Monday, 5 June 2017

disappearing world #3: update

At the end of Disappearing World #3, I wrote the following:
Of course, there are unanswered questions that I intend to pursue if possible. To begin with, the first building I’ve described seems to be rather grand to be merely a row of village houses (it has two storeys for a start). And does the existence of the watchtower indicate that this village was once more important than others in the area? If I can find answers to these puzzles, I will post a report.
Two months after my initial visit, I returned to this location to show Paula what I’d discovered here. I took more photos of the friezes over the doorways and the mouldings between the doors, but they weren’t as good as the ones I’d taken originally, so if you want to take a closer look at the decorative features of this building, then the photos in the original report are the best I can do. This is a general view:

The three doorways are effectively barred, but there is a door in the back of the building that provides an entry to the left-hand house. When we investigated, we found that this door is kept closed by a crude bolt, but it isn’t locked. The first photo, of a small window in the rear of the building, provides a reason for Paula’s belief that this was once a prison, but bars on windows were a common security feature of older village houses:

When we entered, we were surprised to find that old agricultural machinery was being stored here:

Other points of interest include the bars that can be slid into place to reinforce the main door, which I would describe as a kind of horizontal portcullis:

All the floors/ceilings have been removed, so it’s possible to see the roof beams from ground level:

And this is a moulding above one of the internal doors:

A few weeks before I left Hong Kong, I heard the history of this ‘rather grand’ building. Apparently, the patriarch of the Pang clan, whose village this is, swore that he would never sell any village land. Unfortunately, his daughter, the youngest of fifteen children, disobeyed her father and sold the land on which this building stands to a developer. The old man was furious and blockaded the site so that it couldn’t be occupied. So, despite its grandeur, this building has never been occupied. What a waste!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

disappearing world #4

I cycled through the village of Chow Tin almost every Sunday last winter, and on a couple of occasions I stopped to photograph architectural features that I noticed as I rode past. The first photo shows the ‘front’ of the village—all the houses face the same way, and it seems likely that there would once have been some kind of defensive wall here. The red arrow indicates the position of the gatehouse.

The next photograph shows a group of traditional buildings at the left-hand end of this frontage. The building on the right has been modernized, but the two in the centre have obviously been abandoned and are now derelict:

The building in the next photo has also been abandoned. Note that the moulding above the entrance is in poor condition, and, bearing in mind the much better condition of the mouldings above other doorways, I conjecture that whoever occupies these buildings at least attempts to preserve the mouldings on their building.

The gatehouse is featured in the next photo, while the following image provides a closer look at the frieze above the entrance.

Further along the village frontage, two more traditional houses have survived. There would once have been a small open-air courtyard behind the door of the house on the left, but I suspect that this has now been roofed in.

…and this is a close-up of the mouldings on the house on the left:

The next two old houses have also been modernized, with stainless steel outer doors that suggest the courtyards behind have also been roofed in.

…and these are close-ups of the mouldings above the doors:

Some time after I’d taken the above photographs, because I approach the village from the left as seen in the first photo above, I noticed several more traditional houses in the first alleyway running parallel to the frontage. The mouldings above the doors appear to be more elaborate than those at the front of the village and are featured here in the order I encountered them from left to right. The second photo is of a painted frieze between the first and second doorways.

There are other villages in the Ta Kwu Ling area that have interesting architectural features, but I won’t be able to report on them until next winter. However, I intend, in the next couple of weeks, to post an update to Disappearing World #3, having recently heard an interesting story about the origins of the building featured in that post.

other posts in this series
Disappearing World
Disappearing World #2
Disappearing World #3

Sunday, 28 May 2017

mellow yellow

Although I’m now back in the UK, I have a couple of posts for which I had prepared the photographs before leaving Hong Kong but had not written the accompanying text. This, the first of these posts, features the various yellow flowers that I encounter when cycling around the New Territories. I stop quite frequently to take photographs, and as you will have noted from the subject matter of recent posts (Jeepers Creepers, A Blaze of Glory, Bougainvillea Boogie), flowers are a common attracter of my attention.

