Tuesday, 21 November 2017

fruity pie

The area between Sha Tau Kok Road and Lau Shui Heung Road, a short distance east of Fanling, is characterized by what I’ve described elsewhere as ‘rural sprawl’, where once separate villages have expanded in a chaotic, haphazard manner until it has become no longer possible to discern where one ends and the next one begins.

However, from my point of view, this chaos affords opportunities for fun on a bike. On the periphery of a village, in addition to what might be called ‘standard’ village houses (restricted by law to three storeys and a maximum footprint of 700 square feet), there are likely to be large numbers of ‘temporary’ dwellings. I don’t understand the details of how the system works, but someone will own the land and grant permission, for a fee, for someone else to build a temporary structure on that land. The second person ‘owns’ the structure, and if it has been connected to mains electricity and piped water for five years, then that second person is entitled to compensation should the landowner want them to move.

I’ve provided this information because in the sequence of photographs that follows, you will see large numbers of such temporary structures, and my objective was to find a way through the maze of paths and alleyways between these structures and come out on the other side (most such paths are culs de sac). Having discovered this particular route on my bike only last week, I decided yesterday to walk along it and photograph the entire length, so that in the sequence each photo was taken from the furthest point visible in the previous one. This means that a route of only 500 metres in overall length took 25 photos to document fully.

The house you can see at the end of the alleyway in the first photo is the most opulent in the entire sequence:

…with substantial boundary walls and ornate railings. I’ve no idea what lies behind what I call ‘industrial panelling’ on the left:

The next photo shows a surprisingly substantial house in the background:

…while the building on the right of the path here is probably rendered brick:

Notice the metal grille on the right in the next photo? It means that the occupants are essentially living in a cage, something that I imagine the average Westerner would find hard to adapt to. I don’t know how dangerous the security situation is hereabouts, and how vulnerable the occupants feel, but I do remember that between 1984 and 1989, I lived in a standard village house with thick vertical bars in the windows. And it felt like being in prison!

The house in the next photo is constructed from metal sheets nailed to a timber frame. I don’t know what metal is used here, although it appears to be quite malleable and may be a lead-based alloy. Note the security bars on the casement windows of the upper floor, which are almost ubiquitous but are, to say the least, much less oppressive than the bars I described above.

Note the water pipes on the right, complete with water meters, in the next photo. There is a T-junction coming up, but turning left merely returns you to the village:

…while things are becoming more rural along the right-hand option:

However, that isn’t meant to imply any kind of opening out:

…although this section is wider, and with more of an industrial feel, than I might have expected:

If any plot of land is otherwise unoccupied, you can be sure that someone will make use of it to grow vegetables:

The derelict building on the right in the next two photos would once have been a piggery:

I suspect that it was abandoned because it was too far from the nearest road, so bringing in food for the pigs would have been awkward, as would taking the animals out again to be slaughtered.

The metal fence on the left has an ‘official’ look about it, which is unsurprising given that it will have been erected by the Drainage Services Department (DSD).

I’m not sure why there is a gap in the aforementioned fence in the second photo.

The footbridge in the next photo is not across anything describable as a ‘river’—during the winter, there is almost no water flowing beneath it—but its existence is reassurance that you will be able to reach a road and not have to backtrack the way you’ve just come. In keeping with other minor drainage channels, the banks have been built up with tiers of rip-rap rather than being excavated and canalized.

And there is an immediate deterioration in the quality of the path:

The building on the left seems to be too important to be located here. It has a traditional double door, which was closed when I passed by. However, there is a four-character inscription above the doorway, which translates as ‘purple breeze from the east comes’. This gives the game away, because it is a reference to a central theme of Taoist mythology, about which I will not elaborate.

As so often happens when I’m exploring paths like this one, there is a silent sigh of relief when I spot a motor vehicle in the distance, because it confirms immediately that there is a way out, although there is about 100 metres of rough track still to negotiate before emerging on Lau Shui Heung Road:

By the way, in case you were wondering about the title of this post, it is a rather feeble transliteration of the village from where this odyssey began: Fu Tei Pai.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

ramping up the difficulty

Since returning to Hong Kong last month, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the area to the east of Fanling. I hadn’t thought there was much scope for innovation in this area—most of my exploration of cycling possibilities had been to the west—but as I recounted in Reservoir Dodges, there is a path linking Hok Tau Road with the villages further east. All I needed to do was find a viable way back home and I had a complete circuit, albeit one that involved the slog up Lau Shui Heung Road on the outward leg of the ride.

I can’t believe how many new paths and alleyways I’ve discovered in the past four weeks, all of which will be documented in due course, but by far the most technically difficult is a path that links the aforementioned circuit with ‘the final frontier’. The alleyway that leads north from Sha Tau Kok Road, close to its junction with Lau Shui Heung Road, is straightforward—until it crosses the Ng Tung River. This is what then lies ahead:

Following a painful crash the previous weekend, I’d originally come across this on foot because I couldn’t grip the handlebar on my bike with my right hand but didn’t want to be stuck in the house. However, a couple of days ago, having cycled down the ramp the previous day, I decided to see whether the uphill version was possible. It is, although I did fail on my first attempt! Here is a closer view of the previous photo, which probably gives a better idea of the steepness:

In fact, using basic trigonometry, I calculated that the section alongside the steps has an angle of 38 degrees (the riser/tread ratio is approximately 0.8, which is the tangent of this angle). There is a kind of lip, indicated by the red arrow in the next photo, where the slope is briefly steeper than this, and on my first attempt I simply didn’t have enough momentum to get my front wheel over the lip, and I stalled.

