Thursday, 23 February 2017

subterranean blues, etc.

In my last post, I described the pedestrian/cycling subways around Fanling and Sheung Shui. Other towns in the New Territories also have decorative subways and underpasses, so naturally I thought that a comparison would be in order. The first thing to note is that while Fanling and Sheung Shui are in North District, Taipo is in Taipo District, and Shatin, the largest of the towns in the New Territories, is in Shatin District. While this may seem like a statement of the blindingly obvious, I conjecture that the differences in style between the three locations reflect some design input from members of the various district boards.

Although I’ve cycled through Taipo, which is 5–6km south of Fanling, scores of times over the past 10 years, the route I used to follow did not pass through any subways, and the route I now follow passes through only one, where the inattentiveness of pedestrians crossing the cycle track makes it unwise to pay any attention to the walls of that subway. However, as a result of the excursion described in Surprise View, I began to notice how colourful were the subways that I had to pass through there:

Believe it or not, the transition from the light blue background colour to red takes place deep underground, between the entry in the second photo and the exit in the third.

After this, I began to pay more attention to other subways, including those that I passed when cycling alongside the Lam Tsuen River on my way south. They weren’t as obvious as the ones pictured above, because in these cases, the front elevation was masonry and therefore not visually striking. And these were merely underpasses rather than subways, so there weren’t any long descending approaches requiring decoration, which I would have been bound to notice.

However, when I did take a closer look, I was delighted to discover some spectacularly colourful designs:

The most interesting aspect of this design is that it is repeated in every underpass that I’ve checked out, but the colour combinations differ. I did think at one point that you might be able to work out which underpass you were in depending on the colours, but I eventually discovered that some combinations are repeated, and to date I’ve found only four different ones:

Continuing south from Taipo, there are two cycle-only subways in the vicinity of the Hong Kong Science Park, on the northern edge of Shatin. In both cases, the design is meant to represent waves, although that may not be obvious from these photographs:

You may need to ride through the full length of these subways to be convinced that my interpretation is correct, but I can assure you that there are gradual changes from one wave to the next, which overall give an impression of breaking.

Immediately upon emerging from the second subway, it is possible to turn off the main cycle track through a pedestrian subway, at the end of which a detached cycle track leads to University station. Before coming to an end behind the Hyatt Hotel, this track passes under the bus/minibus station in front of the railway station:

Whenever I’m cycling around here, as soon as it’s possible to cross the Shing Mun River, I do so. I then follow a circuit around the cycle tracks of Ma On Shan, the newest of the new towns in the New Territories and the only one built in the middle of nowhere. There aren’t many subways or underpasses here, and this is the only one of interest:

The circuit around Ma On Shan comes back to the same place, and when I’m down this way, I usually then continue south down the east bank of the river, eventually coming to a long subway between Shek Mun and City One stations on the Ma On Shan line:

The slightly unnatural colour of the first photograph is the result of having to use flash, but the second photo shows the insipidity of the colour scheme here. If only they’d used the kind of vibrant colours that characterize Taipo’s subways!

My regular route passes through several other subways and cycle-track interchanges before reaching the location of the next photograph, but their designs are uniformly uninteresting. However, the next subway is, as far as I can tell, unique:

It reminds me of the cloister of a monastery—and the design is repeated on the walls of the entry/exit ramps.

Like the Ma On Shan picture (above), this subway wall features a tree motif, although in neither case can they be compared with the bold tree motif in Sheung Shui that I used in my previous post:

My final example is not wildly exciting either. This is one of three consecutive bridges on a cycle track leading to Fo Tan. The red-and-white chequerboard design is repeated in a nearby subway.

Although I don’t give up hope easily, I think that I’ve covered everything of interest in the subways of Fanling, Taipo and Shatin. However, if I do find anything worthwhile in the future, you will find a report here.

Friday, 17 February 2017

subterranean blues, (reds, greens and yellows)

Although I’ve lived in Fanling for almost nine years, and although most of my bike rides go to the west, I know almost nothing about the part of town that lies west of the main railway line. In part, this ignorance is occasioned by geography. I live on the eastern outskirts of Fanling, but by following the Drainage Services Department (DSD) access road that runs alongside the Ng Tung River, I can avoid the need to pass through either Fanling or the adjacent town of Sheung Shui—the two were once separate, but they now form a single urban area—on my way west.

