A lot of “firsts” Part 1

Having completed a full week in the parish here at St. Margaret’s, looking back it has been a week with many “firsts.”

The first of these came Monday morning as I awaited the movers who would be bringing some 14 boxes of books and personal things that I had shipped, coming the Maryknoll Stanley House on the southeast side of the island to Happy Valley on the northwest part of Hong Kong.

I am posting below a map of Hong Kong Territory as it is located in South China at the Pearl River Basin, followed by maps of the entire Hong Kong area including Kowloon, the New Territories and the Outer Islands, and finally Hong Kong Island proper. This will hopefully give some perspective to directions of North, South, East and West.

Hong Kong and Macau

Hong Kong, Kowloon, New Territories and outer islands

Hong Kong Island Map

After moving in to the room I have on the 6th floor of the parish center (sharing a full-floor with 4 priests and 2 guest rooms), I spent Sunday evening trying to prepare the office I have on the 5th floor (which serves as the parish offices; each priest has an office as well as our deacon and the religious sister who coordinates faith formation; there are also offices for the parish manager, secretaries and office workers and is a hub of activity from morning to night).

After my guided excursion from the parish to the shopping district in Causeway Bay (about an 8  minute walk), I attempted to go over the routes again on Sunday evening, this time taking the “higher” road, going uphill from the church on Broadwood to Link Road, then heading downhill to Leighton Road that zig-zags below Happy Valley and Caroline Hill that mark our side of the valley, and is the cross street into the shopping district.

When one describes “uphill” in Hong Kong… it is not a description one takes lightly — these are steep and tortuous hills cut into the rocky landscape, although today all you see are gigantic hi-rise apartment complexes, commercial buildings and hotels, each heavily decorated (at night) by bright and colorful lights. Someone described some of my photos of the apartments as “pencil-shaped” and that they are – often with only a few apartments per floor but soaring 25, 30 and even 40 floors from the street.

Apartment adjacent to church at Broadwood and Ventris Roads Ventris Road SMC high rises behind 1

The walk “up” Broadwood to Link proved to be more arduous and difficult than I expected, which might explain so few other pedestrians attempting this route. The best comparison is that point between 6 and 8 minutes of a steeply-inclined Stress Test. I did notice a few walkers out like me, clinging to the sidewalk rail huffing and puffing, and so I did not feel as bad joining them.

One of the difficulties navigating most sidewalks (and roadways) in Hong Kong is the actual lack of space to maneuver — sidewalks are narrow and generally you have pedestrians going both ways – often loaded down with multiple bags – making passing a real feat. People are extraordinarily obedient at cross-walks or corners, marked clearly and with signals that make special noises when it is safe and permissible to cross or to wait. Unfortunately, this being a former British colony or territory, they drive on the left side of the road (as opposed to the US driving on the right side), and they prefer roundabouts that are neither round, nor going about… And so crossing any juncture of roads is a matter of moving fast, skirting people with all sorts of accessories for gouging out an eye, or doubling one over (old people carrying umbrellas even in sunshine are a particularly dangerous species), and often too hurdling over or shimmying around metal obstacles or gates that are there… seemingly… just to hurdle over or shimmy around as otherwise they have no purpose.

Monday morning was my first introduction to the Kindergartens that we operate from the parish. Each day at both 9:00 a.m. and again at 12:30 p.m., a few hundred little children, from 4 through 6 years of age, are dropped off in their clean, pressed uniforms and carrying a green knapsack over their tiny shoulders, trudging up the 2 dozen or so steep stairs to the main floor of the parish center and to their classrooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Most of them are accompanied either by their parents or by their nannies or guardians. Each group stays for 3 hours (so 9-12 p.m. or 12:30-3:30 p.m.). Despite their numbers and the fact that many are dropped off by car, the teachers have an efficient method to prevent traffic jams.

So, I was happy to see that the movers bringing my boxes from Stanley House to St. Margaret’s arrived AFTER the kids had made it to the building and their assembly. The movers were very efficient, dropping the boxes off on one pallet that could be wheeled on to our elevator that goes from the parking lot (Lower Ground or LG level) to the “G” level, on the same level as the front doors of the church and parish hall, and the on the separate elevator to the priests’ quarters. It took them 5 minutes to unload everything and leave, and I took another hour or so to open and store everything.

By late Monday evening, I had my 5th floor office mostly set up, awaiting some more books and a few objects to give it a “personal” touch.

My office 2 My office 1

Gotta do what you gotta do…

Because of the schedule of our rectory life, the cook or chushi (厨师) has off every Tuesday and the housekeeper or amah ( 阿嬷 ) is off every Thursday. I was busy working on my room and office and decided to take a break and so I walked back downhill to Leighton Road and saw the landmark of US international cuisine, the Golden Arches of McDonald’s. Wanting a quick break from the food in the rectory (described later), I made my way underground to the main hall of the McDonald’s and came across this high-tech haven for young and old, Chinese and foreigner. Rather than step up to a counter and order from the menus items on the wall, here you get it “your way.”

You step up to one of the order kiosks and punch in exactly what you want – how you want it and what you want on it (and you can be as creative as you like). You can pay with your debit card, cash, or using your Octopus Card, a special card something like a combination metro, bus and ferry pass that can also be used as a debit card.

Here is the kiosk,

McDonald's ordering

And here is how my meal was brought to me (you get a disk that lights up when your meal is ready, and the serving staff find you).

McDonalds lunch in Hong Kong

Autumn Festival of Hairy Crabs

One of the great delicacies of Shanghai cuisine in the autumn months is a dish called “Shanghai Hairy Crabs.” Already by Monday afternoon, the parish manager, Mrs. Rosa Fong, had told me that there would be a large outing of all parish personnel on Wednesday for this delicacy.

Delicacy? Hairy Crabs? I have to admit that I began conjuring up reasons to be sick on Wednesday, but nothing seemed to work. So, off I went with some of the parish employees as we made it down the hill and along Wah Nai Chung road – a road that circles around the Happy Valley race course and sports complex. There at the intersection with Leighton Road was the deceptively large Craigengower Cricket Club, a complex of banquet halls of varying sizes all part of the cricket club complex and a members-only place. Thankfully a parishioner or two are members, and one in particular had arranged a private dining hall for us to enjoy the 60 hairy crabs he and his family had flown in from Shanghai for our luncheon.

I ha spent the morning scouring the internet for information about “hairy crabs,” to steel myself for this challenge.

Here is something that explains it better than I could:


We filled 2 large round tables, set nicely in all white linens and with all of the tools needed to make our way through this delicacy: culinary scissors, a very delicate enamel spoon with a tiny head and a pointed shaft for pushing crab out of the legs, ceramic chop sticks, the ubiquitous ceramic soup bowl and spoon, and (thank God) plastic disposable gloves for the mess we were about to begin eating our way through this feast.

But first up we were served two different styles of pork (crackling pork and barbecue pork) as well as a steaming dish of broccoli leaves and stems with ginger and slivered almonds.

Then came the main course: [Father John Kwan, pastor, blesses food and welcomes us; table set and ready to go, presentation of a platter of steamed clams, and Father Kwan shows his prepared hairy crab ready to be spliced and eaten.]

Hairy Crab Festival - welcome from Fr. John KWAN pastor Hairy Crab festival banquet table set Hairy crabs ready for eating The Hairy Crab ready to be spliced

The traditional drink would be a warmed wine and for our festival we had been gifted with two bottles of aged (over 15 years) millet wine, made of millet, lake water and molasses, served very warm over a dried prune in each cup). It was 14% proof and very mild with this delicious meal.

Millet wine with dried plum

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