Wednesday, 14 April 2021

a surprise discovery

On Monday of this week, Paula and I decided to cycle out west. On our previous visit to the Kam Tin River catchment area, we’d cycled around Nam Sang Wai, which is widely touted, on government websites and elsewhere, as a great location for cycling. It isn’t. It’s flat, and it’s boring, although we did catch a few glimpses of shore birds, particularly black-winged stilts, as we cycled along.

However, on the way back out of this area, I decided to detour onto Ho Chau Road, which runs upstream along the bank of an unnamed tributary of the Kam Tin River. As we approached the expressway, which is elevated here, I spotted a path leading off to the left. This path crosses the tributary via a footbridge, and we followed a complementary path on the opposite bank back to our starting position.
On our most recent visit to the area, my original plan had been simply to follow the new path, but as we approached the start of the path, I noticed cyclists emerging from a side road just before this point (the map suggests that the road continues smoothly, but that isn’t what it looks like on the ground). In fact, after a short distance, the road narrows and is no longer passable by cars, but it is wide enough for cyclists travelling in opposite directions to pass each other comfortably. So we continued.

Shortly after passing the small roundabout in the southwest corner of the map, I spotted a tunnel under the expressway and decided immediately that this was the way to go. We were then faced with a choice at a T-junction of paths: I opted to turn left, because that would take us back towards our starting point. I then ventured down a path that looked promising but turned out to be a dead end. Or so I thought! However, it wasn’t until I’d dismounted to turn my bike around that I saw that there was in fact a continuation: a right-angle turn onto a steep ramp that was obviously impossible from a standing start. Of course, I could have backtracked and tried the ramp then, but we were exploring, and it can wait until we come this way again, which we most certainly will be doing.

We eventually reached another footbridge over the river, which we crossed, after which navigation became more uncertain. We ventured down two or three dead ends before finding a continuation, and to my utter amazement, and delight, we then came across a most impressive row of traditional houses. I didn’t take any photos from this position, but we did cycle along the front of the row to take a closer look, and this is what it looks like from the far end:
The modern bridge in the background carries the MTR’s West Rail Line, which connects Kowloon to the far west of the New Territories. These houses would be, using British terminology, ‘semi-detached’. Some are in better condition than others, and some are still inhabited. It’s worth taking a look inside one:
Enclosed courtyards are a common feature of traditional Chinese houses, although I suspect that the glass windows that you can see in the next photo are a later addition enclosing what would once have been open balconies.
And this is a closer look at the frieze near the top of the last photo:
…while this is a closer look at the symbol above the central doorway:
The Chinese words for ‘bat’ and ‘blessing’ are homophones, which is why you often see representations of bats on graves. The significance of the coin should be obvious.

Each of these houses also features polychrome mouldings under the eaves. I hesitate to describe them as ‘polychrome’, although they would once have been brightly painted. Sadly, however, like the buildings they adorn, they aren’t being maintained. This is as close as I could get to take a photo:
The amazing detail of these mouldings is best shown in this photo:
The last photo is actually of the mouldings on a single-storey building at the left-hand end of the row of two-storey houses, which I’ve deliberately refrained from mentioning so far:
As you can see, the entrance is barred, although we were still able to take some photos of the interior:
Paula’s camera takes a wider angle than mine, because I couldn’t capture the entire circular opening, although I did take a couple of photos that show some of the fine details here. Note the unglazed ceramic window and the balustrade with ceramic balusters:
This photo shows some kind of engraved plaque that has been almost completely consumed by a creeper, which is probably slowly eating away at the stonework beneath:
And this is the frieze above the doorway:
There also appears to be some elaborate carving on the wooden beam above the frieze, which I noticed only when I examined the photo later.

The moulding on the left is slowly being covered by another species of creeper:
I suspect that someone important, a tai fu, once lived in this house, which reminds me of the Tai Fu Tai Mansion in San Tin, although the latter is a declared monument, while this house is derelict and is slowly crumbling away.

Incidentally, Paula noticed that the date 1925 has been carved into the lintel above the door of one of the two-storey houses, although I couldn’t see anything other than a blank block of stone!

I cannot be quite certain of the exact location of this site, which isn’t marked on the map above, although I’m fairly confident that the red oval on the following satellite photo is an accurate indication.
I believe that these buildings should be restored, if necessary with government money, and accorded some kind of heritage listing. They may not be quite up to ‘declared monument’ status, but it would certainly be a shame if they are simply allowed to decay slowly in obscurity.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

via caritas

I never used to do any cycling on Sundays, because all the places that I was familiar with were clogged with people who had hired bikes for the day. Most of them had little or no idea about what they were doing and therefore represented serious moving hazards with their abrupt changes of direction and total lack of awareness of whatever was happening around them. I’d never ventured east of Fanling either, but that situation changed at the beginning of 2016, when I learned that an area to the northeast of Fanling that had been part of the so-called ‘frontier closed area’ and was therefore off-limits to casual visitors like myself had been opened up to the public.

I started my exploration by heading north, because I’d once ventured down a road until I’d been confronted by a sign warning me that I was about to enter the closed area, and in order to do so, I needed a permit. Naturally, I turned back, but it seemed an obvious place to begin. This first foray produced a circuit that came back into Fanling from the east, but it was entirely on roads, which wasn’t what I wanted.

