Shipping

A day in the life of a refueling ship in Hong Kong

Sharing the life of seamen
Read the post
April 22, 2019

In the storm: barefoot hike on a mountain during a thunderstorm

Intense adventure over the Easter week-end. I had met Yuan, my trail-running barefooting friend for our first common barefoot hike. Weather predictions were fair, and although a low cloud ceiling could be seen, the day looked to be acceptable for a hike. Little did we know that it would transform into a barefoot hike on […]

April 10, 2019

The inexorable descent to hell of the “Umbrella Movement”

Yesterday, the leaders of the 2014 movement called “Occupy HK” or also the “Umbrella Movement” went down yet another rung into what seems to be an inexorable descent to hell. After wonderfully squandering a unique leverage and negotiation position afforded by 3 months of continuous occupation of the streets of Hong Kong, the “Umbrella movement” […]

In the storm: barefoot hike on a mountain during a thunderstorm

Intense adventure over the Easter week-end. I had met Yuan, my trail-running barefooting friend for our first common barefoot hike. Weather predictions were fair, and although a low cloud ceiling could be seen, the day looked to be acceptable for a hike. Little did we know that it would transform into a barefoot hike on a mountain during a thunderstorm.

In Ma On Shan country park

Our starting point was in Ma On Shan country park, at its northern extremity, near the MTR station of Tai Shui Hang. The goal being to climb one or two of the local mountains (and where apparently Yeung, the third member of the group was quite familiar).

The climb appeared perfectly normal at first, with mostly earth and a few rocks. It was when we arrived to the top of the mountain, that things starting getting awry. We first had to clamber down rocks, to get to a position where two interesting rocks were present: the diamond rock and… a phallus rock!

Phallus rock
A very interesting rock, shaped naturally as a phallus.

The pic is courtesy of Yuan, my barefooting friend. And instead of a selfie, here a “footie”.

Barefooting is fun!
Barefooting is fun!

In the very same area, as we were climbing down rocks (and yes, it is rock scrambling, not simply going down), we came across a local species of chameleon, strangely very unafraid of us.

Chameleon
Chameleon spotted in the Ma On Shan park

Slippery path

Going down the mountain gives us already a good taste of what it was going to be later under the thunderstorm. Most of the trails were muddy, or muddy on rocks, which proves to be extremely slippery, as it had stormed just the day before. Progression was thus slower and quite cautious. This rendered us to one of those donkey paths often used by villagers in ancient times. This one being the “Mui Fa” ancient path.

Barefoot trail running on the Mui Fa ancient trail

The best part was getting to a clear fresh stream, where I managed to cleanse a little bit my legs and my arms. Little did I know that we were up for yet another extreme challenge.

In fact, after taking the Mui Fa ancient trail, Yeung decided to take us up another 540 m-high mountain… Just for the fun!

A slippery slope is just… slippery!

I guess I never really understood the meaning of slippery slope, until I climbed this mountain. Very steep slope, mud was freely detaching in some parts, making it extremely difficult to climb barefoot (and even with shoes). I had to use the local trees and my hiking stick at full to progress on this mountain.

Climbing a slippery mountain barefoot

Eventually, we arrived after some rock scrambling (but I kid you not, it was really climbing up rocks), to a sort of plateau with some unstable rocks where we made a pause nonetheless.

Dirty feet and slippery slope.
The state of my feet after climbing the slippery slope.

An unforeseen storm

The violence of the storm caught all of Hong Kong by surprise on Saturday, but fortunately, we were well on our way down the mountain when we took the brunt of it. Winds reached 100 kph, and in its violence, it was just short of a typhoon.

Thunderstorm over Shatin
The thunderstorm seen over Shatin

In terms of nature, it was interesting to observe a Hong Kong Newt, a form of Salamander up on the mountain, far from any stream.

Hk newt
A Hong Kong newt spotted on the mountain far from any stream during a thunderstorm.

Surviving the storm

The remainder of the story, for which, unfortunately, I don’t have pics, was a race to get down the mountain, as best we could. Unfortunately, the normal mountain trail transformed itself into something just short of a wet slide. I think I must have fallen a half dozen times, and on some very slippery sections, did not have other choice but to do a controlled slide downward.

It started getting scary when the thunderstorm got over us and lightning started striking. For the record, about 9,000 lightning strikes took place over Hong Kong during this storm. We were particularly exposed being in altitude and in this particularly nasty storm. However, with a lot of luck, we made it to the cover of the trees, which meant less chances of a direct hit on us. After that, we found finally the Mui Fa trail, and it brought us to a stream inflated by the waters of a flash flood.

And this allows me to illustrate yet another advantage of barefoot hiking: no problems at all with walking in the mountain torrents!

For the record, as some people might consider it irresponsible to be hiking in a thunderstorm, in the morning, nothing advised us of such a sudden and brutal storm, all that was mentioned by the HK observatory was “showers”. The brutality of the storm suprised many in HK and even caused a loss of life (boats capsized, and at least one person struck by lightning). When I noticed warnings of thunderstorm, I asked my companions to shorten the hike, but to get down was quite an endeavour, supposing to pass through several hills. Nevertheless, we were extremely lucky to have escaped with no loss of life and limb, so the lesson is simply to postpone hikes even if showers are forecast.

The inexorable descent to hell of the “Umbrella Movement”

Yesterday, the leaders of the 2014 movement called “Occupy HK” or also the “Umbrella Movement” went down yet another rung into what seems to be an inexorable descent to hell.

