Sunday, 14 February 2021

then and now #2

There are many reasons why I like Hong Kong, why I keep coming back year after year, but one of the most compelling has always been that it keeps changing. When I came here to work in 1974, once you moved away from the main entertainment and upmarket residential districts, Hong Kong was unmistakably a third-world city, but three decades later, I wouldn’t have hesitated to describe it as a twenty-first century city, an exclusive category the members of which you can count on the fingers of one hand.

Of course, not all the changes I’ve seen over the past 47 years have been good ones, and this post documents three changes that I would have preferred not to see.

I featured a large area of star-shaped yellow flowers in Starburst last November:
I didn’t use this photo in my earlier post, but I was horrified to learn, when I cycled this way a couple of weeks ago, that this is what it looks like now:
This is a view from the opposite direction that shows the full extent of the clearance:
I don’t know why this entire area of flowers has been cleared, but I would guess that new houses will appear here in the coming months.

The ‘frontier road’ was in the so-called closed area until 2013, when it was opened up to casual visitors like me. Near the western end, there used to be a lotus pond where I often stopped to take a photo or two:
This photo was taken in January 2019, and here are two close-up photos that I took on separate occasions a month earlier:
However, this is what the pond looked like three months ago:
Aargh! This is just one, albeit particularly egregious, example of the environmental devastation that is being wrought in this area as a result of the construction of a new science park that is a joint venture between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. And while stands of star-shaped yellow flowers are relatively common—I included photos from several locations in my November post—lotus ponds are a distinct rarity (I know of just one other lotus pond, and the last time I passed that way, I learned that the area was slated for ‘development’, so the lotus pond there may no longer exist either).

Finally, this is a view from our balcony that I took in 2009, shortly after moving to our present residence:
The mountain is Lung Shan (‘Dragon Mountain’), although it is marked on Ordnance Survey maps as ‘Cloudy Hill’. However, I take a dim view of what I contemptuously refer to as ‘gweilo toponyms’. I saw the resident dragon once (photo at foot of page).

And this is a view slightly to the left that shows Pat Sin Leng (‘Eight Immortals Ridge’)—try identifying the eight summits—that I took two years later:
However, as I’ve already pointed out, things are always changing in Hong Kong. This is a recent shot of approximately the same view:
Judging by the architectural style, this will be public housing (the Hong Kong equivalent of council houses). I can no longer see the Pat Sin range, and I don’t expect to see the dragon again, but I do still have a decent view if I look in the other direction:
see also

Wednesday, 10 February 2021


On balance, last week was highly successful from a cycling point of view, but it did end on rather a bum note. Having clocked 104km the previous Saturday, Paula and I set out on Tuesday with the express intention of improving on that distance. We could simply repeat Saturday’s ride, at the end of which we’d come straight through Fanling on our way home because it was getting late. However, if we were to leave home only slightly earlier, we could loop round to the south, through ‘poke in the eye’ (Po Kak Tsai) and return along Sha Tau Kok Road, the only road into Fanling from the east. There was one small problem though. By the time we reached Sha Tau Kok Road, it was late, and the sun was very low in the sky, making it difficult to see where we were going. But we did clock 110.6km, so that seemed like a minor nuisance.

On Saturday, we set out again to improve on the distance. Once again, we would do the same ride, but I had in mind a few diversions that I wanted to try, and these would be enough to achieve the required improvement. First, I’d spotted a temple on Google Maps that I wanted to take a look at:
It was described on Google Maps as a Buddhist temple, but Paula spotted that it is dedicated to the eight immortals, which makes it a Taoist temple! I’ve already received an email from Google telling me that my correction has been accepted. I couldn’t quite get a photo of the entire building, because it is surrounded by a high wall:
By the way, the bike in this photo is neither mine nor Paula’s, in case you hadn’t already guessed.

Next on the itinerary should have been ‘the outer limits: path #3’, but we discovered that a truck had parked across the entrance, completely blocking access.

“Never mind,” I said. “We can do it later.”

