Saturday, 13 April 2019

new fields

Despite having lived in Hong Kong, on and off, for more than 40 years, I’d never visited San Tin (‘new field(s)’), the domain of the Man clan, until December last year. It’s likely that I hadn’t even heard of the place until a few years ago, when I learned of potentially interesting historical buildings in the area:

Man Lung Fung Ancestral Hall.

Tai Fu Tai Mansion.

Tung Shan Temple.

However, it looked as though the location would be awkward to get to, certainly by bike.

On my first ever visit to the area, I decided to cycle over Saddle Pass (Ki Lung Shan Au), which is certainly an indirect approach. However, I did find an interesting connection to ‘the snake path’, which was an unexpected bonus that I shall incorporate into ‘journey to the west’ the next time I do that ride.

When I emerged from the snake path, I crossed the expressway via a tunnel and found myself on the opposite side of Castle Peak Road to the start of what I’d already identified on the map as San Tin Tsuen Road (tsuen is Cantonese for village). This road separates the built area that I shall henceforth refer to as San Tin—although it is actually several villages that have, over time, coalesced into one—from an extensive area of fish ponds.

The red X on this satellite photograph lies on San Tin Tsuen Road:

The San Tin conurbation lies immediately to the east of the X.

On this first visit, I was unable to find a way from San Tin Tsuen Road into the built area and eventually found myself almost back on Castle Peak Road before I discovered a road that led, eventually, to the gatehouse of a wai (‘walled enclosure’):

The walls are now rather dilapidated:

…but I followed them into a maze of narrow alleyways.

To be honest, I had absolutely no idea where I was going, but quite by chance I ended up at the rear of what was clearly a significant historical building. This, I learned, was the Man Lung Fung Ancestral Hall, which was built in the seventeenth century and is now a declared monument, the highest category for listed buildings in Hong Kong.

A helpful lady from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department explained that if I followed the squares of red bricks arranged in a double basket-weave pattern and spaced at regular intervals, starting at the side of the hall, I would come to the Tai Fu Tai Mansion, which was built in the mid-nineteenth century and is also a declared monument. Tai fu means ‘high official’ and is a title that was bestowed on San Tin’s top man at the time by the Qing emperor. The plaster mouldings and other small-scale features of this building are absolutely stunning.

I didn’t find the Tung Shan Temple on this initial visit—I wasn’t aware of its existence—but I did notice that it was marked on a sketch map in the brochure that the lady from the LCSD gave me, and I had no trouble locating it on my next visit.

I thought that Paula might enjoy visiting these historic buildings, and I was right! She was hugely impressed with the Tai Fu Tai Mansion in particular and thought that more people should know about it. Even though she is a Hong Kong native, she’d never been aware that such buildings existed here. I hadn’t been either—until this winter!

On my next visit, I decided that I should investigate the fish ponds:

This is a general view from a point on San Tin Tsuen Road.

I started at the red X and headed northwest for about 700 metres to the red circle that I’ve marked on the satellite photo above. And these are some of the photos that I took along this section:

This is what I would describe as an ‘active’ fish pond, because it contains two aerating machines.

And this ‘building’ is pumping what I imagine are nutrients into the same pond:

I know from my experience further west that fish ponds attract a lot of birds, although this is the only photo that I was able to take on this occasion:

The long-legged birds are black-winged stilts—Paula and I identify them as ‘red legs’— but I don’t know what the smaller birds are. I queried the reason for the round holes in The Mystery of the Holes, and although it seems far-fetched, the culprits appear to be a species of fish known as tilapia.

I simply had to take the next photo. It shows a mini-bulldozer, which will have been used at one time to excavate nearby fish ponds:

I can’t imagine it ever being used again!

I don’t know why this pond has been drained:

…but I love the pattern of cracks in the dried mud.

The next photo shows what the ‘roads’ through the fish ponds look like:

This photo requires some explanation:

Notice that the reflection of the skyscraper in Shenzhen is fuzzy, because there was quite a bit of wind, but nearest the camera, the surface is broken up in a different way. This is because when I stopped to take a photo, I inadvertently disturbed a small bird in the bank below me, and it went skittering across the water for about 10–12 metres before sinking without trace—or so it seemed.

