Thursday, 23 May 2019

toad in a hole

There was an old toad called Nigel Farage,
Who couldn’t get his car out of the garage.
 He blamed the EU
 For this silly to-do,
Saying, “I’d rather have a cart than a carriage!”

Sunday, 19 May 2019

more door gods #4

Although I haven’t posted any photos of door gods for almost three years, this shouldn’t be taken to suggest that I’ve lost interest. I continue to photograph them wherever I find them, and the delay merely reflects the fact that I don’t discover many new ones nowadays. I originally explained the origin of the door gods in Leaping Dragon, but to save readers the trouble of checking out this link, I reproduce the explanation here:
The models for these fearsome warriors were two of the first Tang emperor’s most loyal generals, Qin Shubao and Yuchi Jingde. According to the legend, the emperor was being harassed each night by an unruly ghost and was thus unable to sleep, so he asked that the pair stand guard overnight to protect him from this unwelcome visitor. Apparently, the emperor subsequently spent a peaceful night, but, not wanting to impose further on his generals, he ordered his servants to hang giant portraits of the generals to perform the guard duties. It was a practice that caught on quickly with ordinary Chinese keen to ward off evil spirits and attract good luck.

Cheaply printed posters of the generals in highly stylized poses are widely used in Hong Kong, especially around Chinese New Year, but the generals portrayed here have been rendered in meticulous detail (and are considerably larger than those seen on a typical poster). Note that the pair are shown facing slightly to one side. This means that Yuchi Jingde (the dark-skinned one) must always be posted on the left-hand door, and Qin Shubao on the right. If this is not done, both guards will be facing away from each other, which would allow an intruder to walk between them unseen, and for good luck to slip away unnoticed.
The first two photos are of ancestral halls in Shui Mei, a village in the Kam Tin area, about 30km west of Fanling:



There are two points to make about these images: (1) both figures carry ‘standard’ weaponry—a halberd by Yuchi Jingde and a pole sword by Qin Shubao; and (2) Yuchi Jingde was an ethnic Uighur, but although in the second image he is portrayed as having darker skin than Qin Shubao, his features are obviously Han Chinese. This is a common mistake, as you will see below.

The next photo is of the King Law Ka Shuk Ancestral Hall in Taipo, which I came across entirely by accident because I went the ‘wrong’ way:


Qin Shubao has a more pronounced beard than usual, but the weaponry is standard.

I described the recently developed cycle tour around the village of Chau Tau in Easter Island, in which I didn’t mention an obvious public building, possibly the village office, a short distance away from the route:


Once again, Yuchi Jingde has darker skin, but I don’t think that anyone would perceive an ethnic difference here. However, the most intriguing aspect of this pairing is the weaponry. Or, rather the lack of effective weaponry. I took the next photo six years ago when I was trying to develop a circular route through the area:


 These doors no longer exist, but they were probably part of an older building that was in the same location as the previous image, because the ineffective weaponry is the same. I wonder why! There must be some esoteric significance.

I visited San Tin for the first time this winter. Two of the village’s historical buildings do not feature door gods; however, this is the entrance to the Man Lung Fung Ancestral Hall:


Unfortunately, this hall, despite being a declared monument, is not well looked after. Damage to the door gods is obvious in this photo, but elsewhere in the building, plaster mouldings are being obscured by large quantities of black moss.

During my initial visit to San Tin, I also came across a few minor halls, including this one:


Here, there is no attempt to establish a difference in ethnicity, both guards are holding pole swords, and—do my eyes deceive me—both are holding nunchaku in their other hands!

I consider the final image to be the most astonishing in this collection:


Part of the reason for my assessment is that this pair are not guarding an ancestral hall, temple or other historical building. I photographed them on the closed gate of quasi-industrial premises in an area east of Fanling that I was exploring at the time. The two guards were quite widely separated, but it is the style that I find especially intriguing. These are not Tang Dynasty soldiers; they are characters in a Chinese opera! And they are holding iron cudgels with which to beat you to a pulp if you dare to cross them.

