Saturday, 23 January 2010

hong kong country

Given that this blog is called ‘The View from Fanling’, some readers may have wondered who or what this Fanling is. Wonder no more. Fanling is a large town in the northern New Territories, and it’s where I live. It’s not a notably photogenic town, except in the spring, when the trees are flowering, but I took a small liberty with my earlier statement anyway: in fact I live in a small traditional village about a mile east of town, and what follows is a (mis)guided tour of the neighbourhood.


My village is called San Wai, and it’s a walled village. This view is of the west wall, and the gateway you see is the only way in and out. There is a squat defensive tower at each corner with embrasures through which crossbows could have been fired in earlier times. However, I don’t live within the walls. Too claustrophobic. I live in a modern house close to the east wall, built on what was once the village’s paddy fields (no rice has been grown in Hong Kong since about 1975).


If we now turn around and walk about 60 metres from where the previous photo was taken, we come to the River Indus (not the one in Pakistan, obviously, but it is one of the largest rivers in Hong Kong). It was probably given this name by some wag in the British colonial administration in the distant past. It has been canalized, like all the rivers in the area, which suggests that flooding was once a regular occurrence here. Egrets are common, herons are often seen, and if you’re lucky you may catch the turquoise flash of a kingfisher. An evening stroll along the river bank in springtime is a ‘musical’ delight. The air is filled with the cacophonous croaking of thousands of frogs, and if my hypothesis is correct that each species has its own distinctive croak, you will hear at least ten and possibly twelve different species. The most ‘entertaining’ are the frogs that live in the drainage traps. These are concrete shafts about a metre square and four metres deep that are designed to trap debris during heavy rain. The shaft acts as an acoustic resonator (the same effect that you get when you hold a seashell to your ear), and as a result the croak is so loud you might think it was a cow mooing.


Our route now takes us across the footbridge that can be seen in the distance in the previous picture and across what was once the floodplain of the river. Much of this plain has been overtaken by weeds, but given that the soil is extremely fertile, some enterprising locals have taken advantage by growing vegetables here. It is a curious fact that most of the people tending these plots are old ladies, and it is not an exaggeration to say that many of them are in their eighties! The high-rise apartment blocks in the distance mark the eastern edge of Luen Wo Hui, a working-class district of Fanling where I do most of my food shopping and where my wife and I often go for yam char (literally, ‘drink tea’ but in practice ‘breakfast’).


However, before we reach Luen Wo Hui, we pass Koon Garden. The derelict house that can be glimpsed through the gateway bears the date ‘1960’ on its front elevation, which means that in the space of half a century, someone has built a substantial house, lived in it and abandoned it, and a tree has grown to partially block the entrance.


Returning to San Wai by a shorter route, we pass another gateway. This one proudly proclaims that it is the dwelling of Mr Lee Ming Sang, and like Koon Garden the house within is in ruins. Every time I pass it, I’m reminded of Shelley’s poem:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Yes, I am aware that I’m employing a degree of hyperbole here, but no more than might be expected from a former hack journalist. A recently abandoned wood-framed tin shack can be seen on the right of the picture. The last occupant removed all the tin before leaving, presumably to use elsewhere, leaving the frame to the termites, which won’t take long to finish it off.


Further along the path, we come to the ‘sun gate’. This is what I call a ‘story picture’. The story may not be true, but it is certainly plausible: the substantial house behind the gate, well hidden by trees, is owned by a Chinese millionaire, who may well have grown up here. It is not occupied all the time, but it is still in use. This house is about half a kilometre from any road, and the anonymous millionaire uses this address in all correspondence with the tax authorities, which, knowing that all the other houses on this plain are tin shacks, assume that this dwelling too is merely a shack. In this way, the millionaire is able to declare less than his real income without arousing suspicion. However, this very expensive stainless steel gate is the giveaway, betraying an opulence not seen anywhere else in the neighbourhood.


The tin shack in this picture is more typical of the dwellings scattered across the plain. It is taken looking back along the track from a footbridge, from which the next picture is also taken.


This is a tributary of the River Indus, the name of which I’ve not yet been able to discover; the confluence can be seen in the middle distance. Although in winter the river flow is confined to the narrow channel on the right, I’ve seen a three-foot catfish in the channel. Egrets can be seen frequently here, standing motionless along the edge of the channel watching intently for smaller fish. From this point, it is less than 200 metres to where we started, but the skyline in the far distance is our next destination. It circumscribes a narrow side valley now used as a firing range by the People’s Liberation Army but set up originally by the British army.


A narrow concrete military road runs along the ridge line. It too was built by the British and demarcates an exclusion zone along the border with the rest of China that was once a preventive measure against illegal immigrants. It is no longer used by vehicular traffic, except possibly mountain bikes, but the occasional hiker may be encountered. The murkiness of the background is a measure of the pollution level in this area, all of which is a result of the rapid industrialization of southern Guangdong over the past three decades.


