Wednesday, 23 November 2022

toadstool time

When I asked Paula recently where we should go for a bike ride the following day, she favoured a short ride, but when it looked as though the weather would be cooler than it had been recently—temperatures have been 5 degrees above what I normally expect in November—she changed her mind and suggested instead that we go ‘out west’.

This would mean a ride of at least 80km, which would be further than we’ve managed so far this winter, but it turned out to be interesting for a totally unexpected reason. A lot of the distance we cover when heading to the Kam Tin River is along Drainage Services Department (DSD) access roads, which run alongside rivers and are therefore quite flat, and we noticed the first of several clusters of toadstools shortly after leaving the urban area, beside the road that runs along the west bank of the Sheung Yue River, a short distance downstream from its confluence with the Shek Sheung River:
The next DSD section on our outward journey was along San Tin Tsuen Road—where DSD access roads can be accessed by motor traffic, they are often named, and this road also provides access to the large area of fishponds north of San Tin—where we spotted a couple of examples of the same fungal species:
The kerbstones provide some idea of scale (the largest examples in this collection are around 10cm in diameter).

I can’t remember where I photographed this solitary example, but it was probably somewhere in the Kam Tin River area:
Having done just a few of the many cycling diversions in the Yuen Long area (‘hospital path’; ‘Yeung Uk transit’; ‘big tree temple circuit’; ‘Shap Pat Heung exit path’ (part of this segment—6.00 to 6.48 on the video—turned out to be so heavily overgrown that we will be missing it out in the immediate future, although I’ve already discovered a new path that could mean we never go that way again); ‘journey to the west original path’; and ‘alley ballet’), we were on our way home, cycling along Pok Wai South Road, which runs along the south bank of an unnamed tributary of the Kam Tin River, when Paula spotted this group of toadstools:
A short distance beyond the previous location, we crossed the river via a road bridge and immediately doubled back along Yau Pok Road, which runs along the north bank of the tributary, where we soon spotted yet another fungal cluster:
This is a closer view of the three individuals on the left:
You will have noticed that all these photos are examples of the same species, although I’ve so far been unable to identify that species. However, the rule of thumb with fungi is that they are poisonous, unless you’re certain that they’re not. That’s why I’ve referred to the fungi pictured here as ‘toadstools’. The term ‘mushroom’, in my view, should only be applied to edible fungi. Of course, I should make an exception of Psilocybe cubensis, popularly known as ‘magic mushrooms’, which contain the psychoactive compound psilocybin and are not a culinary item.

The only time I’ve ever picked fungi to eat happened when we used to cycle to Sham Chung in the Sai Kung Country Park to visit our friend Tom Li and eat his incomparable pan-fried noodles. I’d noticed a large number of mushrooms in the field in front of his store, and when I looked more closely, I thought they looked remarkably like Agaricus campestris, the field mushrooms that grow in profusion back in the UK. I picked a big bagful. This must have been when we still lived in Sai Keng, which is within walking distance of Sham Chung, because as we walked back home, I couldn’t help but notice that a couple walking in the opposite direction had eyeballed my bag and its contents. The next time we visited Tom, he told me that the couple had asked him where I’d obtained the mushrooms. “Out there,” said Tom, gesturing towards the field.

“But they’re poisonous!” exclaimed the couple in horror.

There had been several widely publicized ‘mushroom’ poisoning cases in Hong Kong in the weeks leading up to this incident.

However, the ones I picked were delicious, and I’m still here.

Friday, 11 November 2022

it’s a pleasure

An under-appreciated aspect of Hong Kong, at least by short-term visitors, who will want to see the conventional ‘sights’, is the territory’s formal parks and gardens. There is just one large park in Fanling/Sheung Shui (North District Park), but there are a lot of small gardens, and this post is about one such oasis in Fanling.

A few days ago, I was walking up the lane that connects the ‘village’ of Fan Leng Lau and Jockey Club Road, the main north–south artery through Fanling/Sheung Shui, on my way to Fanling Clinic when I suddenly decided that I would detour through a small park that the lane runs past on my way home after completing my business in the clinic. And take a few photos:
I’ve placed ‘village’ in inverted commas because Fan Leng Lau was once a village—all its residential accommodation has been built under the auspices of the so-called ‘small house policy’, which was implemented by the colonial government in 1972; it allowed any male over the age of 18 who could trace their ancestry through the male line to a male resident of the village in 1898, when the lease on the New Territories came into effect, to build a house in their village. Now, however, Fan Leng Lau is merely part of the much larger conurbation of Fanling.

The green sign on the left of the entrance to the park in the photo above reads ‘Fan Leng Lau Pleasure Ground’, which strikes me as rather old-fashioned. ‘Pleasure grounds’ were in vogue during the Victorian era, but there are no attractions here that would qualify it as such. There aren’t even any sport or fitness facilities, which is surprising given that the park is administered by the Recreation and Sports Service, a subsidiary of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

I took the next photo looking to the right just after I entered the park:
The next three photos were taken at intervals as I walked slowly along the main path through the park:
You will have noticed a large number of benches alongside the path, and I took this photo of a cluster of four benches looking back as I passed:
At the top of the hill, there is a kind of boardwalk instead of a concrete path:
And this half a hollow tree appears to be still growing strongly:
The building directly behind the orange village houses is a school, which you can tell from the architectural style.

