Saturday, December 25, 2010

Windy day in Mui Wo

Crisp, cool day on the beach. Perfect for kite flying – or, if you're really lazy, for tying kites to a post and watching them fly.

Man Kok Tsui

We decided to try a new hike over Boxing Day. There was this beach we kept seeing from the ferry so we thought we'd try walking past Silvermine Bay beach, find this one, and then keep on to the tip of the bay.

It was a lovely discovery. The walk took us past holiday homes (with the inhabitants sitting outside enjoying the sunny weather) and abandoned pig farms. The beach was surprisingly clean, with pretty white corals and shells.

We thought we'd be hugging the contours of the hill so the walk shouldn't be too arduous but, after the beach, it took a steep climb upwards. Just as we thought of turning back, the views opened up in front of us and we could see all the way to Peng Chau and Central. It was breath-taking.

A sign post promised us Man Kok Tsui, which sits on a small promontory at the entrance to Silvermine Bay. So on we trudged.

We were not disappointed. Though it looked deserted, the houses and vegetable gardens in the village looked well-kept. And it had a view that encompassed Disneyland, Peng Chau, Central and Hei Ling Chau.

To make the walk even more magical, a tiny fishing boat turned up just as we were about to double back to Mui Wo. It has been hired by two guys who'd been out fishing but they very kindly allowed us to board. It cost HK$70 for both of us – which we were happy to pay for the 15-minute ride almost to our doorstep.

Mui Wo from a ferry boat

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Apple crumble

The China Beach Club (Tel: 2983-8931) is famed for its home-made apple crumble (HK$50 with ice-cream, HK$55 with custard and HK$60 with both) and you can see why. It comes in a huge slab with vanilla-scented pastry enveloping tangy, gooey apple slices. A warm mouthful goes well with a bite of vanilla ice-cream. The hot-cold combination means it's a welcome ending to any meal, whether in summer or winter. Heaven!

The simple life

Looking at Mui Wo now, it's hard to believe that just a couple of decades ago, it was a thriving farming community. Today, if you walk on some of the overgrown paths, you can still see footprints of old vegetable gardens, fish farms and rice fields.

Old-timers tell me the flat and muddy plot of land just outside Luk Tei Tong used to be vast paddy fields. And, just behind the municipal buildings and the Chung Hau watchtower, the acres of wastelands and ponds used to be fish, sugar cane and vegetable farms and paddy fields that could feed the 200-odd members of the Yuen clan (with some left over to sell to the other villagers).

The descendants of some of the cultivated plants still exist. In our walks, we often come across wild banana trees, some still bearing fruits. Often, we also see abandoned homes that, though highly inconvenient to our modern lifestyle, would have been ideal for sustenance – close to clear streams, with patches of sunlight and shade, and on fertile ground.

We dream of one day being able to buy one of these abandoned farm houses and restore some of the gardens. But the land laws on Lantau being what they are, I think the powers-that-be will prefer to let the houses fall into ruin than into the hands of strangers.

Is there a doctor in the house?

Before we moved to Mui Wo, we asked a friend who had lived in the area for 20-odd years: "Which doctor do you see if you fall ill?" He replied: "I try not to get sick."

Mui Wo has a lot of amenities but, astonishingly given the big expat population with private health insurance, it doesn't have a full-time private clinic. There is a Dr Alex Kwok (Tel: 2984-7530), but the last time we checked out his opening hours, it was something weird like 5pm to 8pm. And given how pissy Hong Kong companies are about getting that sick note, you can't afford to wait till the working day is almost over before you can try for one.

The only other private clinics are in Tung Chung (a long winding road away – not an option when you're feeling sick and nauseous) or Discovery Bay (a half-hour ferry ride away – again, not ideal when you're running a high fever and just want to get a doctor's visit over and done with).

There is another option: the Mui Wo government clinic (Tel: 2984-2080).

So the other day, when I was feeling like someone had whacked me over with a ton of bricks with the words "cold" all over them, I opted for that. It was a mere five minutes' walk away and I could be there and back in my nice warm bed in an hour, tops.

How wrong I was. I was there at 8.30am for registration and was told to queue up in the marked chairs. When the counter opened 15 minutes later, I shuffled forward to get my number. WTF?? I was No 36 and my appointment time: 11.15am.

