Tuesday, 22 October 2019

serendipity: the movie

Earlier this year, we attempted to produce a video of the ride through the ‘serendipity’ alleyways, but, as I described in Serendipity, it didn’t go according to plan. However, that post does include an account of the evolution of the ride, how it developed from a simple through route to an exercise in topology, where the idea was to traverse all the paths once. For students of mathematics, there are three odd nodes in the network, meaning that it isn’t possible to traverse all the alleys without repeating two short sections, although from a purely cycling perspective this doesn’t matter. The idea is merely to have fun.

Having ridden through the alleyways on Saturday for the first time since returning to Hong Kong, I was even more keen to shoot a new video, mainly because there were one or two dramatic changes, which I point out below. But first the video, which starts at the exit from ‘heart of darkness’ and crosses Ho Sheung Heung Road:


In exploring this area, I assigned numbers to different alleys to reflect the order in which they were investigated, although this isn’t something you need to know when following the route. However, the summary that follows refers to these numbers, together with the elapsed time on the video:

The first alley is #1, but at 1:18 it passes the start of #3. We never used to follow this alley because it would have involved missing out the hill, and as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, hills on narrow paths invariably seem harder than equivalent hills on roads. The limited amount of wobble room means that you have to drive at the hill to maintain a straight(ish) line.

However, it did seem to be a waste not to do #3, especially as it emerges onto Ma Tso Lung Road almost directly opposite the start of #2. The key was #4, which starts at 1:42. This alleyway eventually leads back to Ho Sheung Heung Road, which would be utterly pointless, but there is a turn-off to the right at 2:31:


Before this point, there is a tree stump at 2:18 that wasn’t there in May. The clearance is very tight, probably no more than 3cm on each side:


The route then briefly rejoins #1 at 3:04 before turning off again at the first available opportunity onto #5. If I’d come this way for the first time yesterday, I would probably have turned back, because the route appeared to be blocked by a large clump of elephants’ ears at 3:52.

However, as Paula pointed out the first time we came this way, on Saturday, we knew that there must be a way through, even if it is a bit crash! bang! wallop! It had been completely clear five months earlier!

The route then rejoins #1 at 4:13 and follows this backwards to the start of #3 at 4:23:


Ma Tso Lung Road marks the end of #3 and the start of #2 at 5:58.

Although on average #2 is narrower than the other alleyways, the most interesting point occurs at 7:03. I like to ride over cast-iron storm drain covers, manhole covers and, especially, the small hinged lids that provide access to water stop-taps to see whether they make a noise. And this may be a squatter area, but residents do enjoy piped water (and mains electricity). There are three of these small hinged lids at this point that are so spaced that if you hit all three with both wheels, you will produce a cadence that is instantly recognizable.

Paula didn’t try this—until she heard me—but now we both try to hit what I’ve started referring to as ‘the musical cha-cha-cha’. It’s surprisingly difficult, because even a 1cm deviation means that you will miss at least one of the beats. And it isn’t often that we both hit it correctly, although we did when shooting this video. You will have to have the volume cranked up to hear me, but Paula had the microphone, and the familiar cadence is unmistakable on the soundtrack.

And as I pointed out above, this entire segment is so much fun to ride, which is why I ride a bike in the first place.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

in a monastery garden

In my last post, I described my most recent visit to ghost alley, but there is a completely different attraction that is a mere five minutes walk away. Wun Chuen Sin Koon is a Taoist monastery that is well worth a visit; in fact, you could probably spend an entire day here, given how many interesting things there are to see.

The complex is modelled on a Taoist temple in Xiqiao, Guangdong province. The priests there fled the Japanese invasion of China in 1938 and set about recreating that temple in Hong Kong. The entire site is dedicated to Taoist master Lu Chunyang.

