Thursday, 31 December 2020


Because of construction work being carried out along our local river, we’ve been taking an alternative route whenever we go cycling out west. That alternative involves following dedicated cycle tracks through Fanling and Sheung Shui, and whenever we’ve cycled along Jockey Club Road recently, I couldn’t help but notice that a village arch was being constructed spanning the road leading to Fanling Wai.

Such archways are relatively uncommon, although I’ve noticed that four new ones have been built in the areas where I cycle in the past few years. However, each of these has been erected at the entrances to villages whose lands have been traversed by a new elevated highway that originates in Shenzhen, and I conjecture that their construction has been by way of compensation for that intrusion.

And there has been no such intrusion in the vicinity of Fanling Wai, so I did wonder why an archway was being built here. Yesterday, I decided to take a closer look—and some photos. Unfortunately, it was almost impossible to take many good shots, because the sky was completely devoid of clouds, meaning that many of the things that I wanted to photograph were in the shade and therefore came out as little more than silhouettes.

I came back again this morning, this time with Paula, because I wanted to find out, if possible, why what appeared to be a major celebration was taking place. I would never have noticed, but my wife picked up an expensively produced and lavishly illustrated free booklet that provided a detailed account of the presence of the Pang clan in the area over the past 70 years. It will take some time to translate everything in the booklet, but in the meantime, here are a few photos that provide a sense of how elaborate the celebrations have been here.

This is a view of the new arch from the inside:
…and this is a closer view of the arch, which has a wider span than any other village arch I’ve seen, although that is merely because it spans a wider road than in other cases:
Note the two dragons facing each other on the roof ridge, with a pearl between them. There are also two dragons facing each other on the bas-relief on the crossbeam. Note too the fish, which are a symbol of longevity in Chinese culture. The flared-up corners of the tiled roofs are also dragon heads, which is unusual.

Referring back to the first photo above, you may have noticed that I included a strange figure on the right housed in his own shelter. This is a better view:
…and this is a close-up:
Paraphrasing the inscription: “I may be ugly, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t have positive qualities, such as kind-heartedness and generosity.” I actually thought, when I first saw it, that this was a representation of some deity or other.

This is a view looking away from the arch towards the wai (‘walled enclosure’):
…while this a view of the same row of celebratory ‘posters’ from the opposite direction:
Each of these features two chengyu (‘four-character idioms’) expressing various forms of blessing.

These are two views from the same position as that for the previous photo, looking to the left:
This is a general view of the scene at the end of the ‘street’ shown in the previous two photos:
…while this is a closer look at the structure on the left, which appears to be a kind of temporary theatre:
…and this is a closer look to the right:
There is what appears to be a temporary temple directly opposite the theatre, but I couldn’t get a decent photo because of the position of the sun. The Tang clan’s permanent temple is actually located on the other side of Jockey Club Road:
You can see the singularly unusual door gods guarding this temple in More Door Gods #2, where you can also see the door gods guarding the Pang Ancestral Hall. This is a view of the hall’s dong chung, which prevents the entry of evil spirits. If I were an evil spirit, I wouldn’t want to take on this splendidly painted dragon:
Incidentally, this ancestral hall is rarely open, but it was this morning. I’d been inside before, but Paula hadn’t, so we went in for a closer look. Like the temple, the friezes and other painted surfaces have been renewed recently.

Finally, here are two views looking along the front of the wai:
The temporary structure in the first photo, which obscures the entrance to the wai, houses a fortune teller!

When I walked past here yesterday, I didn’t realize that there was anything written on this long red strip—black on red doesn’t show up too well—but it seems that the names of every member of the Pang clan, past and present, are recorded here.

Incidentally, in case you hadn’t guessed, red is the lucky colour in Chinese culture.

Monday, 28 December 2020

oriental garden

You’ve probably guessed that I like to attach names to individual cycling segments that I ride through regularly. Of course, these names are not arbitrary. Thus, ‘serendipity’ was given its name because I discovered it entirely by accident—a large truck was blocking my usual route between two roads—while ‘swiss roll’ was so named because in order to reach it, it’s necessary to pass, briefly, through an upmarket housing estate in which all the streets are named after cities in Switzerland.

