After an exasperating search for decent (and cheap) food, i settled for a 车仔面 (chē zǎi miàn) or cart noodle, which is basically flavorless broth with noodles in it and pick your own meat/veg. It's mostly meat, so i just asked them to load up the bok choy. I cried when they asked what sauce i wanted and i said 辣椒 (là jiāo) or chili - the vendor just squirted in some kind of sriracha. In mainland China it would have been oily and assburningly spicy and (depending on the restaurant) maybe even feature some Sichuan peppers or fresh-sliced chili or pickled radish or something. But, no. Hong Kong Chinese food continues to disappoint me every time i visit. It's so bland. I guess that's the point with Cantonese cuisine. Sometimes i forget that i'm in Guangdong, because Shenzhen is so multikulti. Every time i see a Cantonese restaurant i roll my eyes and walk one door down for Sichuan or Hunan or Shaanxi grub.
There is one Cantonese dish i kinda dig, though. It's called 肠粉 (cháng fěn). Essentially it's a big sheet of rice noodle that they fold up like an enchilada and then serve in a sweet and savory broth for breakfast. I found a very popular street vendor on the way to school that makes them. She always cracks an egg inside (so it's not vegan and therefore not a daily dish for me) and then asks if you want greens or meat. The meat is just a tiny scattering of ground pork. Apparently some vendors don't use the egg, but i figure i should let her do it her way. It is amazingly delicious, especially after adding a spoonful from the jar of spicy sambal that graces the table. The mix of salty and sweet and spicy is excellent, and the texture is awesome. It's not like a gỏi cuốn Vietnamese ricepaper roll. Fresh-cooked it's piping hot, and the noodle is ooey and gooey and stretches like melted cheese. It's awesome.
Anyway, back to Hong Kong. After eating my disappointing noodle i started climbing a mountain, which led to another mountain, and another one. If i had had the time i could've walked a good chunk of the way across the New Territories. I have learned from previous walks in HK to bring a lot of supplies from the mainland. I took a liter of water, a pear, several tangerine-like fruits and a slab of 蜂糕 (fēng gāo), which is a Chinese sponge cake. I am not sure if Hongkongers are less industrious than mainland Chinese or if they are just too busy doing "real" jobs to bother laying out a blanket at the top of a mountain to hawk water and snacks. They do like to climb, though. And they like making shrines.
I must admit, although I am not religious myself, i do find Chinese religion quite appealing. They share with the Catholics a love of building elaborate places of worship that are fun to walk around in regardless of your faith. In mainland China religion still exists, perhaps mostly in the form of folk stories and hocus pocus herbal remedies, but it's vanishingly rare that you will randomly stumble upon a temple or even a shrine. I do enjoy having Hong Kong just next door in this regard. There is something relaxing about wandering around an old temple, looking at colorful statues and banners and smelling joss sticks.
The mountains behind Fanling were a hard climb, but a picturesque one. One cool thing was that i was able to see Shenzhen off in the distance, through the smog.
When i got back across the border, my phone immediately pinged - i had been invited to climb the local mountain by the bartenders from the expat bar near my old hotel. I think they missed me coming in every couple days, and to be honest i missed them too. So Monday i got up at the crack of dawn and met them at a McDonalds at the foot of Nanshan. That's the same mountain i climbed way back when i first got to Shenzhen, and the one i climbed with F after dark the other day. It's a popular spot because you can get across the whole thing in an hour or two, and there is a shop at the top to buy refreshments.
Before we climbed, i faced the Chinese gift culture thing again. L offered to get me breakfast which, no, because fucking why would you eat McDonalds when local food is faster and cheaper and (probably) healthier? Then she said she'd get me a coffee and i said no. I kept saying no and sat down. Two minutes later a coffee arrived. A fucking cappucino with milk in it. Even when i wasn't trying to eat vegan i never drank milk in my coffee because fucking ew. So i did the Chinese thing and thanked her profusely and gritted my teeth and drank half the cup for the sake of everyone's face. I notice this a lot here. People eat, even when they don't want to eat, because you have to eat when other people are eating. But then they only take a few bites and leave it. It's not the actual food that's the point, it's the joining in.