If you’re approaching the site from ghost alley, then you will enter via the back door, but the 52K minibus from Fanling station passes the main entrance, and the first thing you will see if coming this way is the finest example of the three immortals that I have ever seen:


You may have seen ceramic representations of these three figures in restaurants and other public venues, but they would be a mere 40–50cm in height. These figures are 6–7 metres tall!

Once you’ve walked past Fuk, Luk and Sau (the names of these three figures, from right to left), the first thing you will see is this temple:


Things to note here include the fish on the roof ridge, which are a symbol of longevity; the tripod in the foreground, which is used by worshippers to plant burning joss sticks; the dragon motifs above the doorway; and the bizarre line of mythical creatures where the roof flares upwards at the corners.

However, if you walk through this temple, there is a spectacular open space with a much larger temple at the back:


The line of mythical creatures on the roof corners is longer, and the roof ridge features two dragons. The tripod for joss sticks in the foreground is even more elaborate than the previous one.

On each side of the second flight of stairs, there is a guarding lion that looks quite unlike any other lions I’ve seen. This is the one on the left:


And this is a view of the main temple from the balcony of a building on the left:


The dragon motifs and the lines of mythical creatures on the roof corners are obvious in this photo.

I imagine that the grounds here have been designed to enable meditation, and running water is always a contemplative subject:


I don’t know why these buffalo statues are here, but it probably reflects the reverence for nature that is integral to Taoism:


Finally, when I saw this bas-relief panel, I knew immediately what it represents:


It is a depiction of Ao Guang, the dragon king of the East Sea, and his eight sons:


This photo shows just how intricately detailed is the entire panel:


This account is far from comprehensive in terms of what there is to see here. However, I hope that it provides some incentive to come and see for yourself. Wun Chuen Sin Koon is at least as interesting as other temples/monasteries that are much better known to tourists.

Friday, 18 October 2019

latest news from ghost alley #3

I arrived back in Hong Kong a week ago, and one of the first places I wanted to check out was ghost alley. I did so on Saturday, and I was not disappointed. Unfortunately, some of the earlier artwork here has faded badly or even disappeared completely—the cat and mouse that I included in More from Ghost Alley is a particularly sad casualty.

The signs proclaiming this location to be ‘Ping Che Mural Village’ are still there, and there is one new example:


Regular readers will know that I have a low opinion of Google Maps. In this case, the location is marked as ‘Ping Yeung Mural Village’ on Google. I’ve reported the error, but despite overwhelming photographic evidence to the contrary, nothing has been done (Ping Yeung is the nearest village to this location, but Ping Che is a general name for the entire area).

I featured an installation of rotating drinks cans in More from Ghost Alley, and I’m not sure whether the one that I noted then is the same as the one I photographed on Saturday. The latter appears to be much larger:


It was quite breezy on Saturday, and all of these cans were spinning merrily away as I passed.

There are no new murals such as those that I featured in Latest News from Ghost Alley and Latest News from Ghost Alley #2, but there is a picnic table that I believe was there previously but is now completely covered with intricate designs:


At first glance, it would seem that it is all the work of a single artist, but there are several names written on the edges of the table, and I think that it is reasonable to assume that these are the names of individual artists who have contributed to the overall design. This is a closer look at the artwork on the nearer of the two seats:


All the remaining photos were taken from the other side of the table. First, the seat:



Perhaps because there is more space for the artist(s), the tabletop is the most impressive part of this installation:




The other new creation here is a sculpture:


This may seem like a bizarre juxtaposition, but we used to see cattle egrets piggybacking on Buffalo Bill regularly. The cow here is a zebu, the only breed I’ve ever seen in Hong Kong, although it isn’t an entirely accurate representation. Of course, this doesn’t matter in the slightest. The only important point here is that someone is being creative!

