Tuesday, 11 December 2018

on the money

My last post described a not entirely new addition to our regular Saturday bike ride, and this post is an account of another segment, the existence of which I already knew about, that we’ve added to the ride. I discovered the connection between Hang Tau Road and Kam Tsin Road, in the area between the Sheung Yue River and Fanling golf course, last winter, but I’d only ever ridden down the crucial section. However, I worked out that if it turned out to be possible to ride up that section, then instead of taking the shortest and most obvious route from Kwu Tung Road to the start of ‘oriental garden’, we could add about 1.5 kilometres to the ride by following Kam Tsin Road, then doubling back along Kam Hang Road to the narrow alleyway we call ‘oriental garden’.

The following images are stills from a video that I shot last week, with comments where appropriate. The start looks (and is) straightforward:

However, the alleyway narrows and begins to climb:

The route turns to the left beyond the building:

…and starts to climb again:

There is a sharp (and awkward) turn to the left in the distance:

A closer look at that turn:

It isn’t obvious from the following image, but there is a drain on the right of the path (you can see its continuation in the previous image), so if you’re careless here, you are certain to come off your bike:

The angle eases off before the path joins an unnamed and presumably unregistered road:

The rest of the route is straightforward, although as you can see, the condition of the road surface is poor:

The car in the distance marks the top of the hill:

…and is followed by a fast downhill section through an obvious industrial area:

Kam Tsin Road, which is soon reached, is not a through road, so it carries relatively little traffic:

I asked Paula what name we should give to this connection. She didn’t notice that we had been cycling along Kam Tsin Road, but where this road eventually joins Kam Hang Road, she did spot that we were passing through the outskirts of the village of Kam Tsin. And kam tsin is Cantonese for ‘gold money’, so the name would have to be cash-related. This diversion serves its purpose admirably, so it’s on the money!

Thursday, 6 December 2018

easter island

In concluding my recent overview of our regular Saturday bike ride, I knew that I was tempting fate when I wrote the following:
I don’t expect to be able to add anything else to this ride, but I’ve thought that in the past and been proved wrong, so who knows what the coming winter will bring….
It hasn’t taken me long to find something new to add. Well, ‘something new’ may be overstating the case, as I will endeavour to explain.

What we now call ‘the frontier road’ was part of the so-called ‘frontier closed area’ until the beginning of 2013, which meant that ordinary members of the public, such as Paula and I, would have needed a permit to enter. It was an instant hit with us: the scenery is delightful; and there is almost no traffic (this remains the case). However, there are two drawbacks: it is too short to do by itself; and having reached the end of the road, it is then necessary to go back the way you’ve just come.

To tackle the second of these objections, I tried to find an alternative way to return to our starting point (or to reach the end of the frontier road by an alternative route, then follow the frontier road backwards). I succeeded, but it was never a popular option because it involved an extended portage section, and I haven’t cycled that way for quite a few years.

However, because I wanted to see if I could add anything more to the ride, I decided to take a closer look at that original alternative last week. You will see from the map that it isn’t possible to travel any further west after following the frontier road because there is a major crossing point into China. It isn’t merely a case of a casual cyclist being afraid to brave the traffic here, because both sides of the roads leading to the crossing are marked by impenetrable fences, and to circumvent this obstacle it is necessary to travel south to the extremely busy roads marked on the map.

I cycled through the village of Chau Tau on the aforementioned alternative, although I doubt that I would have noted the name (tsuen merely means ‘village’ and is not part of the formal name), so I wondered whether a tour around that village might be a feasible option. There is one slight problem. Lok Ma Chau Road does not carry a lot of traffic, but what there is (taxis and minibuses mainly) travels at high speed, so it is safer to ride on the pavement (sidewalk), something that I’m usually reluctant to do.

However, you are as likely to encounter a motor vehicle here as a pedestrian, and the distance is very short. This sequence of photos shows what is involved:

After about 450 metres, a side road is reached that leads into the village:

Unless you are familiar with rural Hong Kong, or with Chinese culture, you probably won’t know what this photo shows. It is an ossuary. Each of these large ceramic jars contains a human skeleton. I’m not going to go into how a skeleton can be fitted into such a small jar, because I don’t know, and to be honest, I’m not interested in finding out.

The next photo shows the first houses in the village:

Surprisingly, though, only a tiny part of the village is accessible to motor vehicles here, although there is a clear path for pedestrians and bikes:

It even begins to look like countryside for a short distance:

The cars in the second photo must negotiate an extremely devious route to reach this position, while the houses in the next two photos are not directly accessible by car:

The path eventually widens to become a narrow road:

An interesting feature of the next photo is the brown plaque next to the gate on the left. The three large characters proclaim the name of the premises (the leftmost character is universally known as ‘double happiness’), while the smaller characters translate as ‘Chau Tau village no. 278’. You probably think that there is nothing out of the ordinary in this, until I point out that village houses are usually numbered in the order they were built rather than in a scheme based on their relative positions—a nightmare for a new postman, or for anyone else trying to deliver items to a particular house!