However, I remember coming back home with a tale about a ‘six-hill switchback’, which I wanted to show Paula. It was on the road on which I’d started my exploration, and on this second occasion, I didn’t fancy continuing as I’d done on my first foray, so we rode ‘the switchback’ in the opposite direction, which in retrospect is a much better option.

It took quite a long time, and a lot of exploration, but I finally managed to work out a coherent bike ride, which, naturally, I named ‘the final frontier’. Oddly enough, this ride is only really viable on Sundays because of the large amount of industrial traffic on key road sections during weekdays, even though I follow off-road paths as much as possible.

I had to revise my original route to avoid a village that was home to a psychotic dog that attacked cyclists, with the likely encouragement of the villagers, but I didn’t think there was anything else I could add. Of course, that didn’t mean that I stopped looking. There is a region to the east of Ping Che Road, the main north–south road through the area, that I’d explored earlier from further east but concluded, erroneously, that there was no through route.

However, last November I was cycling north along a short section of Ping Che Road that is unavoidable when I passed a turn-off to the Caritas Home for the Elderly. I decided to see whether it led anywhere else. It did!

There was a problem though: the return route to the start of this segment was entirely on roads, so I didn’t do it again until a couple of months ago with Paula, who usually goes to church on Sundays but has had to make do with a virtual service during current covid restrictions and was therefore available for a bike ride. I wanted to show her the new path, which was certainly worth a visit, even though it didn’t fit well into the overall sequence.

However, we had just passed through the village of Ping Yeung—its village arch marks the end of the first video—when, on the spur of the moment, I decided to turn right onto a side road that I thought might be a better option. I had expected merely to avoid some of the busier roads, but I was surprised—and delighted—to discover another path that led to a group of houses that marked the transition from country path to dirt road on my earlier discovery:

Narrow country paths always present different problems, depending on the direction of travel (see Two-Way Fun), so it was obvious that we would then backtrack along the earlier path. Incidentally, if you watch the video, look out for the dog that rushes out as we pass the group of houses. It’s of the all-bark-no-bite variety, although it is certainly enthusiastic.

And that’s ‘via caritas’, which has become one of the highlights of ‘the final frontier’.

other final frontier videos
Ping Yeung Exit
Chow Tin Exit
The Corpse Road
The Switchback

Saturday, 3 April 2021

ghost alley: latest update

I haven’t cycled through ‘ghost alley’ for quite some time, mainly because it has become something of a tourist attraction, and riding my bike through a crowd is not something I want to do. However, we passed the entrance early yesterday, and because I couldn’t see anyone, I decided to take the detour.

Although I hadn’t seen any new artwork here since 2019, I couldn’t help but notice some new additions:
Two of these additions are dated—26th March, just a week prior to our visit—and I can’t help wondering why it has taken so long to add to the gallery. It could be that the latest contributions are the work of another group, the original artists having abandoned the site once it had become popular. I base this conjecture on three observations: all the signs that proclaim this site to be ‘Ping Che Mural Village’ (it’s marked as ‘Ping Yeung Mural Village’ on Google Maps) have disappeared; the decorated picnic table that I described in Latest News from Ghost Alley #3 has been removed; and the artwork on the painted house that I described on my first visit has been vandalized by the addition of what I can only describe as spurious elements. Incidentally, Paula reached the same conclusion regarding the vandalism before I mentioned the subject.

My intention in shooting a video here was not to record the artwork but to record the exit path, which starts at 0.59 on the video and is quite tricky. We used to exit this area via the path to the right of the painted house. And here is the video:

By far the most impressive artwork here is the mural that is passed on the left between 0.18 and 0.21 on the video (photos in Latest News from Ghost Alley), although the ‘great wall’ mural, which I described in Latest News from Ghost Alley #2, does come quite a close second. Incidentally, I didn’t spot him at the time, but when examining the video, I noticed someone who was taking photos of this mural as we executed a U-turn to reach the start of the exit path.

This site is definitely well worth a visit; just don’t come on a Sunday!

Thursday, 1 April 2021

street of fire

Chau Tau, which is located about 8km northwest of Fanling, is a typical New Territories village. There is only one way into the village, directly from Castle Peak Road, for motor traffic, but there is a second road that can be used only to leave the village. Chau Tau South Road, which defines the southern edge of the village, is one-way from east to west (see map) and is seldom used by motor traffic because it is effectively a long way round.
Chau Tau itself is unusual in that it still has an extensive area under cultivation (the yellow areas on the map). It also has a village arch (off the map to the south), which few other villages have. The railway on the map is the MTR’s Lok Ma Chau line, which here is underground, and there is little sign of its existence on the surface.

Chau Tau South Road, which carries almost no traffic, is unusual for another reason. Bougainvillea is usually seen only in people’s gardens, but along this road, it has been allowed to grow wild, which makes cycling along it at this time of year an almost magical experience, so much so that I decided to shoot a video to try to capture that magic.

Most of the bougainvillea you can see could aptly be described as ‘straggly’, but there are three places along the road where the colours reach a garden level of intensity, which I photographed on an earlier occasion. These locations are marked 1, 2 and 3 on the map:
And this is the video: