Monday, 18 January 2021

a poke in the eye

Whenever we do any cycling, we almost always ride along Po Kak Tsai Road at some point. If we cycle out east, then we start by doing a circuit of the villages of Lung Yeuk Tau; there is a good path leading across ‘the swamp’, where a lot of wild ginger can be seen at this time of year:
…from the walled village of Tung Kwok Wai to the road in question. If we cycle out west, then we finish the ride by following this same detour. In each case, we ride along Po Kak Tsai Road from west to east. However, we frequently walk this way too, and if we do, we approach Po Kak Tsai Road via Lau Shui Heung Road. And this is what I couldn’t help but notice at the point where we turn off Lau Shui Heung Road onto Po Kak Tsai Road:
Rural roads in Hong Kong are frequently named after the place they lead to, and Po Kak Tsai Road is no exception. However, North District Council has erected many directional signposts in its area of responsibility—that’s its logo on the lower of the two signs—and you will notice a discrepancy in the romanization of the second word on the signs. But notice too that the Chinese character is the same on both signs, so one of them must be incorrect! But which one?

I noticed this discrepancy years ago, but I’ve only recently decided to investigate further. Unlike in England, where there are signs on all roads entering a village that proclaim the village’s name, the only way to identify a village in the New Territories is to look for the public toilet—every village has one:
And in this case, the name is clear:
Po Kak Tsai! Lau Shui Heung is a larger nearby village.

There is only one other identifying sign along the road:
I’ve included this photo to show the remarkable concrete bastion. I can’t imagine the locals building it as a slope stabilization measure—it looks more like some kind of military installation, and the remains of the old British army base known as Burma Lines lie close to the toilet. And this is a close-up of the sign:
So the district council can’t make up its mind! However, ‘Po Kak Tsai’ does seem to be the correct romanization.
At this point, I foolishly decided to consult Google Maps:
Not a smart move. Google seems to think that it’s ‘Po Kat Tsai Road’. I’ve notified them of what is a certain error, although it won’t be corrected in a hurry, unless confirmed by someone else.

I thought that if I ran a Google search for ‘Po Kat Tsai’, I might find more information on the subject. Unfortunately, at the top of the page was a map segment at a much larger scale that identified the village as ‘Po Kat Tsai’. Not only this, but on the Google Map, the second Chinese character is also incorrect!
There are other problems with this second map, on which the red circle indicates where the path across ‘the swamp’ (see above) joins Po Kak Tsai Road. First, ‘Po Kak Tsai’ should be moved about 100 metres north. Second, in my Google search, I came across a reference to ‘Po Kat Tsai, Kwan Tei’. While it is common practice for smaller villages to have the name of a larger nearby village appended—note the sign on the toilet—there is no direct connection between Po Kak Tsai and Kwan Tei, even for people on foot. And Kwan Tei is in the wrong position on the map anyway. Although it is impossible to demarcate the precise boundary between Kwan Tei and Fu Tei Pai given the amount of house building that has taken place there in recent years, Kwan Tei lies north of Fu Tei Pai, which is marked in the correct position. Third, there is no sign whatsoever of any kind of village in the area marked as ‘Tai Wo Ping Che’. And Ping Che lies about 3km northeast of this location anyway, so I can’t understand why its name has been appended to this nonexistent village in the first place.

Perhaps I should have stuck with my initial conclusion. It is Po Kak Tsai Road, and if it hadn’t been for the misleading double sign at the start of the road, I wouldn’t have given the matter a second thought.

related posts
Mission Impossible

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

anatomically speaking

Many of the words that are used to describe parts of the human body have other uses and other meanings, although in many cases that alternative meaning is just a simple metaphor. For example, if you toe the line, you are conforming to a specified code of behaviour, as if keeping the foremost extremities of your feet behind an imaginary line. However, this particular metaphor is complicated by the observation that many people appear to think that the phrase is ‘tow the line’. This anomaly was first pointed out by George Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language, in which the author decried the tendency of contemporary writers to use metaphors without visualizing a concrete image as they did so. You can, of course, tow or pull a line, but it then becomes impossible to link that to the meaning of the phrase.