In the case of ‘oriental garden’, an alleyway that connects Kam Hang Road and an unnamed road that runs parallel to the expressway that connects the towns of the New Territories, there is a sign indicating that it leads to Tung Yuen, which is Cantonese for ‘east garden’. The unnamed road is a dead end, which all but guarantees that there will be no traffic, so we’ve cycled through it frequently since I discovered it a few years ago.

Although there are a lot of twists and turns, this convenient connection doesn’t have any difficult corners or steep ramps to negotiate. It’s just a useful ride-through that allows us to avoid the traffic on Kam Hang Road, and of course it’s more fun. I did discover an alternative start with a ramp that Paula found particularly difficult, but that alley, which joined the route we now follow about halfway along, has since been deliberately blocked beyond the ramp and is no longer feasible.

However, ‘oriental garden’ does have one unusual hazard. Cats! Lots of them. The problem is that cats have an over-developed sense of danger, so even when they would be perfectly safe if only they were to stay where they were, they panic. Unlike dogs, which are often so laid back that they can’t be bothered to get up, even if you pass within 40–50cm of where they’re lying, cats are likely to rush off in a totally unpredictable and potentially dangerous direction. I haven’t killed one yet, but that is probably because my bike has disc brakes.

Anyway, there follow a few video stills to provide some idea of what this alleyway is like. This is the start:
These are some shots of the alley itself:
I haven’t included any images of the twists and turns, because Paula isn’t in shot at any point.

And this is the exit:
You will get a better idea of what this alley is like to cycle through if you watch the video, which lasts just 80 seconds:

Thursday, 24 December 2020

the road to nowhere

Although I first visited the San Tin area two years ago (New Fields), my primary focus of attention was the fish ponds in the area (Pond Life). However, last winter, I decided to check out Tun Yu Road, which runs from Castle Peak Road—a major traffic artery—to an unmanned crossing point into China, although I didn’t know that this was the case until I reached it.

There was also a second road, which branches off Tun Yu Road before the latter narrows from a conventional width to a single-track road with passing places:
This is a fine bridge to be crossing what is merely a small river, so I wanted to see where it would lead to. However, I’d barely turned the corner off the bridge:
…when I came to a point where several large trucks had been parked on both sides of the road, so I concluded, wrongly, that it merely led to yet more quasi-industrial sites—there are several on the wider section of Tun Yu Road—and I decided to turn back.

However, back in October, I was cycling in the area and decided to take another look. This is a satellite photo of the area:
The bridge at the start of the road is circled. The cruciform shape in the centre of the image is a major freight crossing point into and out of China, which is fenced off along the sides (the fence can be seen in several of the photos below). The MTR’s Lok Ma Chau spur line can be seen snaking its way to the terminus in the northwest corner of the image, while Tun Yu Road is clearly visible to the west of the crossing point.

And this time there were no parked wagons, so I continued:
There is one quasi-industrial site along this road, but it doesn’t appear to be particularly busy. This is the turn-off, to the left, to that site:
Just around the corner seen in the previous photo, there is an official-looking building:
According to Google Maps, a notoriously unreliable source, this is the ‘Department of Health (Outbound) Office’, but this is what is actually written on the sign on the wall:
Customs Detector Dog Division
Lok Ma Chau Dog Base
Immediately after passing the Customs building, there is a large pond that is choked with a plant that I’ve seen in some of the disused fish ponds along the frontier road. I can’t provide a specific identification, although I imagine that it is some type of reed:
And then it is a guaranteed quiet road:
There are two things to note about the previous image: the floodlight—these occur every 15–20 metres, although I can’t imagine their being turned on at night nowadays—and the speed limit sign. I can easily exceed 8km/hr, even on a bike!

Whatever hit this pole was probably also exceeding the speed limit:
And this is a final view of the pond, just before it comes to an end:
The following sequence of photos gives a good idea of how quiet the continuation of the road is:
…and how pleasant it is to cycle along.

Believe it or not, this is a passing place:
On a recent foray down this road, Paula and I encountered three dogs, which I assumed were feral and which I also assumed had crossed the border from China, for reasons that I explain below. Yesterday, while taking the photos for this report, I spotted two more. The first dived into the undergrowth the moment it saw me, but the second merely ambled down the road, giving me a chance to take this photo:
The railings in the distance lead up to a bridge over a slime-filled tributary to the river that runs parallel to this road on the left, while the next photo was taken from the bridge, looking back in the opposite direction. It shows the Lok Ma Chau spur line passing overhead:
And this is where the road eventually leads to:
I took the previous photo on my first foray down this road, but some serious clearance of vegetation has taken place since:
If you look closely at the next photo, you will see that there is a hole in the fence closest to the camera position:
The sign in the middle of the photo proclaims that this seemingly abandoned road has a name: Sai Kwo Road. This does seem bizarre, given that we cycle along many roads that are unnamed. But this sign is repeated at regular intervals along the road—you can see it on both sides of the road in my first photo above.

