Searching for strawberries in Cantonese sprinkled with mime. We found her busily hauling metal pots around the giant, but empty, outdoor Tai Mei Tuk BBQ King. She was the only employee on-duty at 10 am on a Monday morning. Our group was hunting for a nearby strawberry field and followed the clanging noise through the BBQ to ask her directions.
Finding her, I started to say “where is strawberry?” in blunt Cantonese before remembering that I had no idea how to say “strawberry.” So I punted by using the Mandarin word for strawberry and said: “cao mei bin douh aah?”
She smiled at the children. She did not know what I was trying to ask her.
So I started miming eating, like eating a strawberry. This did not help as she just thought we wanted to eat at the BBQ King, which was obviously closed.
I bent down and pretended to pick strawberries. I was getting warmer. A few more tries and I heard her say “sih do be lei?”
It turns out that “strawberry” in Cantonese is an English loan word. That is, it’s a word which Chinese characters were selected for to mimic the English sound of the word: 士多啤梨. So my “strawberry” and her “sih do be lei” were just close enough for us to understand each other.
It was happy smiles all around as she pointed us back across the black gravel parking lot and around some jungle-y overgrowth.
Strawberry fields come into sight. After walking past a mini-junk yard and a few village dogs, we could see the strawberry field before us:
A beautiful sight on a perfectly warm, sunny day in mid-January.
The fields had been heavily picked over the weekend and we hunted carefully up and down the rows for ripe berries. My young picker and I came away with one pound of pinkish, but still sweet, organic strawberries for 50 HKD.
Slingshot at the ready. The two ladies weeding the rows were also charged with keeping the birds off of the fields. Diligence was required as the birds were a problem: almost every time we spotted a perfect deep red berry, we clamored over the rows only to find a bite or two had already been taken by one of birds.
The ladies’ first line of defense was a loud, deep call: heeeeeyyyyyy-ooooooooohhhhhh, heeeeeeeeyyyyyyyy-ooooooooohhhhhh. But if too many birds persisted, one woman would pick up her slingshot and fire small stones in the direction of the birds. This was only marginally effective, but fascinating to watch:
Warm sun, combined with strawberries, mountain vistas, and on-going bird-abatement theater, made for a perfect winter morning in Hong Kong.
Location details. Winter is strawberry season in Hong Kong. The organic field we visited is opposite Ting Kok Village, just off of Ting Kok Road in Tai Po District. The closest MTR stop is Tai Po Market on the East Rail Line. From there, take KMB bus 75k or a green New Territories taxi.
Click through for location details for Tai Mei Tuk BBQ King, which is right next to the strawberry field:
Once you get close, look for their banner, which can be spotted from Ting Kok Road: