Saturday, 30 May 2020

photographic highlights: 2019–20 (part 2)

Continued from Part 1

I posted a feature on firecracker vines in January, but the next photo is a close-up of one cluster of flowers before they have burst into full bloom:

Incidentally, the firecracker vines in my neighbourhood continued to flower sporadically until early May, something that I’d never seen in previous years. What is going on?

I took the next photo in the area between the village where I live and eastern Fanling. It shows a type of gourd that I’ve never seen growing anywhere else or being offered for sale in any market:

The ‘wilderness’ in the background was cultivated ten years ago but was then fenced off by the landowner (Henderson Land). I spotted this vine growing up the fence.

I’ve taken pictures of the makeshift shrine in the next photo, which is located next to a road junction near the beginning of the long and winding road, before, but I simply had to stop and take another when I saw the statue of Guan Gung (‘Old Man Guan’), which is a new addition and is at least 1.5 metres tall:

Whenever we cycle the long and winding road, we always stop at Luen On Bridge, which crosses the Sheung Yue River, for a water break. On one occasion, a large herd of goats was slowly browsing its way downstream, and I took several photos. The two goats in the next photo were part of that herd:

The goat on the far side of the channel had leapt across, but I failed to capture that, and I guessed that the nearer goat had bottled out. So I took this photo then put my camera away. The second goat then made the leap, from a much more difficult take-off position, so I missed that too.

On several occasions when we’ve cycled journey to the west, we’ve noticed a large group of black-winged stilts (‘red legs’) on a dam across an unnamed tributary of the Kam Tin River. And on several occasions, we’ve stopped to take photos. This is my best one:

Paula always takes her photos from a different vantage point, and this is her best:

The two photos were taken on different occasions.

This winter, I devised a new way of starting the Tam Mei loop, and I must have cycled past this mural two or three times before I noticed it:

It was painted in August 2016, so the colours have probably faded somewhat. I find the hourglass to be particularly strange and cannot begin to guess its significance in the context of the rest of the mural.

Tortoises are not indigenous to Hong Kong, but there appears to be a well-established feral population, probably the result of pets being released into the wild. They appear to have colonized watercourses, and being exothermic, they can often be seen warming themselves in the sun. This photo was taken on the Ng Tung River, in a location where I’ve seen tortoises on more than one occasion:

There is a small squatter area next to Po Kak Tsai Road, opposite the point where the path across ‘the swamp’ emerges onto the road. As often happens in such areas, someone has made use of a small flat area to grow vegetables. The scarecrow in the next photo may be crude, but I thought it amusing:

When I wrote about ‘ignoble hill’ last year, I included photos of some murals along one of the main alleyways. This one didn’t exist then:

I can’t imagine that many people actually cycle through the area, because there are a lot of steep ramps and tight corners, which is the reason I ride here. The Chinese characters read ‘five street’, so individual dwellings will actually have formal addresses.

Having mentioned tortoises above, here is another photo, which shows two much larger individuals that I spotted in the stream that drains ‘the swamp’:

You may wonder why I took the next photo, which shows the entrance to a standard village house in Kwan Tei, a large village a few kilometres east of Fanling:

But notice the name. I can’t help but wonder: if it’s mainly court, what’s the rest of it?

The flowers in the next photo, taken in the section of my neighbourhood south of Sha Tau Kok Road, are part of someone’s garden. However, this display was hanging over the garden wall, and I like the intensity of the colour:

Snakes are common in Hong Kong, but you don’t often see them because they keep out of the way of humans. However, we were cycling south along Fai King Road, which leads from the frontier area northwest of Fanling, when Paula suddenly exclaimed: “Look out for the snake!”

It had been sunning itself in the middle of the road, but it quickly slithered up the embankment on the side of the road when it became aware of our approach. However, it wasn’t in any hurry to disappear entirely, and I took several photos—the first time I’ve ever had this opportunity—and this is the best:

According to the website that I consulted when trying to identify it, 39 species of snake have been recorded in Hong Kong. This is a checkered keelback and is not venomous.

I’ve seen some bizarre flowers in Hong Kong, but none could match this example, which I spotted when Paula and I were walking through the alleyway that I’ve named ‘fruity pie’ recently:

Sightings of snakes may be uncommon, but I frequently see lizards—monitors and skinks—when cycling along narrow country paths. However, they invariably scuttle off long before I can stop and get my camera out. However, there is a third type of lizard, geckos, that often live indoors. I photographed this individual on the inside of the screen door that leads onto our balcony:

While the border with China has been closed, we’ve extended any ride along the frontier road to include San Tin because there has been a huge decrease in traffic on the road that leads to the Lok Ma Chau border crossing. This includes cycling along San Tin Tsuen Road, which separates San Tin from the fish ponds. I took the following photo from this road:

I cropped the previous photo, with the following result:

I think that this makes a better image, but you may feel that the uncropped version is better, because you can see more. I would welcome readers’ opinions on this subject.