I turned south at the red circle and eventually emerged onto a huge unmetalled road at the more northerly of the two red circles that you can see at the bottom of the satellite photo above. This ‘road’ carries an almost continuous stream of heavy goods vehicles, so I decided to follow a track starting at the more southerly of the red circles.

I didn’t take any more photos along here, but I eventually ended up at an unmanned crossing point into China, indicated by the large red circle in the top left of the satellite photo:

I had no alternative but to turn back!

On my way back, always looking for an alternative to what I’d already done, I decided that I would like to cross to the other side of a stream through the area. And there was a bridge:

I was tempted to try, but there is no guard rail on the narrow central section, and it does not look as though you can build up enough speed to avoid wobbling.

This photo was taken from a bridge over the same stream that is a longer way round but sturdy enough to support motor vehicles:

So that was my only foray to date through the San Tin fish ponds, but I was back last weekend with Paula to try to shoot some video of the narrow alleyways. Unfortunately, we haven’t mastered the intricacies of the camera, and instead of a video, we ended up with a series of photographs:

I’ve selected these photos for just one reason: notice that in each of the four there is a four- or five-storey residential building. I believe that they are illegal! As far as I can tell, they are supposed to be ‘village houses’, a legal definition that mandates a maximum of three storeys. I don’t understand how anyone can get away with this, but there are many such oversized buildings in San Tin. The other thing that strikes me is how close the houses are to each other. Two words spring to mind: greed. And corruption.

When examining this collection of photos, I was intrigued by this last image:

Look at the background! I can’t recall ever seeing tablecloths on the tables of what in any other village I would describe as just a store. This looks more like an urban cafe.

I don’t know what else there is to discover in San Tin itself—I have, among other things, found three other ancestral halls—but I want to see what else there is to see in the fish ponds. Tune in here for the latest updates.

Friday, 5 April 2019

university waltz

It would probably be a stretch of the imagination to describe the Chinese University of Hong Kong (ChineseU) as a tourist attraction, but the university campus is a pleasant place to spend a few hours. I almost wrote ‘strolling’ there, but the university is built on a steep hillside, so you would have to be extremely fit to walk from the MTR’s University station to the highest point on the campus.

However, over the past two days, I’ve done just that. Paula, who works here, had asked me to join her for lunch. But not just any lunch! Students in the School of Business had been assigned the task of running a ‘restaurant’ for a day, and we would be customers. We enjoyed the food provided on both days, and it seemed appropriate to go for a walk afterwards.

On the first day, we stayed at ground level, where I took these photographs:

However, on the second day, Paula suggested that we visit some of the higher reaches of the campus. We could take the (university-provided) bus, she added as an inducement. But we didn’t! The following photographs are presented in the order in which they were taken, except where indicated.

I featured some of the various paving patterns to be seen around ChineseU in both Tile Styles and Pavement Mathematics, but here is one pattern that I didn’t include in either of these posts:

I took the next photo simply because I liked the geometry:

This is a wall that forms part of a building. The photo is of the entire wall, so it is clearly a decorative feature:

There are a lot of delightful, quiet paths away from the roads:

In the same area as the last photograph, I couldn’t help but notice four paper-bark trees growing so closely together that it’s hard to believe that they are separate individuals:

I do believe that they are separate though, because there is little difference between them, and if they did share the same root system, my expectation is that there would be some kind of preferential treatment for one of the four.

Between the location of the previous photo and that of the next, we had to negotiate a flight of several hundred steps, but at the top I couldn’t help but notice this entrance:

The writing announces that plants used in Chinese medicine are being grown within.

The next photo shows an ornamental species of bamboo to the left of the entrance in the previous photo:

Contrast this species with the type of bamboo that is used in scaffolding, which is seen in this photo of a building that we passed higher up the hill:

Not all the ‘tile styles’ hereabouts are outdoors. I photographed this pattern in the foyer of a building that I believe is part of the Faculty of Engineering:

The next photo is a view of the Run Run Shaw Science Building:

If the name seems familiar: Run Run Shaw was one of the Shaw Brothers, who produced a distinctive and very successful genre of kung fu films during the 1970s. The colouring of the windows appears to be random and thus not science-based.

I’ve not included the next photo, of the Li Dak Sum Yip Yio Chin Building, for ├Žsthetic reasons. I just wanted to point out that it is nothing more than a glass fa├žade, behind which the profile of the hillside continues uninterrupted.

