Tuesday, 30 April 2019

sculpture culture

I would be far from complaining about the treatment I have received in any English hospital, but I do know that it is a sound instinct that warns people to keep out of hospitals if possible, and especially out of the public wards.
George Orwell, How the Poor Die
This winter, I have been in and out of hospitals and clinics in Hong Kong much more frequently than I would have liked. It has curtailed my cycling activities for a start. Of course, I’m not poor, and I’m not complaining about my treatment, but I do agree with Orwell that hospitals are places that you don’t want to spend time in, especially as most of that time is spent simply waiting for something to happen.

However, this is not a lament about my recent experiences of hospitals. Recently, I had an appointment at Nethersole Hospital in Taipo, which is the hospital that I was taken to following my momentary lapse of concentration on the last day of 2011. I was early, so I decided to have a wander around the hospital grounds. The hospital is on the outskirts of Taipo, in one of the highest parts of town, so the grounds are very open and are not overshadowed by high-rise residential blocks.

I’d noticed a couple of abstract sculptures on the way in:

…but I hadn’t really registered their significance. I particularly like the convolutions of the first sculpture. I couldn’t say what either of these works is meant to represent when I first saw them, because the text on the plinths is only in Chinese, but Paula informed me that the four sides of the plinth of the first sculpture list the names of the members of the hospital’s management committee and the role they played in fundraising. The word that sprang immediately to mind was ‘squeeze’, which when you think about it is what this sculpture represents. The second sculpture is meant to represent two people who are supporting each other.

However, before discussing the other sculptures here, I’d like to show you a mosaic that you will pass on your approach to the hospital. This is a general view from the downhill end:

…while this is the uphill end:

Clearly, the imagery is crude, but I applaud the fact that someone has taken the time to make a bare concrete wall more interesting.

A short distance past the mosaic, it’s possible to see what’s in the hospital grounds:

At this point, a digression: there are at least two stainless steel plaques in the grounds with the legend ‘Location Map of Art Work and Museum’, which also include the names given to the various sculptures, although not the first two that I featured above.

The point of this digression is that of the two sculptures in the previous photo, I’m only going to disclose the name of the one on the left. It’s ‘Bird’! The reason for this exclusion will become obvious in due course.

The name of the next sculpture, which is the first that you would pass if driving into the hospital, originally struck me as bizarre because it looked nothing like a seagull to me, and ‘Seagull’ is the work’s title. However, I’ve subsequently viewed it from a different angle, and bearing in mind that seagulls are one of the few birds that can be seen flying with one wing vertically above the other, I can now see the resemblance, even though the lower wing has been truncated!

As I walked around the green area that contains ‘Bird’, I took several photographs of the sculpture, including this one:

It may not look like any bird you’ve ever seen, but at least you should be able to see the resemblance. Notice the ‘unnamed’ sculpture in the background. This is a closer look:

It’s now time to explain why I declined to provide a title earlier. The name of this exhibit is ‘Birth’, and if you are viewing it from this direction, the reason for the name should be obvious. However, I defy anyone to see any connotations of ‘birth’ in the view from the back. This is a sculpture that does have a front and a back, so it should have been placed close to a wall, where it would be impossible to view from the rear.

Although I like the next exhibit, located in the same green area as the previous two, I do think that the title, ‘Dance of Flight’, is ever so slightly pretentious.

The next photo shows not a sculpture but a mural:

The heart motifs and the cross are probably intended to be representative of the hospital.

There is yet another sculpture behind, if you look closely. Here are two views, from opposite directions:

The title is ‘Congregation’. Say no more!

The final image is a photo of my favourite sculpture here. When I first came across it, I didn’t have my camera, so I was unable to take a photo when a black-collared starling landed on the ‘animal’ in the middle. It proceeded to sound off—we used to refer to these birds as ‘noisy buggers’ before we knew what they were—even though I was only a few feet away.

I’ve identified these three structures as animals, so I thought that it might be interesting to challenge readers to identify the type of animal being depicted here, which is the title of the piece. I don’t think there are too many viable candidates.

update: 06/05/2019
When I compiled this post, I was aware that I’d omitted two sculptures that are listed on the location map I referred to above. This was deliberate, because the first sculpture is located at the lowest point of the hospital’s grounds, and I didn’t have time to check it out. The second is situated indoors, in the hospital’s central atrium, and I’ve only now been able to photograph it from above, which is the only angle from which a complete view is possible:

In case you’re wondering, the titles are ‘Mother and Child’ and ‘Growth’, respectively.

Incidentally, I feel confident in suggesting that all the sculptures listed on the location map are by the same artist. Do you agree?

