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

Monday, 15 May 2017


I’ve established one wholly unwanted cycling record this winter: for the number of times I’ve come off my bike! After falling off three times the previous winter, which was itself a record—and all avoidable if I’d been paying attention—I went two better this year with five crashes. At least I can say that in none of these eight accidents did I hit my head, unlike the crashes that I had in three consecutive Decembers from 2010 to 2012, which resulted in Paula having to call the emergency services. At the time, I joked that it would be a sensible idea to avoid cycling altogether in December 2013, although in reality I set out to improve on my best monthly mileage total then instead (and succeeded).

Anyway, I thought that it might be worth taking a closer look at each of the five incidents to determine whether there are any lessons to be learned.

My first fall occurred on my first day out after returning to Hong Kong from my summer sojourn in the UK. Paula and I were out on the long and winding road, which at the time involved following key narrow paths in both directions. And one section of the route had become quite overgrown. I remember thinking that there were a few places where it was difficult to judge where the edge of the path was. Later, in a major lapse of concentration while riding along the same path in the opposite direction, I let my front wheel drop off the edge of the path, and once that had happened, I could not maintain my balance and toppled down the slope on the left:

I didn’t take a photograph at the time, and when we came back that way a week later, all the vegetation had been strimmed. I went over the left-hand edge just before the bend. I wasn’t hurt, but it was surprisingly difficult to get back on my feet because I was pinned by my bike—it would have been even harder without Paula being there to help. And the lesson here is obvious: keep your eyes on the path at all times.

The week before Christmas, I was returning to Fanling from a ride down south when I decided to try a new route that avoided some of the construction that has disrupted the main cycle track since it opened at the beginning of last year. There is a footbridge over the railway just south of Fanling, and there is a quiet dead-end road leading to it from the south. At the end of the road, there is a ramp, which appears to be seldom used now, leading up to the footbridge:

Pieces of plywood are often placed as you see them in the photo to cover waterlogged or muddy ground. The photo was taken some weeks after the event, and I believe that the piece of plywood on the left was in place at the bottom of the ramp when my front wheel went through it and caused me to lose control. Riding over such wooden patches is often unavoidable, but perhaps I should have got off and pushed given that I had to execute a tight turn to get onto the ramp. The irony is that a new access ramp has been added to the footbridge, so this one will never be used again, but the new ramp was still fenced off when I came this way and a cropper here.

Only a few days later, on Christmas Day, Paula went off to visit her family in town, as she always does on Sundays, and I went off to do my usual Sunday bike ride (The Final Frontier). I was riding along a narrow path linking a Drainage Services access road near the village of Tsung Yuen Ha with the road to Heung Yuen Wai, which is a dead end and therefore carries little traffic. As I was about to reach the latter road, I heard the sound of a motor vehicle and looked up to see whether I would need to stop. This wasn’t a good idea, because I was just at the point where there is a break in the path that can only be avoided by a detour off to the left. The next I knew, I’d not merely returned to the path but had gone over the edge of the path on the right. Keep your eyes on the path Dennis!

The next two photos were taken the following day, when I came this way with Paula. The first was taken from the road, looking back. The red arrow is where I went over the edge, and the second photo provides a closer look. I was unhurt, having landed in a large clump of elephant grass, but it must have taken at least 15 minutes for me to get myself and the bike back on the path. For a start, my leg was trapped between the frame and the handlebar of my bike, and there was nothing firm to lever against to extricate myself from my predicament. I sometimes think that irony follows me around like a magnet: the vehicle on the road ahead that had distracted my attention was a Fire Services rescue truck, which passed by without noticing a cyclist in the ditch!

I was lucky though! I took the following photo two months later, after a bush fire had destroyed the vegetation. Had I gone over the edge after the fire, it would have been a much more painful experience!

Despite clocking up a lot of mileage in the next four months, I managed to avoid any further mishaps until the weekend before last. The next photo shows the bottom of the ramp leading up to the footbridge over the Shek Sheung River, home of Buffalo Bill. We don’t usually come this way, but in the course of investigating where Bill might get to when we don’t see him for weeks, I’d discovered some interesting narrow paths that I wanted to show Paula.