Old man protesting at oathgate
The “Oathgate” protests of November 2016.

After wonderfully squandering a unique leverage and negotiation position afforded by 3 months of continuous occupation of the streets of Hong Kong, the “Umbrella movement” faced, in the subsequent years, a determined push by Beijing to terrorize any independence wannabes.

The Legal Case

Originally, you have the “historic leaders” of the Occupy movement spearheaded by such figures as the law professor Benny Tai and then you have the “kids” who took over, such as Joshua Wong and the rag-tag group of students who ensured the occupation. The criminal case decided upon yesterday focused on those historic leaders, whom the judge convicted of “public nuisance”.

On a strictly legal standpoint, the case is probably justified as the initial movement launched by those activists has brought the city to a standstill for three months with little to show for this movement in terms of result. What Hongkongers do not exactly realize is that generally, the right to protest is always strictly kept under control, especially in democracies. Blocking a whole city was something exceptional, to the measure of the stakes at hand.

There is no doubt that the leaders convicted did encourage the public to occupy the streets in an attempt to pressure the HK government. As such, from a strictly legal standpoint, the judge stood little leeway when deciding on their outcome. Nevertheless, looking at the legal case is only looking at half of the issue.

The political undertones

It is widely known that after the huge alarm set out by the “Occupy” movement in 2014, and its ignominous ending in failure, Beijing set out to mete out a special brand of punishment on everyone involved from close or far with the movement. Lawmakers were disqualified (to be honest after making a disgrace of themselves), the “kids” were sent to prison or shut out of any professional career in Hong Kong, and the HK government has set out to enforce more diligently the heavy hand of China on the city.

But all of this could be expected. The unrealistic goals, the childish and immature manner in which the “Occupy” leaders behaved when trying to fix their goals, or even when they got elected to the LegCo, the legislative assembly of Hong Kong, ended up harming their public image.

Oathgate protests
The oathgate protests in November 2017

Over the three months of the protests, and later over the past five years, public support dwindled particularly among youth. Those who were at the forefront of the movement in 2014, learned that they should live the Chinese way, meaning just try to make money, and hold no ideals or hopes.

In a way, the Umbrella Movement was given an extraordinary chance to change the political destiny of a city. But because the “kids” of the Umbrella Movement were naive and because they seriously underestimated Xi Jinping’s China, they just ended taking the movement down all the rungs of Chinese hell. Although it has become mainly a mouthpiece of Beijing, the SCMP published one editorial which truly reflects the feelings of most of the population.

A discredited movement

To add to the discredit of the Occupy leaders, the antics of some people such as Howard Lam who invented some “torture” by Chinese agents (he later admitted self-inflicting injuries), ended up precipitating the movement into irrelevance.

Nowadays, the only persons who believe democrats still hold any relevance in Hong Kong are the Western journalists who played a great role in the international echo of the photogenic movement. The majority of the population moved on and probably even hates the democrats for failing to make good on their promises.

A perfect sign of this was in the public present at the court to support the leaders of the Occupy movement: only middle aged people were present. The youth that was at the heart of the Occupy movement in 2014 did not even bother showing up.

This was already true in 2014, but time has proved this even more: China won the political battle and is about to win the battle of minds. All Hong Kong’s youth has left is either the pursuit of money or the pursuit of leaving Hong Kong.

A day in the life of a refuelling ship

Hong Kong is one of the biggest world harbours. As such, it is one of the huge transiting places for container ships. On the way, these ships need to refuel. It was thus that I had the opportunity of sharing the life of the crew of a refueling ship for a few hours, during one of their shifts.

The life of this ship is shared between refuelling the ships which transit through Hong Kong and taking in oil to fill its tanks. There are two crews of 5 people who share the grueling 12-hrs shifts.

Captain at the helm
As two o’clock ring, the captain gives the departure signal and heads into the sea

As we got closer to the container ship we had to refuel, the crew took its positions.

Crew in position
Crew in position as the refueling ship nears its client.

A strenuous work

While interspersed with long periods of inaction, the work aboard the refueling ship can also take its toll, because of the long periods of work. The crew ensures continuous shifts between filling its tanks and refueling, which go up to several hours, with just two or three hours to rest.

As we were nearing the container ship, the workers started hoisting the heavy buoy to separate both ships.

Preparing for boarding
The crew prepares a buoy to isolate from the ship they are about to refuel.

Despite their hard work, all the men of the crew were extremely welcoming for the photographers and very helpful in guiding us.

Refueling a ship

This day, we were to fuel a Japanese container ship, the “Hyundai Harmony“, with Panama flag. Initially, this all started with having to moor both ships together, to avoid any issue during the delicate refueling operations.

Loaded rope
A crewman of the “Hyundai Harmony” throws a loaded rope to the refueling ship.

This also involved crews of both ships throwing loaded ropes to reach the other ship and pull the heavier ropes.

teamwork to moor ships
The crew of the Hyundai Harmony, pulling on a cable to moor both ships together

The crew of the Hyundai Harmony then started pulling the ropes to secure both vessels together.

On the refuelling ship, Two heavy motors started pulling a very old and fraught rope and brought the two vessels together.

The mooring operations on the refuelling ship: two heavy engines pull the mooring ropes
Rope on the ship
Mooring rope on the ship

After mooring alongside the ship, several of the crew members of the refuelling ship boarded the “Hyundai Harmony” to help them to connect the hoses for fuel resupply.