I started cycling along Tun Yu Road, which leads from the eastern end of San Tin Tsuen Road to an unmanned and apparently seldom used crossing point into China, just a few months ago, and I took the next photo on this road on the same day that I took the previous photograph. It shows the same buildings in Shenzhen that can be seen in the last photo from a different angle:

The final photo in this collection is a view from the east bank of the Ng Tung River, with a small part of Shenzhen in the background:

The large pond that I included in Part 1 is located somewhere in the trees directly in front of the leftmost skyscraper that you can see in the photo.

previous highlights collections
Photographic Highlights: 2015–16
Photographic Highlights: 2016–17
Photographic Highlights: 2017–18
Photographic Highlights: 2018–19

Friday, 29 May 2020

photographic highlights: 2019–20 (part 1)

I shall be heading off to the UK for the summer this weekend, and as I’ve done in previous years, I’ve compiled a gallery of the most interesting photos that I’ve taken in Hong Kong during the past eight months. And because I’ve selected more photos than usual this year, I’ve decided to split this collection into two parts.

As usual, I haven’t included any photos that I’ve used to illustrate other blog posts, and the photos appear here in the order in which they were taken. Clicking on a photo will bring up an enlarged version.

The first photo was taken in the grounds of Wun Chuen Sin Koon, a Taoist monastery in the Ping Che area, east of Fanling. It shows a dwarfed tree that has had a knot tied in its trunk!

The next photo was taken on the same day on a road that forms part of the final frontier bike ride. Clearly, some kind of quasi-religious ceremony has taken place here, but to what end I’m unable to say, although I’m guessing that the food has been provided to propitiate evil spirits in the area. The plastic cups will have contained rice wine:

There is a small park behind Wing Ning Wai, one of the five walled villages in my neighbourhood, and the photo is of a nondescript squatter dwelling directly opposite the rear entrance to the wai. In fact, the photo itself is nondescript, and I’ve included it here merely because of the sign:

In case you can’t read it:
…an empty threat, in my opinion. These signs are everywhere, but I’ve never seen any other instances of them being so blatantly disregarded.

The next photo was also taken in my neighbourhood, close to the Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall. I take quite a lot of photos of flowers, but this is the only example I’ve come across of these trumpet-shaped flowers, for which I can’t provide an identification:

The purple in the bottom left and the red in the centre of the photo are provided by bougainvillea. Note that these are not the flowers, which are the tiny, cream-coloured dots in the middle of the colour. This is provided by modified leaves!

There is a large pond immediately to the west of the Ng Tung River, about 200 metres before it flows across the border into Shenzhen. You wouldn’t know it was there unless you looked, because it is surrounded by trees. On one occasion, the surface was completely covered by a type of floating flower that I’ve seen elsewhere and tentatively identified as ‘water hyacinth’. I took one photo from a distance, but I was able to scramble down to the shoreline to take a closer look:

I couldn’t decide which photo to use, so I’ve included both. This display was gone 24 hours later!

Whenever I cycle out west, my route takes me across the forecourt of the Sheung Shui fire station, and on one occasion, the firemen were washing the fire engines. Although I no longer publish posts dedicated to abstract photography, I think that this photo is a striking image:

You can suggest a title if you like.

Last year, I showed my friend Vlad how to get to San Tin by bike. At one point, I stopped to tell him that he might like to take a photo of the cluster of ceramic figurines next to a village shrine. However, a woman came rushing out shouting “No photography!” I took this photo on an earlier occasion:

It seems to me to be an entirely higgledy-piggledy arrangement, with examples of the three immortals, the goddess Guanyin and laughing Buddhas, among others. However, if the pots in the foreground containing spent joss sticks are any guide, then this collection clearly has some religious significance.

I’ve included just one photo taken along the frontier road this year. I took this one not just for its reflective qualities. Note the two piledrivers left of centre. This area is in the process of being comprehensively trashed to build a science park:

An environmental catastrophe!

