination of vegetables for each season.
Other than its freshness and taste, the organic vegetables such as the purple cabbages are also beautiful.
Spherical bird scarers are hung over a cluster of rainbow chards in the Eco Garden.
A wavy fence separates the Eco Garden with the other terraced farms and botanic gardens.
Other than organic farming, more innovative planting techniques are also examined at the Eco Garden. Some farming techniques that requires less space or soil may suit urban living well.
At the Piers Jacobs Wildlife Sanctuary, native mammals such as a Barking Deer or Muntjac (麂) have been rescued as an orphan and raised in the sanctuary.
The wild boar is also another rescued orphan at the sanctuary. Both wild boars and barking deer can be found in the forests in and around Kadoorie Farm.
In the old days, pig breeding was an important work at the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA). Today a few Da Hua Bai Pigs (大花白豬) are kept at the farm for educational purposes.
Amphibians and reptiles are both vulnerable groups of wildlife in Hong Kong due to habitat loss. Kadoorie Farm has a few of the native species at the Amphibian and Reptile House and Reptile Garden.
Interesting pavilions and artworks are all over the farm, including a dragon boat pigeon house.
And also the fish mosaic at the Cascade Garden near the Chicken House.
As the farm terraces up the hillside of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山), the view to the surrounding landscape becomes more spectacular.
The Butterfly Path winds up the hill through dense forests and open terraces, following part of an old trail which led the locals up the hill of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) for a religious blessing.
In order to preserve the natural feel, there is minimal modern safety infrastructure provided at the Butterfly Path.
9 km of roads circulate up and down the Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山), going through some densely forested areas, the habitat for some native species in Hong Kong, such as the barking deer.
… and the wild boar.
At 550m above sea level, the summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is the highest point in Kadoorie Farm. For centuries, farmers came up to the summit to seek blessings from the goddess of Kwun Yum.
The summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) allows visitors to have fine view of the New Territories and even Shenzhen on a fine and clear day.
The summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is at 1812 ft, or 550 m.
Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is sandwiched between Tai To Yan (大刀屻) to the north and Tai Mo Shan (大帽山) to the south.
Heading downhill, visitors can either take a shuttle bus or walk down a winding road.
Along the downhill road, sounds of monkeys can often be heard. Occasionally visitors may spot monkeys jumping from one tree to another.
DAY 2 (4/6): ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.04
Claimed to be the oldest Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Kenninji Temple (建仁寺) is a Buddhist temple famous for its zen gardens and traditional paintings in Gion (祇園). Kenninji was founded in 1202 by Buddhist priest Eisai/Yousai (明菴栄西). Two times Yousai went to China and brought back with him Zen scriptures and tea seeds, from which Zen Buddhism and the practice of green tea drinking flourished in Japan ever since. As a result, Yousai was also considered to be the founder of the tea ceremony in Japan. Since the 14th century, Kenninji was considered one of the five most important Zen Buddhist temples in Kyoto, known as the Gozan (五山十刹制度) or the Five Mountain System. Today, Kenninji stands at third in this ranking system, behind Tenryuji (天龍寺) and Shokokuji (相国寺), and ahead of Tofukuji (東福寺) and Manjuji (万寿寺). On top of this five temples is Nanzenji, which serves as the leading Zen Buddhist temple in today’s Kyoto.
Today, with its meditation gardens, ancient teahouse, and timber halls, Kenninji serves as a tranquil oasis in the busy and dense neighborhood of Gion. We entered the Kenninji compound from its North Gate at Hanamikoji Dori. Once inside, we took off our shoes and paid our admission at Hojo (方丈). Inside Hojo, one of the most popular art work on display was “Fujin and Raijin”, a pair of two-folded screen depicting the Wind and Thunder Gods by Tawaraya Sotatsu (俵屋 宗達) from the early 17 century. The dry landscape garden in front of Hojo was also quite impressive, so as the traditional paintings on the sliding doors of the building, including the Cloud Dragon (雲龍図) and Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (竹林七賢図). But for us, the most amazing artwork at Kenninji was Twin Dragons (双龍図), a 11.4m x 15.7m ceiling mural by Koizumi Junsaku in the Hatto (法堂), or Dharma Hall to celebrate the 800-year anniversary of the temple. Completed in 2002, it took Koizumi Junsaku two years to finish this enormous ceiling painting in the gymnasium of an elementary school in Hokkaido.