Crew preparing hose
A crew member prepares the hose for connection onboard the container ship.

This also gave way to some exchanges near to the connection pipes. Interestingly, the Hyundai Harmony was using maritime diesel for propulsion in China, and heavy fuel for propulsion out of China. It also tells how regulating maritime energy consumption might help to solve the pollution problems which keep affecting our planet.

Crew exchanging
The Chinese and Filipino crew of both vessels exchange around one of the diesel entry vents.

Once the business end of the transaction initiated, we started exchanging with the (very friendly) Filipino crew. They soon warmed up to us, and offered us some coke (with actually a Vietnamese package!)

A big family

The beautiful part of that trip was that the welcoming nature of seamen. We were quickly integrated in the group and were even invited to share the dinner of the crew of the refueling ship.

Sharing a meal in the mess
Sharing a meal in the mess

The ship’s mess was really a men’s room, complete with pinup on the wall.

Pinup on the wall
Pinup on the wall of the refueling ship’s mess

To give an idea of the ship, I did film a walkthrough, starting with the first mate’s quarters.

Walking through a refuelling ship.

Despite their hard work, the crew also knew to smile, and this allowed me to get this lovely portrait of a member of the crew.

Crew member
A member of the crew of the refueling ship

The moments of happiness were also present among the Filipino crew who joked playfully among them.

Filipino crew
Filipino crew of the refueling ship

Soon, and after some hesitation, as there was no proper gangway to reach the other ship, we decided to head to the container ship and see closer our new friends.

A common practice, yet a whiff of danger

Both crews jumped very easily from one ship to another, the frequency of the maneuver probably inoculating them to the inherent danger, but for my friend and me, it was the first attempt. We however benefited from the friendly advice of one of the crew members who gave us some tips on how to cross the most safely possible. As the sea was calm and the ships were quite close, the danger was limited, except for the grease present everywhere on this fuel ship, which made metallic surfaces quite slippery.

Crossing between ships seen by GoPro

In the end, we managed to set foot on the other side. On our request, the crew accepted to accompany up topsails, to the bridge of the Hyundai Harmony.

Climbing up on the Hyundai Harmony

We took a selfie at the top.

Selfie on the top bridge
Selfie on the top bridge of the Hyundai Harmony

Drone views of the refueling: taking off from a ship, a challenge for the compass!

This refueling operation was an occasion for me of testing takeoff and landing on a reduced space, namely a ship. For a drone pilot, taking off from a ship spells great trouble, as everything is metallic… So the compass becomes just crazy. The key is to master the “hand launch” (which can be pretty easy, if you go through the route of the automated launch). The key here, being to use the on-screen “launch instruction” rather than the remote control. Indeed, when using the on-screen launch program, the drone automatically rises to 1 m 20 above its launch point (your hand). This minimizes risks of getting hit by the propellers, but you should clearly raise your hand well above your head.

While I took also a number of shots in horizontal perspective, I believe the portrait mode of the Mavic Pro allowed to get the best impression of the length of the container ship.

Container ship by drone
A view by drone of the container ship “Hyundai Harmony”

Other shots shop the refuelling ship in operation next to the container ship.

Refuelling operations
Refuelling operations on the Hyundai Harmony.

Returning to port

After the refuellng was completed, the tanker ship unmoored and started heading to refill its tanks with more fuel for the next shipment.

A crane operator lifts a buoy
A crane operator lifting back the pipes into the ship

One the pipes were back on board, it was time to bring back up the heavy buoy that avoided our ship creating friction with the container ship. The interesting part was that they did this while on the move. I decided to use a tripod and long exposure to show the movement, while keeping the ship in focus.

Moving away
The refueling ship moves away from the container ship

We could have remained with the crew until 3 AM, the time at which the ship’s tanks would be filled again. However, anxious of getting some rest, we opted instead to hitch a ride on a fast boat which was carrying one of the HK technicians sent to assist the Hyundai Harmony. But this was not before taking a last parting shot of the ship.

Return to the “Calm Morning” land

Last December, my family and myself went back to Korea. For me, it was a return to the “Calm Morning” land, for my family, it was their first trip.

If you remember, my first trip to Korea took place in early December 2017. This was the occasion of discovering some amazing places such as Busan and the wide variety of places in Seoul. Korea and Japan are often compared and contrasted, but, per se, the experience is quite different. Where Japan is a land very much imbued with animism and hence every inch of landscape is infused with spirituality, Korea is more of a familiar terrain for Westerners. Christianity permeated Korea and makes its people also more relatable in various manners. This was very clear when my family expressed a feeling of being welcomed into the country, compared to Japan – where you cannot shake off that feeling of being “gaijin”.

Landing in the “Calm Morning” land at dawn

For logistic reasons, we had to take red-eyes flights from Hong Kong to Seoul. My wife and daughter flew Cathay, while I flew with Korean Airlines. It was actually my very first experience flying with them.

View from terminal one at sunrise
The view from Terminal 1 at Incheon airport in Seoul.

As I flew Korean Air, I landed at terminal 2, whereas most airlines take off from terminal 1. I thus had to transfer terminal with my luggages, in the cold and furthermore, with two times more luggage as my wife had charged me with the gifts for our friends (Check photo below!).

Mitch and Maria-Sophia
Mitch and Maria-Sophia at the airport

Our plan had been of showering at the airport, dropping the bags at hotel and rushing off to make the most of our time in Seoul. Alas! What sounds great in theory is not always in practice. We ended leaving the airport only at… 11! The Limousine bus of KAL took us pretty near to our hotel, namely the Novotel Dongdaemun. It however took pretty much close to 45 minutes!