I used to cross the railway at a tunnel described in The Hill—most recreational cyclists go this way—but for more than two years I’ve been following a sequence of narrow paths and alleyways through a large squatter area on the edge of Sheung Shui (described in Journey to the West: Part 5). It’s longer this way, but more fun; in any case, ‘short cut’ is not a term with any currency in my cycling vocabulary. In both cases, I reach the DSD access roads around the Sheung Yue River catchment and barely touch the urban area. And I come back the same way.

Recently, however, as part of my attempts to extend ‘the long and winding road’, I found a different way back that took me into parts of the town with which I wasn’t familiar. I’ll not go into too much detail, but it took a long time to find a way home, and I didn’t think I could find that way again without a few false turns. Consequently, a couple of days ago, I decided to have a closer look at the cycle track network on the west side of Fanling. My starting point was the cycle track that comes into Fanling from the south, although this was coincidental—I’d come off my my bike a few days before Christmas when trying an alternative to the cycle track, and I wanted to get a photo of the location of this mishap for use in a future blog post.

Just before this cycle track reaches Fanling, there is a possible turn onto a bridge over the expressway, and I’d often wondered where it led. Now was the time to find out. Once back at ground level, I found a cycle track that led north, which I decided to follow. And it wasn’t long before I came to an underpass:

This winter, I’ve done some cycling around other towns in the New Territories—Taipo, Shatin and Ma On Shan—and I’ve noted how often subways and underpasses have been brightened up by the use of coloured tiles. I had planned to do a feature on this at some time—I probably will—but in the meantime here is what I found on this occasion. This is the other side of this underpass:

Notice that the two sides are not identical. And neither are the two sides of the next underpass, which is less than 100 metres further on:

Naturally, I was delighted to find these two underpasses, because one reason for trying to find a south-to-north route through the west side of town was to see whether I could find again a subway that I’d come across in my recent ‘lost’ meanderings. I could:

In this case, the entrance to the subway on the other side is identical. Here, I’ve included the internal walls of the subway, from both ends, because I think that these rectangular blocks of colour capture movement so well. Notice that the designs on each side are identical, but the colours are different.

The next two photos are of a T-junction on the cycle track:

The ‘tree’ motif is repeated without variation on the walls of all three legs of the T.

All the previous locations can be found in sequence, but the final subway is located on a side turning that I only just noticed as I was riding past. This cycle track doesn’t actually go anywhere. It comes to an end at the top of the exit ramp! And the walls of the entry ramp are so uninteresting that I had to photograph this stairway to illustrate the colour scheme:

But just look at the walls of the subway itself:

One final comment: none of the subways on my side of the tracks are even remotely as interesting. I wonder why.

Monday, 13 February 2017

disappearing world #3

I have rarely visited the village of Heung Tuen Wai, mainly because it lies at the end of a cul de sac, but I recalled that it does have an interesting architectural feature, a tower that I conjecture once served a defensive function, and it therefore seemed likely to be a good location for the latest instalment in my Disappearing World series. Consequently, I detoured from my usual Sunday bike ride yesterday to take a closer look:

I took several photographs of plaster mouldings and painted friezes and was just about to continue on my way when I spotted another row of houses about 60–70 metres away across what would once have been the village’s paddy fields, now no longer cultivated. To be honest, it wasn’t the houses that attracted my attention but the way to get there, a sinuous path with more meanders in its short length than the Irrawaddy (I flew over this river a couple of years ago en route to Hong Kong and was struck by its sinuosity).

