January 10, 2010

Excursion to Yuen Long

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I helped organize an excursion to Yuen Long today.  Seven of us (5 adults, 1 child and a puppy) took the long ride from the HK side to the boonies in a Volvo XC90.  It was past 12 noon by the time we got to Yuen Long, and needless to say there was a car-ful of hungry mouths to feed!

We started our food crawl at Ho To Tai Noodle Shop (好到底麵家), and immediately ordered a round of the house specialty - tossed egg noodles with shrimp roe (蝦籽撈麵) - plus a bowl of the special soup dumplings (特製水餃) to share.  The big plate of noodles was very, very yummy.  The consistency was perfect.  There was no alkaline taste in the noodles.  Plenty of shrimp roe sprinkled on top, and the dollop of creamy lard at the bottom was a godsend.  Not only did it coat the noodles so that they didn't stick together, the taste was just heavenly.  The dumplings were pretty good, too, having been pan-fried a little before being dunked in the soup.

Next stop was a local bakery next door called 大同老餅家.  I didn't get anything here, but apparently the "wife cookie" (老婆餅) is excellent, filled with - what else? - lard.  Ah well, maybe next time.

Man Kee Brisket (文記清湯腩.咖喱腩麵家) serves up some really yummy stuff.  The two plates we ordered included lots of goodies from different parts of the animal - regular beef brisket (坑腩), butterfly brisket (爽腩), honeycomb tripe (金錢肚) along with some radish.  The clear broth was pretty yummy, but the radish was a little too salty.  The regular brisket was nice and fatty...yum!

The butterfly brisket was pretty interesting.  For some reason I've never gotten around to asking for this particular cut whenever I've visited beef brisket specialists.  While the lean part of the beef was a little dry in some cases, the big pieces of collagen attached were nice and chewy.

The e-fu noodles (伊麵) were pretty nice.  One of my friends remarked that the noodle seemed endless, and wondered whether the bowl actually contained just one long strand...

I was getting pretty full by this point, but there was still dessert to come.  We stopped by Tai Wing Wah (大榮華酒家) to pick up some of their steamed Malay sponge cake (馬拉糕).  These were pretty light in color - not the brownish versions that I'm used to.  Pretty light and delicate in flavors.  Very nice indeed.

We made one last stop at a grocery store specializing in "Oriental" foods.  OK, OK... I know we're in Asia, so this might sound a little ridiculous.  We came to pick up some ice cream made by Arce Dairy in the Philippines.  We ended up picking up 3 small tins - ube, durian and sweet corn.  We ended up eating the ice cream in the car on the way to the border, and there were lots of memorable moments during this part of the ride...

The ice cream was rich and creamy, thanks to the water buffalo milk used in the production.  The ube was very good, and that's coming from someone who's normally not a big fan.  The durian was an utter failure - the ice cream was creamy, but there was ZERO durian flavor!!  Filipinos seem to like sweet corn ice cream, and that was pretty nice, too.

The primary reason - for me, at least - of today's trip was to try out my new toy.  My Canon 7D is a welcome complement to my Canon 1Ds Mark II, whose technology is now 5 years old.  I wanted to take out my 300mm, add the 2X converter and shoot some birds with an full-frame equivalent focal length of 960mm...

My not-so-trusty Google Map GPS on my crackberry plotted a route for us from Yuen Long town to Tsim Bei Tsui (尖鼻咀), which is just west of Mai Po bordering Deep Bay.  I had read that this was a good birding spot, so off we went in the SUV.  Interestingly, the GPS led us to a very bumpy dirt road which skirted the eastern boundary of the Hong Kong Wetland Park.  We soon ventured into the Restricted Zone, and the familiar border fence - with CCTV cameras mounted on some posts - ran all along one side of the road.

Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore...

We decided to park the car by the bridge and trek north on foot.  This was no small task for me, as I was carrying my camera bag, my 300mm in an extra bag, and a tripod bag with both a tripod and a monopod.  The three bags weighed a total of 16kg, and I soon wished that we hadn't parked the car so far away...

We spent about an hour and a half in the area, but it was a disappointing excursion as I didn't climb up to the vista point with a bird's eye view of the wetland area.  We did see some ducks and white egrets along the way, and I did have some fun playing with the new camera and lens combination.  But what I really wanted was to shoot towards the east, something not really possible with the forbidding border fence.

We reached the northern edge of Tsim Bei Tsui, looking across the bay at the southern end of Shenzhen.  While we were here, a police van drove up, and Ah Sir promptly chastised us for driving a vehicle into the Restricted Zone without a valid permit.  I pleaded innocence, as we had come in through the backdoor and there were no warning signs on the way.  Ah Sir seemed  surprised that we had found our way through the bumpy back roads, and urged us to leave the area ASAP.  As the weather wasn't exactly ideal today, we decided to cut our losses and head home.  I'll have to come back another weekend to visit either Mai Po Reserve or the Hong Kong Wetland Park, before the best birding season ends.

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