Monday, 22 April 2019

above water gardens

Over the Easter weekend, it has been necessary for me to attend the Jockey Club clinic in Sheung Shui (‘above (the) water’) for treatment because the Fanling clinic has been closed. Naturally, we don’t simply just travel there and back. we’re on unfamiliar turf, so we want to take a look around.

On the first day, a short distance from the clinic, in the angle between Jockey Club Road and Lung Sum Avenue, we discovered the prosaically named Sheung Shui Garden No. 1. It was still early in the morning, and a mass dance-a-thon was taking place under a huge permanent canopy:

Some of the dancers appeared to be following a set series of moves, while others just did whatever they felt like. This kind of thing is a common sight in Hong Kong’s parks.

Once we’d walked past the dancers, it didn’t take me long to notice the way this park was paved:

 The pink pavers are granite, while the bluish grey ones are probably a type of slate. The other points of interest in this photo are the gazebo—there are several in this park—and the man asleep on the right. He is resting on a small table between two chairs, and the tabletop has a Chinese chess board engraved on it, which reminds me to advise that you should never play Chinese chess in public, because you will be surrounded by kibbitzers suggesting your next move. And almost all these suggestions will be incorrect!

This is a closer look at the pattern in the foreground of the previous photo:

These patterns occur at regular intervals throughout the park. The whitish central points of the star are another type of granite, while the dark rock appears to be dolerite, which is the shallow intrusive equivalent of the volcanic rock basalt.

This photo shows the reason for our initial foray into the park:

In case you can’t distinguish the male/female icons, just remember that it’s ‘pink for girls, blue for boys’!

On the second day, Paula planned to travel into Kowloon to see her father, so I thought I’d look for an alternative route home. Having noted that the park I’ve just described is ‘No. 1’, I assumed that there must be others. It didn’t take long for me to discover No. 3:

This park is completely out of sight from any road, and it is surrounded by commercial buildings:

The covered walkway in the previous photo has some interesting paving:

There are 1×1, 1×2 and 2×2 blocks, but there would need to be an extra 1×1 block, or one fewer 1×1 block and one more 1×2 block, for this arrangement to cover a larger rectangle completely.

The colonnade in the photo above is the central focus of this garden, although there is a second colonnade to one side:

The pattern that I illustrated above in connection with No. 1 is repeated here, but with a subtle difference:

Notice the eight red diamonds surrounding the central pattern. This photo also shows an exit from / entrance to the park. They are all like this, presumably to deter cyclists!

Sheung Shui Garden No. 2 is located across a road from the exit shown in the previous photograph. Unlike Nos. 1 and 3, it is a narrow strip juxtaposed between roads and a multi-storey car park, but it still has some interesting features. For example, this is the repeating pattern here:

This narrow garden bends through 90 degrees halfway along its length, and there are two gazebos, one on each leg:

I sat on the seat seen in the second photo for quite a long time, because I wanted to take the next photo with nobody in it:

From a distance, the circular colonnade on the corner appears to be utterly nondescript, but it is the location for by far the most impressive paving in any of these gardens:

There are in fact twelve concentric rings of granite blocks, and if you stop to think about it, there must be an equal number of blocks in each ring. The blocks must be wider the further you are from the centre for this to work, and because there are no obvious gaps between the blocks, whoever laid these blocks must have performed some mathematical calculations beforehand. Unfortunately, the central pattern has been damaged, possibly by someone dropping a heavy weight on it.

Although I cannot say definitively that there are only three gardens in this collection, I am assuming that this is the case. However, I will check out the area again, just in case I’ve missed something.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

new fields

Despite having lived in Hong Kong, on and off, for more than 40 years, I’d never visited San Tin (‘new field(s)’), the domain of the Man clan, until December last year. It’s likely that I hadn’t even heard of the place until a few years ago, when I learned of potentially interesting historical buildings in the area:

Man Lung Fung Ancestral Hall.

Tai Fu Tai Mansion.

Tung Shan Temple.

However, it looked as though the location would be awkward to get to, certainly by bike.

On my first ever visit to the area, I decided to cycle over Saddle Pass (Ki Lung Shan Au), which is certainly an indirect approach. However, I did find an interesting connection to ‘the snake path’, which was an unexpected bonus that I shall incorporate into ‘journey to the west’ the next time I do that ride.

When I emerged from the snake path, I crossed the expressway via a tunnel and found myself on the opposite side of Castle Peak Road to the start of what I’d already identified on the map as San Tin Tsuen Road (tsuen is Cantonese for village). This road separates the built area that I shall henceforth refer to as San Tin—although it is actually several villages that have, over time, coalesced into one—from an extensive area of fish ponds.

The red X on this satellite photograph lies on San Tin Tsuen Road:

The San Tin conurbation lies immediately to the east of the X.