And what about someone being required to foot the bill? It’s hard to see the connection between one’s feet and being obliged, reluctantly, to pay for something. If you describe someone as a heel, you are suggesting that they are not a nice person, although, again, it’s difficult to see the connection. This term is probably not much used nowadays, like the upper-class British terms ‘cad’ and ‘bounder’; I would suggest that speakers on both sides of the Atlantic are now more likely to use words that reference the genitalia. ‘Heel’ is also used in phrases that describe a person’s financial status: ‘down at heel’ (poor) or ‘well-heeled (rich). Both are references to the type of footwear that would be worn by someone who can be described in such a way.

Staying with the lower extremities, I don’t think that the average American would shin up a rope, a ladder or a drainpipe, but I believe that they would know what I meant if I described them as doing so. To leg it, meaning to run away at speed, is also a term that doesn’t appear in the American lexicon, although once again the meaning is obvious. It is much less obvious why a stage in a multi-stage journey should be known as a leg, or why a match in a knock-out sporting competition is played over two legs to nullify home advantage. And any connection between one’s calf and the young of a cow appears to be completely arbitrary.

Moving upwards, to hamstring someone is to render them ineffective by imposing an obvious handicap. The origin of this term is less mysterious: it was once common practice to cut the hamstring muscles of domesticated but possibly dangerous animals so that they became more docile. But why someone who is up to speed with all the latest trends would be thought of as hip is not obvious, especially given that this use of the word appears to have originated with modern jazz, which in my view is anything but hip.

Internal features of human anatomy also appear in metaphorical contexts. For example, to rib someone is to tease them, presumably because such teasing is accompanied by a subtle nudge in the ribs, while a football manager might say “the last-minute defeat was hard to stomach, but we can take heart from the positive way we played throughout the game”. In the same vein, a main road might be described as ‘a major traffic artery’, and one might be required to shoulder responsibility, although this usage probably derives from one’s shoulders being the load-bearing part of the human body. The metaphorical nature of these words may be obvious, but it is not at all manifest why a wooden box-like structure would be called a chest, as in ‘treasure chest’ and ‘chest of drawers’.

The upper limbs also provide several words that can be used in a non-anatomical context. For example, arms is a much-used euphemism for ‘weapons’, a hand is an unskilled worker, as in ‘farm hand’ and ‘deck hand’, and you might be asked to ‘lend a hand’ or help out. A particularly tight hairpin bend on a road might be known locally as ‘the devil’s elbow’, while to finger someone is to betray them to the relevant authorities. And making the most/least of one’s assets in a given situation is often described as ‘making a good/poor fist’ of those assets. However, there appears to be no connection whatsoever between the palm of one’s hand and the tropical plant of the same name.

The head provides the last group of words that are used in non-anatomical contexts. For example, a mountain has faces, and we talk about a ‘cliff face’, while ‘to save face’ is to do something that ameliorates an otherwise embarrassing situation. With reference to speaking, cheek is casual insolence, while lip is more pointedly insulting language. We may talk about the brow of a hill on a road, the last section before the top. And someone who is annoyingly inquisitive, who is always looking into into other people’s business, is nosey, while the eye of a storm is the calm area in its centre. When a group of people sit around a table, there is always someone who is seated at the head of the table, and, more generally, an organization’s leader is often referred to as its head.

Finally, I might say that “there are no shops in my neck of the woods’’, which is true, even though woods don’t have necks, and I don’t live in a wood.

other language posts
Super Dooper
Animal Adjectives
Saying the Same Thing Twice

Sunday, 10 January 2021

from the archives: luk wu ravine

When I worked as an instructor at Hong Kong’s Outward Bound School between 1974 and 1978, I probably walked along every path in the Sai Kung Peninsula, the school’s main area for land-based activities. I certainly climbed all the mountains—several times. However, one feature of the area that I missed was a narrow ravine carved by a stream that flows into the sea at the eastern end of the peninsula.

When I returned to the school in 1981 as program director, I happened to be walking along a particular mountain path when it occurred to me that the valley that was down to my right was unusually deep, and perhaps it would be worth taking a closer look. I was so impressed with what I found that I decided that a traverse of the ravine would be included in future course programs.

I should point out that there is nothing difficult here, except when the stream is in spate, when it becomes extremely dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. In fact, I had two experiences of this kind while guiding groups of students through the ravine, which I named after a long-abandoned village a short distance downstream.
*  *  *
Paula and I lived in the village of Sai Keng, in the Sai Kung area, between 2006 and 2008, and I’d been looking through the photographs that I took during this period when I came across a series of photos of a visit to Luk Wu Ravine, which seems to have become something of a tourist attraction in recent years (it’s marked on Google Maps, albeit in the wrong place). However, we had the place to ourselves on this occasion.