We came down the ramp, and the idea was to execute a U-turn to the left. Ordinarily, I would swing wide, but I was aware of a cyclist coming the other way and tried to execute a tighter turn than was probably sensible. The broken surface in the foreground seems to have deflected my front wheel into an even tighter turn, and the next thing I knew I had a sore backside.

Two days ago, despite persistent rain, Paula and I managed an interesting bike ride of about 70km. Towards the end, Paula opted to head home by the shortest possible route, while I took a slightly longer way round to ensure that I would clock up 5,000km for this winter (in case I couldn’t get out again before I leave for the UK next weekend).

There are several places where a cyclist can cross Sha Tau Kok Road east of Fanling, but there is only one place where that is possible regardless of traffic: a footbridge. Now I did mention that it had been raining, but the bottom of the ramp is covered and would have been dry:

The problem was that my tyres were wet, and the illegally parked yellow truck forced me to take a much tighter turn onto the ramp than I otherwise would have done. I didn’t actually fall off, but as my tyres slid rightwards, my elbow slammed into the handrail on the left.


Thursday, 11 May 2017

outrageous #2

It’s easy for a cyclist in Hong Kong to develop a persecution complex. For example, in Outrageous, I described how the Country Parks Authority had erected a sign warning of dire consequences (i.e. prosecution) for anyone who continued beyond the sign. Given that I’d been cycling beyond that sign for a few years prior to its erection, you can guess my response! Later in this report, I’ll be describing the latest heavy-handed attempt to regulate cycling behaviour, but first I’ve included a few examples of what cyclists here have to put up with.

When I cycle south from Fanling, I encounter the following sign on a cycle track on the northern outskirts of Taipo:

‘Cyclists dismount’? So not only are we required to give way to pedestrians crossing the cycle track—and I don’t see many of those here—we are actually expected to get off and push our bikes across this trivial hazard.

Across to the west, I took the following photo near the eastern extremity of the cycle track network that is centred on Yuen Long:

Here the position is slightly different in that the cycle track crosses a side road leading to a gate. There is nothing behind this gate, which is never open and doesn’t appear to lead anywhere, and in the scores of times that I’ve passed this way, I’ve never seen a vehicle turn off the main road into this siding. Yet we are expected to get off and push our bikes across!

On the cycle track just south of Fanling—newly opened last year—there is a side turn onto a bridge across the expressway. The cycle track and the pedestrian walkway here are completely separate, and this separation continues on the descent on the far side, but halfway down, cyclists are confronted by this:

Just to be clear, the descent continues around a 180-degree bend to the right, with the path for pedestrians and the track for cyclists continuing to be separated by railings. The only difference is that the continuation of the cycle track doesn’t yet have the distinctive coloured surface, and there are no road markings—but there is currently no work in progress to complete the surfacing, which would justify requiring cyclists to dismount.

Further south, the new cycle track crosses Tai Wo Service Road East. The next photo shows this crossing point from the south:

Of course, the situation is different here. After being comfortably segregated, cyclists are suddenly having to interact with motor traffic. In fact, the admonition to ‘use pedestrian crossing’ is common, especially at light-controlled junctions. Cyclists are expected to get off and push, but no one ever does, and no one gets a ticket either, unless they attempt to cross when the little red man is illuminated.

However, here the police have fixed a sign to the railings on the right (which you might not notice if you’re concentrating on the road ahead):

My first reaction when I saw it was to wonder whether the police had the legal authority to do this. The sign here reminded me of similar signs that were erected a short distance further south, at the bottom of a footbridge that riders on the newly opened cycle track had to use to cross the railway. This photo shows the ramp leading up to the bridge from the north in the old days, before the cycle track was built:

I can no longer remember the exact wording, but the signs warned cyclists that they faced prosecution if they rode their bikes across the bridge. You will notice immediately that this looks like a difficult feat because of the nature of the surface, and even now the majority of cyclists push their bikes across the bridge. However, someone very publicly pointed out that people had been riding their bikes across this bridge for years—Paula and I certainly had—and the police were forced to back down and remove their signs.