It’s surprising what you can see if you keep your eyes open. Back in November, I spotted a carnivorous wasp that was in the process of devouring another insect on a concrete path close to my house:

The Tam Mei loop is a 3km diversion that we follow on the return leg of journey to the west. Because we cycle this way regularly, I was able to photograph this mural, with its heart motifs, soon after it was painted:

I’ve cycled through the San Tin fish ponds regularly since first coming this way in the winter of 2018–19, and on one occasion I spotted a large flock of cormorants in one of the ponds. As always happens on such occasions, the cormorants took off immediately they were aware of my presence. “Damn!” I thought. “Missed them.” However, they circled around several times—unusual behaviour in such circumstances—and it eventually occurred to me to get my camera out:

It would probably have made for a better photo if I’d reacted more quickly.

I often see cows in and around the basin of the Shek Sheung River, immediately to the west of the main rail line into China. I used to think that they were feral—there are feral cows in Hong Kong—but I’ve since seen the ones in this area being herded.

There is something of a story attached to the next photo. Several cows have scrambled up the bank on the right, but the next one in line appears hesitant. Meanwhile, the cow on the left is clearly having none of it and is storming off in the opposite direction, while three others debate whether to follow it:

When I took the next photo, I immediately earmarked it for inclusion in this collection. However, the next time Paula and I passed this way, we had a close encounter with a large group of wild pigs, and an image of a solitary pig didn’t seem quite so exciting. I’ve decided to include it here anyway:

Only in Hong Kong! There is a casual disregard for rules and regulations here that I’ve not seen anywhere else. To illustrate this point, I submit the following photograph, which I took just outside the nearby village of Siu Hang:

In case you can’t read the sign:
The logo in the bottom left of the sign is that of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, so this is an official sign.

I must have cycled past the next sign, alongside the road leading to San Tin Barracks, dozens of times before I noticed it:

It clearly demarcates the extent of the military-controlled area hereabouts, but you may not be aware of its significance: Britain’s War Department became the Ministry of Defence in 1964! The Chinese inscription simply reads ‘military boundary’.

Village arches are not particularly common—there are none in my neighbourhood, despite the wealth of the Tang clan—but what struck me about the one in the next photo, taken in the area that marks the furthest extent of journey to the west, is that it’s in the middle of a field, with apparently no village anywhere nearby!

The name of the phantom village is Chat Sing Kong (‘seven stars mountain’). The fourth character, reading right to left, is simply the Chinese character for village, which is not part of the formal name but which always appears on village arches like this.

One glance at the next photo and I can tell when it was taken: a few weeks before Chinese New Year. The structure in the background is used to cultivate flower bulbs, bowls of which are much in demand in the run-up to the festival. They are brought outside around this time to induce flowering:

Incidentally, the path on the left of the photo is part of the eastern descent, and this section had just been rebuilt—and widened—a month or two before this photo was taken. I don’t know why this was done—it struck me as unnecessary—but there is a 1.5-metre drop off the edge of the path, and I wonder whether someone on a bike went over the edge!

I was cycling north along the Drainage Services access road that runs along the west bank of the Kam Tin River back in January. As I passed underneath the viaduct that carries the MTR’s West Rail line across the river, I stopped to take the following photo:

The reason for stopping should be obvious!

Paula had to visit her nephew, who lives in a housing estate in Shatin, to pick up some items relating to her sister, and she left me to keep an eye on the bikes. The brick paving here is simply a series of parallel stretcher courses, made slightly more interesting by the use of a second colour, and although I took several photos, I didn’t expect to be able to take one with no people in it!

Continued in Part 2.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020


I don’t believe in angels, even though I’ve seen their trumpets. Angels’ trumpets is the name given to an ornamental shrub that I see from time to time in Hong Kong. They are not common, but there is an impressive specimen in the village where I live. There used to be one in the next village, but for some unaccountable reason it was cut down a few years ago, but here is a photo that I took of Paula posing alongside it as we returned home from a bike ride:

The flowers might seem particularly striking, but there is one feature that is even more remarkable about this plant. At the time, I couldn’t help but notice that it produced a display of flowers four or five times during the seven months I spent in Hong Kong. I was disappointed when it disappeared.

However, about three years ago, someone decided to plant an angels’ trumpet bush in our village. Even now, it isn’t as big as the one pictured above, but this winter, it has burst into flower every two or three weeks. We pass it every time we walk into Fanling, and its most recent outburst, which I photographed this morning, is by far the most impressive to date:

The path to Fanling can be seen behind the flowers in the first photo, and the village shrine is on the left. Sadly, all these flowers will be gone within a couple of days.

However, I have one (obvious) comment to make about encountering such an uplifting display.


Friday, 15 May 2020

a strange dream

I read recently that many people in the UK have been experiencing dreams that are far more vivid than usual. A lot of these dreams are being interpreted as manifestations of increased anxiety—not surprising, given the current circumstances in the country, with no end in sight. I’ve always had vivid dreams, often bizarre, but I don’t think that they could ever be seen as reflecting an underlying mood of anxiety.

