Sunday, 2 May 2021

another surprise: update

The week before last, I posted an account of a mural in the network of alleyways that I’ve designated ‘the outer limits: path #2’. In that account, I suggested that the mural was ‘unfinished’, and a few days later, while cycling along this path, we encountered the artist responsible, who was busy adding to his work. We didn’t stop, because we didn’t want to disturb or distract the artist, but we passed this way again two days ago, and we stopped to see what had changed.

This is a general view of the mural, as seen from the direction we approach it:
The section featuring two youths riding broomsticks has definitely been added to. The right-hand figure was incomplete when we last stopped here, and both have been given clothes and admittedly crude facial features:
There is also a crude representation of a village house behind the right-hand figure’s broomstick. Actually, it has just occurred to me that they are not riding broomsticks. They are in fact riding personal rocket sticks, and what I’d taken to be the brush ends of broomsticks are actually representations of rocket exhausts!

In my earlier photographs, there was a stylized rock formation on the right of the Simpsons segment of the mural, similar to that on the left, but it has now been replaced by a tree trunk:
There doesn’t seem to be any kind of overall theme to the various segments of the mural. This is the section immediately to the right of the rocket riders:
The left-hand section is an incongruous abstract design of coloured triangles, but the central section is a lifelike portrait of a civet, a species of wild cat that has become increasingly rare in Hong Kong in recent decades. I suspect that the outline picture of flowers on the right will be coloured in, and if that does turn out to be the case, I shall post a photograph in due course. I also wonder whether the rocket riders segment is complete. What, for example, is the significance of the black geometric shapes? I hope to find out the next time we come this way.

Monday, 26 April 2021

here today, gone tomorrow

When I wrote A Grand Day Out last month, I included three photos of a spectacular and unexpected new shrine in the Kwu Tung area. Consequently, I came back four days later (13th March) to show Paula—and to take a few photos, which I present here.

This is a view of the roof of the shrine:
You can’t see them in this view, but directly below the dragons at the top is a row of five people, each riding a different animal, some of which are mythical (lungma, unicorn). I can’t explain any of the details, but this is certainly impressive.

And this is the commemorative plaque alongside the shrine:
It lists all the financial donors to the project, with the most generous on the right.

At the time these photos were taken, the shrine was still curtained off:
The two previous photos provide a hint of the elaborate designs on the sidewall of the shrine.

The bas-relief panel along the bottom in the next photo shows two lions facing off against two elephants:
…while the corresponding panel on the left-hand side shows four lions:
Directly underneath the apices of the gable ends of the shrine are two quite splendid demons, first on the right:
…and then on the left:
The demons are all but identical, but the adjoining decorations are different.

There is an interesting panel under the dragons on the rear elevation of the shrine, and unlike the panel on the front elevation, I managed to take a photo by climbing up some stairs that lead to a shipping container cum office:
Some at least of the riders appear to be female:
This is another shot taken from the stairs:
The footbridge that we use to cross the expressway can be seen in the background.

On 25th March, we were passing this way and couldn’t help but notice four large red banners, which usually indicate that some kind of festival or other celebration is taking place:
This is a closer look at the foot of the right-hand supporting pillar in the previous photo:
I’ve been trying to work out what kind of creature this is: horse’s legs; dragon’s body; unicorn’s head. If it hadn’t been for the horn, I would have confidently labelled it a lungma.

The shrine was located just right of the previous photo. And this is what it looked like uncurtained:
In my earlier post, I wondered how long the colours would continue to be so vibrant, given that I assumed that these structures would be permanent. I was wrong! I used the past tense in describing the previous photo for a good reason. When we came this way on 12th April, we were in for quite a shock. I probably wouldn’t have noticed, because at the point where the shrine came into view, I’m in the process of executing a tight U-turn onto the ramp leading up to the footbridge, but the mechanical digger gave the game away:
All that expense! For what? A few weeks of festivities. Well, at least I have the photos, which I can examine for details that I haven’t yet noticed.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

another surprise

I’ve said and written so often that I never know what I might find when I’m out cycling that it has almost become a cliché, but it happened again last week. Paula and I were shooting a new video of the outer limits path #2 that incorporated the diversion that I described in An Unexpected Hazard when I spotted a newly painted mural as we cycled past. Obviously, because we were shooting a video, we didn’t stop, but we were back on Monday, and this time we stopped to take some photos. This is what the first glimpse of the mural looks like:
The right-hand section is in the style of a traditional Chinese landscape painting, with a ceremonial arch, a temple, a pagoda and a fisherman in a sampan:
The central section of the mural seems to be unfinished:
The completed figure appears to be riding a broomstick!

You will have noticed Homer Simpson lounging on a lilo, and this is the remainder of the Simpsons section:
This is an enlarged version:
Because the family is relaxing in a pool, Maggie has been given a snorkel instead of a dummy, but there’s an obvious question here: where’s Bart?

And there’s a less obvious question too. I felt sure that when we cycled past this mural last week, the right-hand section included a cartoon mouse. So I checked the video, and I was right:
It’s Tom and Jerry, with Tom in some kind of ridiculous costume.