The climb was excellent. L told me that she liked to climb mountains because it reminds her of when she was a girl. In her village they didn't have any gas or electricity, so she would climb the mountains and collect firewood every day. Nowadays that has all changed, of course. I didn't ask her age, but it can't have been more than 20 years ago. She says she still likes to climb the urban mountains barefoot, like back then. "Sometimes i think those times were simpler. We all have more money now but i don't think money makes you happy."
The week was long and tough. There is a lot to learn at school, and it's far more intense now that i have added several hours of job search on top of the usual 4 hours of class and 1-2 hours homework every day. Of course i am also all wound up keeping track of world news. It feels like the good (bad?) old days of Berlin, and Toronto, and Melbourne, and... It appears this city has found its way into my heart, so i hope i can find a way to stay here. Even if it does mean my life will be the same old same old for a while.
Wednesday i went out with F and set some fish free again. We lay on the grass and looked up at the stars until the security guard came and kicked us out, together with a bunch of other dozy kids.
China does have a lot of bureaucratic cops and security guards, but once you know where you can bend or break the rules, you realize it's really not much different to anywhere else in the world. Yesterday (Saturday) i decided to take a bus to a mountain i hadn't climbed before. It was mind-bogglingly steep in parts, and several paths were blocked off by barriers. After seeing a hiker sneak around one barrier i asked a security guard if i could go up that way and he looked at me like i had asked him if water was wet. "Sure, go wherever!" Right, then. I did. It appears the barriers were only there to block less adventurous types from getting themselves stuck on very precarious paths where either the steps had collapsed or weren't built yet. I scrambled up through the mud.
It was a hellish climb, but then, they all are here. The ridge i climbed kind of bisects the northern and southern parts of the city. When you take the subway along Hau Hoi Bay (facing Hong Kong), it would be easy to assume Shenzhen is "only" Luohu, Futian and Nanshan. But a bit further west is the huge district of Bao'an, on the shore of the Pearl River. You can see a bit of Bao'an in this photo i took facing south-westish. I would like to do a bit of exploring out there at some point.
Further north there is Longhua, Longgang and a bunch more districts, also full of development and urbanization. I didn't get any photos in that direction, but here is a rare angle of a reservoir that almost makes you feel like you aren't in the middle of a megacity.
It was an awesome climb. In total about 4 hours, much of it through officially closed-off mountain paths. At one point i even sheepishly walked through the middle of a construction site which still had some guys at work on Saturday. They nodded to me as they lopped down some trees to build a pagoda, like it ain't no thing. It's not like i was the first hiker through that day. Somewhere up on a peak there was a fit old lady selling bottled water and cucumbers to the intrepid folks who snuck through the barriers to enjoy some nature.
When i got back down i was in a completely different corner of the city than where i had set out, but there were still bus stops and subway lines right there. I've never lived anywhere that had as good public transport as this town. I wandered into an urban village looking for some food, and found a great little street vendor who only made two things - dumplings and 凉皮. Of course i had to get the 凉皮. Some day i will take a photo of this so you guys know what it is. It's just cold noodles in spicy/vinegar-y sauce with some beansprouts and cucumber and maybe peanuts, sweet crispy chickpeas or seitan on top. My fave. I also grabbed a passionfruit tea. The guy at the tea stall thought i was terribly charming. He complimented my Chinese and invited me back to "hang out". He said he would "请" (qǐng) me, which means to both invite and treat/pay for someone. I didn't add him on WeChat, but did tell him we could talk next time. And i think there will be a next time, because also in that village was a 小面 place and a 冒菜 place. Plus, i might have a vegan forfeit meal to try those dumplings, because they looked delicious.
Today i am nursing my wrecked body. I will go grab a coffee and a snack. Maybe a 凉皮 or some steam buns. Tonight i am going to a rare mainland Chinese vegetarian restaurant with F. I'm looking forward to that. Tomorrow, if it doesn't rain... another early morning climb up the Nanshan. Life is good. Busy, but good.