The continuation of the road in the next photo is in fact the only way into the village for motor vehicles. This junction is marked by the blue circle on the map:

The turn to the right, Chau Tau South Road, is a one-way road:

I never cycled along this road when I passed through the village in the past, which is probably why I never spotted this:

Archways like this are not common, and this may be the most impressive I’ve seen. They usually mark the entrance to a village, but the road running beneath here is a dead end, except for pedestrians. And you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that this is some kind of historical monument. It was built in 2006, according to an inscription on one of the side pillars, and it commemorates auspicious events in the village’s history.

The bas relief mouldings on the crossbeams are definitely worth a closer look:

The top panel features two phoenixes, while the bottom panel has two dragons facing off against each other. The central panel appears to be a general scene of nature.

The reverse side of the crossbeams has a similar set of mouldings:

The main difference in subject matter is that the middle panel shows cranes in a lotus pond. I can’t provide an explanation for the pagoda between the two dragons in the bottom panel.

Unsurprisingly, the archway is guarded by two lions, which I’ve placed together in the following image to emphasize their ferocity and intimidating appearance:

Something that I’ve never understood is the significance of lions in Chinese culture. The range of Asiatic lions never extended so far east in historical times. And there’s an even more puzzling anomaly. Chinese lions ignore the sexual dimorphism of real lions: both the animals in my photo have manes, yet one is female (and one is male). Can you tell which is which?

Chau Tau, like many isolated villages, had its own fish pond (although it is no longer used for that purpose):

The red ‘flowers’ are bougainvillea.

The final photo shows the approach to the junction marked on the map by a green circle. The next road, Chau Tau West Road, is also one-way and thus doesn’t provide access to the village from Lok Ma Chau Road:

However, one can turn left here and follow Lok Ma Chau Road back to the frontier road.

Incidentally, the red X marks the correct location of the village of Lok Ma Chau, which is also the name of a station on the MTR network (see map) and a border crossing. Google locates the village about 150 metres south of its correct position, but that is merely Lok Ma Chau police station. Lok Ma Chau police operational base is several kilometres to the east along the frontier road.

Confused? You will be when I explain the title of this post. ‘Chau Tau’ is Cantonese for ‘island head(s)’, and of course I thought immediately of the island that is known for its stone heads. Sorry I mentioned it!

Monday, 26 November 2018

saturday morning adventure #2

When we first moved to Fanling in 2008, our regular Saturday bike ride was a trip to Sham Chung, in the Sai Kung East Country Park, to visit our friend Tom Li and enjoy his incomparable pan-fried noodles. This involved a 72km round trip, but the cycling itself was not particularly interesting, apart from the last 2–3km to Sham Chung. However, the noodles were well worth the time and effort required.

Unfortunately, I had an accident on our way back from Tom’s store on the last day of 2011, and we didn’t go again until January 2013. Shortly after that, we discovered that Tom was no longer there—the business had been taken over by his nephew—and the noodles were no longer worth the journey.

Meanwhile, I’d developed the journey to the west, a much more exciting bike ride that we did every Saturday up to and including the winter of 2015/16 (with solo trips during the week, I did this ride 31 times that winter). However, changes at key points of the route have made it less attractive, and during the past two winters, we did it just twice each time.

Part of the reason for the switch to a new Saturday bike ride was the major upgrades to the long and winding road that I worked out in 2016/17. Until January this year, we ended our ride by doing ping kong ping pong, but that meant chopping off the last part of the long and winding road, and as things turned out, being unable to do three of the new discoveries that I worked out last winter (swiss roll; oriental garden; farmland fandango).

To provide some idea of how new discoveries transformed our Saturday bike ride, take a look at this entry from my cycling log for last winter:

It shows what Paula and I did on my first day back in Hong Kong. On that occasion, we didn’t do ping kong ping pong, which would have added an extra 8km to the distance, but we did include it subsequently on all Saturday rides up to the beginning of January. By that time, I’d started to look for ways to avoid the Drainage Services Department (DSD) access road that runs alongside the Sheung Yue River, because a new cycle track was being constructed (incidentally, when this is finished, we will continue to follow our new way, which is far more interesting—and exciting!).

