Man at His Best

We Went To Cheung Chau In Hong Kong To Have A Beer Because Who Cares?

Pulau Ubin is so mainstream.

BY Kurt Ganapathy | Dec 15, 2016 | Food & Drink

Photograph by Kurt Ganapathy

 

Cheung Chau probably isn’t on many Hong Kong visitor itineraries, but the tiny, roughly dumbbellshaped island 10km from the busy streets of Central has always had an appeal to me. My maternal grandfather, a journalist, lived there about 40 years ago, and the story of his daily island- hopping commute captivated me when I was growing up. On a recent trip to Hong Kong, I decided to take a ferry over to see it for myself.

Cheung Chau is truly a place from another era (if you ignore the McDonald’s right across the road from the ferry pier). Rickety boats fill its typhoon shelter and weather-beaten locals go about their business against the flow of day-trippers, traversing steep hillside paths with age-defying agility. Life moves at a slower pace. There’s always time to do nothing but gaze out across the waterfront. And I found the perfect place to do just that.

Sitting in Morocco’s Restaurant with a bottle of Blue Girl beer in hand, I could picture my grandfather doing the exact same thing after a long day at the Hong Kong Standard four decades earlier. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if we could experience this same kind of enduring simplicity in Singapore? Well, it turns out that we can.

It’s among our last bastions of kampung life, it’s a name synonymous with seafood, and it’s a place we go to seek adventure. Pulau Ubin holds many memories for me: the seafood and fishing trips of my childhood and the week spent at Outward Bound as a 15-year-old are still fresh in my mind. I couldn’t drink then, but I fondly recall the big bottles of Tiger flowing among patrons of the restaurants by the jetty.

I return to Ubin on a Monday evening, just as the sun sets, to find the restaurants closed and the town deserted save for a pair of dogs. I spot a single open shop beneath a zinc roof: Yak Hong. The part provisions store, part food and drinks stall has been in business for 80 years. It’s currently helmed by the delightful Ah Heng, who took over its running from her father-in-law.

Only a handful of customers remain, but an impressive pile of empty cans sits atop their table. I join the men for one round of beer that quickly turns into two, and before long, we’re chatting like old friends. As the light gradually reduces to the glow of a lone fluorescent bulb, we discuss all things Ubin—the best seafood restaurant (they reckon it’s Ubin First Stop), the local visitor numbers, and the legend of the German Girl Shrine.

They keep an eye on the jetty to make sure that the last boats back to the mainland haven’t departed, but with 9pm fast approaching, it’s time to go. I leave with a promise to visit again soon, because as far removed as Ubin might be from the rest of Singapore, it still feels like home. We are, after all, islanders at heart.


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