Notice that although they are facing inwards, they are not standing firm, like traditional door gods, but are walking away from each other. I assumed that they must simply be stuck-on images, but when I looked closely, I was surprised to discover that these figures had been hand-painted. On an industrial site! Wow!

earlier posts in this series
More Door Gods
More Door Gods #2
More Door Gods #3

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

a splash of colour

Luen Wo Hui is a district in eastern Fanling bounded by the triangle of Sha Tau Kok Road to the south, Fan Leng Lau Road to the west, and Ma Sik Road to the north and east. Ma Sik Road has precisely demarcated the eastern boundary of Fanling for as long as I’ve lived here, although construction work started recently east of the road, and if I live long enough, I expect to see development extend as far east as the Ma Wat River and as far north as the Ng Tung River.

I walk into Luen Wo Hui almost every day from the village where I live, a distance of just over a mile. At one point, the path takes me over a footbridge across the Ma Wat River, and I always look over the upstream side of the bridge to check out the confluence of the main river with a small storm drain coming in from the side.

The reason for my curiosity is that for as long as I can remember, hundreds of fish have used this point as a spawning ground, lining up nose to tail facing upstream. However, a couple of years ago, large quantities of mud began to be deposited where the storm drain runs into the river’s winter channel (all the rivers in this area have been canalized to prevent flooding, so the limited flow that occurs during the dry season is confined to a narrow channel).

The origin of the mud is small-scale construction upstream. And when the water in the storm drain hits the water coming down the winter channel, it is held up, so the mud can no longer remain in suspension. A similar phenomenon occurs about 100 metres downstream, where the Ma Wat River joins the Ng Tung River. Despite the former nominally being the tributary, it is the latter that is backed up by the force of the flow in the former, which is probably a reflection of the relative gradients in the two channels.

Although a small amount of mud washes downstream, the rest is dumped here, but despite this less than conducive environment for the fish, they seemed to be persevering with their spawning activities. Perhaps there haven’t been quite as many fish, but it hasn’t been possible to accurately quantify such an assertion.

However, a few days ago, I was crossing the bridge, and before I’d even looked closely, I could sense that something was amiss:


Some kind of hydrocarbon pollution was washing down the river (top to bottom in the photo). Upstream, the river passes through Fanling’s industrial zone, and it isn’t difficult to guess the origin of this material. What is less certain—although it’s an assertion that I feel confident in making—is whether the discharge into the drainage system was accidental or deliberate. I say deliberate, although it would have been through ignorance rather than malice. The same could probably be said of the mud. Washing it down the drainage system rather than trying to contain it on site is probably being done because it doesn’t occur to those responsible that they may be creating a problem.

Obviously, there’s nothing I can do about any of this, apart from complaining publicly, but regular readers will know that I often use hydrocarbon pollution as a vehicle for a kind of abstract art. This is what I came up with on this occasion:






I took several photos at 10–15-second intervals as the pollution washed past. Obviously, I’ve cranked up the contrast and the colour saturation, but this the best I could do.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

cycling the hok tau country trails: part 2

As I pointed out in the first part of this report, trail #1 starts—with a short incline—precisely where #2 ends:


The start of the real Hok Tau Country Trail is passed at the top of this incline. As you can see, it isn’t remotely suitable for bikes:


In fact, the ‘balloon’ halfway along trail #2 on Google Maps includes a photograph of this starting point. I’ve reported the error to Google and received an acknowledgement, which informed me that my suggested change awaits ‘verification’. It has yet to be amended.

There is a considerable drop off the first part of the path—hence the guard rail, which wasn’t there when we first discovered this path:



I don’t think it’s necessary!

In fact, there are no significant difficulties for cyclists anywhere on this path:




About halfway along the path, it emerges from the forest into an extensively farmed area:




Next to the house seen in the distance in the previous picture, there is a choice of which way to go:


The right-hand option is followed on the return journey (see below).

