Sunday, 31 March 2019

jailhouse rock

When what we call the frontier road, which runs from northwest of Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau, was opened to the public in 2013—it had previously been part of a zone that had been designated ‘the frontier closed area’ by the British administration—it didn’t take long to check out the various options. There are only two road junctions: leading to the village of Liu Pok, and thence via Liu Pok Hill to Ma Tso Lung Road; and via Ma Tso Lung Road, through the village of Ma Tso Lung to the same point. If I didn’t want to go back all the way following the same road as on the outward journey, these were the only options.

Ma Tso Lung Road is reasonably rural for the first few kilometres, but as one proceeds southwards, the incidence of quasi-industrial premises, and the frequency with which one encounters industrial traffic, steadily increases. To the point where no sane cyclist would continue. On my first foray here, I did cycle as far as the junction with Ho Sheung Heung Road, but it was immediately obvious that I needed a better way to return to my starting point.

And I found it! A quiet road, unmetalled in part, allowed me to avoid all the industrial premises on both roads on the way back to the start. So the routine became outwards on the frontier road, back via Liu Pok Hill and Ma Tso Lung Road, then Ho Sheung Heung Road, which, after a short but steep ascent, includes a long downhill section where I can reach a speed of 45km/hr.

Mentioning the speed here is relevant to the continuing story. The start of the frontier road coincides with the end of Ho Sheung Heung Road, and the plan was always from this point to follow the Drainage Services (DSD) access road that runs alongside the Sheung Yue River as far as the expressway, which we could then cross via a footbridge before continuing out west. However, when travelling at the aforementioned speed, you cannot allow yourself to be distracted—your focus must be straight ahead—but on one occasion, as I passed the Lo Wu Correctional Institution, I couldn’t help but notice a car waiting to pull out of a side road on the right:

Where does that lead to? Naturally, I had to come back later to find out. It leads to the village of Ho Sheung Heung San Tsuen. Ho Sheung Heung (‘village above the river’) is the name of an important nearby village, and san tsuen simply means ‘new village’, so it’s clearly a kind of overspill, albeit with some obviously important buildings. However, was there anything else? I found a typical country path, which led—surprise! surprise!—to Ho Sheung Heung.

Here are some video stills of Paula on that path:

It will probably not be a surprise to learn that we no longer follow the DSD access road on our way out west. After exiting this segment, we follow ‘the heart of darkness’ and the serendipity alleyways to reach ‘long tall sally’. Even though a dedicated cycle track is currently being constructed in parallel with the DSD access road. Our new way is a lot more fun!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will probably have already deduced why I’ve named this segment ‘jailhouse rock’. Yes, it starts at the prison, but you will have noticed that I named a segment that I discovered two years ago ‘long tall sally’. I grew up with fifties music, and one of these days I’ll post an assessment of what I consider the top ten records of the decade. However, I can’t foresee any circumstance where I would name a newly discovered cycling segment ‘summertime blues’—the record of the 1950s, in my opinion—or ‘great balls of fire’. ‘Yakety yak’? Possibly.

Monday, 25 March 2019

here be dragons

In the early days of cartography, there would have been areas on a proposed map about which nothing was known, and rather than leave an empty space, the map-maker would fill that space with the words ‘here be dragons’. In the Christian tradition, however, dragons are the embodiment of evil, so the likes of Saint Michael and Saint George could be seen as heroes simply by killing one.

The Chinese have a different idea. Dragons are benevolent creatures, and seeing one is a sign of good fortune for the beholder. You may think that this is entirely fanciful, but if so, perhaps I can draw your attention to the photograph on the right, which I took from my balcony several years ago. The mountain is Lung Yeuk Tau (‘leaping dragon head’), so named because, according to local legend, a dragon was once seen leaping around hereabouts, and Lung Yeuk Tau is now the official name for this whole area, which even boasts a heritage trail!