That looks like fun, I thought. And it was. The path was only about 50cm wide, making it a good test of my bike-handling ability. And I was in for quite a surprise. Only one block of houses was visible from the road, but as I drew closer I became aware of a second block, hidden by trees. It is the more south-westerly of the two blocks that I’ve circled on this map:

Because of the trees, it wasn’t possible to photograph the whole building, so what follows is somewhat piecemeal, but the first thing to notice is that unlike the buildings that I photographed for earlier posts in this series, this is a two-storey structure. There are three doors, and the painted friezes above the doors are in remarkable condition:

Because of the position of the sun, it was necessary to take these photos from closer to the doors than I would have liked, and even then some glare has been unavoidable. On the walls between the recesses housing the doors, there are some incredibly intricate plaster mouldings:

I was unable to photograph the entire block satisfactorily, but the next two photos show something of how these features relate to each other. I will be looking to replace these pictures if I’m in the neighbourhood on not such a sunny day:

Of course, I still wanted to take a closer look at the building that had originally attracted my attention from the road. In fact, only the nearest house is occupied, and if you look closely, you will see that it has simply been tacked onto the end of the original terrace:

In fact, the remainder of this block is merely a fa├žade. The rest of the building is already a ruin! However, the friezes above the two main doorways are still in quite a good condition, although I cannot imagine them ever being renewed:

I will conclude this report with a view of the watchtower block from the buildings that I’ve featured here.

Of course, there are unanswered questions that I intend to pursue if possible. To begin with, the first building I’ve described seems to be rather grand to be merely a row of village houses (it has two storeys for a start). And does the existence of the watchtower indicate that this village was once more important than others in the area? If I can find answers to these puzzles, I will post a report.

other posts in this series
Disappearing World
Disappearing World #2

Thursday, 9 February 2017

mr lee’s garden

It’s often claimed that you don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it, and although I’m not completely convinced that this is always the case, Mr Lee’s garden does come close to proving the rule. When we moved into the village where we now live, in 2008, there were three things that we noticed straight away: the walled enclosure of Kun Lung Wai, the walls and gatehouse of which date back to 1744 and which are declared monuments; some noisy neighbours; and Mr Lee’s garden.

Mr Lee is a kindly Chinese gentleman who spent his entire working life in England but who returned to his home village in Hong Kong to retire. With little else to do, he took over what had been a patch of waste land alongside the only road through the village, and by hard, painstaking work transformed it into an artistic masterpiece. This is a photograph of the road that I took a few days after arriving in the village (Mr Lee’s garden is on the right):

…and these are four photos of the garden that I took at the same time, in sequence, as I walked towards the camera in the first photo:

The walls of Kun Lung Wai can be seen in the background in the first three photos. The three trees in the third photo are all banyans. I’ve no idea how old the two close together just right of centre were, but they were cut down a few years ago. The authorities in Hong Kong have been paranoid about sickly trees ever since a young woman was killed by a falling tree branch a few years ago, and it is true that these two weren’t producing much foliage, but I was still sad to see them go.

The fourth photo was taken from the entrance to the garden. It shows how the much younger tree in the third photo integrated with the rest of the garden. It was planted by Mr Lee himself around 1989/90, and it met a far more dramatic fate than its erstwhile neighbours in 2015:

Around this time, Mr Lee had been neglecting his garden for a couple of years because he had found himself with child-minding responsibilities. The weeds are obvious in the next photo, which is of the end of the garden furthest from the entrance. Compare it with the first photo of the garden above:

When I talked about losing something of value at the start of this report, I didn’t go into detail. However, I did mention that this garden is located on ‘waste land’. Well, last summer, we heard of plans to build a house here. We understand that this house will be located in the section shown in the previous photo, but we don’t know how long the rest of Mr Lee’s garden will survive.

Consequently, I’ve been taking a few photographs to remind us of former glories. First, I should point out that there are no garden gnomes in Mr Lee’s garden, but there are quite a few bizarre ornaments. Can you spot all the odd ornaments in the following photo?

You will be doing exceptionally well if you can identify all the unusual objects in this photo:

The strangers in this picture are pretty obvious:

The next four photos are merely random views of the garden:

In the next photo, the firecracker vine marks the entrance to the garden, while the brick structure that appears in a few photographs houses a brass plaque explaining the history of Kun Lung Wai:

Finally, here is a recent photo of the road that leads past the garden. You can compare it with the first photo in this report:

How things change!