Thursday, 23 January 2020

jeepers creepers #2

Even if I don’t have access to a calendar, I always know when Chinese New Year is approaching. It’s the firecracker vines, which have been flowering this year more than a week earlier than in recent years. They must be onto something, because the new year this year is almost as early as is possible. According to my calculations, the theoretical earliest date for Chinese New Year is 19th January, and this year it falls on the 25th January (the latest possible date is 14th February). In case you’re wondering, the date for Chinese New Year was set by imperial decree centuries ago: the second new moon following the winter solstice.

In my opinion, this is an arbitrary ‘rule’ that invalidates the entire system of assigning personality types to people born during the years associated with the various animals that constitute the Chinese zodiac. And the behaviour of the Moon has absolutely nothing to do with the unit of time we call the year, which is the time taken for the Earth to orbit the Sun. However, we are about to exit the year of the pig, and the year of the rat will start in less than two days, so here are some of the photos of firecracker vines that I’ve taken over the past few weeks, with exceptions noted in passing.

I had always intended to follow up my report on firecracker vines from three years ago, but I didn’t see any new examples, apart from the first two photos, the first of which I originally posted in Photographic Highlights: 2017–18. It is located at the top of an alleyway that connects the Ng Tung River with Fu Tei Au Road, and it really belongs here:


…and this photo was taken last winter in an area east of Ki Lung Shan Au (Saddle Pass) that I’d only just started to cycle through. Paula rode past without noticing it:


The remaining photos were taken in the past few weeks and are presented in chronological order.

The first two photos were taken in an informal car-parking area in my neighbourhood:



…while the next two, also taken in my neighbourhood, are the result of my attempt to find a mysterious tower that I’d learned from Google Maps is located hereabouts:



You will notice that the colours appear washed out whenever the flowers are in direct sunlight. And I never did locate the tower: not for the first time, I discovered that the ‘balloon’ on Google Maps is in the wrong place! The purple counterpoint in the second photo is provided by bougainvillea.

The next photo was taken on a path that I imagine very few people know exists, even if they live in the area:


…while this is a photo of the same vine, viewed from the opposite direction, that I took last winter:


The next photo shows the entrance to Mr Lee’s garden from the inside:


This is the best that I’ve seen his firecracker vine. By the way, in case you’re wondering, the red Chinese characters on a yellow background read ‘Lee’s garden’.

I photographed the next example on the long and winding road a few days ago:


Although it is very striking as you come down the hill towards it, the bulk of the display seems to be facing inwards and therefore cannot be photographed.

The next photo was taken on the same day. It is located on Kwu Tung South Road close to the exit from swiss roll and is another example of washed-out colours under direct sunlight:


I included a photo of my neighbour’s firecracker vine in my previous report, but if you compare, this year it is much more spectacular:


All the remaining photos were taken yesterday during the bike ride I call ‘journey to the west’. The first three were taken at various points on the network of unnamed roads that lead, eventually, to Ki Lung Shan Au:




I photographed the third example for my earlier report, but I’ve included this follow-up just to show how much larger the vine has grown. Unfortunately, this photo illustrates another problem: when shooting into the sun, the effect is to darken the entire area you actually want to record.

The next photo was taken in the village of Shui Mei, close to the furthest extent of this bike ride:


…while this one was taken on the first of four consecutive narrow paths that we follow:


The final two photos were taken at different points along the Tam Mei loop, one of the detours that we follow on the return leg of journey to the west. Shooting into the sun was also a problem in the first of these, while I had to hold my camera over the top of a hedge and hope I’d captured what I wanted with the second:



The firecracker vines are fading now, so I don’t expect to take any more photos this year, but I’m sure that I’ll be looking to take more photographs next year, especially of those vines that I didn’t quite get this year.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

down by the riverside

Shatin is the largest new town in the New Territories, with a population of around one million, although it was just a small village 50 years ago. It is located on the north side of the ring of mountains encircling Kowloon and is a 25-minute train ride south from Fanling—or about 75 minutes on a bike.