The building in the previous photograph adjoins the university library, and this abstract sculpture is located in the middle of the piazza in front of the library:

I couldn’t help but wonder why the university authorities located the library so far up the hill—hardly an incentive for students to check out references provided in lectures—and I also imagined what would happen if this ‘stone stomper’ were to come to life!

And this is a view of the same location from even further up the hill:

I had the distinct impression that the colouring of some blocks in this retaining wall was both deliberate and significant in some way:

…like the next image, which is a bas-relief plaque set into the wall of a building:

I can’t interpret everything here, but I see a woman and child just right of centre, and a reclining man down and to the left. I’ve cranked up the colour saturation and contrast to make this more obvious.

I had to photograph the retaining walls seen in the next two photos because there were obvious abstract qualities to exploit:

In terms of where to go around the campus, I’m totally reliant on my wife, but when we ended up on the roof of a particular building on our way downhill, I simply had to take the next photo:

You can see why! In fact, Paula told me later that she had come this way deliberately because she knew that I would want to take this photograph.

My final photo is of a tile pattern that I’d photographed on the way uphill, but I decided to take this one from the opposite direction.

If, like me, you enjoy tile and brick patterns, then ChineseU is a must-visit location. But even if you don’t, there is still a lot to see.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

jailhouse rock

When what we call the frontier road, which runs from northwest of Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau, was opened to the public in 2013—it had previously been part of a zone that had been designated ‘the frontier closed area’ by the British administration—it didn’t take long to check out the various options. There are only two road junctions: leading to the village of Liu Pok, and thence via Liu Pok Hill to Ma Tso Lung Road; and via Ma Tso Lung Road, through the village of Ma Tso Lung to the same point. If I didn’t want to go back all the way following the same road as on the outward journey, these were the only options.

Ma Tso Lung Road is reasonably rural for the first few kilometres, but as one proceeds southwards, the incidence of quasi-industrial premises, and the frequency with which one encounters industrial traffic, steadily increases. To the point where no sane cyclist would continue. On my first foray here, I did cycle as far as the junction with Ho Sheung Heung Road, but it was immediately obvious that I needed a better way to return to my starting point.

And I found it! A quiet road, unmetalled in part, allowed me to avoid all the industrial premises on both roads on the way back to the start. So the routine became outwards on the frontier road, back via Liu Pok Hill and Ma Tso Lung Road, then Ho Sheung Heung Road, which, after a short but steep ascent, includes a long downhill section where I can reach a speed of 45km/hr.

Mentioning the speed here is relevant to the continuing story. The start of the frontier road coincides with the end of Ho Sheung Heung Road, and the plan was always from this point to follow the Drainage Services (DSD) access road that runs alongside the Sheung Yue River as far as the expressway, which we could then cross via a footbridge before continuing out west. However, when travelling at the aforementioned speed, you cannot allow yourself to be distracted—your focus must be straight ahead—but on one occasion, as I passed the Lo Wu Correctional Institution, I couldn’t help but notice a car waiting to pull out of a side road on the right:

Where does that lead to? Naturally, I had to come back later to find out. It leads to the village of Ho Sheung Heung San Tsuen. Ho Sheung Heung (‘village above the river’) is the name of an important nearby village, and san tsuen simply means ‘new village’, so it’s clearly a kind of overspill, albeit with some obviously important buildings. However, was there anything else? I found a typical country path, which led—surprise! surprise!—to Ho Sheung Heung.

Here are some video stills of Paula on that path:

It will probably not be a surprise to learn that we no longer follow the DSD access road on our way out west. After exiting this segment, we follow ‘the heart of darkness’ and the serendipity alleyways to reach ‘long tall sally’. Even though a dedicated cycle track is currently being constructed in parallel with the DSD access road. Our new way is a lot more fun!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will probably have already deduced why I’ve named this segment ‘jailhouse rock’. Yes, it starts at the prison, but you will have noticed that I named a segment that I discovered two years ago ‘long tall sally’. I grew up with fifties music, and one of these days I’ll post an assessment of what I consider the top ten records of the decade. However, I can’t foresee any circumstance where I would name a newly discovered cycling segment ‘summertime blues’—the record of the 1950s, in my opinion—or ‘great balls of fire’. ‘Yakety yak’? Possibly.