Travel

Built on Stilts – Tai O Fishing Village

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From the Po Lin Monastery, bus tours typically head down to Tai O, which, for more than a century has remained a fishing village built on stilts by the Tanka people, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

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The floating village reminded me of similar villages I’ve seen in Phang Nga Bay, Phuket in Thailand, where entire families live in structures hovering in the middle of the Andaman Sea. It never ceases to amaze me how these people feel secure living in houses that stand up only on wooden sticks, especially when China is prone to cyclones.

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Those with weak stomachs may want to pass on visiting this site. But seafood aficionados, you’re in luck! One can find all sorts of freshly-caught or dried fare here, including fish bladders, which my tour guide said is a Chinese delicacy. You see, the Chinese don’t like to waste any part of the fish, he said. As a vegetarian, I had a valid excuse not to indulge.

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Our tour guide holds up a fish bladder among the many items for sale at the Tai O Fishing Village. YUM!

At the heart of the fishing village is a Taoist temple. Taoism is the ancient religion of China, before even Buddhism was introduced, and it’s based on the idea of oneness, that is, opposite manifestations of the same concept are not separate from each other. For example, the yin-yang charm I once wore around my neck in fifth grade because I thought it looked cool actually had Taoist roots. As I learned in 9th grade world history, it was a Taoist symbol depicting the duality of everything around us, like the seasons or life and death. Of course, this is an entirely simplistic articulation of this religion, but it’s because the Taoist path or way, the tao, isn’t something you can define in words.

“Those who know don’t say, those who say don’t know.”

It seemed to me the Chinese practice a little bit of all of these ancient Eastern religions — Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. According to an account by Confucius after he met Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism was a complete puzzle to him:

“Creatures that run can be caught in nets; those that swim can be caught in wicker traps; those that fly can be hit by arrows. But the dragon is beyond my knowledge; it ascends into heaven on the clouds and the wind. Today I have seen Lao Tzu and he is like the dragon!” – Confucius’ impression of Lao Tzu, as taken from The World’s Religions, by Houston Smith

Taoism was founded by Lao Tzu

Our tour guide said people usually come to this temple seeking answers to specific questions. Like throwing dice in the game of life, faithful visitors cup two rock-like objects in their hands, throw them into the air and see how they fall on the ground. The orientation of the incongruous rocks provide an affirmative or negative answer to their question, the guide explained. In some sense, it’s like a Magic 8 ball too, because if the two rocks fall in a certain way, you have to roll again.

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Ask away!

Just as the sun started to hint at its own departure, our tour wrapped up, bringing us to Lantau’s Silvermine Bay from where we took a ferry back to Hong Kong’s Central Pier just in time for the city to light up.

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