The nurse saw my crestfallen appearance and advised me to go home and come back again at 11am. So I took my aching bones home, called the office and told them I might (but only might) not be able to go in to work. I wouldn't know for sure till I saw the doctor two hours later. There were sniffs of disbelief on the other line... so long before seeing a doctor?!

Anyway, I was there and waiting for my appointment at 10.45am. In that time, the numbers had hardly moved. It was just No 18. A long wait ahead. But by then I was committed so I hung on.

It didn't help that the clinic was full of inhabitants from the old folks home nearby. Each one took an excruciating amount of time to hobble to the door when their number was called. Another number, another surprised look, a fumble for all the plastic bags around them, shuffle, shuffle... the queue to hell couldn't move any slower.

By the time my number came, it was 12.30pm. Half a day had gone by – which the company would have deducted from my salary had I not been able to get a sick note from the doctor. By the time my time came, I was sick, not just from the virus but from apprehension. Thankfully I got my medical certificate and could go home and rest.

The staff were nice and the young doctor was knowledgeable. But next time I think I'll just catch the taxi to Tung Chung for the excellent Human Health clinic there.

Or try not to get sick.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas, village style

Mui Wo doesn't have the neons and flashing lights like Central does. But its residents certainly know how to make the place look festive. Wang Tong village is especially pretty after its village-decorating day.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Buffalo Wilbur's new happy place

Buffalo Wilbur has been frequenting Deer Horn (Tel: 3484-3095) for lunch these days because he loves their freshly-made pasta. The other day, he went for lunch and kept quiet about it so he could persuade me to go there for dinner too.

But I think I could get used to the place, wobbly boards and all. Because the prawns with grapes and almonds is to die for. The spice adds a zing to your tastebuds, which the seedless grapes cool down. Owner Pushpa says it's her bestseller, along with the fish and chips.

I feel hungry just talking about it. Well, I certainly know what I'll be having for dinner tonight.

Rent a pussy

Why, what were you expecting?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Comfort food

I realise I am always writing about the new eating places that I haven't posted any of my old favourites. There are some places we go to so frequently (ordering the same dishes all the time) that it didn't even cross my mind to blog about them.

How remiss of me. To make up for it, here are our regular haunts:

The China Bear (Tel: 2984 9720) along the waterfront, which has a casual feel and sweet waitresses like Evelyn, who greets me every morning when I'm on the way to the ferry. I always order the fish and chips (battered, not breaded) and it never disappoints.

Caffe Paradiso, also known as Tom's Cafe (Tel: 2984-0498), is always packed with harried mums dropping off their kids and grabbing a cuppa in the morning and languid freelancers getting a pick-me-up in the afternoon. Buffalo Wilbur says its serves the best and cheapest double espresso in Hong Kong.

Bombay Cafe (Tel: 2984-1847) is an Indian takeaway joint with a couple of small tables outside. If Tom's has the best coffee in Hong Kong, then Gordon's cooking is the best Indian food in the SAR. His lamb briyani and chicken tikka are so good we rarely order anything else.

And who doesn't know Bahce (Tel: 2984-0222), with its Turkish chef? Again, the food and service are consistently good. I always go for the hot mezze platter because those fried chillies are really to die for.

Bringing up parents

I love kids and furkids. But I am not sure about their parents.

Case in point: We went to a lovely restaurant (which shall remain unnamed as it's not their fault their clientele can't behave themselves).

At the entrance, we were faced with one pooing kid and another running around smearing his ketchup-covered hands on everyone.

Ah well, kids will be kids.

Then, when our meal came, a couple came in with a wet dog and stood next to our table while deciding which table to pick to go.

The dog promptly did what wet doggies do and shook itself dry -- all over our food.

Dogs will be dogs.

But what irritated the heck out of me was that the parents, when we protested, glared at us instead of apologising.

"What can we do" seemed to be the unspoken justification. Plenty, actually.

I am fine with doggy and kid messes. But does anybody really want a mouthful of sand, seawater and fur all over their meal?

Especially when you then try to wipe your mouth and find your napkin has been liberally smeared with ketchup by a helpful kid, who has been petting another dog?

Yes, the dogs and kids can't help it. But their parents can. They can always dry the dog and wipe down the kids.

Sometimes, I think there should be an obedience school for parents of kids and furkids.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

High on Himalayan fare

Sorry about the quality of the photos. Buffalo Wilbur insisted we try Deer Horn (Tel: 3484-3095) out for dinner, despite my protests that my crappy camera phone won't do the food justice. But hey, tummy ruleth all, as Buffalo Wilbur's dad loves to say, so we went anyway.

