A day trip to “grass island”

The nice thing of Hong Kong is that in merely one hour, you can reach isolated islands where you are basically left to explore. Ok, I am exaggerating, of course, for a day trip to “grass island” is anything but adventure. Tap Mun in its Cantonese name, the island has long been a fisherman’s haven back in the days where China did not plunder all the resources around. Nowadays, there is a hesitant reconversion towards tourism, but the island lacks facilities and is small, both of which make its charm and make it less well known.

An antiquated ferry

Catching the ferry to Tap Mun island can be done in two places, both of them already involving about one hour commute. You can either catch it in Sai Kung, or near HK University, in Tai Po district. The ferry in those places is called “kaito”, an older indigenous name. The ferry does stop on its way to several small islands where people disembark, apparently to camp or swim.

All in all, the ferry ride takes over one hour, exploring the surroundings of Plover Cove. Upon arrival in Tap Mun, you disembark right on the jetty.

Tap Mun Island jetty
Tap Mun island jetty by drone

Most of the visitors (a lot of mainlanders from China) rush into the restaurants instead of exploring the island (which is small, less than 1 km² for the walkable section). As to me, I did the whole hike barefoot as is now becoming customary.

Tin Hau Temple

The island is small, so five minutes after leaving the jetty, you will come across one of the oldest structures of Hong Kong, the Tin Hau temple. Aged 400 years, this temple is said to be connected to a cave on the other side of the island.

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A sign of the relationship of the island to the sea life can be found in the presence of a wodden model boat inside the temple. If you go there, don’t miss the delicate ceramic figures on either side of the altar.

When taking a look at the big picture, you can see the location of the temple is just near to the harbour, and was probably at the center of the fishing community 400 years ago. You can also see to the right how Tap Mun island provided a nicely protected cove for fishing boats.

Tin Hau temple by drone
Tin Hau temple seen by drone

The first traces of population on the island go back to AD 1573, the Tanka people starting to use the island and building the Tin Hau Temple towards the XVIIth century.

A grassy island

The nickname of “grass island” is easily understood once you walk a bit around. Great parts of the islands are covered in grass, with some forest on the uninhabited part.

Grass island
Grass island and the pavillon on the northern part

Once again, using a drone allows to see the full size of the island and to better understand its structure. I did have some interested people during my flight, however. Thankfully my friend, Matthew, was helpful enough in talking to them.

Flying a drone
Flying a drone over the harbour

Some tourists do sit down on the gentle slopes, others try to camp over there.

Sitting on the slopes of grass island
Sitting on the slopes of grass island

In fact, the walkable portion of the island island is about 1 km, so you get around very quickly. But the presence of shelters makes it quite easy to move around and visit the island.

Shelter on Tap Mun island
Shelter on Tap Mun island

Feral cattle

Tap Mun island is also home to a small population of feral cattle. Namely, these are descendants of cattle that were released when the locals left. Nowadays, although “wild”, they are among the kindest animals of the sort that you can see in Hong Kong. They are all over the grassy slopes of the island.

Feral Cattle in Tap Mun island
Feral cattle in Tap Mun island (calves in this case)

Although kind, these animals are not domesticated. As such, you should not caress them or attempt stunts with them. Of course, this recommendation falls into deaf years with mainland Chinese who get into hot waters trying to have a pic taken with the cows.

Chinese tourist attempting stunt with feral cattle
A Chinese tourist attempts a stunt with a feral cattle

The “Balanced Rock”

The “balanced rock” is a natural rocky formation created by erosion, which left two rocks standing in equilibrium on each other.

Balanced rock of tap mun island
The balanced rock of Tap Mun island – and I am barefoot as usual.

Many tourists stop on the top of the cliff and take in the beauty of the island.

Tourist on Tap mun
Tourist on Tap Mun island

To get there, you must take a small buffalo path on the flanks of the hill (left on the photo below).

Balanced rock by drone
A view of the balanced rock seen by drone

Legend has it that a cave nearby communicates with the Tin Hau temple. At any rate, it is worth veering off the main course and seeing the balanced rock up close, but few hikers do that (the descent looks more impressive than it actually is, as I did it barefoot).

Fishermen on the island

The fishing past of the locals is still very present nowadays on the island. During my visit, I could see a man fishing on a cliff right above the crashing waves.

Old man and the sea
An old fisherman casts his line as the waves break around him.

Further to that, there were two other fishermen who were trying their luck near the balanced rock in a position less exposed to the waves.

Two fishermen near the "balanced rock"
Two fishermen casting their lines near the “balanced rock”

Finally, here is a walk through Tap Mun island with my friend, Matthew.

How to get there?

 

The first ferry for Tap Mun island  leaves at 8.30 in the morning (full schedule here). To catch it, you must first take the east line of the MTR to University Station.From there, you can walk or catch  a taxi to the Mau Liu Shui ferry pier.