Dongdaemun, a lively area

Dongdaemun may be a bit far from the historical center of Seoul, yet it is an extremely lively place. It has quite a number of department stores (shopping is thus one of the most important activities over there), but it also has the very photogenic museum of design.

The design museum of Seoul
The design museum of Seoul

This museum is very interesting, not only for its photogenic aspect, but also because at some locations, you can find a piano made available for people to play on.

Piano at design museum
These piano are made available for anyone who wishes to play and offer a performance to the public.

We thus had the occasion of assisting to a four-hand performance by two young Koreans, playing Christmas carols (which I, of course, streamed live on Periscope).

Beyond the design museum, the Dongdaemun area has an extraordinary vibe.

A little photographer

This time around, Maria-Sophia was documenting our trip with her own camera, a small compact Nikon.

Me shot by MS
Maria-Sophia managed to shoot me, as I was photographing her and her mom…You can admire the blue sky behind!

Maria-Sophia also understood perfectly the concept of being close to the subject in her picture of the two pianists.

Design museum piano
A live performance of Christmas carols by the two Korean pianists at the design museum

Later, we moved on to the Gyeongbokgung palace, where Maria-Sophia insisted to take a few shots of Mitchy and me. I have to say she did a pretty good job of it.

And, of course, Maria-Sophia demonstrated her keen eye by catching a snapshot of a lady in hanbok inside the courtyard of the palace.

lady in hanbok
Maria-Sophia captures a dynamic pic of a lady in Hanbok inside gyeongbokgung palace

An unusual encounter

Sometimes around the world, you have some weird coincidences. Here, it was my encounter with a scooter sporting a… Monaco plate!

A surprising sight: a scooter with a Monaco plate in Seoul
A scooter with a Monaco plate in Seoul.

I could not find any explanation as to how such a scooter was allowed to ride in Korea, nor why it had a Monaco plate… But it was the interesting sight of the day.

The following days, we were to visit Nami island and then head to Busan.

A new look for Visions Of Asia

As you may have noticed, I am slightly changing the overall look of the blog. Being a blog mainly dedicated to photography, it made sense to make photography really central to the presentation.

Photography is central

You may have noticed that the homepage is now focused around a central photo, which showcases an article on which the focus is at the moment. This is in line with the idea of really putting much more photography at the heart of this blog. Similarly, the content is now more legible due to a different background and more legible fonts.

The new look of Visions Of Asia

Recentering of contents

With constant updates on my latest barefooting adventures, the contents of the blog have become a bit too tipped off towards barefoot running and hiking, to the detriment of its other important component which travel and photography. I will try to rebalance this, especially as there are also a number of stories in the pipeline around my latest trips, which i did not have the time to post.

Of course, I will keep updating about my barefoot experience, but this blog is named “Visions Of Asia”, and it aims also at sharing this vision of Asia and of the world.

Traveling together

Finally, a blog is also a way of talking to the readers. But I am also keen on hearing from you, so please do not hesitate to get back to me with your comments or reactions. There is always a place for dialogue on this blog, and I would be glad to see readers indulge into it.

A business trip on 747

My company’s headquarters are located in Southern France, so occasionally, I can be asked to head to Europe for business. This happened last December. It was the occasion of both sampling the business class of Lufthansa (and its Boeing 747), and, at the same time, of admiring once again, the beautiful city of Nice during this business trip to France.

A 747-800 for the flight

The 4-reactor jumbo jet is much less in favor nowadays, as airways do prefer more economical bi-reactors, such as the Boeing 777 or the Airbus A350. I flew extensively on the B777, and sampled the A350 thanks to Finnair.

upper deck stairway
upper deck stairway on 747-8

The B747-8 of Lufthansa, although it has the pretension of being one of the latest models, still suffers a lot of its age. Indeed, on the upper deck (admittedly, the most private setting for the business class), window side seats are established with a two-row setting. This means that if you are sitting near the window, then you have to jump over your neighbor to go to the restroom. In my case, pretty delicate as there is no place to hold yourself when the seat is reclined and this bed is fully flat.

Business class Lufthanasa
Business class seating on Lufthansa’s 747-8.

Entertainment

The 747-8 has one of the latest screens, but managing to connect the noise-cancelling headphones can be difficult. I even had to ask the assistance of the cabin crew to find the connecting port. Beyond that, the movies choice is pretty updated, but of course, when you download, you are necessarily a bit frustrated by the offer.

Business class screens
Business class screens on 747-8 of Lufthansa

One of the more quirky sides of Lufthansa, is that they provide you a mattrass to be deployed on your seat when you want to sleep. Funny and not necessarily very convenient.

Food: uninspiring

Most people like business class for the food. I have to confess I have a low interest for food, except that I can tell choices are uninspiring.

Dinner on Lufthansa
Dinner on Lufthansa

You might call my choice very “German”, as it comes complete with the potatoes!

At any rate, it was sufficient to nurrish me and keep me satiated until arrival.

One hour before arrival, we were served breakfast. Although the beds are lie-flat beds, I am afraid my back does not allow me to sleep comfortably in the rather Spartan airline seats. Breakfast was a welcome awakening.

Breakfast on Lufthansa
Breakfast on Lufthansa

Once again, it looks VERY German, complete with saussages and eggs.