Finally, on the descent from the ridge, we pass this grave. Graves like this are scattered all over the hillsides of the New Territories, and the exact location of each will have been determined by the dictates of fung shui. Although it may not be obvious, this is something of a puzzle picture. The white area in the foreground is all that remains of another grave, one that has been almost completely obliterated. Fragments of engraved and polished granite litter the immediate area. My wife and I have discussed this at length: it is clear that the smaller grave must have been desecrated by people associated with the larger grave, but the sequence of events is not obvious. Which grave was established first? If it was the larger, why would anyone make a new grave so close? If it was the smaller, how does one account for the observation that the lichen on the larger grave makes it appear to be older? The solution to this conundrum may not be discoverable: this photograph was taken in the autumn of 2008, shortly after a major hill fire. I have a second photo, taken last year shortly after the autumn grave-sweeping festival of Chung Yeung, and the grave is almost completely engulfed by new vegetation. Had the grave been visited during the festival, that vegetation would have been cleared. So there it remains, neglected and forgotten.

And that concludes a whistle-stop tour of the district. It may not have been a tour de force, but I hope it wasn’t a wild goose chase either.


update: 24/11/2010
A recent visit to Koon Garden revealed some inaccuracies in the interpretation set out above.

update: 01/02/2013
Koon Garden, the house of Lee Ming Sang and the millionaire’s house have been demolished, although the sun gate is still there. I assume that the henchmen of Uncle Four were responsible.

20 comments:

  1. I for one was curious about the mystery of Fanling. I am quite happy that you cleared that up for me - and I did enjoy the tour. Do you have a story about how this came to be your home?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for the tour. I thoroughly enjoyed it; it was very informative, and the view is beautiful from all of shared perspectives. Like Fatuous, I am curious as to how you and your wife landed in Fanling..?
    Robyn

    ReplyDelete
  3. No story to tell really. Until 2008, we lived much closer to the city, with a sea view from our verandah, but somebody had applied to build a house in front of us, and the village was full of dogs that barked all the time. We learned from a colleague of a friend of my wife's that a new house was available in San Wai, so we took it. I didn't like it at first, but Chinese New Year last year changed my mind. I will probably post an account of the celebrations next month, which will include firecrackers (illegal in Hong Kong since 1967) and lion dances. We never got that where we used to live.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dennis.....not really sure where to post this but I wanted to thank you for your comments on my blog
    (sarahvinall.blogspot.com)..Being very new to this blog "lark"...I need as much help as I can....especially changing the layout to enlarge my photos. I have also read some of your blog - very interesting - my son has just had 5 months away travelling and the last place he visited was Hong Kong....he loved it but only being 18 yrs old, was rather reluctant to visit places on his own other than the usual "tourist" areas. Anyway, I will enjoy your photos and follow your blog.

    Thanks Sarah

    ReplyDelete
  5. I really enjoyed the pictures and information.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Have not yet made it to Hong Kong but enjoyed your whistle stop tour of Fanling. Good to see real photos, they brought everything to life.
    Mike

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hmm...I like it. Your post (and blog) seem to have a experienced charm about them, and basically your appealing to read from. I guess...just keep it up :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. I hope to have a verandah in my next life. I would soooooo love that!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Dennis...thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting.

    I love this photographs. They really give a glimpse into Hong Kong. I've never been but it's a place I would love to visit. Maybe someday.

    www.livewritedream.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  10. Photo #3

    Nice photos!
    I always wondering on how city skyscraper landscape is mixed with the farms! I guess thats asian thing mostly!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I loved the small lesson I got from reading this! The pictures are somewhat not what I would've expected!

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is a topic which is close to my heart... Thank you!
    Where are your contact details though?

    Look at my web blog great coffee

    ReplyDelete
  13. Congratulations for this wonderful reading article. I found it very informative and interesting too, I think you are a brilliant writer. I have bookmarked your blog and will return in the future. I want to encourage you to continue that marvelous work, have a great daytime!I am a china tour lover,You can learn more: China tour operator | China tour packages | China city travel

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for that vote of confidence dolinna. I hope that you will find more interesting reading here in the future.

      Delete
  14. Perhaps the front grave was constructed to replace the original grave at the rear which was facing the wrong way.The front grave which looks the newest, appears to be at a 90 degree angle to the back grave

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Then who destroyed the front grave? And why? You appear to be assuming that both graves belong to the same family Keith, while I’m assuming that different families are involved. That’s why it’s such a puzzle.

      Delete
  15. The first grave was positioned by an old Feng Shui man. However a younger Feng Shui man came along and said it was facing the wrong way and the spirit would not be very happy. Fortunately he knew a grave builder who could construct a new grave in front of the old one then transfer the occupant and demolish the old grave. The family agreed to pay for the new grave. however when the new grave was almost finished, the old Feng Shui man told the family that the grave builder was the young Feng Shui man's brother and they had been conned into shelling out money under false pretenses. Not only that but the new grave was blocking the view of the old grave and ruining the Feng Shui. The new grave was thus smashed to pieces.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. An impressive piece of reasoning Keith, but I remain unconvinced.

      Delete
    2. By the way Keith, I forgot to mention that as far as I’m concerned, ‘fung shui master’ is an oxymoron, although I do note that you used a less loaded term.

      Delete

Please leave a comment if you have time, even if you disagree with the opinions expressed in this post, although you must expect a robust defence of those opinions. If you don’t have time to comment but enjoyed the post, please click the +1 button on the right-hand sidebar (near the top of the page).