Despite living here for seven years, I’ve started to explore the neighbourhood only in the last few months. I’ve now managed to string together an interesting cycling route along the paths and through the alleyways in the area, although unlike the route that I’ve concocted on the north side of the main road, there is very little that is technically difficult. The following photo shows one of the few tricky sections and is the first narrow path on the route. The path is as narrow as it looks, and because it isn’t straight, getting the speed right is crucial if you want to avoid going over the edge.
If you’ve read the account of my cycle route on the north side of the main road, you will know that in trying to put together a contiguous route I try not to backtrack on sections that I have already traversed, but there is one section where this is justified. Along the northern edge of Lung Yeuk Tau, there is an extensive flat area that may once have been farmed, although nowadays it looks quite boggy:
As can be seen from the photo, the path across the bog is a substantial one. The route snakes away to the left and, a steep hill later, comes back down the path that leads up into the trees on the right. On one occasion, I was at the top of this path, taking photos, when a local cyclist passed me with the soles of his feet scraping along the ground. Clearly, he didn’t trust his brakes, but it left me wondering why he’d come this way if he thought the hill was too steep, because there is a road that he could have taken instead. Incidentally, in case you were wondering, based on my assessment of cycling skills to be seen around Fanling, this man would not be of below average competence.
Organizing the route in this way means that the path followed to reach the bog is traversed in both directions, and as the following photo shows, it is another path where wobbling is not an option, although it is wider than the path shown above.
Unfortunately, this route is too short to justify getting the bike out—I live on the top floor of a three-storey village house—except as an add-on to one of my other routes, so I’ve been nosing around on foot, which has at least allowed me to visit and document a few things that I wouldn’t have noticed had I been riding a bike. The remainder of this post is about a few of those things.
The next photo was taken from the forested hillside overlooking the area and provides an overview. The high-rise blocks in the distance mark the eastern edge of Fanling, while the large building in the middle distance is Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall, the largest example of an ancestral hall in Hong Kong. To the right is part of what I’ve taken to calling ‘rural sprawl’, the massive proliferation of so-called village houses, which no longer seem to be tied to the original villages in the area but instead are almost everywhere.
Directly behind the ancestral hall, less than 100 metres away alongside a concrete path more than 1.5 metres wide that feels as if it ought to lead somewhere more exciting than a small cluster of squatter houses, is a tree that has a fair claim (unverifiable, obviously) to be the oldest in Hong Kong:
It is impossible to photograph more than a small part of the tree, because it is huge—the trunk has a diameter of about 3 metres—and I do not believe that it is here by chance. It is likely to have been planted to improve the fung shui of the ancestral hall—there is a second tree, only slightly smaller, close by—and the hall dates back to 1525. Deliberately planted fung shui woods were once a common sight around New Territories villages, until the need for land to build more houses took precedence, although a few other big trees do still survive around the area. Almost next door to the ancestral hall (but not visible in the above photo) is the village of Lo Wai. This photo shows the single entrance to the village:
It is not obvious in the above photo, but there is a square projection from the middle of each wall. The next photo, which was taken from the back of the village, shows this more clearly. My conjecture is that they would have been used by defenders to shoot along the walls. It makes an interesting contrast with Kun Lung Wai, which has guard towers at each corner and embrasures at regular intervals along all four walls. Lo Wai has no embrasures, although it does have gun platforms above the entrance.
On the hillside behind Lo Wai, hidden in the trees, is a large complex of graves, many of which are guarded by mythical creatures. I’m unfamiliar with any Chinese bestiaries, although I’ve seen some strange animals on the roofs of temples and other old public buildings, but this one looks vaguely Assyrian to me:
Very few traditional Chinese houses survive in this area, and those that have are usually rundown and dilapidated. The house in the following photo appears to be abandoned, but there is a secure fence around its grounds, so closer inspection is not possible. Like many similar houses, it has painted friezes underneath the eaves and plaster mouldings on the gable end under the roof, but also like many other such houses, these have not been maintained and have faded badly.
Finally, I include a photograph that was taken in this area but could have been taken almost anywhere in Hong Kong. What it shows, for me, is the sheer inventiveness of Hong Kong’s Chinese population.