After reaching Hong Kong on Saturday, I decided to go for walk on Sunday morning. It was a bit late in the morning when I got out and reached Victoria Park. I was surprised to see a number of South Asian ladies gathered there. They were sitting, eating, talking and dancing while some were lying down and resting on cardboard boxes. At first I thought they were protesting against something but on a closer look, I realised they were celebrating life with their friends. They are the “unsung heroes” of Hong Kong, the Helpers or maids.
Most of these foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong live with their employers. They form a very important part of the Hong Kong society and perform household tasks such as cleaning, cooking, serving and looking after their employer’s children.
There are about 340,000 foreign domestic workers from countries such as Indonesia and Philippines. More than 60 percent of them are young mothers, who have come to Hong Kong for a better future for their children and families back home.
Increasingly the human rights groups are scrutinising their working conditions and working closely with the authorities in framing laws and regulations.
During the 1970’s, Philippines passed a law legalising export of labour in the form of overseas workers. Around the same time Hong Kong started prospering more as a result of China implementing wide-reaching economic reforms and increasing trade with the rest of the world. With prosperity, came the requirement of domestic help, which was fulfilled by labour from Philippines. So it was a win win for both countries.
A British documentary film maker, Joanna Bowers has produced a documentary on these workers called “The Helper”. Some of these women are so talented in music that it is treat to watch them perform (check out the video above). She also helped to form a choir “The Unsung Helpers”, who performed at a premier Hong Kong music event, Clockenflap.
After you finish with the 360 degrees view of Hong Kong in the cable car, the Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery, you can either hit back home or visit a surreal fishing village of Hong Kong.
You can catch a bus from the bus terminus behind the Bug Buddha or hail a cab, like we did till Tai O, a fishing town on the western side of Lantau Island.
Tai O, in Chinese means a large inlet of water as the Tai O river splits to the north (Tai O creek) and west, and this fishing village lies at the fork. There is pedestrian bridge that connect the north and west of the fork. Earlier it was a rope bridge which has now been made of steel and concrete.
When British came to Hong Kong, this village was called Tanka village and was an illegal entry point to enter Hong Kong for people escaping from China. It was also used by the smugglers due to its strategic location to smuggle guns, tobacco and people. Due to salt marshes present here, salt was also produced here.
Although there is a public school here, most youngsters move out of the island, on attaining adulthood. Fishing is therefore on the decline here.
There was a huge fire in 2000 on the island, which destroyed a large part of the village houses and all you see now are squatters’ huts or dilapidated stilt houses.
Looking at the current situation of the village it is difficult to comprehend that once this was called the “Venice of Hong Kong”.
There is village market where shops sell traditional salted fish and shrimp paste. You can also go for a boat ride here and if you are lucky you might see the Pink Dolphins. On stilt houses there are some eating joints where you can sample the local eats.
There is small shop in the market housing old stuff used by the village and visiting it you get the feeling a visiting a village museum.
The Po Lin Monastery, I talked about in my previous blog was established in 1906 by three monks who came to Hong Kong from China. At the time it was established it was known as “The Big Hut” but was later renamed in 1924 to its current name, Po Lin Monastery (means precious Lotus).
It is a beautiful monastery which houses many Buddhist scriptures apart from three bronze statutes of the Buddha representing his past, present and future. On the ground floor, on its right is a very beautiful and old tree under which there is fish pond. You have to actually see it to believe, the size of the gold fish here.
There are also large vases and places where people burn incense when they come to pray. There is a smaller temple which leads to the main courtyard facing the Temple Gateway. There are also some deities and guards, who protect the main gateway.
Inside is the massive hall called the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas with a beautiful carved ceiling. No photography is permitted inside.
Outside there is a Wisdom Path where series of wooden posts form a figure eight, which is used for prayers by Buddhists, Taoists and Confucians.
The day we visited it was very hot and humid, otherwise on a good day you can spend quite a lot of time strolling through the gardens.
Lantau Island is one of the biggest island of Hong Kong and lies at the mouth of Pearl River. Till late 1990, it was a sleepy fishing village till construction of Lantau Link to main Hong Kong Island started. This was followed by the International Airport in 1998 and Disneyland in 2005.
In 2006, on the western side of the island where Po Lin Monastery is situated, development of a major tourist attraction, the cable car started. This was a ideal spot as there is a 34 m tall Buddha statute, looking North over the Chinese people. This can only be reached by a long stairway.
From Tung Chung Bay, a cable car started to this point, which is now known as Ngong Ping 360, as it provides a 360 degree view of the surrounding Tung Chung bay, the International Airport , the Hong Kong-Zhuai-Maccu Bridge, Ngong Ping Plateau and the Big Buddha.
The beautiful journey of 5.7 kms in the cable car starts from downtown Tung Chung and take 25 minutes to reach the traditional cultural Chinese themed Village Ngong Ping. As you alight and start walking, you first encounter a beautiful Tea House followed by various restaurants and souvenir shops.
These are then followed by the multimedia attractions, Walking with the Buddha, VR360, Stage360 and Motion360. Then you walk into a big gate which leads to the stairway to the Big Buddha on your right followed by the Po Lin Monastery further on your left.