Thursday, 30 November 2017

land grab

A few days ago, Paula informed me that a notice had appeared on the footpath linking the villages of Kun Lung Wai and San Uk Tsuen informing users of the footpath that the owner of the land planned to block it. Someone has since removed the notice, but not before I’d had an opportunity to photograph it:

This is the translation:
Private land

This path is ‘private land’. The landlord will retrieve the space and it will be blocked and impassable. Now I am informing you to find an alternative path.
The bottom line refers to the system of land tenure in the New Territories. However, the first thing to note is that there is no reasonable alternative path. There is a single-track road, which is the principal vehicular access from the major artery of Sha Tau Kok Road to Kan Lung Wai and also to the villages of Siu Hang and Siu Hang San Tsuen on the north side of the Ng Tung River. However, this road is unsuitable for bicycles because of its narrowness and the frequency of motor traffic. It isn’t even particularly convenient for pedestrians, although there is a sidewalk for part of its length.

This morning, I walked from San Uk Tsuen to Kun Lung Wai to try to illustrate why I regard this as a blatant land grab that should not be allowed to proceed. This is where the path starts in San Uk Tsuen (it turns right in front of the gates):

This is as far as motor vehicles can go:

…for obvious reasons:

This S-bend is located in the distance in the previous photo:

…while this is a view of the bend from the other side:

The ‘alternative’ route may be awkward for pedestrians and cyclists, but it would be impossible for someone pushing a loaded barrow.

I didn’t hang around deliberately to photograph users of the path, but the number of cyclists, in particular, that appear in the following photos is a good indication of how important this path is locally. Hundreds of people use this path every day, and it would be monumentally inconvenient if some greedy asshole decided, arbitrarily, to block it off. In fact, if someone really does own the land on which this path is located, I would suggest that the presence of streetlights indicates a public right of way, and blocking the path would therefore be illegal.

The first photo shows the woman with the barrow in the distance.

The red circle in the next photo indicates the approximate position of the notice, which measured no more than 25×15cm. Not exactly obvious, was it?

The concrete wall on the right of the path is a relatively new addition, being no more than two or three years old. It encloses what I expect will become a small private estate that is still only partially built.

And this may be why the developer wants to block the footpath:

The photo was taken from the fire hydrant in the next photo, looking back. It seems to me that if the developer wanted vehicular access to this land, there is a more convenient option on the far side of the enclosed land. This appears to be merely a cheaper option.

What used to be merely a footpath has already been widened:

Closing this footpath will be a serious nuisance for everyone who lives in the area. Paula and I use it only occasionally, when we’re obliged to catch a minibus home late at night that runs only along Sha Tau Kok Road. I wonder how many other locals are aware of what is being proposed.

I’ve already suggested that blocking this path is probably illegal, but there is another factor that supports my stance. The Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail, which was established in December 1999, runs along this path. According to the Antiquities and Monuments Office website, which is part of the Hong Kong government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, this trail was set up “with the full support of local residents”. I can’t imagine local residents being too happy about the proposed development that I’ve documented in this post.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

forty years ago: hong kong street scenes

While I was in the UK this summer, I spent some time looking through old photographs, including ones that I took while working in Hong Kong between 1974 and 1978. There was no accompanying text to identify where or precisely when the photos I’m posting here were taken, but from evidence provided by personal photos taken on the same roll of film, I feel confident in stating that the year was 1977. I left Hong Kong in January 1978, and from the wintry clothing being worn by people in the pictures, I believe that they were taken in November or December, prior to my departure.

I can be less precise about the locations, except to say that all these photos were taken in Kowloon. Even now, I rarely if ever cross to Hong Kong Island. In fact, I can narrow it down to West Kowloon, probably Yau Ma Tei or Mong Kok; I’m certain that a couple of the photos, at least, were taken on Shanghai Street. If you can provide more information on any of these photos, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Even though the padded jackets are out in force in the first photo, the man in the T-shirt is clearly comfortable. He’s cooking stuff that people can eat as they walk along, so why wouldn’t he be?

The next photo shows a typical back street. Although there are commercial premises on the ground floor, all the upper floors would be residential units. The baskets would have contained vegetables, almost certainly imported in bulk from China.

Although Nathan Road—the only street in Kowloon to be named after a past governor—carries much of the north–south traffic, Shanghai Street, a parallel thoroughfare to the west, is much more interesting. I don’t think you could walk casually across it nowadays though, as several pedestrians are doing in the next photo. Incidentally, I can see a pawnbroker’s sign in the distance, and that is one surprising feature of Hong Kong that persists to this day.

The subject of the next photo is a shop selling roast meat: goose, duck and chicken, and char siu (a special type of roast pork).

It is still common for access to entire streets to be restricted to pedestrians because the stalls on both sides are semi-permanent:

I cannot imagine that the building in the next photo is still there, given how dilapidated it looked 40 years ago.