On this first visit, I was unable to find a way from San Tin Tsuen Road into the built area and eventually found myself almost back on Castle Peak Road before I discovered a road that led, eventually, to the gatehouse of a wai (‘walled enclosure’):

The walls are now rather dilapidated:

…but I followed them into a maze of narrow alleyways.

To be honest, I had absolutely no idea where I was going, but quite by chance I ended up at the rear of what was clearly a significant historical building. This, I learned, was the Man Lung Fung Ancestral Hall, which was built in the seventeenth century and is now a declared monument, the highest category for listed buildings in Hong Kong.

A helpful lady from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department explained that if I followed the squares of red bricks arranged in a double basket-weave pattern and spaced at regular intervals, starting at the side of the hall, I would come to the Tai Fu Tai Mansion, which was built in the mid-nineteenth century and is also a declared monument. Tai fu means ‘high official’ and is a title that was bestowed on San Tin’s top man at the time by the Qing emperor. The plaster mouldings and other small-scale features of this building are absolutely stunning.

I didn’t find the Tung Shan Temple on this initial visit—I wasn’t aware of its existence—but I did notice that it was marked on a sketch map in the brochure that the lady from the LCSD gave me, and I had no trouble locating it on my next visit.

I thought that Paula might enjoy visiting these historic buildings, and I was right! She was hugely impressed with the Tai Fu Tai Mansion in particular and thought that more people should know about it. Even though she is a Hong Kong native, she’d never been aware that such buildings existed here. I hadn’t been either—until this winter!

On my next visit, I decided that I should investigate the fish ponds:

This is a general view from a point on San Tin Tsuen Road.

I started at the red X and headed northwest for about 700 metres to the red circle that I’ve marked on the satellite photo above. And these are some of the photos that I took along this section:

This is what I would describe as an ‘active’ fish pond, because it contains two aerating machines.

And this ‘building’ is pumping what I imagine are nutrients into the same pond:

I know from my experience further west that fish ponds attract a lot of birds, although this is the only photo that I was able to take on this occasion:

The long-legged birds are black-winged stilts—Paula and I identify them as ‘red legs’— but I don’t know what the smaller birds are. I queried the reason for the round holes in The Mystery of the Holes, and although it seems far-fetched, the culprits appear to be a species of fish known as tilapia.

I simply had to take the next photo. It shows a mini-bulldozer, which will have been used at one time to excavate nearby fish ponds:

I can’t imagine it ever being used again!

I don’t know why this pond has been drained:

…but I love the pattern of cracks in the dried mud.

The next photo shows what the ‘roads’ through the fish ponds look like:

This photo requires some explanation:

Notice that the reflection of the skyscraper in Shenzhen is fuzzy, because there was quite a bit of wind, but nearest the camera, the surface is broken up in a different way. This is because when I stopped to take a photo, I inadvertently disturbed a small bird in the bank below me, and it went skittering across the water for about 10–12 metres before sinking without trace—or so it seemed.

I turned south at the red circle and eventually emerged onto a huge unmetalled road at the more northerly of the two red circles that you can see at the bottom of the satellite photo above. This ‘road’ carries an almost continuous stream of heavy goods vehicles, so I decided to follow a track starting at the more southerly of the red circles.

I didn’t take any more photos along here, but I eventually ended up at an unmanned crossing point into China, indicated by the large red circle in the top left of the satellite photo:

I had no alternative but to turn back!

On my way back, always looking for an alternative to what I’d already done, I decided that I would like to cross to the other side of a stream through the area. And there was a bridge:

I was tempted to try, but there is no guard rail on the narrow central section, and it does not look as though you can build up enough speed to avoid wobbling.

This photo was taken from a bridge over the same stream that is a longer way round but sturdy enough to support motor vehicles:

So that was my only foray to date through the San Tin fish ponds, but I was back last weekend with Paula to try to shoot some video of the narrow alleyways. Unfortunately, we haven’t mastered the intricacies of the camera, and instead of a video, we ended up with a series of photographs:

I’ve selected these photos for just one reason: notice that in each of the four there is a four- or five-storey residential building. I believe that they are illegal! As far as I can tell, they are supposed to be ‘village houses’, a legal definition that mandates a maximum of three storeys. I don’t understand how anyone can get away with this, but there are many such oversized buildings in San Tin. The other thing that strikes me is how close the houses are to each other. Two words spring to mind: greed. And corruption.

When examining this collection of photos, I was intrigued by this last image:

Look at the background! I can’t recall ever seeing tablecloths on the tables of what in any other village I would describe as just a store. This looks more like an urban cafe.

I don’t know what else there is to discover in San Tin itself—I have, among other things, found three other ancestral halls—but I want to see what else there is to see in the fish ponds. Tune in here for the latest updates.