Arriving in Frankfurt

Of course, when flying from Asia to Europe, you are always bound to arrive at dawn. It was not yet 6 AM, and hence quite dark outside as we landed in Frankfurt after an uneventful flight. I managed to take a few shots of the cabin and the Christmas decorations on the upper deck, before deplaning.

Christmas decorations on 747
Christmas decorations on 747-8

You really get a measure of the majestic plane once outside. In the night, the 747 has still a majestic and royal presence which fills the whole berth.

B747-8 in Frankfurt
The Boeing 747-8 of Lufthansa at its bay in Frankfurt

Layover in Frankfurt

Unfortunately, being a hub for Lufthansa, Frankfurt’s business lounge gets quite crowded in the morning. And, of course, there is a quite a queue to use the lounge’s showers. After shower, it was the time to catch my connecting flight to Nice.

By that time, it had started raining and we took off in an Airbus A320 “neo”. Short plane, with winglets at the end of the wings, the A320 neo is the short range Airbus solution (something of a competitor to the B737 of Boeing).

A320 neo
A view of the A320 neo at its gate. Notice the winglets at the end, fuel-saving feature.

We took off in the rain, but not before seeing a streak of sunrise coming through the clouds.

Sunrise on the airport
Sunrise while waiting to take off to Nice on the A320 neo.

Short haul business class

Obviously, the short haul business class on Lufthansa, just as on Finnair is pretty spartan. Breakfast comes through as a typically German breakfast (again!). Cheese and cold cuts and bread…

Business class breakfast
Business class breakfast on Frankfurt-Nice

The flight was quiet and uneventful, but as the plane flies over the Italian alps in its approach to Nice, the views from the window were quite spectacular. A reminder of how beautiful it is to fly during day time.

View on Italian alps
The view on Italian Alps from the plane

Nice: a classical city

Obviously, I am not going to talk about my work here, nor what I did in Southern France in relation to business.

No, I instead wanted to talk a bit about the city of Nice: although slightly fresh, it was not yet the real cold and dreary days of December down south. I enjoyed a beautiful sun during my stay and, contrary to Asia, the skies were a magnificent blue.

My hotel being located next to the Notre Dame Basilica, I managed to visit this beautiful neo-Gothic church – deserted as about every church in these days and times.

Notre Dame de Nice
The beautiful Notre Dame de Nice Cathedral at night.

The Basilica itself, is a magnificent example of Gothic architecture… brought down to scale! In fact, ths basilica was built around 1864, after the city of Nice was returned to France from the Kingdom of Sardinia. So, quite new as a church, but still it maintains a certain intemporal beauty.

Inside the Basilica
Inside the Notre Dame of Nice Basilica

The whole area of the center of Nice is a bustling area of promenade and of animation of the Southern city. Cars are excluded from circulating, so the main transportation is the tram and bicycle.

Biking in Nice
A lady bikes on the tram rails in Nice

A missed sunrise

Sadly for a photographer, I was unable to stop and shoot a picture of the beautiful sunrise on the mediterranean coast near Nice. I did manage to grab a snapshot from my car’s window, though.

A famous social media symbol
A famous social media symbol for Nice.

Later, on the same road, I managed to see a fiery sunrise.

Sunrise in Nice
Sunrise in Nice

Return flight

The return flight to Hong Kong was as uneventful as the going. I flew again on a 747-8, but this time, I took the precaution of getting an aisle seat to avoid having to hike above my neighbors…

And when I arrived in Hong Kong, it was time to say goodbye to the 747 after two flights with Lufthansa.

Boeing 747-8
The Boeing 747-8 of Lufthansa at its gate in Hong Kong after the night flight from Europe.

Encountering a barefoot trail runner in Hong Kong

Until recently, I thought I was the only barefoot runner in Hong Kong. Then, one day, as I was on the MacLeHose trail near Sai Kung, with Matthew, we encountered Yuan, a barefoot trail runner in Hong Kong. We had done some exploring previously around Tung Yeung Shan in the same area.

An experienced barefooter

Yuan has 4 years barefooting under his belt! At the time we encountered him, he was climbing on the MacLeHose trail near to Sai Kung. We were going down instead… The Mac LeHose trail crosses from Sai Kung to Tsuen Wan and is one of the most challenging trails in Hong Kong.

Yuan barefooter on the trail
Yuan on the trail when he first met us.

At the time, Yuan told us he was training for the HK100 race. However, later when he took part in the race, because he started too strong, he had to abandon the race around km 63. Still, that is 63 kms barefoot!

The strategy around barefoot trail running

Yuan encouraged me to use hiking poles when running, as it allows to put less weight on your feet and allows you to shift weight when running. This is important as a barefoot trail runner, as you will often land on “uncomfortable” areas.

Beyond that, as can be seen from the pics, Yuan runs very lightly, with as little supplies as possible, using mostly gels to sustain himself while on the trail. Obviously, his speed was quite different from mine, as I am still very careful as to where I land, to avoid hurting myself and losing balance (especially the latter).

I also did a bout of trail running on this path:

Ultra running barefoot

Yuan does ultra trail running as I mentioned (100 K was his target). While rare, this is not totally impossible, fundamentally, the physiological aspect of ultra running being the same whether you are a barefoot trail runner or not. The only issue might be with abrasion, but after 4 years running, I guess that becomes a non-issue.

Obviously, you don’t start ultra running from a day to another. It takes just the same building up as with shoes, just maybe longer as beyond your muscles and bones, you need to prepare also a whole set of different muscles in the feet.