I believe that the police may be exceeding their authority with this latest sign, which I first noticed last autumn. Any competent cyclist should be able to negotiate this hazard safely without dismounting. First, notice that you are approaching a T-junction. You can see whether there is any traffic coming towards you as you approach; and you can see if there is anything coming from behind by exiting the cycle track between the bollards and the railings, glancing to your right before joining the road and stopping temporarily if necessary. Once on the road, you can then check for traffic coming from the left before crossing (the car in the photo is about to pass under the railway, and the road there isn’t wide enough for two cars, so in the scenario shown in the photo, you’re clear to cross if there’s nothing coming up behind you).

What I’ve just described is what I’ve always done since the cycle track appeared, but in the old days we negotiated this junction on the road. That was never a difficult thing to do, because traffic was fairly light, and nobody drove particularly fast. So will I now pay more attention to the police warning? No, I won’t! A couple of months ago, I started to look for a way of bypassing this junction altogether, and I described the results of this exploration in Detour de Force. Mind you, I take the detour now not because I want to avoid confrontation with the police. The detour is three times the distance and ten times the fun. Cycle tracks are boring.

Monday, 8 May 2017

cycling action photos

Although I’ve written quite a lot over the years about the various cycling routes I’ve done in the Fanling area, almost all these accounts have been accompanied only by photos showing the road, track or path being followed (I did include a couple of photos of Paula on new sections of the long and winding road on the last day of last year, however).

Earlier that same day, I’d already photographed Paula on two old sections of the same route. This is the original first path (as described in The Long and Winding Road):

As well as giving names to my bike rides, I may give names to specific sections. The next two photos show the start of the second path, the palm grove. I did take a photo of Paula on the path in the foreground of the first picture, but her face was obscured by a sprig of green leaves. Notice the sinuous curves on this section, which make it vital to maintain an optimum speed (too slow and you’ll wobble over the edge; but too fast and you won’t make the turns):

The last photo in this sequence shows the path a couple of hundred metres beyond the palm grove:

I included a photo of Paula crossing the iron bridge—a feature of one of the newly added paths—in Room for Improvement. Here’s another:

However, the undoubted highlight of the new, improved, long and winding road is the spiral ramp. Here are two photos of Paula that I took on 11th February this year:

Here is a sequence of four photos that Paula took of me on 18th March:

…and here are another two of Paula, which I took on 25th March:

Finally, here is a video that Paula took of me on this formidable obstacle on 6th May (be sure to click the ‘full screen’ icon):

The frontier road is a pleasant out-and-back excursion that we usually combine with other rides. Between the road and the Chinese border is an area of fish ponds, many of which are still in use, and there are a few points along the road where it is possible to wander off into this area. I became obsessed with finding a through route that involved entering the area via one track and leaving it by another, but to date I’ve managed only one connection. This is Paula on that solitary connection on 11th February:

…and this is her in roughly the same place on 4th March:

I took these photos as much for their picturesque quality as for any intrinsic excitement. In fact, no difficulty is involved in cycling this section. However, whenever we do the frontier road, we always divert to the right just before the top of the climb out of the frontier area to tackle Liu Pok Hill (named after the village we pass through en route), and 4th March wasn’t an exception. The next four photos were also taken on that day.

There is quite a good place to stop by the turn, and a couple of years ago when I reached this point I met two young cyclists who were taking a rest. Nonchalantly, I asked them where they were going, and upon hearing their reply said that this was a much better way. I didn’t mention the hill.

I wouldn’t normally be stopping to take photos here, but Paula had shouted to me that there was something wrong with her bike. I’d already started the hill, so I pulled to one side while she checked the problem. When she was ready to resume, I took the following four photos:

If the two young cyclists I’d persuaded to come this way were dismayed, they certainly didn’t show it. In fact, they seemed pleased to have been shown a road they didn’t know existed. While we frequently see cyclists on the main frontier road, I’ve only ever seen a solitary cyclist on this diversion.

The next two photos were taken on the alarmingly steep descent path that I described in Detour de Force:

Finally, here are three photos of Paula on another ramp on the newly upgraded long and winding road. It is much easier than the spiral ramp, but I failed on my first attempt because I had no idea what to expect around what is effectively a blind corner. Notice the nearer of the two pipes to the centre of the alley. I carelessly allowed my front wheel to pass right of the pipe, and by the time I’d clocked my mistake, there was no way out.

I shall be heading off back to the UK for the summer in a couple of weeks, but I hope to be able to take a few more ‘interesting’ cycling photos next winter.