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan: between art and local life

On my visit to Busan, one of my targets was the Gamcheon Culture village. While being the first place I visited after the Gwangandaegyo bridge, I have waited a while to write about it. In fact, the place is very famous in Busan and the beauty of the setting is so lovely, that it requires some effort to give it justice.

The history of Gamcheon

Originally, Gamcheon did not really have an artistic legacy at all, but was placed in a very interesting spot, against a mountain, with the associated curves and complex turns. Interestingly, most of the inhabitants are refugees from the Korean war and followers of the Tageukdo religion. The Tageukdo is the symbol which is part of Korea’s flag (also known as the yin and the yang).

Taegeuk in Naju Hyanggyo
The Tageukdo symbol (origin: wikicommons)
 Nowadays, the followers of this religion are few in Gamcheon. Since 2009, the city of Busan attempted to redevelop this area by focusing on making about 300 empty houses the center of street art. This gave a new  impulse and made of Gamcheon one of the symbols of Busan.

Art in the street

The beauty of Gamcheon is that the redeveloped art project is closely mixed to the city life of the inhabitants. You can walk along the main street which circles all around the little village. Or you can delve into the city and try some shopping, like for these cute little bears (3,000 KRW each).

Cute Korean bears
Some cute bear dolls in Gamcheon Culture village

 

You can find some murals such as the “wall of love”.

The Wall of Love in Gamcheon
The Wall of love in Gamcheon Culture village

There is also a lot of subjects for detail shots in the village. Such as an old and worn out roof.

Worn-out roof
A worn-out roof in Gamcheon culture village

When looking at details, the tightly packed houses make also for interesting photographic subjects.

Houses in Gamcheon culture village
A detail of the tightly interspersed houses in Gamcheon Culture village
Gamcheon Culture village
Gamcheon Culture village from the photo viewpoint
Selfie in Gamcheon
A selfie in Gamcheon (as you can see, it was quite cold, despite the sun!)

You can also check my periscope account to find a live video I made walking through the village.

How to get there?

Gamcheon is not a lost place, but I elected to walk up there instead of taking transportation, and it was a quite strenuous climb.

Climbing to Gamcheon Culture village
Climbing to Gamcheon Culture Village

You must first take the metro to Toseong station and take exit 6. From there, either you catch a minibus, or you can climb all the way to the top. It was frisky on that day, so a good day for a walk! Taking the minibus down sets you back about 1,000 KRW, but the driving is quite vertiginous in those steep streets!

 

Helsinki, the city where I would love to live

Recently, my travels took my back to Helsinki, in Finland, also called the “White City of the North“. I loved Finland for a long time now, ever since I prepared and published a full student newspaper on the country. Visiting Helsinki last year was another occasion of appreciating the real country.

A business flight

To fly to Helsinki, I was lucky enough to be able to use the business class of Finnair. While being somewhat bare bones (amenities are few except a Marimekko pouch), the comfort is pretty ok. As I was gold member of Finnair, I managed to take my family to the Qantas lounge. Later, however, my wife and daughter were flying in economy, while I was flying business. The presentation and taste of the Finnair food is quite good, although I will confess that Turkish Airlines does make better food.

 

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The whole flight was uneventful, and we arrived at around 6 AM in Helsinki. Passing through immigration was also a breeze, and eventually we collected our luggage. The best option for reaching the center was taking the Finnair bus which has its terminus at the central train station of Helsinki. We then had to walk a few hundred meters to reach the hotel, but it was tough, as we had to drag our suitcases.

 

A family trip

As this time, my wife and daughter had accompanied me to Finland, I decided to reside in the center of Helsinki. Ever since my first trip, they had wanted to come and see the lovely city of Finland. We stayed at the Glo Hotel Kluuvi. This hotel is very centrally located and for our requirements, it perfectly fitted the bill. Upon check-in, we were offered the option to upgrade to a suite for 165 € for the three nights (vs 165 € per night). We seized the option and got into a lovely room with the reputed Finnish design.

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However, as it was only 6 AM, we had to leave our luggage at the hotel, and we decided to already go on a first tour of the Finnish capital.

Excitement among the two girls was at its top.

Later, walking in the old city, we enjoyed the old cobblestones, sharing the road with trams and simply walking along the city.

Mitch and Maria-Sophia
Mitch and Maria-Sophia in a side street near Tuomiokirkko

The best part being probably have their portrait taken on the steps of Tuomiokirkko.

Before the Tuomiokirkko
Arriving in Helsinki: before the Tuomiokirkko

Tuomiokirkko is always a favourite place for portraits. Two girls were also shooting on the steps.

Girl has picture taken on stairs of Tuomiokirkko
A girl has her picture taken on the stairs of Tuomiokirkko

A little model

Maria-Sophia does some child modelling. As such, she was happy to pose in her warm outfit of Nicholas and Bears (which she already sported in Japan).

Padlock bridge
Near the Orthodox Cathedral of Helsinki, Maria-Sophia poses on the padlock bridge.

The red ship in the Helsinki habour echoes nicely her outfit.