Yuan is a perfect example of how to push your limits when barefooting.

When barefooting becomes a virus

My original starting point as a barefoot runner and barefoot hiker has been explained in a previous post. The interesting part is that over the past year of barefoot life, barefooting is becoming like a virus, infecting my friends with the desire to start experiencing the same freedom and fun.

Hong Kong, a positive attitude to barefooting

It must be said that the generally positive attitude encountered on hiking trails when they see you barefooting in Hong Kong is quite encouraging. So far, I have yet to encounter a negative response to barefoot hiking or running.

Most of the accounts coming from Europe or the US talk about the social stigma associated with walking or being barefoot. In Hong Kong, on the contrary, and it is probably linked to the Chinese culture of reflexology, there is an acute awareness of the benefits of barefooting.

We were stopped by an older man (shod) who gave us a little pep talk which went like this:

We all know how good barefooting is for our health. Yet, very few of us go out of our comfort zone and do it”.

Old man on the trail

Those thoughts sum up the cringe or instinctive response to barefooting in a nutshell. When you dare go out of your comfort zone for the first time, everything else becomes so liberating.

This positive response, heard on the trails, plays as an encouragement and positive reinforcement for those who start barefooting.

Barefoot hike on Jat's incline.
Capture of our barefoot hike with Matthew on Jat’s incline.

When it transmits like a virus!

The fact that you are capable of barefooting along great distances can act as an incentive to friends who might take the step more easily. Often, people are scared of barefooting if they are alone (“comfort zone” again). When they are in a group, it becomes more “acceptable”, as the group shields the individual from directly facing the eyes of the others…

At any rate, the virus of barefooting has slowly transmitted to my friends.

We started first with Matthew, going out for barefoot runs together, then for barefoot hikes

Later, my other friend, Bailey, got also convinced to do a barefoot hiking, especially as he saw me targeting one after the other, the most challenging places such as Suicide Cliff, or Lantau Peak.

Hiking barefoot in group

So, in the end, we agreed to meet up and start a barefoot hike together, including his mother, Linda. Linda has been also barefoot hiking for quite a while and is an experienced barefooter. We chose to take the trail from Shatin to Kowloon peak, as it is an easy trail acceptable for a beginner.

Pro and beginner barefooters
Linda, the pro barefooter and Bailey, the beginner…

It was thus that on the path, Linda kept progressing at a quick rate, Bailey instead huffing and puffing, as the rough terrain was taking a toll on his unconditioned feet. Nevertheless, he managed to hike all the way without wearing his shoes!

Barefooting on the trails…

The beauty of hiking barefoot is that you can dip your feet in any small stream, or wet them to refresh them.

Fresh water on bare feet
Bailey and Linda enjoying fresh water on bare feet

The beauty of keeping fit

Incredibly, Linda showed us quite some feat of suppleness in her stretches during our hike. Thanks to her hard work, this lady keeps an incredible joint suppleness.

Maximum  stretch
Maximum barefoot stretch on Jat’s Incline!

This shows that barefooting certainly increases your tendon flexibility and ease of extension.


Stretching barefoot
Linda stretching in the middle of a barefoot hike

Running downhill

As you may know, I often run downhill Kowloon Peak, after a hike around the mountain. Lately, I started long runs around the mountain, which end up with a downhill run.

Most of the time, I try to take the Wong Tai Sin route to add some mileage to my runs. Sometimes, however, I take the “short” route and run down Jat’s Incline, which amounts to roughly 9 to 10 kms from doorstep to doorstep.

The road can be quite rough in places, so it was a bit of a stretch for Bailey to run down, but he and his mother managed to do it with a great smile!

Hiking barefoot and running down Kowloon Peak!

Barefooting alone is nice, doing it together is even better!

In the end, because we are a social animal, we tend to enjoy experiences in common more than alone… Communication and sharing the benefits of barefooting (without all the nonsense of “grounding”) may incite friends to join you on the trails. In Hong Kong and Asia, at least, barefooting can be done in a fun way.

In the “Golden Prague”

Last May, I was in Prague to participate to a meeting organized by my company. I seized the occasion to have my wife and daughter fly with me to the “Golden Prague” or the “golden city” as the Czech capital is known, occasion of seeing one of the most beautiful cities in Central Europe.

Reaching Prague

There are many ways to reach Prague from Asia, but we took Finnair, as it was the most convenient way of reaching the city. My wife and daughter enjoyed the business class on board the Finnair flight to Prague.

Business class of finnair
Mitchy and Maria-Sophia in the business class of Finnair

It was an excellent flight, with the habitual excellent food of Finnair. Mitch and Maria-Sophia both enjoyed this short but agreeable trip.

Meal on finnair business class
Meal on Finnair business class

The landing was smooth with the lovely Czech countryside developing for miles before the landing.

Landing in Prague of flight AY 1224

The “golden city”

Prague has often had the nickname of being the “golden city”, for its sheer beauty and baroque rooftops. Upon our arrival, we set out thus, to go and see for ourselves the beautiful city. My hotel was at the King’s Court, a very centrally located hotel in the old city of Prague. It allowed us to take a stroll immediately in the pedestrian center of the city.

Pretty Czech girls
A snapshot of a couple of pretty Czech girls in Prague’s historic center

We dropped our luggage and set off exploring the beautiful city of Prague right away

The Prague Castle

The obligatory passage of any visit in Prague is the Prague castle, of course. After meandering through the streets of Prague, we came across this magnificent IXth century castle, which is also the official seat of the President of the Czech Republic.

