Thursday, 18 November 2010

return to koon garden

Yesterday was an interesting day. In the morning, I visited the wet market in Luen Wo Hui to buy meat and vegetables. The old lady whose vegetable stall I patronize speaks no English, but that isn’t a problem. I was in the process of asking for a catty (about 20 ounces) of pak choi when a young Chinese girl in some kind of uniform came up and offered to help.

Gei chin [how much]?” I asked the old lady.

Sze man poon [$4.50],” she replied.

“Five dollars,” the girl unhelpfully translated.

I tried to explain to the girl that the old lady hadn’t said “$5”, but I think that she had already assumed I couldn’t possibly have known what the old lady had said. The old lady seemed to be amused by the proceedings, but I gave her five dollars anyway. She gave me a ¢50 coin in change.

I then walked around to the other side of the stall and picked out two very large carrots (the carrots here are much, much tastier than anything I’ve ever seen in the UK). The same thing happened:

Gei chin?” I asked the old lady.

Sap man poon [$10.50],” she replied.

“Eleven dollars,” said the girl.

Again I tried to explain to the girl, but she kept repeating “eleven dollars” as if I hadn’t understood her the first time. The old lady had another ¢50 coin ready to give me, but this time I was able to give her the exact change. I’m sure that the girl thought she’d been very helpful to a ‘struggling’ gweilo, and to be fair her intervention was amusing rather than annoying.

Contrast this with my purchasing of meat (again, I always go to the same stall).

Sai see kwat, yau mo [have you any sai see kwat]?” I asked.

Sai see kwat is a cut of pork from near the base of the spine and is the only cut that falls apart in soup. Meat from any other part of the animal becomes hard and chewy when boiled.

Sai see kwat? Yes sir. How much would you like?”

Yat gan, m goi [one catty please].”

“One catty? Certainly sir.”

I surmise that this man has spent time working abroad, but as a butcher in one of the remoter parts of Hong Kong (I can go for days without seeing another gweilo) he doesn’t get much chance nowadays to practise his English.

In the afternoon, a friend came to visit, and like all first-time visitors to San Wai he was given the Hong Kong Country tour. However, until about ten years ago my friend had been a high-ranking government official, and he was able to provide a lot of additional information of which I’d previously been unaware. The focus of interest was Koon Garden, which I’d mistakenly identified as a house, not having looked inside. It is in fact a chee tong, or spirit house, the principal function of which is to honour a family’s ancestors.

This rudimentary shrine faces the main entrance and wishes blessings and prosperity on three named people, all of whom are presumably now dead.

The front of this shelf, located directly above the shrine, was once brightly painted, but the fading detail can still be made out.

The roof has gone, but the roof and ceiling beams are still in position in a side room (there was no second storey above the main hall).

A mirror remains hanging in the main hall, probably because it would have been seen as bad joss to remove a mirror from a chee tong.

A ruined outhouse on the north side of the building.

The kitchen. The main fire would have been lit under the cube on the left, and the wok used would have been more than three feet in diameter.


  1. This was an excellent post. Not only did it entertain me but I also learnt a few mandarin phrases. As a westerner does that sort of thing happen to you alot?

  2. Two points Criterion: first, the local language in Hong Kong is Cantonese. It's similar to Putonghua (Mandarin), but a big difference is that there are no glottal stops (sap and kwat above) in Putonghua. As to being ‘helped’ in this way: very unusual, which is why I wrote about it. What I like about living among Chinese people is that nobody takes a blind bit of notice of me. I'm never stared at. Even the village dogs don't bark at me, although they will always bark at Chinese strangers.

  3. The second picture of this wonderful series, despite having recognizable elements for me is made using an abstract language, its content and its framework can offer the viewer to create personal ideas and abstracts. In my photos of the broken tops are people you've seen angels, this is because although it is recognizable photographed by the photographic language in which it is expressed gives the viewer the ability to abstract. In this fantastic series you use a very abstract language and a style I like. I have also published many works on my blog that no one knows what it is.

  4. Great photos and narrative Dennis!
    Those are some heavy duty timbers...

    Leovi? What a surprise seeing you here...

  5. Thanks for the comments Leovi. I don't think of myself as using any kind of language; I took these photos primarily as a kind of record of something that will not be there in 20 years time.

    Heavy-duty timbers indeed Pat, and in a building only 50 years old and already a ruin! Quite a melancholy place.


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