We continued on to do ‘the outer limits: path #2’, on which there is a T-junction where we had been accustomed to turning right. I wanted to find out where a left turn would lead:
My immediate impression was that this path just led to a group of houses, but it passed between the houses and continued on a long, sinuous loop that eventually brought us back to the T-junction, even though I kept thinking that it would eventually reach a dead end, which happens far more often than not when exploring new paths.

On our way back, we found that the entrance to path #3 was now clear, so we followed that next. On this particular detour, it’s necessary to follow a series of quiet lanes to get back to the main route, and at one point, we turn right at a fork. However, on the spur of the moment, I decided to take the left-hand option, merely because I wanted to take another photo of the ‘wild’ firecracker vine that I included in Jeepers Creepers #3:
I think that it looks even more impressive in this photo.

Since we were on this road, I thought, we might as well see where it goes, even though I felt sure that I’d checked it out during my explorations of the area last winter. I can’t have done though, because after about 200 metres I spotted an alleyway on the left. I would definitely have checked it out if I’d seen it before, but we could certainly do so now.

It led eventually, with the usual quota of twists and turns, to Tin Tak Kung Temple, which we had visited earlier. However, we turned off onto another path just before reaching the temple and found ourselves back on Kong Tai Road, the only named road in the area. I’m still trying to work out how best to incorporate this new path into the overall ride.

On our way back to Fanling, having detoured via ‘fish pond alley’, we then embarked on a ride around the Tam Mei valley. Although I discovered no fewer than seven new paths in this area last autumn, we usually stick to the roads if we’ve been cycling further west. However, on this occasion, I found myself turning off Chuk Yau Road—without thinking—to start the first of these paths.

“Oh! well,” I thought. “As we’re here, we might as well shoot a video”:
The remainder of the return journey was straightforward, and we stopped off in Fanling for something to eat before heading home. I’d worked out that in order to beat Tuesday’s distance total, we would need to cycle past the Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall before heading home. This road eventually comes to an end at Tung Kok Wai, and we usually follow a path from there across ‘the swamp’ to ‘poke in the eye’. However, the sun was already low, and we wanted to avoid the problems encountered on Tuesday, so I suggested an alternative.

There is a convenient short-cut between Tung Kok Wai and Ma Wat Wai, and although we didn’t actually want to go to this second wai (‘walled enclosure’), we could leave the short-cut where it crosses Sui Wan Road and head directly home. The decision to follow this option turned out to be a serious error of judgement!

This is a view of the start of the path:
There is a tiny ‘bridge’ across a nullah (storm drain) where the path turns to the left. And this is a closer look at the ‘bridge’:
Although the ‘bridge’ is much narrower than the rest of the path, it never used to be a problem on a bike. However, the handrail appeared a few years ago, and since then I’ve rarely come this way, because my handlebar is wider than on most bikes, which means that it’s necessary to keep well right of centre to avoid clattering the railings.

This is a view of the ‘bridge’ from the opposite direction, which clears illustrates the problem:
And there was a far bigger problem on this occasion: the sun was in my eyes! I ended up crossing the ‘bridge’ just 2cm from the edge (Paula’s estimate), much closer than is actually necessary. With no wobble room, I felt as though I was about to topple over the edge at any moment. I just had time to say to myself, “Phew! That was close!” as I exited the bridge when my back wheel went off the path (Paula’s observation):
…and I found myself crashing down into the nullah, where I landed in about 15cm of evil black sludge:
I remember thinking that I was going to hurt myself seriously as I fell, but I seemed to have escaped with just a few bangs and scrapes, and I was able to climb out of the nullah unaided. However, I did need Paula’s help to recover my bike, which had landed on top of me. And I was able to ride the remaining kilometre home without either difficulty or discomfort, although I must have looked like a creature from the swamp, covered in evil black slime, to anyone I passed on the way. By the way, the colour of the slime indicates decayed organic matter, which probably means that untreated sewage is finding its way into the nullah, a conjecture that appears to be confirmed by the first of the photos of the crash site above, which shows two pipes that lead from houses on the right.

The first order of business once I’d returned home was a high-pressure hosing down to remove the slime, followed by a hot shower. Next, of course, was a couple of beers, after which I crashed out (in a good sense) until morning.