The first two photos show the unremarkable start:
You can scramble up these rocks almost anywhere (the second photo was taken near the top).

However, the sides of the ravine soon begin to close in:
The next photo is a view looking downstream of the section depicted in the previous two photos. It includes the rock pool directly below the waterfall you can see in those photos:
This is a photo of Paula sitting beside the next rock pool:
The route then becomes much steeper, although it still isn’t difficult:
It leads to yet another waterfall and rock pool:
If you fancy a swim, then this is the pool in which to do so, although be warned that the water is bloody cold, even in summer:
The next waterfall and pool seem quite nondescript compared with what has gone before:
…while the next waterfall features the biggest drop of any in the ravine:
I recall one occasion while guiding students through the ravine. As we approached this waterfall, I couldn’t help but notice that there appeared to be a sudden increase in the flow of water over the fall. It was a flash flood, and several students became trapped on an island at a point where the usual route crosses the stream as the trickle became a torrent. However, this is why I’d specified that all parties traversing the ravine must carry ropes. We were able to extricate the trapped students from their predicament without too much difficulty (I used ‘we’ here because another of my requirements was that all groups tackling the ravine be guided by two instructors).

The final waterfall is the only one that actually requires some climbing, although it isn’t hard. The only difficulty here is in avoiding getting your feet wet as you step across the waterfall:
These photos were taken on Christmas Day 2006, and we haven’t been back since. It’s probably about time we did.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

bougainvillea boogie #3

In addition to photographing flowers for my recent autumn flowers collections, I’ve also been trying to record the many examples of bougainvillea that I come across when cycling around the New Territories. Unfortunately, there have been almost no examples in the last couple of months to match the spectacular displays that I’ve seen in recent years. Instead, the solid mass of colour that I associate with this common tropical plant has been distinctly patchy, broken up by large areas of green.

However, when I checked the folder in which I keep my photos of bougainvillea, I was surprised to discover that I’d been accumulating photos over the past couple of years with the intention of posting them once I’d amassed enough. So here they are.

The first photo was probably taken in one of the villages south of Sha Tau Kok Road that make up the area known as Lung Yeuk Tau:
The next photo was taken in a public park adjoining a private housing estate just north of the floating restaurant in Shatin and shows what is probably the most spectacular bougainvillea display that I’ve seen anywhere:
The next three photos were taken on the same day as the previous image, but I cannot now recognize the locations:
I included a photo of the next specimen in Bougainvillea Boogie, but if you compare, this is a more impressive display:
And this is an example just around the corner to the left of the previous location:
Both the previous photos were taken along an unnamed road that forms part of ‘the final frontier’ bike ride, east of Fanling.

The next two photos were taken of quasi-industrial yards in the same general area:
The next two photos are of the same plant, taken from different angles—something that is usually impossible. I don’t recognize the location:
The next two photos are also of the same plant taken from different angles. The second photo reveals a third example of bougainvillea on the opposite side of the road:
In between taking the two previous photos, I took this one, which is of no help to me in remembering the location:
The next photo is also of a quasi-industrial yard, although exactly where this was taken has also been forgotten:
The same comment applies to the next photo, which was taken on the same day as the previous one:
The remaining photos were taken in the last couple of months, this one in the village of Chau Tau, northwest of Fanling:
Judging by other photos taken on the same day, the next photo was taken somewhere northeast of Fanling, but even if I look at the uncropped photo, I’m struggling to identify the exact location:
Both the next two photos were taken in the village of Heung Tuen Wai, which is located northeast of Fanling and was in the frontier closed area until 2016:
I wrote about this interesting village in Disappearing World #3.

The final photo was taken on a narrow path that I walk or cycle along regularly close to the walled village of Tung Kok Wai. I’m not sure why I haven’t included it in previous bougainvillea reports, because I must have photographed this bougainvillea before:
By the way, in case you didn’t realize, what you’re seeing in these photos are not flowers! Bougainvillea Boogie explains this apparent conundrum, and in case you think that bougainvillea is always some shade of red, Bougainvillea Boogie #2 provides quite a few examples in other colours.