Friday, 17 March 2017

a blaze of glory

I like trees, and Hong Kong does boast some pretty spectacular species, from ancient banyans, with their incredible aerial roots that thicken and become woody once they’ve reached the ground:


…to the huge spread of cinnamomums, known colloquially as camphor trees:


A characteristic of both species is that it is almost impossible to get far enough away to be able to photograph the entire tree—in both the above photos, what you see is a single tree. And both species have been extensively planted in and around villages in the New Territories, where the purpose has been to enhance the fung shui.

However, while I do like banyans and camphor trees, they are blown out of the water at this time of year by the cotton trees, which have been flowering violently for the past few weeks. And, as I hope the following photos demonstrate, ‘violently’ is an appropriate adverb to use in this context.

Cotton trees have two unusual characteristics, especially for broadleaf species. First, like many conifers, they have several branches sprouting from the trunk at the same height. Second, having shed their leaves during the winter, they produce flowers before they produce any new leaves. This second feature is what makes cotton trees so impressive, because there is nothing to obscure the flowers, which are the colour of arterial blood.

Unfortunately, this feature also makes the flowers difficult to photograph, because most have just the sky for background, and the sky is usually far too bright to allow the correct exposure for the flowers. This first photo was taken with a mountain in the background, although this tree is nowhere near as impressive as many others:


I took the next two photos last Sunday during my weekly bike ride around ‘the final frontier’. The first shows a group of cotton trees on Sha Tau Kok Road—it’s common for cotton trees to be planted along the sides of major roads. The second was taken along a quiet lane near Ping Che. The image doesn’t do justice to the reality, which was right in front of me as I was cycling along.



The next photo is of a group of misshapen, mutilated cotton trees that I pass every time I walk into Fanling for shopping or go with Paula for early morning tea (yam char) at our local restaurant. They are misshapen because the local power company has run a power line over the top and has therefore cut off the tops of the trees, which have grown sideways in response.


The next three photographs were taken yesterday while out cycling west of Fanling. The first photo is of a cotton tree alongside the cycle track that I need to follow to get out of the urban area (via a U-turn into the subway on the right). Notice that the flowers here have a slightly orangey hue. The red flowers in the darker area on the left of the picture are bougainvillea.


The next photo was taken in an industrial area just off Ho Sheung Heung Road. While I can understand the planting of ornamental trees alongside major roads, it seems rather odd to find a specimen next to a rough track. But notice that there are two cotton trees, and the one on the left is actually inside the industrial premises. Somebody else must also like these trees.


The third photo is of a small cotton tree next to the Drainage Services access road that runs alongside the Sheung Yiu River. I was particularly pleased to be able to position myself for this shot so that there was a dark background to accentuate the colour of the flowers. The main railway line into China is in the background.


Several years ago, Paula commented how beautiful the cotton trees were at the time to a fellow minibus passenger. When she told me the story, I couldn’t believe the reply:

“Yes! But they leave a mess on the ground.”

The phrase ‘mess on the ground’ has since become a running joke between us, so when we saw this fantastic ‘mess’ last weekend near the beginning of ‘the long and winding road’, I just had to take a photo:


There are two other observations that I should make about cotton trees. I believe that the flowers have some medicinal properties—I’ve seen old ladies collecting them, then spreading them out to dry—and when they fall, the flowers hit the ground with a thud, especially if they land on tarmac or concrete.

Finally, in keeping with the spirit of ‘a mess on the ground’, I’ve included the following picture, which in my opinion illustrates how beautiful cotton tree flowers are, even when they’re no longer on the tree.

Monday, 13 March 2017

nature trail

When I wrote about the zoological garden last November, I included a photograph of the entrance to an alleyway that I also cycle past every Sunday. It is close to the entrance to ghost alley, and I ventured down the alleyway back in November because I thought that it might contain some interesting artwork. I didn’t have time for a comprehensive survey of the alley, but I made a mental note to return, having noted some interesting paintings on display.


The sign on the right states that this is the domain of a group that provides guided tours of nature in the area for children. Anyway, having ridden past week after week, I decided to take a closer look yesterday, and I was surprised (and delighted) to find a lot of new artwork on the footpath. I’d just found somewhere to park my bike so that it wouldn’t block the way and had taken out my camera when a local man, who identified himself as Michael, appeared and asked me what I was doing.

In the course of our conversation, I learned that the new artwork had been painted only two days previously, and Michael thought that the group responsible wasn’t finished. He believed it to be the same group who had created ghost alley—he didn’t use this name, I hasten to add—and he asked me if I was aware of that location. Of course, I replied, I’ve even written about it! Twice!

Anyway, here are some of the older images from this site. It’s impossible to photograph the entire image painted on this power pole:


I’m not sure if this slightly garbled Charles Dickens quotation has any significance:


This is probably the most elaborately painted image here. I believe it to be a koi carp:


And here are two floral patterns. The first appears to feature two lovebirds, and I’ve included the second mainly because it’s the only image that is dated:



The remaining photos were taken yesterday and are almost exclusively leaf or flower motifs. They tend to be quite crude, but for me the only disappointment is that there is none of the anthropomorphism that characterizes many of the best images in ghost alley.











