The village of Fung Wong Wu (‘leg of the phoenix’), which is located close to the border with China, in an area of the so-called ‘closed area’ that was opened up only last year, is unusual in one respect: it has a modern village office. But it also has many much older buildings. The existence of the three-storey village office suggests that Fung Wong Wu is a prosperous village, and it’s worth noting that perhaps for this reason some of its older buildings have been restored quite sympathetically.
However, the building I’ve featured in this post has not been restored, and it’s easy to see why. The restored buildings do not have friezes or intricate plaster mouldings, while this one does. The following photograph provides an indication of how impressive a façade this is for what is fundamentally just a row of houses:
I’ve included photographs of the mouldings above each doorway but only a few images of the mouldings in between, mainly because the former are far more spectacular. It was necessary to take the photos from closer than I would have liked, because otherwise I would have been shooting directly into the sun. Nevertheless, it has been impossible to avoid some glare creeping into the pictures.
It was impossible to take a photo of the mouldings on the far left of the building without branches from a tree on the right intruding on the scene:
The doorway in the previous photo appears to have just a wooden lintel, but this one has a more prestigious (and expensive) diorite lintel:
This is a picture of part of the mouldings between the second and third doorways:
And this is easily the most impressive of the doorways:
There are two phoenixes in the central moulding, but the one on the right has lost its head and the one on the right its tail. Some remnants of the painting remain, but this (and the other mouldings) would once have been brightly coloured. However, the only place where you will see brightly painted mouldings nowadays is on prestigious buildings such as the Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall, because such work is expensive to maintain and can be countenanced only by the wealthiest clans.
The next doorway is almost as impressive. The central moulding features a pair of bats, and the octagonal mirror in the centre is there to ward off demons (eight is the lucky number in Chinese culture).
If you refer back to the first photo, you will notice that the fourth house in the terrace is slightly higher than the rest. I cannot state definitively why this should be so, but this is my conjecture: this block was once the entire village, and this house would have been occupied by the village headman and his family. If this sounds preposterous, given the size of villages in this area, I will cite the existence of named villages in more remote areas, such as the Sai Kung peninsula, that are even now just a single terrace.
The next picture shows the mouldings between the fourth and fifth doorways:
Although I referred above to the ‘fifth doorway’, this one has in fact been partly bricked up, leaving just a window, but the moulding remains (although it appears to be more damaged than the others):
As I stated in Disappearing World, I have no idea how old buildings like this are, and I’m equally ignorant when it comes to trying to explain what is being represented by the mouldings. Some of the designs are abstract, at least in part, and in some the word that springs immediately to mind is ‘kitchen’. Please leave a comment if you can enlighten me, or correct my delusions, or even if you simply want to tell me what these images remind you of.
other posts in this series
Disappearing World #3