My purpose of coming to Hong Kong this time is to meet up with my Kung Fu affiliates in Hong Kong, and to know new people in the pugilist fraternity. We usually share our experiences teaching Kung Fu and talk about Kung Fu techniques in interacting with different styles.
This time I am staying with my relative’s house in Tuen Mun which is west part of Hong Kong, and it’s late winter. I had to wear a jacket unless I am actively walking or training. On the first morning, I woke up and was already practicing Kung Fu in the new environment. The landscape in the new territories is quite pleasant for training, and the air quality is better than the city areas.
After my training I took a walk around the neighborhood and had my breakfast at Yau Oi town center. I noticed that the town does not have multiple eateries scattered around the estate. The eateries are concentrated around the town center. Breakfast was nice as I suddenly shifted away from eating Singaporean food. I had scrambled eggs with spaghetti and ham in soup, the typical Hong Kong breakfast set.
The interesting thing about this side of Hong Kong is the light rail. It is similar to the light trains in other Asian countries such as Taiwan and Japan. The trains run on tracks which merge with the roads at times and on normal railway tracks at times, it’s really interesting to gaze at the new environment while the train turns around every corner of the district. The light rail is a network which really goes around every street of the few new towns, and there are many services going around the network.
In Singapore, our light rail does not really cover every street corner like in that part of Hong Kong.
After the light rail, I hop on to the MTR train to Kowloon and Hong Kong island. Hong Kong is larger than Singapore, and yet the people still have to get to work as quickly as Singaporeans. That’s why the MTR trains are faster than our MRT trains. Despite the high speed they are less jerky. Travelling from any town in the New Territories to Central in Hong Kong island would take approximately the same time or slightly longer than from Boon Lay, Marsiling or Tampines to Raffles Place in Singapore.
He is an amazing old sifu. Amazing because he is already in his late seventies and can still move with the flexibility and agility of a young adult in Singapore. Middle aged people here will not be able to move like that.
He also speaks with clear audible tone. This means his chi has not faltered with the ages. He keeps himself active over the decades by running a Dit Da treatment clinic during daytime and teaching Mok Gwai Lan’s Hung Kuen at night.
When I came into his clinic, he was treating a female patient. She was suffering from many problems caused by old injuries and lack of chi circulation. The treatment involves massaging both knees, both wrists and neck, and applying medicated bandage on these areas. It was a long process, Master Li meticulously prepared the Chinese herbal formula and placed it carefully on the affected areas for more than an hour.
In Singapore, TCM practitioners usually do not spend more than half an hour treating a patient. For Master Li, he will spend as much time needed to completely heal a patient. He told me, ‘a medical practitioner should never delay the recovery of any patient’.
After chatting with him, I took the bus to the side of Hong Kong I have not visited much, Aberdeen. Well, not the one in Europe, but it is the Southern side of Hong Kong island. It shows the other side of Hong Kong. It has a different atmosphere, not as congested as places like Central and Causeway Bay. The air is fresher.
There you can find very good food, including vegetarian food. The street food there is very tasty too. Even the food and drinks you can buy in 7–11 feel so delicious as we don’t have those brands and street food service in Singapore’s 7–11. Many people would take the bus to and from Aberdeen and Hong Kong’s city center like Central and Tsim Sha Tsui. There is currently no MTR train service in Aberdeen, but a train line is under construction.
The next day, I went to Lantau. While most people would take the cable car to the peak, I waited for the bus which came after half an hour. It was worth the wait, as I spent the next half an hour gazing out of the window appreciating the rural landscape of Lantau. In Hong Kong, the people have transport access to countryside places such as Lantau and some parts of the New Territories. In Singapore, probably the only Kampung we have access to is Changi Village and Lim Chu Kang. That’s why Singaporeans often take short getaways to our neighbor Malaysia or Batam in Indonesia to immerse themselves in countryside life.
As it is the winter to spring time of the year, the temperature is too low for mosquitoes to be active. It’s not only refreshing to take a break from the tropical heat and humidity; I take a nice break from mosquitoes and dengue too.
On the morning of the third day, I went on with my routine training at six in the morning. Although my training area is next to the expressway, I do not smell the vehicle fumes as the expressways in Hong Kong are covered by barriers which protect housing estates from air and noise pollution. Instead, I can smell the fragrance of flowers in the air, flowers which bloom at the start of spring. You won’t be able to smell many flowers in Singapore. Our tropical climate is not suitable for the growth of most flowering plant species.
I went to Yuen Long and had sliced fish + pork liver porridge for breakfast. This time, my Cantonese vocabulary has expanded and I am able to order more variety of food in Hong Kong. The porridge shop in Yuen Long is very famous, one of the most famous among the street of famous eateries. My aunt told me that we are very lucky to be able to get a seat at this shop.
Cantonese porridge is thick and well mixed. Because it is cooked thoroughly, the flavor is already very thick; you do not have to add many condiments. It is different from the lighter flavoured Teochew congee which is commonly sold in Singapore. The pork liver is cooked to the nicest degree, soft and easy to chew. My aunt told me that they dipped it in boiling water and took it out quickly, but not too quick or else it will be undercooked. If it is left in the boiling water for too long it will be hard and the taste will be spoilt. Seems like even cooking requires lots of Kung Fu.