Western and Chinese dragons don’t look remotely similar. The principal difference is that Chinese dragons don’t have wings. This doesn’t mean that Chinese dragons cannot fly. As supernatural beings, they don’t need wings to fly! And Chinese dragons are more obviously reptilian, as many of the photos below indicate. Neither do they breathe fire.

I’ve been photographing representative images of dragons for the past couple of months, but I want to start with some photos that I took in November 2015. I was cycling along part of ‘journey to the west’ with my friend Vlad when we encountered preparations for a dragon dance that involved a dragon far longer than any that I’d ever seen previously:

The third photo shows just how long this dragon was—I believe that it was part of the festivities for a decennial gathering of the local clan, members of which are nowadays scattered around the world. I’d never previously seen anything even remotely like it!

The remaining photos are presented in approximately chronological order.

When my cousin was staying with us last month, the first place I took him to was the Wun Chuen Sin Koon Monastery east of Fanling. There is a huge amount to see here, but one thing you could not fail to notice is the elaborate decoration both inside and outside the main buildings. And part of that decoration is recurring dragon motifs:

The lower strip also features phœnixes, which represent the female principle (dragons are male).

I was exploring an area north of Ting Kok Road, east of Taipo, when I rode past a small temple without noticing it. I stopped a short distance further on simply because I was unsure where to go next, and in any case I needed a drink of water. I looked back, and I decided immediately that I had to turn back:

The temple is dedicated to the goddess Guanyin, and this is a close-up of the supporting pillar you can see in the previous photo:

It’s customary for a tripod filled with sand to be located in front of a temple into which worshippers can plant their burning joss sticks, and in this case two dragons appear to be ‘supporting’ the sides:

In the same area, I also visited the Shuen Wan Temples. There is a lot of detail to admire here (I featured the door gods in More Door Gods #3), but these are the dragons on one of the gable ends:

The arrangement of two dragons facing each other with a pearl between them occurs again below:

Che Kung Temple is one of the best-known in Hong Kong, but while there is a lot to see, this wall plaque is the only thing featuring a dragon motif:

I was following the long way home recently when I spotted that the Peng Ancestral Hall was open—it had always been closed when I passed—and I found this dragon painted on the hinged screen behind the main doors:

I visited San Tin, which is a heavily developed village area west of Fanling, for the first time recently. There are several attractions here, including Tung Shan Temple. Like the small temple that I described above, there is a tripod for incense in front of the main door. This is the dragon on the side facing away from the temple:

…while this photo shows the dragons ‘supporting’ the two sides:

There are no door gods guarding this temple, but the door knockers (there are two) look suitably fearsome:

Ho Sheung Heung (‘village above the river’), a short distance west of the main railway line through Fanling, has a recently renovated temple with some interesting features. The tripod here is brass rather than stone, with two elaborately cast dragon ‘handles’:

…while this view from the back of the temple shows two ceramic dragons facing each other along the roof ridge:

The village has been holding a major festival recently, and although I wasn’t there to see it, the festivities will almost certainly have included a dragon dance. The temple is where the dragon ‘hides’ when it isn’t dancing:

There are more dragons inside the temple:

…and even the ‘windows’ feature a dragon motif:

This temple is also where I photographed a ceramic panel that features Ao Guang, the dragon king of the east sea:

Finally, here is something that I would have included in Stone the Crows, my account of how Chinese farmers protect their crops from thieving birds, except that I saw it for the first time while cycling on the long and winding road with Paula on Saturday.

It hadn’t been there a week earlier.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

jockeying for position

In case you are unfamiliar with the geography of the New Territories, Sheung Shui is a town to the north of Fanling. In fact, the two towns are so close together that it is now impossible, with modern developments, to accurately define the boundary between the two, although Sheung Shui police station is indisputably in Fanling.

The main north–south road through this joint conurbation is Jockey Club Road, which is a dual carriageway carrying most of the through traffic. I’ve cycled along the dedicated track that runs alongside this road from time to time, but in ordinary circumstances I would be going well out of my way to walk along it.