Naturally, I went down to the bottom for another attempt, and I succeeded, although this ramp is always going to be difficult—the surface of the path being slightly rounded from side to side doesn’t help—and I don’t think I can guarantee to do it every time. I’ll just have to see. The slope does ease off slightly once you’re over the lip, and I wouldn’t expect to fail if I got that far.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

pavement mathematics

Most of the pavements (Americans read: ‘sidewalks’) in Hong Kong have been laid down using interlocking bricks, and I’m intrigued by the different patterns that can be seen. I often wonder, for example, how many ways an area can be covered using shapes that are twice as long as they are wide, which is the standard ratio for paving bricks, although the precise size does vary from location to location.

I have my own terms for the various possible layouts, although I have checked out what might be called the ‘official’ terminology for different ways of arranging bricks. Where appropriate, these appear in what follows as italic phrases enclosed in parentheses. This is probably the most common layout:

This is the zig-zag (herringbone bond) layout. In this photo, the L-shaped pairs of pale bricks complicate matters, but the basic principle of this layout is clear.

The second most common layout is what I call the three-brick rectangle (single basket-weave bond):

In my part of Fanling, this mixture of reddish, greyish and yellowish bricks is especially common, and I often think that there must be some kind of pattern involving the three colours. While this is clearly incorrect, the distribution is almost certainly not entirely random.

The two-brick square (double basket-weave bond) is much less common. This photo was taken on the forecourt of University station, where the alternating lines of light and dark grey bricks are a complication on the basic pattern:

The least common method for covering large areas is what I call a linear pattern. There are two different types of linear pattern, distinguished by whether the bricks are laid end to end (stretcher course) or side by side (header course). This photo illustrates a rare example of the two types being combined:

Note the two parallel stretcher courses just right of centre, which appear to indicate a (slight) change of colour in the bricks. The half-brick offset of the right-hand course is an anomaly.

Linear brick courses are often used to delineate the edge of a paved area, as in the next photo, which shows a header course bordering a path with a zig-zag arrangement. Note that it has been necessary to trim the bricks adjoining the header course to fit, given that the orientation is effectively a mismatch—any area paved in a zig-zag pattern cannot be enclosed by straight lines without some such adjustment.

These may be the basic patterns, but there is huge scope for variation. For example, the next photo illustrates why I call the herringbone bond a zig-zag pattern:

The next two photos are of arrangements involving bricks of more than one colour and are superficially similar, although a closer examination reveals the dark grey bricks in the first image to be part of a stretcher-course linear arrangement, while the alternating red and grey bricks in the second image are part of a zig-zag pattern.

The use of different colours provides some spectacular possibilities, none more so than the following three-colour linear arrangement, which I recorded on the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong:

Other opportunities for creativity are afforded by what I describe as ‘wavy’ bricks. The first photo here shows a basic two-brick-square pattern using such bricks, while the second shows what can be done with three colours in a zig-zag layout:

There is another complication in the way bricks have been arranged on the pavements around these parts: what I call ‘separators’. For what I assume are purely decorative reasons, a brick-paved sidewalk is often broken up by these separators, as shown in the following photo:

The separator here is effectively five parallel stretcher courses, but the use of coloured bricks creates a line of what I call ‘nine-brick squares’. Mind you, a moment’s reflection should be enough to realize that it is, in fact, impossible to arrange nine 2×1 bricks in a square, but what I mean here is the polygon that encloses nine bricks arranged in a 1–2–3–2–1 formation, as in the following photo:

Viewed from an angle rather than from directly above, it is deceptively easy to imagine that this enclosing polygon is in fact a rhombus, but it is straightforward to establish not only that the sides of the polygon are of equal length but also that the four apices are all right angles.

Although the nine-brick-square separator is extremely common, it is invariably used to separate areas with the same type of pattern. In the transition from, say, a three-brick rectangle to a zig-zag arrangement, the usual separator is a single stretcher course in a distinctively different colour:

The next photo shows how separators are usually inserted at regular intervals along a stretch of pavement:

And the separators here—alternating three-brick rectangles (dark grey) and two-brick squares (light grey)—show just how much scope there is for inventiveness using these features. Note the parallel stretcher and header courses on the side further from the road.

I’ve come across quite a few other types of separator in addition to the ubiquitous nine-brick square. Here is a selection:

Finally, you might think that all these pavement patterns are to be found only in urban areas, but my final photo was taken in Ta Kwu Ling, a village close to the Chinese border that was part of the ‘frontier closed area’ until the beginning of last year.

It is the most extensive example of alternating stretcher and header courses that I’ve come across to date.

Friday, 3 November 2017

on the trail

The items that I chose to include in Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes, which I posted last week, have two characteristics in common. The first is obvious: they all reflected changes that had occurred while I was away. The second is not obvious: all the reported changes were unexpected. However, there was one location where I did expect change to have taken place, and that is the subject of this post.

I first wrote about ‘the nature trail’ back in January, and I strongly recommend that you check out that earlier post for background information on this location. I concluded that post with the following:
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.
Although I cycled past the entrance to this alley almost every subsequent Sunday, it wasn’t until my first Sunday back in Hong Kong (last week) that I took another look. The most obviously new artwork is these two colourful hexagonal ‘mosaics’:

The next image shows a section of the path and how most of the artwork here has been painted along one side, presumably so that people can avoid walking on it.

The following photos have been arranged in the order in which they were taken. They are, in general, more elaborate than those featured in Nature Trail (most of which have now faded), although the same flower/foliage motifs predominate.

The anthropomorphic carrot in the next photo is in the same style as those painted on one of the houses in ghost alley (the entrance to which is only about 50–60 metres further along Ping Yuen Road), which is strong evidence that the same people were responsible for the art in both locations.

To be continued (probably).