The next morning, unfortunately, I found that I couldn’t hold a cup of coffee in my left hand or use a pair of chopsticks to eat a bowl of noodles, and I couldn’t bend my thumb. I thought that I must have fractured a bone in my thumb, and a visit to A&E at North District Hospital seemed like a good idea. However, an X-ray revealed no fracture, and the following day, although the thumb was still swollen, I could again hold my morning coffee in my left hand—and, later, a can of beer.

However, there were other casualties in the crash. I don’t recall hitting my head on my way down into the nullah, but my helmet is a write-off. I shall have to buy a new one before I go out cycling again. I know that a lot of people think that cycling helmets are unnecessary, but as someone who has been spared serious injury by my helmet in two previous crashes, I won’t get on a bike without one nowadays.

My waist bag must have been submerged in the slime for several minutes before I was able to climb out of the nullah, and as a result my phone is now buggered too. So is my camera, although I was able to retrieve the photos that I’d taken earlier in the day, which included the two temple shots and that of the firecracker vine above, and a new photo of the firecracker vine in the grounds of a small nunnery in our immediate neighbourhood, which I added to Jeepers Creepers #3 for comparison with the original photo that I took there.

One final point: we did manage to hit the distance target, clocking 111.8km. We expect to go out again next Monday—today has been very wet (the first rain in more than two months), while Friday will mark the start of Chinese New Year, and although I expect the celebrations in our village to be rather subdued this year because of the coronavirus, I don’t want to miss them.

Sunday, 31 January 2021

jeepers creepers #3

It’s that time of year again! In the run-up to Chinese New Year, I can count on enjoying once again what I regard as Hong Kong’s most spectacular floral display: the firecracker vine. In Jeepers Creepers #2, which I posted last year, I mentioned that this astonishing outburst of colour was more than a week early, coinciding with an early date for the start of the new year. This year, however, Chinese New Year is almost as late as is possible, and as if in response, the firecracker vines have been much later than usual. In fact, almost all the photos in this report were taken in the past week.

The first three photos were taken this morning in the village of Siu Hang, which lies on the opposite side of the Ng Tung River to the village where I live. This vine borders a car park, and this is what it looks like from the entrance to the car park:
…while this is a view from the other end:
…and this provides a closer look at the right-hand end:
The next example is in the grounds of a small religious site, which I think is a nunnery, that we pass when cycling along the river on our way out west:
…and this is a view of the same vine eleven days later:
Some improvement!

I took the next photo last Tuesday in the village of Yau Tam Mei, which we ride through on our circuit of the Tam Mei valley:
This isn’t the original route that we used to take around the valley, and I must have developed this alternative since this time last year, because I don’t recall seeing this firecracker vine before.

Incidentally, if you look closely at the photo, there is an alleyway next to the lamp-post, which was part of the route that I worked out last year. Unfortunately, on Tuesday I followed the alleyway as usual after taking the photo but was eventually confronted by a fence across the path! This is a recurring problem on off-road segments and is probably illegal, but I shall just have to find an alternative.

The next two photos are of a vine next to the minibus terminus in Yau Tam Mei. As with the previous example, I wasn’t coming this way a year ago, so this is the first I knew of the existence of this firecracker vine too:
When I took the first of these photos, a gas delivery truck was blocking part of the vine, but because I was searching for an alternative to the blocked alleyway, I came this way again and took the second photo.

The next vine, also in the Tam Mei valley, was featured in last year’s collection—with the lament that it is impossible to get a good photo when pointing towards the sun. That was still the case on Tuesday, but this is what the vine looks like on the opposite side:
The mystery here is how I didn’t spot this vine as I was riding along, give that the photo was taken in the direction I was riding. My interpretation? I did spot the vine but didn’t realize at the time that photographing the other side, which meant shooting towards the sun, would produce such a crap photo. The result of this year’s attempt was even worse!