Maria-sophia before St. George basilica
Maria-Sophia before the St. George basilica in the inner courtyard of Prague Castle

While the IXth century St. Vitus cathedral presents undoubtedly gothic features, the surroundings of the cathedral have been heavily influenced over the centuries by various constructions and particularly in the baroque style, such as the St. George basilica featured above.

View over rooftops of Prague
This gorgeous view over the rooftops of Prague is available inside Prague castle

The best part in Prague castle is probably the magnificent view over the rooftops. To get this view, you must enter a little coffee shop which offers an excellent package of coffee + strudel for about 5 €. Unbeatable for the magnificent views.

Photo ops

Most people decide to take pictures on the ramparts of the castle, and that’s what we did with Maria-Sophia too.

Maria-Sophia over the ramparts
Maria-Sophia posing over the ramparts of Prague castle

We eventually came back to Prague castle on our last day for more photos. It is worth pointing out that Asian tourists (and particularly Korean couples) seem to affection Prague, both at the castle and the Charles bridge for prenuptial pictorials.

Asian prenup pictorials at Prague castle
Asian couples often come for prenuptial pictures at Prague castle

Besides couples, you have also a lot of Asian tourists visiting this historical city.

Two Asian tourists in Prague castle
Two Asian tourists in Prague castle

Heading to the Moldau

You have two ways to go back to the Moldau. The first is to climb through the Wenceslas vineyards, which offer also a magnificent photo backdrop.

Wenceslas vineyards
Maria-Sophia on the path of the Wenceslas vineyards

The other part involves exiting the castle at the opposite point of entrance and going down stairs in the old city. Many Asian tourists chose to take this route, just as these two Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourists climbing stairs to Prague castle
Two Chinese tourists climb the stairs to the Prague castle

Of course, we also had our own photo sessions on these stairs.

Maria-Sophia before the Prague castle stairs
Maria-Sophia poses on the stairs climbing to the Prague castle

Once we came back down to the historical center, we meandered again to the Charles bridge. This place is an absolute nightmare filled with tourists at any time of the day. The best moment to visit it is probably during early mornings, where fewer tourists are around.


The Charles Bridge

The Charles bridge is also famous for the saint who reportedly was executed on this bridge in the Middle Ages, namely Saint John of Nepomuk. Executed because, allegedly, he refused to betray the secret of the confession, it seems rather this execution was orbiting around the Western Schism. Saint John of Nepomuk supported a candidate wanted by the Roman Pope against the wishes of King Wenceslas for the attribution of a very rich abbey. This might be more of a motive than the romantic legend of refusing to violate the secrecy of confession.

As a reminder, the Western Schism was between the supporters of the Pope in Avignon, infeodated to the King of France and the Pope in Rome, who maintained the supremacy of the Church over earthly sovereigns. In short, the short-lived fight around theocracy, which came to an end under Pope Boniface VIII. This schism ended dividing European kingdoms across support for one or the other Pope, and sometimes even ran lines of divide within some nations, such as in present-day Czechia.

Today, a statue is erected on the Charles Bridge, at the place where the saint was thrown in the river.

Maria-Sophia at the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk
Maria-Sophia pays respect to the statue of Saint John Nepomuk

The Charles Bridge, in itself was closed to circulation after WWII, as its age and multiple damages from flooding had weakened its structure. Its modern-day restoration which ended in 2010 is strongly criticized for failing to respect the ancient character of the bridge and mixing older and newer materials.

The Charles Bridge in Prague
The Charles Bridge in Prague

Along the Moldau

I guess that when you come to Prague, you suddenly understand the famous “Moldau” symphonic poem by the Czech composer, Bedřich Smetana. The river and its flow do really evoke the powerful and peaceful music of Smetana, and for a classical music lover, it is quite an emotional moment.

“The Moldau”, by Smetana
Maria-Sophia on the banks of the Moldau
Maria-Sophia on the banks of the Moldau

Prague is also the birth city of another great Czech composer, Anton Dvorak.

A golden city… with disagreeable people

After our travel to Prague, we came to the conclusion that while the city is magnificent, Czech people instead are mostly disagreeable and lack common customer service sense. The general attitude was rather rough and rude in shops or cafes, not to mention there is none of the friendliness we encountered for example in Finland or Spain.

Hiking barefoot above the sea of clouds: Lantau Peak

My previous hike on Lantau peak was shod; it was thus only natural that I should attempt a barefoot hike on Lantau peak. The initial goal was just to manage to climb the mountain, but eventually, I managed to photograph a “sea of clouds“.

An opportunity hike

I decided to climb Lantau peak as I had to take my family to the airport. Remembering that I struggled with all my gear the previous time, I decided to hike light this time. My package contained water, my camera, my phone and a go pro. I also took a change of clothes and a fleece sweater, as I was expecting to be chilled on the return.

The departure took place pretty late, towards 3 PM, but that still gave me some margin, as sunset was to take place around 17h 30 pm, so I still had time to return to Nong Ping. However, on the way, I saw several Indians who were barely arriving within view of the summit around 16h 30, or close to 17h 00… Given that none of them had packed a torch other than their smartphone, I hope they managed to get down without issues.

As a reminder, if you expect your hike to have even a remote possibility of ending at night, you should carry a torch light.