After eating I rented the bicycle from the rental shop in the same town. That day I rode one big round back to where I stayed in Tuen Mun. I rode to the countryside near Yuen Long and back. I really enjoyed the scenery there as there are so many majestic hills surrounding the land. There are also isolated vegetable farms and market gardens in the villages nearby.
As I hit the narrow main roads in the area, I have to hold my breath as I pass by trucks that come in and out of construction sites. The countryside is being reformed into future residential or industrial towns. What used to be forest and village huts are now rubble laden land waiting for pile drivers and cement trucks to erect tall apartments in their place.
It is not just the landscape which is changing. The cultural practices and skills such as Kung Fu are slowly disappearing from the mindscape of the young generation in Hong Kong. Due to the push for education and work, traditional Kung Fu is not practiced by young people as much as its heyday in the 70s. Instead, commercial martial arts are much more popular. I was told that many young people chose these martial arts because they are easy to learn, quick to master and quick to start using. They cater to the ‘quick satisfaction’ mentality of the modern people.
The situation for Chinese martial arts in Hong Kong is very similar to Singapore in fact. Indeed the Hong Kong Kung Fu scene is more solidly anchored due to Hong Kong being the cradle of Kung Fu and is still producing a few Kung Fu movies every year.
However this has also pushed the old time practitioners to become more united and stronger in their Kung Fu skill. No matter how hard it gets, the passion never dies. I will introduce you to some of the outstanding Hung Gar martial artists in the upcoming articles. They are fine examples for us in Singapore and all over the world who are passionate in learning and mastering Chinese martial arts.
People do get the misconception that many people from the martial art style’s country of origin practices the art. For example in Thailand, most of the locals do not actually practice Thai Boxing. Only a very small group of people will practice Thai Boxing and even a smaller group will become professional boxers whom the Thai people idolize. If you think about it, Thailand would be crippled if a big part of their population has to retire at age of 35 due to their sport injuries.
For Hong Kong, most of the people do not know Kung Fu also. In fact that is true for every Chinese settlement in the world. Especially now when the Chinese population are shifting their interest towards immersing themselves in other cultures.
Their streets are also not as dangerous as the films make it out to be. Crime does happen everywhere, it is just a matter of how much film makers are allowed to express violence in their movies.
The nice side of cycling in Hong Kong is that there are wide cycling tracks in the new territories. These cycling tracks span most of the country. They can be found beside many roads and estates just like the light rail. It has made commuting more convenient, and clean in the new towns that the town folk do not have to drive or take public transport for short distances lesser than three kilometers. They shorten the time taken to reach one town from another by a big margin.
This has also encouraged people to cycle more, leading to more active lifestyle. When night fell, I could see many people running along the park connectors. It was rather cold for a Singaporean, about 14 degrees. I was already regretting not bringing another jacket to wear on top of my long sleeved T-shirt. But they were still sweating from their exercises; their track pants and T-shirts drenched with sweat. It is not just limited to slow jogs, there are many exercisers who does interval sprints and plyometric exercises too. In Singapore, most runners will conservatively stick to slow, long distance running.
One of the major differences I can observe is there are lesser knee problem sufferers as well as obese people. In fact I almost never saw any old people with ‘O’ shaped knees. I also almost never saw any obese people. It is amazing because the food portions in Hong Kong are much bigger than in Singapore.
Perhaps this is due to people having to walk more to commute from one place to another. Even walking to another train line’s platform in a train interchange station may mean walking up to around half a kilometer to 1 kilometer if you get lost in the subways. Not to mention that most places in the city are linked by an intricate network of subways, overhead bridges, corridors and connecting bridges between buildings. To tourists it can be a lot of fun navigating, to locals it’s good exercise.
I mentioned that food portions are bigger there. An average meal in Hong Kong costs around HKD30 dollars. The amount of food you receive on your platter will be what you have to spend $8 to buy in Singapore. For Singaporeans, imagine two bowls of Bak Chor Mee for $5. Singaporean girls will have to tour Hong Kong in pairs as they have to share every meal they buy.
Although there is a lot to chow down, you will likely chow it down because the food is so delicious. It’s better to carry on walking after your meal to let the blood flow to prevent becoming drowsy after the heavy meal. No wonder the locals do not get fat from eating, they just walk for a long distance before and after meals.
Walking keeps the lower body active, thus preventing knee and leg muscle degeneration which is very common among the middle aged in Singapore. Even if the air in urban Hong Kong can be more polluted than Singapore, walking makes Hong Kongers healthier. Singaporeans should really start walking more to enjoy similar benefits.
Speaking about food and walking, we find that nowadays good food in Hong Kong is harder and harder to find. There is an influx of mainland Chinese from China and they are setting up food businesses in Hong Kong. Most of the time these are not as tasty compared to the food prepared by the locals, especially if you are fond of rich flavored Cantonese food.
I heard from a new friend from Hong Kong that the local food industry is becoming threatened, as commercial franchises are taking over their shops on one side, and competition from mainland China shops on the other side. Compared to 10 years ago, you will only be able to find authentic Hong Kong food if you have a local to bring you around.