Also worth noting was the Toyobo Tea-house, a two mat tea room dated back to the 16th century. We peeked through an opening into the tea-house and saw a simple interior with tatami flooring and a semi-open partition supported by a natural wooden branch as column. Before leaving, we spent a considerable period of time at Choontei Garden (潮音庭), a beautifully constructed zen garden surrounded by wooden verandas. At Choontei, there were three stones at the centre of the courtyard, representing Buddha and two Zen monks. Choontei was also the perfect courtyard to sit on the veranda and admire the autumn maples. On our way out, we passed by another small courtyard which named as ○△□. The serene garden introduces landscape components such as a tree in circular planter or a square area of gravel as visual representations of ○△□, which symbolized water, fire and earth. The spiritual experience of the gardens, the lovely visual palette of the dark timber, green moss and crimson maples, and the refreshing breeze and warm sunlight enabled us to enjoy a moment of meditation. Leaving this tranquil dimension, we would meander through Gion, cross the picturesque Kamo River, and enter the busy streets of Downtown Kyoto.
Entering the Hojo (方丈) Hall, which was built in 1599.
The first thing of the visit was to take off our shoes.
Centuries-old timber structure of the Hojo (方丈) Hall.
“Fujin and Raijin”or the Wind and Thunder God, is the most popular artworks in Kenninji Temple.
The semi open interior space of Hojo (方丈) allows sunlight to enter the building from different directions.
Visitors sitting by the veranda of Hojo to admire the dry landscape garden.
The Cloud Dragon screen paintings at the Hojo were by 16th century artist Kaiho Yusho.
The elegant prayer hall of Hojo with the painting of Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (竹林七賢図) on the sliding screens.
Zen Garden or the dry landscape garden at Hojo.
Visitors relaxed themselves at the veranda in front of the Zen Garden.
We saw quite a number of young women dressed traditional kimono dress in several sights of Kyoto, including Kenninji.
The enormous ceiling mural of Twin Dragons (双龍図) in the Hatto (法堂) or the Dharma Hall.
Twin Dragons over the main altar at Hatto.
A stone tsukubai (蹲踞) or stone waterbasin in the tea house garden of Kenninji.
The minimalist Toyobo Tea-house was built in 1587.
A path of stone pavers connected a prayer pavilion with the building’s veranda.
Chouontei Garden (潮音庭) as viewed from the inside.
Awesome autumn colours at Chouontei Garden (潮音庭).
Deep sense of autumn at Chouontei Garden (潮音庭).
Overview of Chouontei Garden (潮音庭), with the San-zon seki (the three stones that represent Buddha and two Zen monks.
The ○△□ Garden (○△□乃庭) was a simple Zen garden.
The ○△□ symbolizes water, fire and earth.
Leaving Kenninji behind, we were ready to venture into Downtown Kyoto to experience the other side of the ancient city.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan
Every year during the Mid Autumn Festival, three consecutive nights of fire dragon dance illuminates the streets of Tai Hang, a residential neighborhood near the shopping and entertainment district of Causeway Bay. For 136 years, the fire dragon dance has been an annual local ritual since 1880, originating at a time when Tai Hang was a Hakka fishing village. Local legend has it that there was a year when Tai Hang was hit by typhoon and plague. In order to tackle the plague, a soothsayer suggested to organize the fire dragon dance for three nights during the Mid Autumn Festival. The villagers did what was told. After the dance, the plague miraculously receded. Since then, the fire dragon dance has continued year after year into modern days, and gradually evolved into a renowned event organized by the Tai Hang Residents’ Welfare Association, attracting spectators from all over the city.
The fire dragon dance is mainly performed on Wun Sha Street (the main street in Tai Hang), and paraded through a number of streets and lanes in the neighborhood, including Lily Street where the historical Lily Temple (Lin Fa Kung -蓮花宮) is located.