There are three ways into this location. If I assign numbers to these paths, whenever we were in the area, we would enter by path #1 and leave by path #2, although I discovered this location via path #3. The only reason for leaving via #3 is to visit Wun Chuen Sin Koon, a Taoist monastery, but if you do decide to exit this way, there are some things to see:


All you can see here is coloured circles, but the section of path where these occur is quite extensive. And this is a slightly more detailed look at something just off the path at the location from where the previous photo was taken.


This has been the latest update from ghost alley, but I pass this way regularly, and I have little doubt that this will not be my last report from this location.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

pavement maffematics

You’re probably puzzled by the title of this post, so perhaps I should point out that it’s another of the excruciatingly awful puns that I sometimes use in titles. In this case, maff is a dialect word that I heard—and used—when I was growing up in Penrith, although I haven’t heard it spoken for decades. A maff is a major mistake, a cock-up—it can also be used as a verb—and given that I wrote an analysis of brick paving in Fanling under the title ‘pavement mathematics’ in 2017, you should now be able to guess that I’ve spotted an egregious error in a newly laid area of brick paving.

In fact, I took some photographs of this area because there were examples of single and double basket-weave layouts close together, and it was only when I examined the photos that I noticed what is, in fact, a glaringly obvious maff. I returned, therefore, specifically to take a photo to highlight the error:


The course between the two yellow pointers has been laid wrongly. It’s such a silly error, easily corrected, that I must conclude that this paving was laid by amateurs. All that is required is for the brick indicated by the yellow asterisk to be removed. The bricks to the left of the space created can then be slid to the right, and the brick that has been removed can then be inserted in the space thus created.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

the corpse road

I grew up on the fringe of the Lake District in northern England, where not every valley had a church. Whenever someone died in a valley without a church, the corpse had to be transported to the next valley for the appropriate religious rites to be performed prior to burial. The rough tracks over which the deceased were transported came to be known as ‘corpse roads’, because this was their sole purpose.

With this background, it was inevitable that I would assign the name ‘corpse road’ to the rough track that is one of the highlights of ‘the final frontier’, because the sole reason for its existence is to provide access to a large number of graves on the hillside. The remainder of this post is a commentary on the stills from a video that I shot of Paula on this segment.

The corpse road starts on a quiet road that leads absolutely nowhere:


Paula is about to turn left.

The first section doesn’t pass any graves, but you will get a sense of what it’s like to ride by checking out the following video stills:









I was cycling this route, on my own, a couple of years ago when I encountered a large group of middle-aged hikers around the point shown in the next image:


I remember this incident specifically because of all the shouts directed at me:

Ho yeh!”

If you’re not familiar with Cantonese, the literal translation is ‘excellent’. The only other time that I’ve been ho yeh’d was 20 years ago, when I was climbing Suicide Wall on Kowloon Peak with Paula, and a large group of hikers appeared out of nowhere.

Incidentally, all the buildings that you can see in the distance in these images are in Shenzhen.


The downhill section starts here with a ‘chopstick road’:



I’ve no idea why anyone would go to the trouble of concreting what is a very small part of the whole, especially when the concrete section is as far from the outside world as it is possible to get. At least it allows you to generate some speed:


There follows a short, slightly uphill section:



...but it’s downhill once you’ve rounded the corner:





Note the ossuaries on the right in the next image:




…and what looks like a very elaborate grave in this image:


The final two stills show the steepest (and roughest) part of the descent:



I was cycling the corpse road with my friend Vlad a while ago, and when we emerged at the bottom of the descent, I said that it was my favourite part of the final frontier. Vlad agreed immediately.

Here is a link to the video from which the above stills were taken:


Paula, who is in front in this video, tends to ride more slowly than I would do, although that may be because she hasn’t had as many opportunities to ride this section, which until recently I’d thought was possible only on Sundays because of the amount of industrial traffic on the roads on weekdays. However, the day before I was due to undergo surgery last April, I discovered another way to reach this section that goes nowhere near any of the main roads. I haven’t yet been back, but you can be sure that I’ll be looking closely at the possible cycling options hereabouts.