However, I’ve been undergoing outpatient treatment at North District Hospital recently, and although I could take a variety of different routes on foot, or even a minibus from my village to Fanling station, then the train to Sheung Shui station, I’ve tended to walk back home via Jockey Club Road. Two days ago, as I looked ahead, it seemed as though I could see some colour on the low concrete wall surrounding a public housing estate:

It hadn’t been there a fortnight earlier when I passed this way.

I didn’t have my camera with me at the time, so I made a point of coming back yesterday to take some photographs. This is what I’ve recorded here:

There are a couple of references here to the name of the estate—Tin Ping Estate—so I assume that the motifs used reflect something about the estate, although with the exception of the yellow and orange hexagons, which almost certainly reflect the use of hexagonal pavers throughout the estate, albeit not in these colours, I have no idea what is being represented here. The presence of the blue fish is particularly puzzling.

My general impression is that all the artwork here has been produced by pupils from a local school, and in any group of children, some will have little or no natural talent. So how do you include such children in the project?

I bet they had fun with that!

The next three photos suggest to me a vision of this high-rise estate as just a village. In fact, the character that I’ve translated here as ‘estate’ actually means ‘village’:

Things to note: (1) The use of primary colours, apart from orange; (2) the networks of orange and yellow hexagons, which also appear in the first images; and (3) more blue fish!

To the right of the last image is an entrance to the estate, and to the right of this gap in the wall is the most intriguing of the artwork here. But first a caption:

I’m not going to provide a detailed translation, but in brief it says that during the winter months, lights come on early, and you can see into people’s houses. And each one tells a different story:

Not all the stories are obvious, so I’ve enlarged the previous photo in three segments to allow you to make your own interpretations:

The final photo describes street snacks that you can buy in the evening, although I don’t think that a mere $1 will buy you curried fish balls on a stick nowadays. I’d like to think that the image just right of centre is not a reference to McDonald’s, although it probably is.

The background colour of all the artwork here is white, but to the right of the last photo, the wall is unpainted concrete grey. This doesn’t mean that work here has finished, and I will keep an eye open for possible developments in the future.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

year of the (wild) pig

Despite having spent much of the past 45 years in Hong Kong, I still find myself doing things for the first time occasionally. Dotting the eyes on a lion to bring it to life is a recent example, and yesterday produced another.

I was out cycling with my friend Vlad. We’d been to Plover Cove Reservoir as the first stage of an attempt to ride 100km in a day, and on the way back into Taipo I wanted to show him a little diversion that I knew he’d find interesting. It involved a series of narrow country paths that lead, eventually, to the Shuen Wan Temples:

However, we were still on a road when Vlad shouted from behind me.

“Look! A wild boar.”

I looked, but I couldn’t see anything. A feeling of frustration crept over me. I used to see wild pigs regularly when I lived and worked in the Sai Kung area in the 1970s and 1980s, but I’d seen only one since moving to Fanling—while descending a mountain path into the Lung Yeuk Tau area—and that had quickly disappeared as soon as it saw me, so I’d had no chance to take a photograph. I didn’t want to miss this one.

Then I spotted it:

Can you?

“There are more in the bushes,” exclaimed Vlad.

And so there were:

Then one of the animals from the bushes decided to join the first one we’d seen:

However, there was no social interaction between the two:

You may have noticed that all this time I’d been getting closer and closer, but shortly after a third pig arrived, they started to amble off into the ‘long grass’:

I emphasize that they were in no hurry.

I had thought that there were only three pigs altogether, but the previous two photos show a fourth that was too shy to show its face. This is the most revealing:

The pig on the left appears to be eyeing me curiously, perhaps wondering what I’m doing. The others have definitely lost interest.

By the way, in case you were wondering, the ‘new’ part of this encounter was taking the photographs. And, yes, we did complete 100km for the day—the first time this year.