Although the road is wet in the next photo, it isn’t raining, because there is no sign of an umbrella anywhere. Someone has clearly been hosing down the pavement to remove the detritus that has accumulated as a result of whatever they were doing.

The next photo shows a cooked food stall, or dai pai dong, where one could enjoy a bowl of congee (rice porridge) or noodles. The objects hanging up include lap cheung, a type of air-dried pork sausage. Because I hardly ever venture into town nowadays, I have no idea whether such stalls still exist, or whether more stringent food hygiene regulations have driven them to extinction.

Talking of food hygiene, I can’t imagine seeing pig carcasses being butchered on the pavement nowadays. I seem to remember taking this photo on Shanghai Street:

When I look at my final photo, which shows more eat-as-you-walk food being prepared, I think that it should be obvious where it was taken. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

fruity pie

The area between Sha Tau Kok Road and Lau Shui Heung Road, a short distance east of Fanling, is characterized by what I’ve described elsewhere as ‘rural sprawl’, where once separate villages have expanded in a chaotic, haphazard manner until it has become no longer possible to discern where one ends and the next one begins.

However, from my point of view, this chaos affords opportunities for fun on a bike. On the periphery of a village, in addition to what might be called ‘standard’ village houses (restricted by law to three storeys and a maximum footprint of 700 square feet), there are likely to be large numbers of ‘temporary’ dwellings. I don’t understand the details of how the system works, but someone will own the land and grant permission, for a fee, for someone else to build a temporary structure on that land. The second person ‘owns’ the structure, and if it has been connected to mains electricity and piped water for five years, then that second person is entitled to compensation should the landowner want them to move.

I’ve provided this information because in the sequence of photographs that follows, you will see large numbers of such temporary structures, and my objective was to find a way through the maze of paths and alleyways between these structures and come out on the other side (most such paths are culs de sac). Having discovered this particular route on my bike only last week, I decided yesterday to walk along it and photograph the entire length, so that in the sequence each photo was taken from the furthest point visible in the previous one. This means that a route of only 500 metres in overall length took 25 photos to document fully.

The house you can see at the end of the alleyway in the first photo is the most opulent in the entire sequence:

…with substantial boundary walls and ornate railings. I’ve no idea what lies behind what I call ‘industrial panelling’ on the left:

The next photo shows a surprisingly substantial house in the background:

…while the building on the right of the path here is probably rendered brick:

Notice the metal grille on the right in the next photo? It means that the occupants are essentially living in a cage, something that I imagine the average Westerner would find hard to adapt to. I don’t know how dangerous the security situation is hereabouts, and how vulnerable the occupants feel, but I do remember that between 1984 and 1989, I lived in a standard village house with thick vertical bars in the windows. And it felt like being in prison!

The house in the next photo is constructed from metal sheets nailed to a timber frame. I don’t know what metal is used here, although it appears to be quite malleable and may be a lead-based alloy. Note the security bars on the casement windows of the upper floor, which are almost ubiquitous but are, to say the least, much less oppressive than the bars I described above.

Note the water pipes on the right, complete with water meters, in the next photo. There is a T-junction coming up, but turning left merely returns you to the village:

…while things are becoming more rural along the right-hand option:

However, that isn’t meant to imply any kind of opening out:

…although this section is wider, and with more of an industrial feel, than I might have expected:

If any plot of land is otherwise unoccupied, you can be sure that someone will make use of it to grow vegetables:

The derelict building on the right in the next two photos would once have been a piggery:

I suspect that it was abandoned because it was too far from the nearest road, so bringing in food for the pigs would have been awkward, as would taking the animals out again to be slaughtered.

The metal fence on the left has an ‘official’ look about it, which is unsurprising given that it will have been erected by the Drainage Services Department (DSD).

I’m not sure why there is a gap in the aforementioned fence in the second photo.

The footbridge in the next photo is not across anything describable as a ‘river’—during the winter, there is almost no water flowing beneath it—but its existence is reassurance that you will be able to reach a road and not have to backtrack the way you’ve just come. In keeping with other minor drainage channels, the banks have been built up with tiers of rip-rap rather than being excavated and canalized.

And there is an immediate deterioration in the quality of the path:

The building on the left seems to be too important to be located here. It has a traditional double door, which was closed when I passed by. However, there is a four-character inscription above the doorway, which translates as ‘purple breeze from the east comes’. This gives the game away, because it is a reference to a central theme of Taoist mythology, about which I will not elaborate.

As so often happens when I’m exploring paths like this one, there is a silent sigh of relief when I spot a motor vehicle in the distance, because it confirms immediately that there is a way out, although there is about 100 metres of rough track still to negotiate before emerging on Lau Shui Heung Road:

By the way, in case you were wondering about the title of this post, it is a rather feeble transliteration of the village from where this odyssey began: Fu Tei Pai.