Mid-Autumn Festival, Mooncakes and An Overnight Trip to China

A bright moon and stars twinkle and shine. Wishing you a merry Mid-Autumn Festival, bliss, and happiness.

September 27-28, 2015: Little did we know when we flew to Hong Kong, that this weekend was the second biggest traditional Chinese holiday season after Chinese New Year. Sunday was the Chinese mid-Autumn festival, otherwise known as mooncake festival, a celebration of the harvest during the full moon.

We only learned of this as we dined at the Aberdeen Boat Club on Friday evening. Although Bill Kimley, the owner of Seahorse Marine which builds George Buehler’s Diesel Duck design, had been in Hong Kong earlier that day, he opted to beat the rush of holidaymakers and return to China immediately instead of staying for the dinner. Remembering my long wait last year to get a ferry seat to Macau, we decided to reserve seats for Sunday morning through China Travel Service, which were recommended to us by the concierge at our hotel.

At the CTS office, just a couple of blocks from our hotel in Wan Chai, we didn’t have too much choice for sailings. Early morning only. Until we asked about business class. Suddenly we had our pick of sailing times. We opted for late morning so we wouldn’t be so rushed trying to get there.

It meant we would miss all the mid-Autumn festivities in Hong Kong, including huge lantern displays and fire dragon dances. But we expected there would be a similar celebration in Doumen that evening.

The TurboJet ferry to Macau travels at speeds upwards of 40 knots and it only takes an hour or so to make the crossing. Compared to my economy trip the previous year, business class had its perks. We could actually see out the windows, we were fed a light snack on the way and we were the first to disembark (although embarkation had been a free-for-all). There was a business class waiting lounge too, but it was way too small for the number of people queuing to get inside. Instead, we found a relatively quiet corner in the departure lounge away from the throngs of holiday travellers.

Once on the Macau side, we joined the masses awaiting customs clearance and then the hordes at the information desk trying to find out which bus would take us to the Gongbei Port. I had a few Patacas remaining from my last visit, enough to pay our fares, although first we had to try and get some change.

With that accomplished, we walked outside the ferry terminal to find the bus stop, conveniently located just steps away. We wanted the A1 bus to Gongbei Port but when it arrived, the driver tried to shoo us off, thinking we wanted the A1 headed in the other direction…to the airport. Undaunted we persisted and were driven around the edge of Macau and soon found ourselves deposited at the bus terminal at the end of the line. This was it. We hoofed it upstairs and entered the impressive departure hall to clear out of Macau and cross over into China. Total time spent in Macau, less than one hour. And here too we would miss the big fireworks display that night in celebration of mid-Autumn festival.

Once we passed all the glitzy duty free shops in no man’s land, we reached the Chinese arrival hall. Unlike my visit last year, we did not spend time in Hong Kong applying for visas. We had been advised that we could obtain a visa on arrival at Gongbei Port. The directions to the visa office, which I had printed off from one website, were obviously a little out of date. But luckily, there was a big “visa” sign with an arrow pointing the way.

Up two flights of stairs and we stumbled into a very utilitarian waiting room where we were handed tiny application forms. They snapped our photos on site, took our payment, and handed back our passports in less than 15 minutes. We were good to go. It was all very efficient. And we didn’t even have to hand over all the paperwork that Seahorse Marine had sent us ahead of time. We could stay in the Zhuhai region for up to three days.

From here, everything was like deja vu. We cleared immigration into China and walked across the square to the bus station to catch the 601 bus for the hour-long trip to Doumen. If anything, the area along the route was even more developed than it had been the year before.

When we reached the bus terminal in Doumen our next challenge was finding our hotel, which Stella at Seahorse Marine had booked for us. We would be staying right in Doumen close to restaurants, shops and markets. But we didn’t know which way to go or how far it was. All our attempts to ask about the hotel were met with blank stares and shakes of the head. A couple people pointed us down the road in the same direction so we started walking that way. It wasn’t easy to find anyone who spoke English here. I don’t suppose they get a lot of tourists.

We reached a major intersection about a block or two from the station and lo and behold, our hotel was right in front of us. Check in was more or less straightforward. One of the clerks spoke enough English to get us registered. Soon we were in our room. And equally soon we switched to a different room that wasn’t permeated by cigarette smoke from the previous occupants. That took a bit of pantomiming to explain at the front desk.

By now it was late afternoon and we were famished so we set off to find some lunch. Stella had recommended the Venice restaurant, located just down the street. It was a great find. Inside it was cavernous. The menu was translated (somewhat comically) into English. Ordering involved pointing to pictures in the menu and holding up one or two fingers. The food was fresh. The presentation was creative. And the servers even delivered the food wearing sneeze guards. We had a good chuckle about that. Apparently, we were seated in the polite dining room. More giggles.

With full bellies, we wandered around town for a bit and checked out the grocery store adjacent to our hotel. It was very well provisioned especially with beautiful boxes of mooncakes, the traditional gifts during the mid-Autumn festival. I should have bought one then and there to take back to Subic because by Monday morning, they were all packed away. Do they bring them out again next year?

We went back to the room for a short snooze, thinking we’d head out later to check out what was happening in town for the mid-Autumn festival. But by the time we ventured out again, after waking up to the sound of firecrackers outside, we’d missed everything. All that remained to tell the story was confetti littering the ground and a few glowing lanterns drifting high in the sky. Clean-up was already well underway and only the stragglers remained.

So we had coffee drinks at the specialty coffee shop located next to the hotel and called it a night.

The following day, Seahorse sent a driver to pick us up and take us across the river to the factory. Here, we enjoyed tea and mooncakes with Bill and Stella overlooking their branch of the Pearl River. We didn’t get down to business until after they took us up the street for lunch. They treated us to soup, fish, chicken, lots of vegetables, rice and, of course, more tea.

Back at the boatyard, we met the warehouse staff and looked through our parts order. We had pre-ordered some spare water lines and fittings, replacement window wipers and horn, and some spare rocker electrical switches, among other odds and ends.

Then we went for a tour of the yard and Bill’s model train collection. It was Chris’ first visit in person, so we had a good poke around all the different factory buildings. Aside from the long sheds where the boat hulls and superstructures are built, we saw the woodworking shops, the varnishing shop, the stainless fabrication shop and the storage sheds. Pretty much everything is made on site, at least until it comes time to add in the power, water, electrical and navigation systems. If you’d like to know more about the factory, check out last year’s post here.

We didn’t really feel like lugging all our new boat parts back on the bus to Zhuhai, so we arranged for a private car and driver to take us there. A planned side trip to a market specializing in electrical components was brief as it was closing for the night. Instead, we headed straight back to Gongbei Port, retraced our steps to Macau and hopped on the A1 bus again, this time headed in the opposite direction to the airport.

There was an incredible view of the moon as we rode along the shoreline and across the bridge taking us there. Although we were now one day past the full moon (a supermoon no less), it was still looming large as it made its ascent into the night sky over Macau. A perfect ending to our mid-Autumn festival experience.

But that wasn’t the only thing affecting the night sky. After we checked in for our return flight and made our way to the departure lounge, we learned that a big typhoon was affecting the night sky over Taiwan. All of the flights from Macau to Taipai (and there were a lot of them) were delayed. As was the flight to Manila. Our flight to Clark, however, left more or less on time and soon we were home on MOKEN once again.

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