I’m not a botanist, or even particularly knowledgeable about plants, so there are only a few species that I can identify with certainty, so I’ll confine my comments to the images and their contexts. I’ll start with a photo I took at the end of November last year, which shows what an otherwise nondescript bush looks like for two weeks every year—covered in star-shaped yellow flowers.

This bush is located near the start of the long and winding road, but this species is very common on semi-abandoned disturbed ground. An opportunist, in other words.

The next photo was also taken on the long and winding road and is of a bush next to one of the paths traversed on this route.

We pass the location of the next photo on one of the return sections of the journey to the west. Unlike the other photos in this collection, its subject is a cultivated plant. I simply had to stop and take a few pictures.

Despite the poor quality of the next photograph, I’ve included it because this is the only location where I’ve seen this particular ground creeper. It’s next to the car park at the top of the first hill I described in Surprise View. For obvious reasons, I don’t intend to return to try to get a better photo.

A much more common ground creeper is shown in the following photograph:

Uncommonly for ground creepers, this one doesn’t have thorns, but it is dense, which means that where it has taken over a sizeable area of derelict but previously used land, you get a spectacular carpet of yellow flowers at this time of year. The next photo is of an area of open ground next to one of the paths followed on the long and winding road. The only other location that I’ve encountered with a similar display is around the multi-path junction described in Ping Kong Ping Pong.

The extremely pale yellow flowers of another common vine are shown in the next photo:

I often see a gourd-bearing vine, and I’ve taken photos at several locations. My attention is attracted by the oddly crinkly texture of the flowers, although I suspect that these may not be flowers but coloured bracts similar to those found on bougainvillea and poinsettia plants.

These yellow bushes alongside the Sheung Yiu River are actually ornamental trees that grow to 6—7 metres in height, but the Drainage Services Department likes to keep river banks well trimmed, so the trees here never get a chance to grow:

And this is a close-up of the flower buds:

The next three photos are of various herbaceous species. The first picture is of flowers that I spotted along the long and winding road, and I have not seen other examples since I took this photo, not even here.

This photo was taken next to the path to Sham Chung and shows how a plant can take advantage of a recent hill fire to establish itself, although it is likely to be crowded out by other vegetation after a few months:

The plant in the next photo has also taken advantage of a small patch of bare ground to establish itself:

There are a couple of other trees in Hong Kong with yellow flowers. The first is like the cotton trees in that the flowers appear before the leaves, although these trees lack the grandeur of the latter. This photo was taken on a cycle track near the southern edge of Fanling:

The other yellow-flowered tree, the acacia, is much more common. This has been the view from my balcony for the past few weeks:

Finally, here is another species that I can identify with certainty. Someone must have planted this sunflower, which I photographed alongside the frontier road, but I don’t know who.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

a rotten english question

It’s that time of year again: I’m about to head off to the UK for the summer, and as usual I have a puzzle that I hope someone will have solved by the time I get back online, but also as usual you should note that it’s likely to tax your brain cells quite severely. Here it is:
What connects the following five ‘clues’?
• an Irish lake;
• a sedimentary deposit;
• the foundation of Christianity;
• in northern England, a limestone escarpment exposed by glacial action in the last ice age; and
• weightless footwear.
I don’t want to boast, but if you should find this little poser too easy, perhaps I can point out that, to date, no one has submitted the correct solution to An English Question. Knowing this increases my smugness that nobody will succeed in solving this riddle either.

As usual, I will acknowledge all correct answers, but I won’t actually publish the solution at all unless I’ve received at least one correct answer, and that answer will be flagged up with a ‘spoiler alert’ to give later readers a chance to work it out for themselves.

other similar puzzles
A Hard Question
What’s the Connection?
Odd One Out
All Greek to Me
Out of Order
Out of Order #2

To date, neither A Hard Question nor Out of Order #2 have been solved. Be the first to submit the correct answer!

Thursday, 18 May 2017

photographic highlights 2016–17

I shall be heading off to the UK for the summer this coming weekend, and as is my habit, I’ve compiled a collection of my favourite photos from the past seven months. However, also as usual, the collection doesn’t include any of the photos that I’ve used to illustrate other blog posts. Almost all these images were taken while I’ve been out on my bike, and many were taken in locations that are close to one another, but I’ve chosen to post them here in chronological order because that provides a far better insight into what I’ve been up to during the winter.