Although I do most of my cycling in the northern part of the New Territories, I mention the time taken by bike because all my regular bike rides include a lot of narrow paths and alleyways, and if I want to do a long-distance ride (100km+), then I need to head south, where I can comfortably maintain an average speed of 16km/hr almost entirely on dedicated cycle tracks.

And Shatin has an extensive network of these tracks. The town is split by the Shing Mun River, which runs north–south, and there is a cycle track running the entire length of the river on both banks. However, the cycle track along the west bank is dead straight for long distances and is therefore extremely boring to ride along, so I’ve rarely done so, because there are other (longer) ways to reach the same destination that provide more interest.

However, at the beginning of December, for some reason that I can no longer recall, Paula and I did follow this cycle track on our return journey north, and at one point I found myself riding past an elaborate mural:


We didn’t stop at the time, but I resolved to come back to photograph the entire work, because I couldn’t help but notice that it appeared to be depicting all the main points of interest in Shatin. I’ve now done so.

The following images are presented as they appear in the mural from left to right (south to north). You will notice that there are alternating zones of blue/green and red/orange, which represent night and day, respectively, although whether there is some symbolic significance in this I’m unable to say.

The first photograph is a depiction of Amah Rock, a freestanding rock formation on the summit of a hill overlooking the southern end of Shatin:


It resembles a woman carrying a small child on her back in a traditional meh tai, which you seldom see nowadays. According to Wikipedia, it is the wife of a fisherman who used to climb the hill every day to see whether her husband was on his way back home. Unfortunately, the poor woman didn’t know that her husband had drowned at sea, but Tin Hau, goddess of the sea, took pity on her and turned her into stone, so that she could be reunited with her husband in the spirit world.

Needless to say, I don’t believe any of this, but one thing does puzzle me. Why is this formation called Amah Rock? Amah is the Hong Kong word for a female domestic servant, who would have been responsible for any childcare.

The next photo is the first of several that includes an egret. These birds are extremely common along the river systems of the New Territories, but I’ve never seen one that is standing on one leg! All the egrets depicted here are of the lesser variety, because greater egrets, which according to my observations are equally common, have yellow beaks.


I’ve no idea what the yellow horn on the skyline is meant to represent, unless it’s a setting crescent moon.

The next photo shows Che Kung Temple, one of the largest and most visited temples in Hong Kong:


It is dedicated to Che Kung, a military commander during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279). This is the identity of the statue seen here alongside the temple, although in reality the statue is located behind the temple’s main altar. And it is huge, at least 15 metres high.

And here is another egret:



There cannot be many surviving traditional villages amid the urban jungle of Shatin. I know of only one, and that isn’t the one depicted here, because the one I’m familiar with has distinctively curved gable ends, not simple inverted V’s.

I’ve no idea what is represented by the next image, although the Christian connotations are obvious, and Paula tells me that she has seen a cross on a hill somewhere hereabouts:


My guess is that there are meant to be two diamond rings in the foreground, but there is a glaring error here that is probably only evident to a geologist. The crystals attached to the rings are hexagonal, but diamonds exhibit cubic symmetry. And however much you cut a diamond, you cannot transform it into a hexagonal prism as depicted here.

Yet another egret:


I’ve also no idea what the next image is intended to represent, although I’m certainly curious:


I do recognize the subject of the next image though, but I’m puzzled as to why it has been represented as a kind of ghostly outline:


There are a lot of bridges over the river, but all but one are utilitarian concrete. I included a photograph of this single exception in Photographic Highlights: 2018–19.

And yet another egret:


I think that the next image is a representation of the Thousand Buddhas Monastery, although I’ve never visited:


I do recognize the next image though:


Dragon boat racing first took place on the Shing Mun River in 1984. I know this because I took part—for the only time in my life. Back in 1984, the event was regarded by regular teams as merely a chance to practise for the ‘real’ races, but the traditional venues in Hong Kong have little room for spectators, so the races here are now considered the most important. I’ve already seen teams on the river practising. Incidentally, in case you’re wondering, paddling a dragon boat is bloody hard work, with a stroke rate of around 80 per minute.

