Sunday, 30 June 2019


I first cycled along Ma Tso Lung Road several years ago, shortly after the closed-area status of the frontier road was rescinded. I cycled the full length of the road as far as its junction with Ho Sheung Heung Road, where I turned left onto the latter on my way to the village of Ho Sheung Heung. There was a very obvious problem.

Both roads carry a lot of industrial traffic to and from premises on each road, and I did not like having to mix it with big trucks, even though their average speeds are not high. However, it didn’t take me long to find a suitable alternative. The northern part of Ma Tso Lung Road has few industrial premises, and where these sites begin to proliferate, I found an unnamed road that led to Ho Sheung Heung Road beyond the point where one might encounter trucks and other industrial traffic on the latter road.

However, on one occasion last year, this road was blocked by a large truck unloading something or other. I had no idea how long I might have to wait, so I wondered whether I could find an alternative. I could. I discovered the alleyway that I originally described in Serendipity #1. Although I started my original exploration from Ma Tso Lung Road, we now tackle this section starting from Ho Sheung Heung Road (this starting point is directly opposite the exit from heart of darkness).

There are a number of paths branching off #1, not least serendipity #3, which we rarely did simply because it meant missing out the best part of #1 (the hill), but shortly before returning to the UK earlier this month, I worked out a way to do both, together with a few other variations. I set out to shoot a video of this reworked route through the alleys, and what follows is a series of video stills of the route. I haven’t uploaded the video to YouTube though, for reasons that I will explain when I come to it.

The start of #1 is straightforward:

The next two images show a path that branches off to the right and is followed later in the sequence:

Straight ahead appears to be the better option here, but it’s a dead end:

The next image shows the start of the hill, with the start of #3 to the left:

A short distance up the hill, a path comes in from the right and is accessed via the path that I referred to above:

There is another path at the top of the hill:

It actually leads all the way back down to Ho Sheung Heung Road, which would be fairly pointless, but as you will see, there are other options. I decided to assign #4 to this alley.

The path starts by passing a row of squatter houses. The second image shows that one occupant has decorated the outside of their house with crude but colourful artwork:

The left-hand option in the next image leads to the grave with bas-relief panels that I described in Photographic Highlights: 2018–19, so turning right is the way to go:

It leads to a steep and narrow path:

Turning left here leads eventually to Ho Sheung Heung Road, while turning right takes one back to the start of #1:

There are quite a few twists and turns:

…before rejoining #1:

The next image shows exactly why the video didn’t come out as planned:

I would eventually reach #1 again, but I knew that I would do so before the cyclist in the wide-brimmed hat, and I would therefore have to stop to allow him to pass.

This next sequence shows what the new path looks like:

The turn shown in the last picture leads to quite a rough section:

Having been forced to stop, Paula was slow to restart, so the following sequence of #3 shows me as a mere speck in the distance:

Serendipity #3 emerges onto Ma Tso Lung Road directly opposite the start of #2 (not shown in this final image):

I don’t think there are any more options hereabouts to explore, but shooting a video of the combined serendipity alleyways (sequence: #1, #4, #3, #2) is a high priority for the coming winter.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

ignoble hill

Although I’m currently in the UK and won’t return to Hong Kong until October, I’ve been thinking about cycling projects to work on next winter. Probably the project with the greatest potential is the one I shall be calling ‘ignoble hill’.

Noble Hill is an upmarket housing estate on the northern side of Ma Sik Road, which marks the northern boundary of Fanling:

You can tell that it’s an upmarket estate by the height of the blocks—and by the grand entrance to the estate.

The other side of the road is considerably less salubrious. There is an extensive squatter area with several alleyways up and down the hill and other alleys that run horizontally across the hillside. The aim, as always with this kind of development, is to construct a circuit that takes in as many of these alleyways as possible. What follows is an account of the progress to date. I’d cycled through the area several years ago, turning off the dedicated cycle track that runs alongside the south side of Ma Sik Road to see what I could find.

I didn’t follow up this initial exploration because I had many other areas to explore, and ignoble hill isn’t on the way to anywhere else. However, at the beginning of April, the day before I was due to go to Nethersole Hospital for an operation, I was returning from the final frontier and decided that I wanted to extend the ride, which I did by following the cycle track that runs alongside Jockey Club Road.

On this occasion, I then followed a rough road that starts next to the temple on the corner of Ma Sik Road and Jockey Club Road. Where that road bends around to the right, I found an alleyway that leads back down the hill, and I couldn’t help but notice the admittedly primitive artwork painted on a couple of squatter houses:

I was unable to do any cycling for several weeks, so I decided to take a look around the area on foot. This is where any route that I establish through the area will start and finish:

The right turn is the way to go. It leads up a hill that is not especially arduous:

Although I’ve described this area as a squatter area, this does not imply that the houses here are slums, only that there are specific legal restrictions on buying and selling them. Not only do all the houses have piped water and mains electricity; each house also has its own postbox, which is in a central location:

I also followed the road that I described above as bending around to the right for a short distance. This road to the left looked to be worth checking out:

In fact, it’s a dead end for motor vehicles:

…although there is an alleyway starting in the corner next to the wrought iron gate:

By following this, I found myself on the path that eventually returns to the start/finish point in the photo above. However, before reaching this point, I came to the junction with a path that leads back into the built-up area:

I wanted to see whether this would be a better option:

And I did find what I was looking for:

I dare say that I could continue around the corner to the left, and the turn to the right does look to be quite tricky. But that’s the point of the exercise! Whatever ride through the area I eventually come up with, the more technically difficult twists and turns the better.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

four play

Once again, I’m about to head off to the UK for the summer, and as usual I have a puzzle that I hope someone will have solved by the time I get back online. However, also as usual, you should expect it to tax your brain cells quite severely (it wouldn’t be worth posing otherwise). Here it is:
What connects the following:
• a football team playing in Italy’s Serie A;
• a nineteenth-century battle;
• an African city;
• an ornamental tree of the subtropics with purplish blue flowers; and
• a Bond villain?
This is an example of an ‘open’ question, meaning that there are more entities that meet the connection criterion. Obviously, there is more than one ‘answer’ to each of these clues, so it will be necessary to identify which of these is ‘correct’.

As usual, I will acknowledge all correct answers, but I won’t actually publish the solution at all unless I’ve received at least one correct answer, and that answer will be flagged up with a ‘spoiler alert’ to give later readers a chance to work it out for themselves.

currently unsolved puzzles
A Hard Question
An English Question
A Rotten English Question
A Light-hearted Question
…French and