Saturday, 9 December 2017

feral cows in hong kong

Although I spent a lot of time hiking around the Sai Kung peninsula between 1974 and 1984 as part of my job as an instructor at the local Outward Bound school, I don’t think I became aware of the herd of feral cows that roams the area until the late 1980s, when I took Paula to Fung Head to do some rock climbing. This headland is so remote that it’s necessary to camp overnight—the walk in from the nearest road takes about three hours. I don’t recall that we actually saw any cows, but it was so cold that I remember thinking that lighting a fire would be a good idea.

The problem was finding stuff to burn. Sea cliffs are areas of erosion, not deposition, so driftwood was not an option, but there was a lot of dried cow dung around. I’d read that in many parts of the world, this is used routinely as a fuel, so I thought that it had to be worth a try. I was delighted to discover that once alight it glowed like coal, throwing out a lot of heat, although of course it didn’t last anything like as long. So that was my first ‘encounter’ with the feral cows of Sai Kung. I didn’t take any photos of cows, whether I saw any or not, because my camera weighed more than a kilogram, and I didn’t carry it with me when hiking.

Then, between 1989 and 2006, I spent no more than 12 months in Hong Kong, none of it in the countryside, but when we moved into a house in the village of Sai Keng in 2006, I was equipped with a lightweight digital camera that I carried everywhere. This is the first photograph I took:

I don’t know what the herd was doing on this shingle spit, because there clearly isn’t a lot to eat, but the photo was taken from the footpath linking the villages of Yung Shue Au and Sham Chung (Sai Keng is on the far side of the inlet—Kei Ling Ha Hoi—in this view).

We used to go to Sham Chung regularly to visit our friend Tom Li (and to eat his utterly delicious pan-fried noodles), and the next two photos were taken in the woods on the far side of the wetland area that makes this village so special. I think we must have alarmed these particular animals!

It looks as if someone has attempted to remove this poor beast’s tail, presumably to try to make oxtail soup:

The next photo was taken close to Kei Ling Ha Lo Wai, the first of the Shap Sze Heung (‘14 villages’; Sai Keng is number three). I think it’s obvious who’s boss here.

We often used to walk from our house in Sai Keng as far as the location of the previous photo after dinner, and occasionally we’d encounter the herd along the way:

The next three photos are ‘portraits’, but I cannot remember precisely where in Sai Kung they were taken. However, I do believe that the subject of the first photo was the bull I encountered once while cycling along the narrow path between Yung Shue Au and Sham Chung. I didn’t feel threatened, but I do remember having a problem persuading him to get out of the way so that I could continue.

All the above photos were taken in the Sai Kung area, but I did see a small group of cows in a drainage channel in the Kam Tin/Pat Heung area a few years ago when I was trying to extend the journey to the west bike ride. At the time, I thought they must be feral, but they wouldn’t have been able to gain access to the channel without human agency, and I’ve since noticed cows in the Sheung Yiu River, immediately west of the main rail line into China, with collars around their necks, so although every cow that I see has been left to its own devices, there is a shadowy ‘owner’ somewhere in the background in some cases. I have therefore included this picture as being of ‘free-range’ cattle:

I’ve also decided to reprise two photos that I originally included in my ‘photographic highlights’ posts, from 2013–14 and 2015–16, respectively: The first photo shows two buffaloes, which I photographed in the Pat Heung area, while the second is of a head-to-head confrontation that I spotted close to where Bride’s Pool Road joins Sha Tau Kok Road.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

stone the crows

Although rice is no longer grown in Hong Kong—I last saw it being cultivated in 1975, and in many cases the irrigation systems that are needed for its cultivation have fallen into disuse—a lot of land is given over to the cultivation of vegetables. There are even ‘farms’, accredited by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, although these would be more accurately described as smallholdings, and they meet only a tiny fraction of the territory’s needs. There are also many small private plots.

Consequently, I’m constantly walking or cycling past cultivated areas, and I’ve long been fascinated by the various methods that are used to scare away birds. The most common is probably the ‘plastic bag method’, which is illustrated in the following photo of a small private plot that I pass on my way into Fanling from the village where I live.