I like to photograph the fruiting bodies of fungi, and the first photo is, I think, the best that I’ve managed this time. I’m not sure precisely where it was taken, but it is likely to have been within walking distance of my home.

I’ve included the next photo because I like the perspective effect combined with the reflections on the river, which is a tributary of the Shing Mun River in Shatin. The cycle track on the left is part of an extensive network, while the building in the distance with the maroon roof is Shatin’s floating restaurant. Paula and I used to be regular patrons when we lived in the area between 2005 and 2008, but I hadn’t eaten there for several years until I visited last Easter with an Australian friend. The dim sum is still pretty good, but when we went for yam char to our local restaurant, Sun Ming Yuen, the following day, Bernie agreed with me that our local tea house is much better!

The next photo was taken less than 40 minutes after the previous one and shows the track of a cruise missile that has raced across the sky and exploded behind the oil terminal in the bottom right of the picture. Cough! Cough!

The next photo was also taken in the Shatin area and shows a mosaic on the wall of St. Rose of Lima’s College. The mosaic itself is interesting but not especially memorable, but I did appreciate the fact that the elderly Chinese gentleman in the photo noticed what I was doing and waited politely for me to finish. I didn’t notice him at the time.

An elderly Chinese gentleman appears in the next photo too. I’d stopped to photograph the juxtaposition between the primitive white huts reflected in the fish pond and the high-rise buildings in Shenzhen behind. Once again, I didn’t realize his presence as I took the photo, but he succeeded in changing a fairly ordinary photo into rather a good one. I won’t point out that he is cycling the wrong way down a one-way road, because I do exactly the same here—the alternative is dangerous for cyclists, and there is almost no traffic here anyway.

I don’t think many people will spot what the next image is unless I admit to rotating the original 90 degrees anti-clockwise. It is in fact a picture of a section of cycling overpass in the Shatin area with very strong shadows thrown across it. I’ve included it here for its abstract qualities.

I’ve included only one piece of actualit√© in this collection. Last summer, a wonderful tree, around 20 metres in height, next to the road near my house appears to have been deliberately poisoned. In the autumn, a cherry-picker was used to cut back the dead wood to leave the stump you see in the next photo. The two men in the photo, which I took from my roof, are trying to cut down the rest using—you’ll never guess—electric drills!

You will probably guess that the next photo shows a section of the frontier between Hong Kong and the rest of China. It’s a section close to Ta Kwu Ling, but why have I included it in this collection? Look carefully at the fence. Note the razor wire. This barrier is designed to stop people in Hong Kong entering China illegally. In the old days, the emphasis was always on preventing immigration from China into Hong Kong!

Back on the frontier road. In December and January, you see a lot of cormorants here, and this photo shows a row of them on a power line. It was taken on 11th February, by which time the cormorants have usually moved on, but this year I was still seeing these birds, in these numbers, towards the end of March. What is going on?

Despite a more than 40-year association with Hong Kong, I was, until last year, unaware that there were squirrels here. I saw three last winter, and this winter I spotted another. I was cycling along the yellow railing path (Ping Kong Ping Pong) when I saw it run up the line from the bottom left in the next photo. As a wildlife photo it’s worthless, but again I like the geometric abstraction. And it does show how electricity is distributed in squatter areas!

And now I’m back in Sun Ming Yuen to illustrate chopstick test #2. The Chinese may have invented chopsticks—it’s alleged that they did so to confound gweilos like me—but according to my observations, a lot of Chinese don’t know how to use these implements either. The photo shows a dish of three beef cheung fan (steamed rice-flour pancakes with a savoury filling) that I’ve cut into three using my chopsticks (in one hand).

Whenever I see that someone on a nearby table has ordered this dish, I always watch to see how they will cut it up. The most common technique is to do what I do, except that the free hand is used to squeeze the two chopsticks together. Pathetic! I often see this operation performed with one chopstick in each hand, and using a ceramic spoon to do the cutting is clearly a cop-out. Not doing any cutting but merely picking up the entire pancake and biting pieces off it is not an acceptable solution either, but I also see that from time to time.