The start of the hike

As usual, the hike starts on Pak Kung Au. This location is the starting point for both, Lantau peak hike and Sunset peak hike (where you hike all the way to Mui Wo). Pak Kung Au, being some distance from the town of Tung Chung, you must catch bus 23M (the one going to Nong Ping) and alight at Pak Kung Au station. From there, you have to walk uphill some short distance, before joining the start of the trail to Lantau Peak.

At the very start, you will see a memorial comemorating the two GFS (Government Flying Service) pilots who got killed in a helicopter accident on the flanks of Lantau Peak.

Memorial to pilots
A memorial is present at the very beginning of the trail, remembering two pilots of the GFS who crashed there

A heavy fog was blanketing all of Hong Kong, so I was not really expecting there to be any significant shots, but I was fine with it, as it was just for the exercise.

The endless stairs climbing in the fog
The start of the trail on Lantau Peak: endless stairs disappearing in the clouds.

The first time I climbed Lantau Peak, it was at night, with a heavy load on my back and with a much lesser degree of cardio. This time, I was able to keep up a good level of speed, and if I didn’t manage to reach the 1h 1/4 promised by the direction boards, I did manage to get to the top in 1h 25 mins.

Direction boards on Lantau Peak
Direction boards tell you how much time left until you reach the top of the mountain

A grueling series of stairs

While very well signaled and built and unlike suicide cliff, perfectly safe to climb, the hike is mainly an endless succession of stone stairs. Keeping a light backpack is paramount to conserving energy and not exhausting yourself up there.

For a barefoot hiker, the challenge is compounded by some rough trails along the way, with loose stones. With some training, you just breeze past those areas, and bare feet do consent more balance. However, if you are unsure of your balance taking a hiking stick can certainly help.

Rough trails
In some parts, instead of stairs, there are some rough trails. Barefooting requires some technique here.

Above the clouds

At a point, I exited finally from the cloud cover and was welcomed by a warm sun in its setting phase. There is always some marvel at seeing the sun after bathing in the fog, but the marvel was compounded when I turned around and saw that there was actually a sea of clouds! As a reminder, the “sea of clouds” is generally formed by a weather phenomenon called “temperature inversion”, where the air near the ground is colder than the air above, thus trapping the fog on the bottom.

Climbing on Lantau Peak and seeing the sea of clouds

It is often said that barefoot hiking allows you to experience the hike, as well as do it… But the real experience was the magnificent views on this hike. The gorgeous views would almost let you forget that there is an airport in operation just next to the mountain!

Sea of clouds on Lantau Peak
Just before the summit of Lantau Peak, a shot shows Sunset peak surrounded by clouds

Summitting!

There is always a thrill in arriving to the top of a mountain, in my case, the thrill was increased by the fact that I did climb faster than I expected. A lot of hikers were busy taking pictures around on that day. And for cause! The sea of clouds was just gorgeous.

Panorama pic
An idea of the gorgeous view at the top of Lantau Peak via this panorama pic.

The setting of the sea of cloud is so incredibly gorgeous, that it provides the occasion for many pics in dreamlike situations.

Hiker before sea of clouds
A hiker looks at the sea of clouds

Of course, I did have my own pictures taken up there…

On the top of Lantau Peak
On the top of Lantau Peak, barefoot. You can see Sunset peak in the background and the sea of clouds all around.
Snap before distance marker
I asked another hiker to snap a pic of me before the distance marker of Lantau Peak.

And after this, it was time to head back down…

The road down

The first few meters down from Lantau Peak are quite impressive as you progress down an almost vertical flight of stairs which can certainly give fear of heights to people who are subject to it. The views, however are just gorgeous, as you feel you are descending from heaven.

Stairs descending from Lantau Peak.
The vertiginous view on the stairs descending from Lantau peak.

The stairs are nothing to write home about, on the way down. You must just be careful if they are humid as they might be slippery (especially when barefoot), but beyond that, although I was barefoot, I managed to reach Nong Ping before any of the other hikers who left the top at the same time as me.

Wisdom path shrouded in fog
The wisdom path shrouded in fog

It was a bit difficult for me to maintain trace of my upward progression as I missed a number of the landmarks we had been through during the night hike. However, I managed to evaluate my (fast) progression on the way down, by recognizing a number of benches or other features along the way. What was missing most was the possibility of recognizing the wisdom path along the way. When I finally encountered it, it was shrouded in the fog, giving it an eery aspect.

On the way back

On the way, I checked the abandoned village near Nong Ping. In a previous post, I had mentioned about the creepy doll in one of the abandoned shops. It seems that since my last visit, some vandals broke the windows of that shop and stole the doll. A pity, as she was one of the features to give a friendly face to this abandoned village.

In Tung Chung, after catching one of the last buses from Nong Ping, I caught the E22 bus to take me home straight, without having to change 2x MTR.

As a conclusion, the Lantau Peak hike, although grueling by the efforts required, is quite an easy hike, which can be easily done even by relatively inexperienced hikers due to the presence of stairs all along the path.

A final word: the overwhelming positive approach to barefooting on the trails

All the reactions of other hikers on the trail were admirative of barefoot hiking, so in general, hiking barefoot in Hong Kong is more of a subject of admiration. Barefooting on rough terrain commands even more admiration, as people cringe inwardly about the “pain” that could be a result.

While the terrain commands a slower hiking approach than shod, at the end of the day, the legs feel wonderfully light after the hike is over. Just good muscular tiredness, with no exhaustion on the feet.

As a barefoot runner and hiker, visibility is also important in convincing others to take the first step towards this life-changing practice.