And here’s another hole:
The fence here is in extremely poor condition, and there are at least half a dozen other holes like the ones pictured, which is why I think the dogs we’ve seen came through one of them—they’re unlikely to have crossed the river, or followed the road from its beginning, especially as there’s nothing for them to eat here.

So if this road leads nowhere, why do we continue to cycle along it. That should be obvious: it makes a pleasant interlude between the more demanding sections of our ride, and it adds a couple of kilometres to the overall distance cycled!

Thursday, 17 December 2020

the art of ignoble hill

I wrote about ‘ignoble hill’, a large squatter area on the northern edge of Fanling, last year, and in that report, I included photos of two murals in what might whimsically be called ‘the main street’. However, there are others in side alleys, and this report is a comprehensive survey of everything I’ve come across when cycling through the area.

I should point out that ‘ignoble hill’ is not the area’s official name. I gave it this rather facetious sobriquet as a counterpoint to Noble Hill, an upmarket housing estate on the opposite side of Ma Sik Road, a busy four-lane dual carriageway that marks part of the northern and eastern boundaries of Fanling. This is a satellite photo of the area:
You can see that it is laid out in quite an orderly fashion. Ma Sik Road cuts across the northwest corner of the image, while the road that slices across the southeast corner provides the only access into the edge of the area for motor vehicles. The area to the southeast of this road is not part of ignoble hill.

The first mural that I encounter when cycling through the area is on the gable end of what I’ve conjectured is some kind of community building at the northern end of the area (marked by a blue X on the satellite photo). There are always cars parked here, so I’ve been unable to take a straight-on photo of the entire mural. This is my best effort to date:
…and this is a view of the left-hand end obscured by the parked car:
This is a real window!

My route then follows an excruciatingly steep path through the wooded area towards the red X, which marks the top of the main street. There are four murals on the walls of this alleyway, two of which didn’t exist when I wrote my original report. This is the first one you will encounter, on the left:
I’ve included the third photo to provide a better look at the dog enjoying an ice-cream cone, which I think is hilarious.

The next mural has a distinctly aquatic theme:
This mural is directly opposite the first of the new murals:
The second new mural can be glimpsed further down the alley, and the tower in the distance is part of Noble Hill. You can tell that it’s an upmarket estate by the height—only 15 storeys—and by the existence of penthouses.

The next two photos provide more detail of this new mural:
The Chinese characters on what I take are meant to be mah jong tiles—even though it takes four to play the game—read ‘si dor’, which is a transliteration of ‘store’. And there is a store at the top of the alley.

And this is the fourth mural:
The Chinese characters translate as ‘five street’, so there are formal addresses in ignoble hill!

Further down the main street, there is a cross-alley to the right that is navigable on a bike (most of the cross-alleys have flights of steps), and this is a mural that I spotted here:
I had thought that I could get everything in one shot, but the mural extends to the right, so I took an additional photo on a subsequent visit:
The end of the cross-alley is marked by the next mural:
This alleyway is extremely narrow, making it impossible to get it all in one photo, so here is what this mural looks like from the left:
…and from the right:
You will notice the sunlight on the left-hand end of the mural in the first photo, which obscured the detail of the chicken laying eggs on the dog in this photo and in my original photo from the left, so I took a replacement photo on my follow-up visit.

The final mural is located around the corner to the left at the top of the alley in the previous photo:
I’d only ever cycled past this mural in the past, and it is located above eye level, even on a bike, so I didn’t notice it. However, my follow-up visit was on foot, and my attention was drawn upwards by the red, white and blue vertical stripes, which may be intended as part of the work, as I walked past. The Chinese characters on the bottle proclaim the contents to be an orange juice drink that used to be popular with young children. In fact, all the items depicted in this mural can be recognized as children’s favourites.

Although all the artwork here is best described as ‘primitive’, I still find it interesting. I do wonder what the residents think though, because it is my guess that it is all the work of outside artists. It certainly brightens the place up.