There can be no mistaking the subject of the next image:


However, despite the background, it isn’t meant to represent run-of-the-mill cyclists like myself. This mural has been painted on part of the the wall surrounding the Hong Kong Sports Centre, which I believe contains a velodrome. Notice that the riders depicted here are wearing a kind of streamlined helmet that is impractical for general cycling.

Even more egrets:



I’ve no idea why the pavilion depicted in the last photo has been included. Structures like this are commonplace all over the New Territories, so there cannot be anything special about one in Shatin.

When the Hong Kong Jockey Club decided that it needed a second racecourse several decades ago, Shatin was the obvious choice:


I didn’t notice it when taking the photograph, but when I was processing the photos, I spotted what appeared to be the artist’s signature in the bottom right-hand corner. It reads ‘DIO 2019’. So this work is recent.

Finally, here is a view of the mural’s location from the next bridge downstream:


It is definitely worth going out of your way to take a closer look.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

temple mount

I was perusing Google’s map of my neighbourhood a few weeks ago when I noticed a Tin Hau temple, the existence of which I hadn’t been aware. This omission isn’t particularly surprising, because that area has been taken over by quasi-industrial sites, and I didn’t think that there could be anything of interest here. However, it is a mere 3km from my house—in other words, within easy walking distance—so I thought I should take a look.

Clusters of quasi-industrial units can be extremely confusing if you’re trying to find a through route, but the way ahead should be obvious in this first photo:


It is indeed obvious:


…and if there really is a continuation from this point, it has to be straight on:


If there’s a temple around here, there must be a path to it. And there is:


A pretty good path too, by the standards I’m used to:



And here it is:


You should just be able to make out the dragons on the roof ridge of the temple itself. This is the only temple I’ve come across with an enclosed courtyard, but both the gate into the courtyard and the doors of the temple are usually closed. However, the path continues past the temple, and since I was there, I thought that I might as well see if it leads anywhere:


Following a sharp left turn at the end of the path seen in the previous photograph, this is what I saw:


As I passed the low red wall on the left, a woman on the other side of the wall warned me to beware of the dogs. You can probably imagine my reply:

“The dogs will be in more danger than I will be if they decide to attack!”

I encounter hundreds of dogs during my explorations of the New Territories, and, despite being used for security purposes, the vast majority are completely harmless. They might bark. They might even chase me if I’m on my bike, but real psychos are rare. On the few occasions that I’ve been attacked, , the dog(s) always have reasons for wishing they hadn’t. There is a dog in three of the photos here, but you can tell from their body language that they’re barkers not biters.

You will also notice that what had been a well-made concrete path degenerates into a rough dirt path beyond the house on the left:




The gritty surface makes it much more difficult to ride a bike on, especially because it’s uphill. The owner of the bike in the last photo probably pushes their bike up this section.

The path then emerges onto a rough and broken concrete road that provides access to yet more quasi-industrial units:



You may think that this road doesn’t look especially ‘rough and broken’, but take a look at the next two photos:



The final section is not only rough and broken, it’s also steep, which makes it difficult to ride up on a bike:


…before emerging onto what I’ve always referred to as ‘the top road’:



Incidentally, there are two extremely noisy dogs on the other side of the fence seen in the last two photos.

The top road snakes across the hillside overlooking the Ng Tung River, and it carries almost no traffic once this last of the quasi-industrial sites has been passed, because the sole reason for its existence is to provide access to scores of graves and ossuaries on that hillside. I used to cycle along it frequently when we first moved to our present house, but I’ve seldom done so since I started exploring further afield.

You will have noticed that although I originally followed this route on foot, and I’ve since been back a couple of times to take photos, I’ve described what it’s like to ride it on a bike. Naturally, I have done that, but just the once. Although it’s a fun challenge, it doesn’t fit naturally into any of my regular bike rides, so I expect to ride it just once more—to shoot a video.