The next photo shows the footpath junction indicated by the red circle on the satellite image in Ping Kong Ping Pong, approaching from footpath #3. I’ve seen a lot of goats this year—goat meat must be getting popular in Hong Kong—but I’ve selected this photo not to illustrate that point but merely to indicate how polite these animals are. They had been following the path I was on until they saw me. And look what they did:

Keeping with the goat theme, I also encountered quite a large herd while exploring the diversion that I eventually described in Detour de Force. I took a lot of photos, but this portrait of one individual is my favourite. Dig those horns!

Towards the end of March, I had the utterly radge† idea of cycling up into Wo Hop Shek Cemetery. I made it up Wo Ka Lau Road, which is about 300 metres of circa 20 percent uphill slog. However, by the time I’d reached the columbarium, I’d decided that I would not follow Wo Hop Shek Road into the cemetery, but I did grind my way up the eastern extension of this road, which is a dead end.

And from that road, I took the following photograph. The high-rise blocks in the middle distance are Fanling, but I can’t be absolutely certain of the blocks in the distance on the right. Fanling is not that far from the border, so they are probably in Shenzhen, but I do need to check the direction. If this photo was taken looking due north, then there isn’t a problem, but my impression is that I was looking northeast, in which case there is a high mountain ridge in the way. Am I going to have to slog up that bloody hill again to check?

By the way, the objects in the foreground of the photo are ossuaries, repositories for bone jars, which contain the earthly remains of prominent New Territories citizens. I can’t be sure, and I’m a cynic anyway, but I would not be surprised if these ossuaries were constructed here before the high-rise blocks were built, and the building of the latter has subsequently buggered up the fung shui, which is why the ossuaries were located here in the first place.

I’m back on the frontier road for the next photo, which shows a piece of history that needs careful interpretation. It shows a staithe on the so-called Lok Ma Chau Loop, a huge incised meander on the Shum Chun River, the nominal border between China and Hong Kong in these parts. Apparently, the 1898 lease on the New Territories used a direct connection of the river—cutting out the meander—to define the border, but since the rise of Shenzhen in the past two decades, this definition has rankled with the other side.

What I find interesting here are the steel bollards. There are four on the staithe in total, and there are steps at each end leading down to the water, so I conclude that this section of river was once navigable, and boats tied up here. There does still seem to be a current, because you can see the vegetation that has colonized the surface moving along, and the surface is sometimes quite clear, but I don’t think that there is any connection to the sea now.

The final point to make here is about the recent agreement between Shenzhen and Hong Kong to establish a science park in this vicinity. I would be utterly amazed if any kind of environmental impact assessment has been done, and I fully expect this wonderful area to be comprehensively trashed within a decade.

From the sublime to the absolutely ridiculous: I cycle through Lei Uk every Sunday (weather permitting), but I only recently noticed this converted shipping container being used as a site office for house construction in the village:


The next photo is not here for its aesthetic merits. I just thought it was funny. And very strange. It shows a pig barbecuing a pork chop, a cow grilling a steak and a chicken roasting a chicken wing. And the sign is there to advertise a commercial barbecue site in Sheung Shui, where, I assume, all you need to do is turn up. Both meat and charcoal will be provided. Ho sik, as they say around these parts.

Near the beginning of the final frontier, I pass a huge lagoon. I’ve taken a lot of photos of lotuses in ponds over the years, but what prompted me to stop and take the next photo was the juxtaposition of lotus (bottom right) and water lily (top left). Unfortunately, the flowers of the latter haven’t come out at all well.

I’ve been cycling past the object shown in the next photo for months, possibly years, as I’ve set off on the long and winding road. And I’ve always known that it’s a bomb. Yet it’s only in the last few days that I’ve suddenly realized that it’s that nuke the Americans lost in the Pacific a few years ago.

“Boom! Boom! You’re dead!” as they say in the classics.

Have a nice day.

† There are quite a few words in the English language that express utter daftness, but I grew up with this dialect word for the condition in a small town in northern England, and in this particular enterprise I consider it more apt than any other.

previous posts in this series
A Baker’s Dozen
Another Baker’s Dozen
Photographic Highlights 2015–16