Finally, here is a general view of part of the path. The bamboo structure on the left is a homemade set of wind chimes, although to get the best effect, you need to rattle your fingers across the suspended lengths of bamboo:


I will be back here a few weeks later to see if Michael was correct, that the work here is unfinished. I do hope so.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

ping kong ping pong

Ping Kong is a village situated on the western fringe of Fanling. There would once have been some space between the village and the town, but the latter has slowly expanded to fill the gap. And Ping Kong is a prosperous village, if this entrance arch is anything to go by:


Because I live on the opposite side of town, and the obvious way to reach the country to the west had been to follow the river catchment systems to the north, I’d been unaware of the village’s existence until a few weeks ago, when I discovered an alternative route back into town, which I described in Room for Further Improvement. In that report, I described a narrow path, about 1km in length, which led through an extensive area of farmland to the entrance to the wai (walled enclosure) that was the original village. This ‘through path’ is indicated by the red arrow on the following satellite image:


Naturally, I couldn’t help but notice a few other paths leading off the through path, and of course I wanted to know to where they might lead. However, rather than describe the exploration of these paths, I thought it better to describe the finished article, a bike ride that I’ve decided to call ‘ping kong ping pong’. This rather facetious name combines that of the village with the observation that one bounces around from path to path much like the interplay in a game of table tennis. But first a digression:

In Room for Further Improvement, I included photos of two road junctions, the second of which leads to the start of the through path. I’d chosen this road to follow rather than the first because having reached the end of the road I had been following, it was the first I came to. However, when I came back with Paula a few days later to show her what I’d discovered, I forgot that I’d gone down the second turning and took the first turning by mistake. I remember thinking, as we sped down a seriously steep hill, that I hoped we wouldn’t have to come back that way:


But we did! This road was a dead end.

Anyway, the key to ping kong ping pong is the multi-path junction indicated by the red circle in the satellite image above. The problem (because I like to frame these things as exercises in topology) is to traverse the four numbered paths in both directions. But only paths #2 and #3 connect directly to the through path. I needed a new path into the area. And I found a real beauty, which is where the ride now starts:


The yellow railings were an encouraging sign. They are there because after this initial ramp, the path contours across the hillside, with a dangerous drop to the left. And they would not have been erected if the path didn’t lead somewhere.



The path then becomes an alleyway:


…leading to a small quasi-industrial site.

However, it’s easy to find another path leading away from this site (the second photo was taken looking back at a bridge just crossed):



This is path #1, which reaches the multi-path junction without further anxiety:


Path #1 comes in from the right, #2 from the left, #3 leads away on the left, and #4 away on the right. The next move is along path #4, although this is left after 20 metres or so to follow a gap through the trees indicated by the lowest point of the skyline:


By analogy with the concept of ‘off-road’, the route, while obvious, is distinctly off-path, arriving, eventually, at the dead-end road reached by the steep hill described above. You must have realized that the digression had a point, and although there really is no point in descending a hill merely to climb it again, when the hill is part of a circuit, I can’t not include it.

From the top of the hill, it’s a straightforward matter to reach the start of the through path, from where an obscure turn-off leads back to the multi-path junction. Next on the agenda is path #3:




The tin shack in the last photo is located on the through path, and the junction between it and path #3 (X on the satellite image) is shown in the next photo:


Path #3 is on the left, and the route turns left here, following the through path as far as the junction indicated by the yellow circle:


The through path is on the right in this photo. The path on the left leads to the village of Chung Chai Yuen, a small cluster of houses with narrow alleyways. However, before we continue, there is an oddity to point out. The photo was taken from the point of view of someone coming from Ping Kong, and if that someone’s destination really was Chung Chai Yuen, there is a much better path, also signposted, starting just outside Ping Kong. And if, as in this case, that someone was coming from the opposite direction, there is no clue on the reverse of the sign to the path’s destination.

This path is also one of the bumpiest and most broken I’ve encountered anywhere. This photo is of the junction indicated by the blue circle, which is in a much better condition than the overall average for the path:


The route comes in from the left and leaves on the right, but later in the ride (see below), the route approaches the junction from the third direction and leaves on the left.

And this is the entrance to the village:


By contrast with the bumpy path, the path that leaves the village is in excellent condition and is quite exhilarating to ride at speed (if you have the nerve):








The through path is then followed in reverse as far as X (the tin shack), followed by path #3 back to the multi-path junction. Path #2 is next. It is followed to a junction with the through path:


This photo was taken from the through path, with Ping Kong in the background. Path #2 comes in here from the left, and the route turns left towards Ping Kong. After about 50 metres, there is a signposted right turn towards Chung Chai Yuen (again only visible if you’re coming from the opposite direction), but instead of the path pictured above, this time the route follows a Drainage Services access path:


The path followed earlier can be seen in the background.

The route eventually negotiates the three-way junction pictured above on its way back to the through path, which is followed to the junction with path #2, also pictured above. This leads back to the multi-path junction for the final time:





All that is left now is to backtrack along path #1 and the path across the hillside to reach the point where it all started. Notice that although all the main paths have been followed in both directions, at no point is any path followed more than once in the same direction. That would violate my self-imposed rule for such exercises, which, as I explained earlier, I treat as topological problems, in this case to work out while cycling (the first time, at least). It all adds to the fun.