Did I write ‘no significant difficulties’ just now? Shortly after the left fork, the path is shattered and broken:


In this still, I’ve just ridden over a drop of about 10–12cm. You can hear the clunk on the video as Paula rides over it. However, it’s uncomfortable rather than difficult. I did once try bypassing the drop on the right, but the fairway here is only about 15cm wide, and if you can’t hold the line, there’s a good chance you will crash. I aborted my attempt before it was too late!

The remainder of this path, which emerges eventually onto Hok Tau Road, is quite straightforward.

This is the video from which these stills were taken:


I have two videos of the return journey, one shot at the same time as the previous video with me in front, and a second, taken last winter, with Paula in front. The following stills are taken from both.

The first six images show the section of the return path before it reaches the fork that is pictured above:







The previous image shows Paula approaching the house next to which the fork in the path is located.

The final five images show sections of the path after it has left the farmland and entered the forested section:






You can see in the last image the reason why the authorities decided to install the guard rail along this section, although as I stated above, it isn’t something you would even notice when cycling along this section.

These are the videos from which these stills were taken:



One final comment: although I regularly cycle along trail #2 on Sundays, when Paula goes to church, trail #1 is best avoided at weekends because you are likely to encounter a lot of hikers. However, both #1 and #2 are enjoyable routes in a pleasant environment with—I think you will agree—some picturesque scenery.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

cycling the hok tau country trails: part 1

I originally documented Lau Shui Heung Road, one of the most formidable hills in the Fanling area for cyclists, in Meeting Myself Coming Back. The title of that post reflected the apparently inevitable fact that having cycled up the hill and down the other side, it’s necessary to return the way you’ve just come—or so I thought at the time! However, a couple of weeks before I was due to head off to the UK in 2017, Paula and I cycled over the pass and down the other side before continuing up another long, arduous hill to Hok Tau Reservoir, an excursion that I described in Reservoir Dodges.

That title reflects an unexpected ‘dodge’ that we discovered after descending from the reservoir but before starting the climb back over the pass:


Regular readers will know that when I spot a path like this, I want to find out where it leads to. To my surprise and delight, we discovered that it led to an unnamed road at the point marked by a red circle on the eastern side of the map below. However, before I came back to Hong Kong that autumn, I checked out Google Maps and spotted that, in addition to the path we’d discovered, which was labelled ‘Hok Tau Country Trail’, I noticed that a path starting from the roundabout on Sha Tau Kok Road at its junction with Ping Che Road (the red circle on the west of the map) not only bore the same label but also appeared to lead to the same place:


Although the way we now ride these ‘trails’ starts with this second path, we refer to the second path as ‘hok tau country trail #2’ to reflect the fact that it was the second to be discovered, not the second to be ridden. And I will therefore start by describing #2.

Last month, on the day of the Ching Ming festival, we took the opportunity to shoot some video of the trails, and here are a few stills from the first video. The first image shows the junction marked A on the map. The ‘officially’ designated trail turns left here:


…and that’s the way I followed at first, but I was always going to want to know where I might end up if I continued straight on:




There is a small cluster of houses here, which means that the path isn’t entirely straightforward (especially at the point shown in the second picture):



The next image shows the junction (B) with the original path:


It helps to know that there is the start of quite a steep little hill around the corner, the only section of the trail that isn’t flat:


Most of the trail from the top of the hill was re-concreted last winter, but for some unexplained reason a short section was left in its original condition (second photo):



The rest of this trail is through forest:


The steps on the left almost certainly lead to a grave, although I’ve never stopped to check it out!



The green railings in the previous image were added, I think unnecessarily, when the path itself was being relaid.



This is the video from which these stills were taken:


We had intended to shoot a second video on the return journey, but as noted above, it was Ching Ming, the annual grave-sweeping festival, and large sections of the route were blocked by people (and their cars) visiting family graves. The return journey continues straight on at B and turns right at C on the map.