For example, a frequent motif in my dreams is exploration, an activity that occupies a large proportion of my leisure time. In my dreams, I often discover connections between places that don’t exist in reality, which I interpret as wishful thinking, because it’s often the case that a bike ride would be improved if such a connection actually existed.

There is also evidence that some of my dreams are triggered by events of the previous day. For example, one evening recently, I watched Havoc in Heaven, a feature-length animated film produced by the Shanghai Animation Studio in 1964 that chronicles the exploits of Sun Wukong, the self-styled ‘Great Sage, Equal of Heaven’, otherwise known as the Monkey King. That night, I dreamed that I was the Monkey King!

However, this story is about a dream I had the night before last, and before I continue, I should offer a description of one of my favourite cycling testpieces: ‘swiss roll’, which is the climax of an alleyway/path connecting the witch’s house and Kwu Tung South Road. Incidentally, the name that I’ve given to this difficult obstacle derives from the fact that the approach passes through a low-rise private housing estate in which all the streets are named after cities in Switzerland.

The following image shows Paula at the start of ‘swiss roll’:

It’s steep from the start, so you need to be in bottom gear from the start.

The gradient does appear to ease off in the middle though:

However, it would be a serious error to soft-pedal here, because the hardest part is yet to come:

The section shown in the previous two images involves a fight to hold a straight(ish) line as you run out of momentum.

And my dream? As you can see, there is a flight of steps on the left of the ramp, which I assume is for pedestrians. The ramp is unlikely to be for cyclists—unless they get off and push—but is probably there for people pushing barrows. Although I rarely see people here, in my dream I encountered a pedestrian who decided to walk up the ramp rather than the steps, getting in my way in the process. This had never happened in reality.

And this is the strange part. Paula and I were out cycling yesterday, and because we’d been touring around the area west of the expressway and east of the mountains, we took in ‘swiss roll’ on our way back, as we always do in such circumstances. As the top part of the ramp came into sharper focus, I saw a woman who was casually walking up it near the top. My bike doesn’t have the loudest bell I could find for no reason, although I seldom use it aggressively. However, this was no time for niceties. Needs must when the Devil drives. She got the message and scrambled up and out of my way pretty quickly. I hope that this doesn’t become a regular occurrence, but it does seem odd that I’d dreamed about such a scenario just the night before. Perhaps I should pay more attention to my dreams and go into prophecy.

Monday, 4 May 2020

a cuckoo in the nest?

When I posted an update on the activities of a wasp on my balcony ten days ago, I did so in the belief that there would be nothing more to report. I should have known better!

Two days after my previous report, I noticed that a fourth ‘pod’ was under construction, directly above the second and third ‘pods’:

The wasp quickly finished its work without my catching it in action:

Unlike the wasp’s practice regarding the earlier ‘pods’, it appeared to be in no hurry to seal up the entrance hole of its latest creation. However, three days after I took the previous photo, Paula and I were sitting on the balcony after returning from a long bike ride when the wasp reappeared with a caterpillar about 3cm in length dangling from its jaws. Paula had her phone with her and took the following sequence of photos, which shows the wasp laboriously working the caterpillar through the entrance hole:

The entrance hole was then quickly sealed:

Incidentally, I conjecture that each of the three earlier ‘pods’ also contains a live caterpillar, but we weren’t around to see the action.

The following day, I spotted the beginnings of a fifth ‘pod’:

…but something strange appears to have been happening in the interim. Notice the dark area on top of the fourth ‘pod’. I had previously noticed two dark spots there, which the wasp appeared to have repaired, followed by a much larger dark spot, also repaired. (The photos I took were seriously out of focus, unfortunately.)

Around this time, I’d been reading an article in Smithsonian Magazine with the title ‘Interesting Insects’. This is an extract:
Cuckoo wasps live up to their name by laying their eggs in the nests of bees and wasps. [The species being discussed] specifically specializes in the clay nests of potter wasps. The young cuckoo wasp eats the nest’s rightful occupant and its food store.
So our guest is a potter wasp. And although the species discussed in the article is found only in Europe and West Asia, I couldn’t help but wonder whether skullduggery of this kind had been taking place here with a different cuckoo wasp species. Construction of the fifth ‘pod’ appears to have been abandoned, although there could be other reasons for this. However, I’m not going to predict that there will be no further developments here. At the very least, we have the emergence of young wasps to look forward to, although I’ve no idea when that will be.