Clearly, the idea is that the bags should move in the wind and alarm any birds thinking of alighting on the crop.

A variant of this method can be seen in the next photo, taken on another private plot that I pass regularly. This is the only instance I’ve come across of plastic bottles full of water being suspended by plastic tape, and I cannot understand the rationale behind this method (the loose ends of the tape will flutter in the breeze, but the weights on the end will have the effect of damping any movement).

A more effective variant is the use of CDs, which reflect light at different wavelengths as they move in the wind:

I don’t see this method as frequently as I used to, presumably because CDs are no longer used in junk mail as often as they once were. However, I came across an intriguing variant of the CD method recently in the village of Tan Chuk Hang, which is located in an area east of Fanling that I’ve been exploring since I returned to Hong Kong in October. It cannot be deduced from the photo, but these discs are constantly rotating in the wind and seem as if they were made for this purpose:

A method I’ve seen only once, in the area on the other side of Sha Tau Kok Road from where I live, involves suspending stuffed toys instead of CDs or bottles of water:

None of the toys look particularly happy!

Another unusual method is seen in the next photo, which is on a route that I walk along almost every day. Note the outsize saucepan, which is suspended next to a metal pipe driven into the ground. It only ever generates a noise when it’s extremely windy.

As you might expect, I’ve spotted quite a few ‘conventional’ scarecrows, most of which are not particularly convincing, although when I saw the one in the next photo on the ‘frontier road’ as I cycled past last winter, I was fooled momentarily:

I took the next photo a few weeks ago in the same location:

This one was taken near the village of Ping Kong, west of Fanling:

…while the next two photos are of adjacent fields between the Sheung Yiu and Shek Sheung rivers, west of Sheung Shui:

I came across the last scarecrow while I was exploring the area around Fu Tei Pai:

However, if you really do want to keep the birds off your crop, you need a superhero. Superman would be excluded from Hong Kong as an illegal alien, so how about…

…Iron Man!

I took the previous photo last winter, but it seems that Iron Man wasn’t quite up to the job. So who are you going to call?

Paddington Bear!

It seems to me that insects represent a far greater threat to the crops being grown here than birds, and even Spiderman wouldn’t be a lot of use in fighting them.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

land grab

A few days ago, Paula informed me that a notice had appeared on the footpath linking the villages of Kan Lung Wai and San Uk Tsuen informing users of the footpath that the owner of the land planned to block it. Someone has since removed the notice, but not before I’d had an opportunity to photograph it:

This is the translation:
Private land

This path is ‘private land’. The landlord will retrieve the space and it will be blocked and impassable. Now I am informing you to find an alternative path.
The bottom line refers to the system of land tenure in the New Territories. However, the first thing to note is that there is no reasonable alternative path. There is a single-track road, which is the principal vehicular access from the major artery of Sha Tau Kok Road to Kan Lung Wai and also to the villages of Siu Hang and Siu Hang San Tsuen on the north side of the Ng Tung River. However, this road is unsuitable for bicycles because of its narrowness and the frequency of motor traffic. It isn’t even particularly convenient for pedestrians, although there is a sidewalk for part of its length.

This morning, I walked from San Uk Tsuen to Kan Lung Wai to try to illustrate why I regard this as a blatant land grab that should not be allowed to proceed. This is where the path starts in San Uk Tsuen (it turns right in front of the gates):

This is as far as motor vehicles can go:

…for obvious reasons:

This S-bend is located in the distance in the previous photo:

…while this is a view of the bend from the other side:

The ‘alternative’ route may be awkward for pedestrians and cyclists, but it would be impossible for someone pushing a loaded barrow.

I didn’t hang around deliberately to photograph users of the path, but the number of cyclists, in particular, that appear in the following photos is a good indication of how important this path is locally. Hundreds of people use this path every day, and it would be monumentally inconvenient if some greedy asshole decided, arbitrarily, to block it off. In fact, if someone really does own the land on which this path is located, I would suggest that the presence of streetlights indicates a public right of way, and blocking the path would therefore be illegal.

