On Friday morning Ed, Shirley and I got up bright and early, as usual, and piled into the car to head off on perhaps the busiest day of the week. The first stop was the Cailler chocolate factory for a tour. As one of the oldest chocolatier in Switzerland, Cailler has had plenty of time to perfect both the production of chocolate and the factory tour. Think "It's a Small World" meets the Willy Wonka tour and you get an idea of what Cailler had in store for us.
For 20 minutes we were led through a procession of rooms exhibiting Cailler's and Switzerland's rich chocolate history. Next we were deposited out into a room full of the ingredients that go into producing chocolate. Further along on the tour is a fully automated machine producing bite size bars of chocolate.
The final stop on the tour was a room that displayed all the varieties of chocolate produced at the factory and an unlimited supply of samples. I stopped at every station I could and sampled a dozen or so varieties of chocolate. Milk, dark, and white, there was a healthy assortment of chocolate creations available to try. What followed through was a pre-lunch chocolate high. And like all good attractions, Cailler dumped us out into their gift shop to purchase our favorites among the chocolates we just sampled. They got CHF 15 out of me.
This past Saturday was the final excursion arranged by the OAL. That morning we piled into two tour buses and headed over to Lantau Island. Apparently the destinations we were going had step, narrow and winding roads which required a bus with a special permit, so we had to transfer buses at the base of the mountain up to Big Buddha. A 45 minute trek up the mountain and dropped us off at the base of Buddha's park. After about an hour of exploring the tallest outdoor bronze Buddha in the world and an adjacent temple, our group was treated to a vegetarian lunch. It was an appropriate meal consdering the non-violent (and thus non-meat-eating) teachings of Buddha. And I was impressed with the variety of dishes served, in all I think we were served about 8 distinct dishes free of animal or dairy products.
Before heading back to the university we took another 20 minute bus ride down the mountain and over to the Tai O fishing village. Today the town serves as both a tourist attraction and a working fishing village, if you can believe such a thing. On the bus over our tour guide encouraged us to "support the local economy" and do a little bit of shopping while we were there--when in Rome I guess! I found a shop with a grill set out front and a woman who was grilling oysters, scallops and muscles all in their shells. She sold me a delicious baked oyster which contained cheese, bacon and onions baked into the shell (and meat) of the oyster. Naturally it was delicious. A little bit more walking around and picture taking built up my appetite some more so I stood in line to buy a very fresh Tai O style doughnut. The doughnuts were fried to order, so it took a little while to make but eventually I was delivered a hot, sugar coated and delectable treat.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong is in the New Territories in a neighborhood called Sha Tin. Sha Tin is also the home of one of the busiest malls in Hong Kong, New Town Plaza. It just so happens that this mall is just two stops from the university on the MTR (the local train/subway service). I've been here a lot recently, I'm going to guess about 6 times in the past week. And it seems that I am not the only one that goes so frequently, most of my class mates here go to the mall about once a day. With university students and locals flowing in and out, the mall is quite crowded. I had hoped to capture a picture of the mall at peak hours, however all I got was a photo of one area of the mall during one of its lighter periods.
It's really no wonder why so many people flock to this mall, there is literally every store under the sun, from luxury name brands to electronics stores and discount clothing outlets. Just off the top of my head I remember seeing 4 different supermarkets and at least 50 different sit down restaurants. I bought my cell phone from an electronic chain store called Fortress located on the 6th floor of the mall. I then passed by another Fortress nearby on the 4th floor of the mall. This place is packed with stores and people and I literally spent an entire day there on Sunday. I didn't really buy anything, but I was with people who were shopping or looking for something. Shopping is quite the social gathering in Hong Kong. Not only that, but it seems as if people have just come to expect them to be everywhere--remember the mall on top of the mountain?