Maria-Sophia at the Helsinki harbour
Maria-Sophia at the Helsinki Harbour

At that point, between jet-lag and tiredness of walking around, our daughter was already exhausted… I then offered to carry her on my shoulders, thus starting a new habit for her.

But walking in the historical center already gave us a taste of the beauty of the city. The weather was also quite temperate.

No drone zones

Finland is very liberal in the matters of drone laws. Nevertheless, they have a few “no drone zone”, and one of these encompasses Tuomiokirkko and the historical center. This is a pity, as the center of the city is very photogenic, but was implemented because of the presence of government buildings.

No drone sign in Helsinki
A large area of Helsinki center is prohibited to drones

The eastern part of Helsinki harbour is interesting for the wooden yachts moored there.

Wooden yacht moored in helsinki harbour
Wooden yacht moored in Helsinki harbour

A city pleasant to live into

This little early morning and afternoon stroll gave us the feeling that Helsinki is the one city where I would love to live. It has a perfect mix of architectural beauty, perfect weather, and “joie de vivre” that makes it so lovely.

Even though as tourist, you don’t put up with most of the daily issues of locals, you can tell that people are happy. And the sheer beauty of seeing the sunset at midnight in summer is enough to get you excited (even if in winter, you almost never see the sun!).

Drone in Helsinki

Later, at  night, I went out for a barefoot walk with my drone. The streets are quite easy to walk barefoot, but if you go into the Kaivopuisto park, you must beware. The whole park seems to be a gigantic toilet for dogs, with pieces or dried excrement all over the grass. Something of annoying for what is otherwise a lovely place to be.

Restaurant in Helsinki harbour
A lovely sight at sunset, with this restaurant located just in the Helsinki harbour

 

Drone view over Helsinki
This is the best you can do in terms of taking a picture of the historical center in Helsinki. In the distance, you can see the Tuomiokirkko

A famous statue, the Rauhanpatsas statue of peace faces the South harbour.

Rauhanpatsas statue of peace, by drone
The Rauhanpatsas statue of peace in Helsinki seen by drone

When you walk beyond the immediate proximity of the south harbour, you can come across a magnificent jetty which provides a lovely view in the setting sun.

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All in all, the lovely evening stroll and the beauty of the environment contribute to make you love Helsinki and wish to come back.

The death of “Karaoke Street”?

It was announced and it finally came: it seems all but certain now that the Sai Yeung Choi south street in Mongkok will be closed to entertainers. In fact, in a previous post, we mentioned that the decibels were causing a lot of complaints. In a recent vote, the District Council of Yau Tsim Tong passed a motion to close the pedestrian area of the famous Mongkok “Karaoke Street”.

Performer on Sai Yeung Choi south street
A singer performs for her mainly mature audience at Sai Yeung Choi South street on Saturday 2 June

A predictable outcome

In fact, complaints about the noise and disturbance in “Karaoke street” are not new. Local businesses have been complaining about the impossibility of carrying out business with increasingly louder karaoke installations.

The complaints reached a new threshold as the performers kept bringing out louder speakers and more professional material, such as TV’s, generators and mixing tables.

The “professionalization” of the peforrmers and their competition meant that you had people placed at just ten meters of each other, competing to be heard by passersbys witih increasingly louder volumes of sound.

Despite this, the vibe of “Karaoke street” was absolutely contagious, as can be reflected in this video and several periscopes I made at the same place over the years.

 

 

Political consequences

Sai Yeung Choi South street in Mongkok, is known as a hotbed of local popular culture, but also the last refuge of localists. In fact, among the performers, the last remnants of the “Umbrella Movement” found a refuge on that street. The famous Mongkok riots of 2015 also took place in that area. As of today, the area has become one of the last places to observe the typical Hong Kong culture and mostly older residents who enjoy their free time on week-ends.

Suppressing this area might thus trigger other political consequences. That is probably the reason why the HK government was not in a great hurry to offer a timetable for the eviction of the pedestrian zone.

In fact, the district council has no power to edict legislation, and it can only offer recommendations to the HK government. The said government promised it would act “as soon as possible” on the recommendations.

Nevertheless, the conflict of interests and the complaints of local businesses have given rise to an interesting situation in Hong Kong. How to reconcile the desire for entertainment and the needs of local businesses?

Karaoke street performer
A performer pushes up the decibels to get the attention of passerbys

A middle way solution?

As always, the solution might be in the middle. Why not enforce a tougher regulation of sound levels among performers? Why not continue allowing this lovely entertainment area and participate in giving this extra vibe to Hong Kong?

Performers must be reined in, but it is certain that if Sai Yeung Choi South is closed as a pedestrian area, a lot less people will be circulating there. Some editorials have tried suggesting such a compromise, but given how high tensions can rise in that area, it is not sure what approach the HK government will retain, but more than ever, Mongkok promises to be a tricky area to administer. So, as long as they are still there,  I will keep documenting the performers of Sai Yeung Choi South… Hoping to see them still for a long time.

Cantopop singer
A singer performs on Sai Yeung Choi South street receiving banknotes as thanks for her performance.