This is by far the busiest that Hong Kong has been so far. Thursday the fifteenth of September saw the arrival of Hong Kong’s annual Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节). Everywhere we walked, people shared Mooncakes and lit Lanterns up and down the packed streets of Causeway Bay. We were surrounded by thousands of people making their way to Victoria Park to see the shows and nearby Incense Dragon Dance. Looking around, we knew that this was going to be one of the highlights of Chinese culture we would see during our time here.

As is the tradition, rather than during the day on Thursday, it was twenty-four hours later that classes were then cancelled – spare time which should be spent reconnecting with families and friends. We chose to make our way to the Brides Pools in the afternoon: a waterfall and reservoir up in the very North of the New Territories of Hong Kong.

These two snapshots of life in Hong Kong illustrate the variety on offer here very well. Whilst you can spend an evening celebrating under the glow of lanterns and flames, within hours you can also be halfway up a mountain, hiking through nature and swimming in waterfalls. It’s a dramatic juxtapositioning that offers something for everyone!

Thursday – Mid-Autumn, Dragons and Carnivals Link to heading

Mid-Autumn festival is a celebration of the full moon and harvest on a huge scale, more akin in size to something like New Year in the West. We were actually expecting a typhoon up until the morning of the fifteenth, but luckily it didn’t hit us, making land in Taiwan first before swinging northeast and away from Hong Kong.

Once it got close to dark on the night in question, we headed out to eat and explore the festivities. The MTR and Causeway Bay was rammed full of people, all moving towards the Carnival in Victoria Park. Once we got there, we could see why: the park had been transformed into a festival site, packed with people and overbrimming with stalls selling mooncakes, mochi and all sorts of other treats; the whole celebration overlit by hanging lights and displays of enormous intricate and ornate lanterns, both old and new.

Before we got into that, we detoured slightly to follow a local recommendation, heading to the Tai Hang (大坑) Fire Dragon Dance just around the corner. Here, fighting through the crowds, we managed to see the breathtaking dragon fly past us a good half a dozen times. Drums and chanting provided a cacophonous and excitable background, with everyone straining to see the dragon’s head turn to barrel back towards us after each pass of the crowd.

It takes three hundred people and seventy-thousand sticks of incense to create the incredible effect. The tip of each burning incense stick glimmers like the flying lizard’s scales. The aroma of the incense fills the street with a pungent smoke. Firecrackers explode as people dance, parade and carry lanterns through the crowds. It was truly a special event to behold!

As we then made our way back towards the carnival, we passed families on the streets barbequing whole meats and other treats together, welcoming the full moon and having a fabulous time.

The story of mooncakes goes something like this: many moons ago, China was ruled by a cruel king of the Yuan Dynasty. The people wished to rebel, but informants were everywhere and treason was brutally punished if it was discovered brewing in a community. What was needed was a form of communication to coordinate the much-needed rebellion that could be kept a secret from the many watching eyes of the state.

Thus, mooncakes were born. A paper note was hidden inside each cake, urging the people to revolt on the night of the 15th. When people went to eat, the message was discovered and the resistance rose up to overthrow the king. Each year since that successful victory, mooncakes (filled with egg yolks or custard, not paper!) are eaten to remember the great uprising, shared between families.

With this story in mind, we returned to the carnival, bought and ate mooncakes and mochi, then marvelled at the lanterns and shows. Returning to our college, we learnt the legend of the rebellion and talked well into the night. It was a fantastic experience – one that I wholeheartedly recommend coordinating into your visit here if at all possible.

Friday – Swimming in a Cursed Waterfall Link to heading

As for Friday – the public holiday itself – we awoke late and made our way out of town to visit some friends from the Philipines at the Brides Pools, up far to the North of Hong Kong in the New Territories. It was a lengthy journey, taking nearly two hours, but definitely worth the effort.

From the MTR at Tai Po Market, there’s a bus that runs on Sundays and Holidays that takes you up into the mountains to a BBQ site. Following the short path down lots of stone steps, you amble along a very easy trail before emerging into the drainage basin to be greeted by this glorious sight:

Thoughts of the heat behind us, we dove into the (surprisingly cold!) water. We spent many hours here, swimming and eating with our friends – who had generously barbequed us meats and brought salads and side dishes to fill us up.

Trails crisscross the area, offering some easy hikes, but the real attraction has got to be the breathtaking waterfalls themselves. Legend has it that a bride drowned here on her wedding day, giving the pools their name, but we were not greeted by any paranormal activity whatsoever!

In combination, these two outings have vied for the position of my favourite of the semester so far. In amongst the urban sprawl, it’s easy to forget what natural treasures the port of Hong Kong holds. With that in mind, perhaps future excursions will lead to more explorations of the countryside around the metropolis.