Monday, 18 December 2017

the gates of delirium

Aldous Huxley wrote about ‘the doors of perception’, and I’ve been photographing ‘the gates of delirium’, but we share one thing in common: neither of the phrases is original. Huxley ‘borrowed’ the title of the book that details his experiences with the psychedelic drug mescaline from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake, while I’ve appropriated the name of a horrendously difficult rock climb on Raven Crag, Thirlmere. That wasn’t original either. The pioneers of this climb took the name from the title of a song by Yes, possibly the most flatulent of the so-called progressive rock bands of the 1970s. I didn’t know it at the time, because I’d been so disgusted by the self-indulgence of the double album Tales from Topographic Oceans that I stopped listening to them, but from Wikipedia I learn that The Gates of Delirium, from a later album, lasts 22 minutes. I’m not in any hurry to check it out.

Nevertheless, because the phrase has stuck in my memory, I’ve found that whenever I’ve cycled past this gate recently:

…my immediate reaction has been ‘gates of delirium’ every time. This rather grandiose gateway is located in an area south of Sha Tau Kok Road, east of its junction with Ping Che Road, an area that I started exploring after returning to Hong Kong in October. I kept thinking that perhaps I should look out for more grand gateways, and I’ve certainly found a few!

I actually took the first two photos back in May. These gates are located in an area where I’d been trying to extend ‘the long and winding road’, so I could locate them again, but I have no idea what the road in question is called. The first is interesting because it’s the only one in this collection that is not designed to admit motor traffic, and the gateposts are faced with a polished metamorphic rock that does add a touch of class.

The next photo is intriguing because of its use of Western heraldic symbols—the lions rampant and the shield—but the use of gold paint is very common. Note that this gate is designed to slide to one side rather than opening in the middle:

I took the next photo in Fu Tei Pai, a village close to where I live that I hadn’t thought worth exploring until recently. The gate itself is not particularly interesting, but notice the nine separate postboxes mounted on it. Gates like these often provide an entrance to more than one building, and nine means that there are three village houses behind this gate.

Both the next two photos were also taken in Fu Tei Pai, and the thing to note is that they are identical. This tells me that fancy gates like these are mass produced, although they are unlikely to be cheap. These are also gates designed to slide to one side.

In fact, I found a third gate in Fu Tei Pai yesterday with the same wrought ironwork and gold-painted flowers while checking out where a particular road led to (nowhere!). The only difference here is the steel backing panel.

The next two gates are probably located in Fu Tei Pai too. I’ve expressed doubts because it’s common in this area for villages to expand until boundaries are obliterated. So they could be in Kwan Tei.

I particularly like the bronze ‘effect’ in the first example. I suggest ‘effect’ because real bronze would, I imagine, be hideously expensive. Note the postern gate for pedestrians, which is equally elaborate.

I came across the next two gates on the ‘detour de force’—I could hardly miss them, because in both cases they were straight in front of me as I emerged from a narrow alleyway:

The first is another example of lions rampant, but with an unusual style in the ironwork, while the second is the only stainless steel gate in this collection. Although I’ve seen other examples of such ‘sun gates’, this is the only one where the radiating sunbeams are wavy. The real sun was glistening on these bars when I took the photo, but I don’t think I’ve captured just how impressive that looked.

The next two gates are located in Ho Sheung Heung Sun Tsuen, a village that I didn’t know existed until a couple of weeks ago. I was hurtling down Ho Sheung Heung Road past the prison when I noticed a car about to pull out of a side road I wouldn’t normally have spotted, so the next time I came this way I thought that I should check it out. (‘Ho Sheung Heung’ means ‘village above the river’, and I was familiar with the village of that name because of the ancestral hall there; ‘Sun Tsuen’ means ‘new village’.)

The two gates are almost alongside one another, separated by a kind of watchtower, the brickwork of which can be seen in the first photo. The interesting thing about the second photo is what lies behind it. The building within is too big to be a village house, but there is nothing to suggest its purpose, other than that it looks kind of official. Notice that the two gates are almost identical, suggesting that everything behind the gates—the ‘official’ building, the watchtower, etc.—is somehow connected.

Finally, here are two gates in Ping Yeung, easily the largest village in the Ta Kwu Ling area, northeast of Fanling, which I cycle through every Sunday, unless, like yesterday, it’s too bloody cold to get the bike out.

The first protects an ‘ordinary’ village house, but the second is highly unusual, because there is no sign of a building within, the palms suggest that a large area is enclosed, and this is the only gate I’ve come across with actual statues of lions en garde. This is the entrance to the residence of someone who really is rich, unlike all the other gates that I’ve featured, which are intended merely to create the impression that whoever lives within is rich.


  1. You can see a common colour code of the fancy gates: Black and GOLD.


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