The first photo shows the woman with the barrow in the distance.

The red circle in the next photo indicates the approximate position of the notice, which measured no more than 25×15cm. Not exactly obvious, was it?

The concrete wall on the right of the path is a relatively new addition, being no more than two or three years old. It encloses what I expect will become a small private estate that is still only partially built.

And this may be why the developer wants to block the footpath:

The photo was taken from the fire hydrant in the next photo, looking back. It seems to me that if the developer wanted vehicular access to this land, there is a more convenient option on the far side of the enclosed land. This appears to be merely a cheaper option.

What used to be merely a footpath has already been widened:

Closing this footpath will be a serious nuisance for everyone who lives in the area. Paula and I use it only occasionally, when we’re obliged to catch a minibus home late at night that runs only along Sha Tau Kok Road. I wonder how many other locals are aware of what is being proposed.

I’ve already suggested that blocking this path is probably illegal, but there is another factor that supports my stance. The Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail, which was established in December 1999, runs along this path. According to the Antiquities and Monuments Office website, which is part of the Hong Kong government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, this trail was set up “with the full support of local residents”. I can’t imagine local residents being too happy about the proposed development that I’ve documented in this post.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

forty years ago: hong kong street scenes

While I was in the UK this summer, I spent some time looking through old photographs, including ones that I took while working in Hong Kong between 1974 and 1978. There was no accompanying text to identify where or precisely when the photos I’m posting here were taken, but from evidence provided by personal photos taken on the same roll of film, I feel confident in stating that the year was 1977. I left Hong Kong in January 1978, and from the wintry clothing being worn by people in the pictures, I believe that they were taken in November or December, prior to my departure.

I can be less precise about the locations, except to say that all these photos were taken in Kowloon. Even now, I rarely if ever cross to Hong Kong Island. In fact, I can narrow it down to West Kowloon, probably Yau Ma Tei or Mong Kok; I’m certain that a couple of the photos, at least, were taken on Shanghai Street. If you can provide more information on any of these photos, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Even though the padded jackets are out in force in the first photo, the man in the T-shirt is clearly comfortable. He’s cooking stuff that people can eat as they walk along, so why wouldn’t he be?

The next photo shows a typical back street. Although there are commercial premises on the ground floor, all the upper floors would be residential units. The baskets would have contained vegetables, almost certainly imported in bulk from China.

Although Nathan Road—the only street in Kowloon to be named after a past governor—carries much of the north–south traffic, Shanghai Street, a parallel thoroughfare to the west, is much more interesting. I don’t think you could walk casually across it nowadays though, as several pedestrians are doing in the next photo. Incidentally, I can see a pawnbroker’s sign in the distance, and that is one surprising feature of Hong Kong that persists to this day.

The subject of the next photo is a shop selling roast meat: goose, duck and chicken, and char siu (a special type of roast pork).

It is still common for access to entire streets to be restricted to pedestrians because the stalls on both sides are semi-permanent:

I cannot imagine that the building in the next photo is still there, given how dilapidated it looked 40 years ago.

Although the road is wet in the next photo, it isn’t raining, because there is no sign of an umbrella anywhere. Someone has clearly been hosing down the pavement to remove the detritus that has accumulated as a result of whatever they were doing.

The next photo shows a cooked food stall, or dai pai dong, where one could enjoy a bowl of congee (rice porridge) or noodles. The objects hanging up include lap cheung, a type of air-dried pork sausage. Because I hardly ever venture into town nowadays, I have no idea whether such stalls still exist, or whether more stringent food hygiene regulations have driven them to extinction.

Talking of food hygiene, I can’t imagine seeing pig carcasses being butchered on the pavement nowadays. I seem to remember taking this photo on Shanghai Street:

When I look at my final photo, which shows more eat-as-you-walk food being prepared, I think that it should be obvious where it was taken. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.