Contrast the extract above from my cycling log with this one, which records our last bike ride before I returned to the UK in May:

You will see immediately that the total distance has increased by almost 50 percent with all the new additions. The superscript ‘4’ refers to the fact that since we stopped closing out with ping kong ping pong, we’ve chosen to do the spiral ramp twice! Most of the new additions—serendipity #1 and #2; way of the dragon; swiss roll; oriental garden; and farmland fandango—are the subject of YouTube videos, and I intend to record the others as soon as possible.

If you haven’t watched any of these, the following captioned stills from the videos may pique your interest:

way of the dragon

serendipity #1

serendipity #2

swiss roll

farmland fandango

I don’t expect to be able to add anything else to this ride, but I’ve thought that in the past and been proved wrong, so who knows what the coming winter will bring. More fun on a bike, that’s for sure!

Friday, 23 November 2018


When Typhoon Mangkhut hit Hong Kong on 16th September, at least 55,000 trees were uprooted, and many more were damaged, having branches or tops ripped off. More than two months later, signs of the damage wrought by the most powerful tropical cyclone to tear through the territory since records began can still be seen everywhere.

I’ve been back in the territory for a week, and without travelling too far, I’ve been trying to record some of the more obvious signs of the disruption caused on that fateful day in September. Obviously, most of the uprooted trees have been cleared, especially where they blocked roads that in normal times would be busy, but some of the photographs below show trees that are likely to remain indefinitely where they fell.

As usual on my first day back in Hong Kong, Paula and I go for a short bike ride along the frontier road. And this was the first sign of damage:

It looks as though this tree fell across the road, but now that the blocking section has been sawn off and removed, I imagine that what remains will simply be left to rot—or regenerate.

The frontier road eventually joins Ha Wan Tsuen East Road, which in turn leads to the frontier fence. The following photo of Paula cycling on this road also shows some of the damage here:

Although ‘Lok Ma Chau’ is the name of an MTR station and a border crossing point, the actual village of that name lies at the end of a road that leads nowhere else, which is why I don’t expect any more effort to be expended in clearing the fallen tree next to this road:

A bike ride along the frontier road means having to come back the way you came, but we always turn off at the top of the climb out of the frontier area to the village of Liu Pok, where I took this photo:

No uprooted trees here, but if you look closely, several trees have had branches or tops snapped off by the wind (in case you were wondering, we come this way in order to do Liu Pok Hill).

There are only two places where it is possible to cross the railway between Sheung Shui station and the border, and this is a view, looking east, of the one that we always use:

There are no major uprootings here, but notice the piles of smaller arboreal debris on the pavement (sidewalk). There are similar piles of debris in many other places, and it looks as though it is awaiting collection. I believe that it is all destined for landfill!

The next fallen tree is located close to the site of the previous photo and has been sawn into lengths that will be easy to remove, eventually:

The next two photos show a section of the footpath between the village where I live and Fanling. The first photo was taken looking towards Fanling, while the second is a view of the same location from the opposite direction:

The next two photos show trees that have fallen into a storm drain close to the village of Tsung Yuen Ha, which is next to the border northeast of Fanling. The Drainage Services Department (DSD) access road on the left of each photo is a part of my regular Sunday bike ride.

Whenever we cycle west of Fanling, we need to follow a tree-lined road through a part of Sheung Shui, and Paula has often commented on how picturesque this road is. We reach it by cycling through a squatter area from the Ng Tung River, and we arrive at the road by coming up the ramp seen in this photo:

The tree that fell on the railing must have been a big one, but it has since been removed.

Here are two photos that give some indication of the extent of the damage to trees along this road:

I photographed the next fallen tree next to the Ma Wat River, which marks the southern boundary of Fanling:

…while the next photo was taken further along the cycle track that runs alongside the river and shows more debris awaiting collection:

Ma Sik Road marks the eastern boundary of Fanling. On one side there are only high-rise apartments, while the other side is completely rural. The footpath in the next photo runs parallel to this road, and only the central section of the trunk of the fallen tree has been removed—to allow passage along the path:

My guess is that the rest of the tree will remain where it lies indefinitely:

I’ve included the next photo, from a location close to the Ng Tung River, because it shows a tree that has snapped rather than been uprooted:

The next photo, which was taken close to the west bank of the Ng Tung River west of the main railway line, shows another tree that may remain where it is indefinitely because it isn’t causing an obstruction:

Remedial work is still taking place, as this photo of a location adjoining the main north–south cycle track through Fanling and Sheung Shui shows:

My final photo is of the remains of what would have been quite a large uprooted tree in an enclosed plot next to Sha Tau Kok Road, an extremely busy road leading east from Fanling:

It is probably just as well that the #10 signal, the highest in Hong Kong’s typhoon alert system, has been issued just fifteen times since the Second World War. If this kind of devastation were to become an annual occurrence, I shudder to think how Hong Kong would cope.