The restaurant still looks a bit bare (a few photos won't come amiss) but the welcome was warm. Pushpa, who owns it, is Nepalese and has lived in Lantau for more than a decade. Her chef worked in an Italian restaurant for quite some time, hence the slightly schizophrenic pairing of Nepalese/Italian food on the menu.

We took a table by the window, which was a mistake as it was also partially on the uneven wooden boards. So every time someone walked on the boards, the table would tip on one side and threaten to topple our curry. But that's probably just teething problems.

I am sure the Italian bit was good but we zeroed in on the Himalayan specialties.

The food was yummy. We tried the chicken momo (HK$55). The dumplings came with a home-made tomato-soybean chutney. They tasted almost like Shanghainese xiao long baos but the skin was a lot chewier.

Buffalo Wilbur loved the Nepalese lamb curry (HK$75). It was more watery than Indian curries but spicier than the local ones.

Halfway through our meal, Terry from The Bookshop walked in with a friend. He offered to let us try some of the yak's milk cheese that they'd ordered. I thought it would be strong tasting but it was actually a bit like a smoother cheddar. Must try the fried yak's cheese fritters next time.

Town mouse, country mouse

In her Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about how going to town is an adventure and how the town people stare at the plainly dressed farm girls. I feel a bit country mouse-like when I schlep over to Tung Chung on my day off in my track bottoms and T-shirts.

Mui Wo isn't exactly hicksville but it does have a wonderful small-town feel, where people walk into restaurants in their cycling gear or hiking boots. I often wander about the place in shorts and T-shirts and Buffalo Wilbur swears he's seen people in their pyjamas in the supermarket.

But once in a while, it's nice to go back to "civilisation" again. Thank goodness my favourite shopping place, Citygate Mall in Tung Chung, is only a bus ride away. I like the fact that it's an outlet mall so I don't have to wait for a sale to get cheap stuff.

And we have out little routine now. It's lunch at Golden Siam Thai Restaurant (Tel: 2109-4418), where they serve authentic-tasting Thai goodies.

Then Buffalo Wilbur sets up base camp in Pacific Coffee while I shop. Before leaving, we make a quick visit to Taste to get stuff that we can't get in Mui Wo (yes, despite having two supermarkets, I can never get good beef broth).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Opening up

Lantau Outlet, the shop at Scenic Crest selling bits and bobs you never thought you needed, is closing down. But never fear, you'll still be able to get your ceramic pine trees and lengths of chain.

It's just moving a few doors down, says the woman in the shop. She also says the vacated space will be taken up by an Italian deli.

I really hope it's true. Ever since the deli in Mui Wo Centre closed down, I haven't been able to assemble a decent sandwich.

But what's even better is that it hopefully heralds the start of Mui Wo becoming more happening. It will be great if the waterfront up to Sea Crest starts opening up with shops and restaurants. At the moment, it's a bit of a dead space past Wellcome.

In place of the old deli is Deer Horn restaurant and bar. Initially, we watched the sign going up and thought it was going to be some Scandinavian joint serving stuff like ice beer and vodka.

But no, Buffalo Wilbur popped his head in while the renovations were going on and found out it's actually going to serve Nepalese/Italian place. I'm not sure where the deer horn bit comes from (perhaps there are lots of deer in Nepal?) but I am game to try out a new spot.

Deer Horn opens today. Will keep you posted.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cats, not the musical

There's this shop along Mui Wo Rural Committee Road which has quite a few adorable cats on leash. The grand-mummy of them all appears to be a really pretty long-haired one who watches the world go by on her grand-stand seat on the road. But today, when we passed, she showed she could share too, with this playful tabby kitten.

Tai Tei Tong

Husband-and-wife team Edwin and Alice certainly know a lot about Mui Wo property. Alice sells property and Edwin renovates them. So with all that insider knowledge on the best and worst bits of Mui Wo, where do they choose to live?

Tai Tei Tong.

I can see why. The village is like a little gated community, with a big square where children and pets can play without their parents worrying about traffic. It also has a cute arch heralding the entrance to the village.

It is close to the beach and right next to the only school in the area (at the moment), the Mui Wo School. There is a nice sense of community about the place too.

The more we see of Mui Wo on our after-lunch strolls, the more we like it.

More village exploring soon.