The next vine, also photographed last Tuesday, is located in an alleyway opposite a rather primitive mural that I featured in Wall to Wall last October but hadn’t ridden past since. I took two photos, one from each end of the vine:
Whenever we cycle out west nowadays, once we reach the Shek Sheung River on the outskirts of Sheung Shui on our return, we then take a detour around the network of narrow roads south of the large village of Hang Tau, and on Tuesday I spotted a firecracker vine that I hadn’t seen before in the entrance to a side road that leads nowhere (I’ve checked). Unlike most examples of this vine, which appear to be kept in check by regular pruning, this one has been allowed to go wild:
Having cycled as far west as Tam Mei then around the Hang Tau detour, I began to think that if I made an effort, I could clock 100km for the day’s ride. I was still about 18km short, and the only way I could hit the century mark would be to cycle east. I had only a vague idea of where to go to knock off the distance, but to cut a long story short, I found myself in a maze of alleyways in a village some distance east of Fanling when I spotted a firecracker vine down one of these alleys:
When I investigated more closely, I found that I could take additional photos, all of which were of vines that enclosed the same small estate:
By the way, I did manage to clock 100.5km for the day’s ride.

I included two photos taken in my home village in Jeepers Creepers #2. This is a photo of my neighbour’s firecracker vine, viewed from the inside:
…and this is a shot of Mr Lee’s garden, taken from the village car park:
I posted a photo in Jeepers Creepers #2 that I annotated with the following comment:

‘Paula rode past without noticing it’.

Of course, I stopped to take a photo, but the hill is quite rough, so I can understand why her focus was elsewhere.

There is a path that emerges onto this hill to the left of the photo that I finally got around to checking out a couple of months ago. We now cycle along it regularly, which has given me the opportunity to see what this firecracker vine looks like from the other side:
Although I’m familiar with all the alleyways within walking distance of our house, there are many that I rarely venture down because they don’t lead anywhere useful. However, on Boxing Day last year, I did ride down one alleyway that turned out to be lined on one side by a firecracker vine. There were just a few flowers, but on Friday I decided to check it again. This was the result:
Finally, in January last year, we were shooting the ‘outer limits: path #3’ video, and it was only when I watched the video later that I noticed a most spectacular example of a firecracker vine that had gone wild down a road to the left (I was focusing on the road ahead):
Naturally, I wanted a photograph, so we cycled there yesterday for the first time since shooting the video. This was the result:
Incidentally, given that this vine is located almost 40km from our house, we set off with the express intention of breaking the ‘century barrier’. We eventually clocked 104km, although it did take eight hours.
*  *  *
It would appear that in order to obtain a uniform flower density, it is necessary to do some judicious pruning from time to time, and the intensity of the display does vary from year to year. To illustrate this point, I also took photos yesterday of two firecracker vines that I featured in Jeepers Creepers #2 last year. The first is located in the village of Shui Mei, about 35km west of Fanling, and the second borders a narrow path that leads away from the village:
If you compare these photos with last year’s, you will see that this year’s display is more impressive.

another post in this series
Jeepers Creepers

Sunday, 24 January 2021

another frontier road mystery

Two years ago, I wrote about new markings on the frontier road that I found impossible to interpret, although I did make an informed guess. And guess what? A different set of markings appeared recently a short distance east of the police operational base: two sets of parallel yellow lines across the road about 35 metres apart. Although these are not standard markings, I’ve interpreted them as some kind of hazard warning.

This is what they look like:
The first photo shows the more easterly of the lines and was taken looking west. The second photo is a view looking east. The ‘SLOW’ signs were there long before the yellow lines.

So here’s the mystery: there is nothing remotely hazardous in the section between the two sets of lines, unless the possibility of a vehicle pulling out of the passing place without the driver looking first counts. However, I’ve never seen any of the passing places along the frontier road being used, and this is the only location with the yellow lines anyway. There is an accumulation of sand just west of the more westerly set of lines—presumably debris from the tipper trucks that have been using the road with increasing frequency—on which I’ve skidded a couple of times, but this could easily be swept up, if anyone could be bothered. And there are quite a few potholes—caused by the tipper trucks—but this is far from the worst section for potholes, and no other section is marked in this way.

Any suggestions as to the meaning of these lines will be most welcome.