The last time I walked through this park, the tree leaning sharply to the left in the next photo had just been radically pruned:
…although it nevertheless appears to be thriving:
Three more photos taken at intervals as I walked along the path:
Finally, this is the exit gate:, which leads directly into Fan Leng Lau (behind the camera):
This gate is clearly never closed, because the identifying sign is on the inside of the gate.

Given the sheer number of benches, you would expect some at least to be occupied, but although I’ve walked through this park several times over the years, I’ve never seen anyone else here. You would think that at least a few locals would avail themselves of the peace and tranquility of this quiet, verdant oasis in the middle of an urban jungle. I find it a real pleasure to walk through.

see also
Above Water Gardens describes three gardens in Sheung Shui, which used to be separate from Fanling, but the two are now contiguous.

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

yum! yum!

I imagine that most people have a favourite dining place, somewhere outside the home that they particularly enjoy visiting. For me and Paula, it’s China Land, which is located in Fanling Centre, a small but lively shopping mall a short walk south of Fanling station:
Unlike the traditional Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong, China Land is a very small establishment—the frontage in the photo is the width of the place, and the depth is about the same, meaning that, excluding the kitchen, it is probably no more than 50 square metres in area. Also unlike traditional restaurants, it doesn’t have movable tables and chairs but fixed bench seats and tables, like regular cafes, although the seats are much more comfortable. However, this arrangement means that it’s not a practical venue for parties larger than four.

After scanning our vaccination records—you can’t get into eating places, other than fast-food joints, without doing so—we picked out a table at the front of the restaurant. Paula chose a set meal for two from the menu, while I suggested that we add siu lung bao (‘small dragon bread’), one of my favourite dim sum delicacies, to our order.

First to arrive were two bowls of traditional soup and a plate of stir-fried beef:
The large lump in my bowl of soup is sai see kwat, a cut of pork that is unusual in that when cooked it goes soft and falls apart (pork usually goes hard when cooked). I’ve tried to obtain this meat when I’m back in Penrith, but English butchers cut up pig carcasses differently, and so far I’ve been unsuccessful.

One indication that China Land is an upmarket establishment is the two pairs of chopsticks, one to eat with and one to select food from the plates in front of you. Needless to say, however, we don’t observe this nicety when there are just the two of us.

The next dish to arrive was a kind of salad (on the left):
And then came the siu lung bao:
Although bao means ‘bread’ in Cantonese, these are actually dumplings. They contain minced pork and broth, and it’s usual to apply a few drops of vinegar before eating one. In fact, I like to place the entire dumpling in my mouth at once, so I can enjoy the explosion of taste that occurs when the dumpling is squashed and chewed.

I rated the last dish to arrive as the best:
I neglected to ask Paula how the dishes in this set meal were described on the menu, but I remember thinking that this one must be a kind of sweet and sour pork, although it didn’t look remotely like traditional gu lo yuk. I selected a piece of meat and placed it in my mouth. Wow! Absolutely delicious. The batter was wonderfully crunchy, and the sauce was, well, sweet and sour. Even the green chilies that came with this dish were packed with flavour.

I did think that we would struggle to finish everything (note how large the two main dishes were):
…but we polished off the lot. Without feeling stuffed!

A footnote: before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, this restaurant was so popular that you would normally have to take a ticket and await your turn when a table became vacant. Paula and I always used to go early to avoid this roadblock, but I took the first photo above just after leaving the restaurant, and there is absolutely no sign of a queue. This state of affairs appears to have affected most eating places in the last three years—the restaurant where we go for yam char (‘drink tea’) used to be crowded but isn’t at present. Whether this is down to natural caution or just not having one’s vaccination record encoded on one’s phone I’m unable to say.

Finally, I thought that I would shoot a short video of the central atrium of the mall from the mezzanine floor outside China Land—I found the constant stream of people on the escalators quite mesmerizing—while I waited for Paula, who had gone to the toilet:

Friday, 28 October 2022

unwelcome guests

In addition to testing positive for covid-19 two days after returning to Hong Kong and the subsequent 11 days in isolation, another surprise awaited when we finally got home. In April 2020, I wrote about ‘an uninvited guest’, a mere potter wasp that had decided to construct a ‘nest’ on our balcony. But potter wasps are solitary creatures, and what this individual was building was merely a series of three processed mud ‘pods’, each of which would house just one larva. And I did get some great photos, including one that showed a large, live caterpillar being pushed carefully through the entrance hole, which would subsequently be sealed, to serve as food for the growing youngster inside. We even saw the potter wasp’s handiwork being parasitized by a cuckoo wasp, which behaves exactly like you would expect with such a name.

This time, however, the situation was far more serious. We discovered a huge hornets’ nest on our roof:
This is a closer view of the nest:
We needed to call in the cavalry, in this case a team from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, to remove it safely. We weren’t sure how long this was likely to take, and I took a few more photos five days after the initial discovery:
I also shot a short video:

However, shortly after taking these photos and shooting the video, Paula called me to let me know that a team from the Ag&Fish was on its way. When they arrived, I took them up to the roof to show them the nest, and I took this final photo:
When the team had finished its work, I was warned not to go up onto the roof for a few days. At the time, I thought that this was because returning hornets would be seriously pissed off to discover that their home had been destroyed, but when we did go up again, we found that the floor was littered with dead bodies, from which I conclude that the team used a powerful insecticide in addition to removing the nest itself. This is what the nest site looks like now:
When we first discovered our unwanted guests, I did wonder whether we were hosting Asian giant hornets, which have been reported in Hong Kong, but when I did some research, I learned that these so-called ‘murder hornets’ grow up to 45mm in length. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved to have been wrong about something!