What is happening here? It could be simply a change of mind, or perhaps there are two competing artists!

You will notice that there is a path junction in the previous image. The established route continues to the left, but I have often wondered where a right turn might lead. Perhaps it connects to this junction, which is near the start of path #2, where the established route turns left:
There is another potential turn-off a short distance before the end of the path:
I checked it out as a potential alternative exit last year but thought it was unsatisfactory, although for the past few months we’ve been looping back via the road and riding it in the opposite direction. This is a better option, because there is quite a testing incline on this path, which is better ridden in the uphill direction:
We had simply been repeating the last part of the established route when this video was shot, but on Monday, I thought that it was time we checked out the possible connection that I alluded to above. And we would shoot a video. Unfortunately, I was sure that I’d charged the camera’s battery, but obviously I hadn’t (or there is a fault with the camera, which may be the case, because this has happened before).

Anyway, I was right. The two junctions are linked, and the next time we come this way, we shall shoot a video of that connection. And we shall also be checking the mural for any changes.

The videos from which the above stills were taken have not yet been uploaded to YouTube, but this video shows the original route through the area:
Coincidentally, the thumbnail for this video, which was shot more than a year ago, shows me passing the wall on which the new mural has been painted.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

a surprise discovery

On Monday of this week, Paula and I decided to cycle out west. On our previous visit to the Kam Tin River catchment area, we’d cycled around Nam Sang Wai, which is widely touted, on government websites and elsewhere, as a great location for cycling. It isn’t. It’s flat, and it’s boring, although we did catch a few glimpses of shore birds, particularly black-winged stilts, as we cycled along.

However, on the way back out of this area, I decided to detour onto Ho Chau Road, which runs upstream along the bank of an unnamed tributary of the Kam Tin River. As we approached the expressway, which is elevated here, I spotted a path leading off to the left. This path crosses the tributary via a footbridge, and we followed a complementary path on the opposite bank back to our starting position.
On our most recent visit to the area, my original plan had been simply to follow the new path, but as we approached the start of the path, I noticed cyclists emerging from a side road just before this point (the map suggests that the road continues smoothly, but that isn’t what it looks like on the ground). In fact, after a short distance, the road narrows and is no longer passable by cars, but it is wide enough for cyclists travelling in opposite directions to pass each other comfortably. So we continued.

Shortly after passing the small roundabout in the southwest corner of the map, I spotted a tunnel under the expressway and decided immediately that this was the way to go. We were then faced with a choice at a T-junction of paths: I opted to turn left, because that would take us back towards our starting point. I then ventured down a path that looked promising but turned out to be a dead end. Or so I thought! However, it wasn’t until I’d dismounted to turn my bike around that I saw that there was in fact a continuation: a right-angle turn onto a steep ramp that was obviously impossible from a standing start. Of course, I could have backtracked and tried the ramp then, but we were exploring, and it can wait until we come this way again, which we most certainly will be doing.

We eventually reached another footbridge over the river, which we crossed, after which navigation became more uncertain. We ventured down two or three dead ends before finding a continuation, and to my utter amazement, and delight, we then came across a most impressive row of traditional houses. I didn’t take any photos from this position, but we did cycle along the front of the row to take a closer look, and this is what it looks like from the far end:
The modern bridge in the background carries the MTR’s West Rail Line, which connects Kowloon to the far west of the New Territories. These houses would be, using British terminology, ‘semi-detached’. Some are in better condition than others, and some are still inhabited. It’s worth taking a look inside one:
Enclosed courtyards are a common feature of traditional Chinese houses, although I suspect that the glass windows that you can see in the next photo are a later addition enclosing what would once have been open balconies.
And this is a closer look at the frieze near the top of the last photo:
…while this is a closer look at the symbol above the central doorway:
The Chinese words for ‘bat’ and ‘blessing’ are homophones, which is why you often see representations of bats on graves. The significance of the coin should be obvious.

Each of these houses also features polychrome mouldings under the eaves. I hesitate to describe them as ‘polychrome’, although they would once have been brightly painted. Sadly, however, like the buildings they adorn, they aren’t being maintained. This is as close as I could get to take a photo:
The amazing detail of these mouldings is best shown in this photo:
The last photo is actually of the mouldings on a single-storey building at the left-hand end of the row of two-storey houses, which I’ve deliberately refrained from mentioning so far:
As you can see, the entrance is barred, although we were still able to take some photos of the interior:
Paula’s camera takes a wider angle than mine, because I couldn’t capture the entire circular opening, although I did take a couple of photos that show some of the fine details here. Note the unglazed ceramic window and the balustrade with ceramic balusters:
This photo shows some kind of engraved plaque that has been almost completely consumed by a creeper, which is probably slowly eating away at the stonework beneath:
And this is the frieze above the doorway:
There also appears to be some elaborate carving on the wooden beam above the frieze, which I noticed only when I examined the photo later.

The moulding on the left is slowly being covered by another species of creeper:
I suspect that someone important, a tai fu, once lived in this house, which reminds me of the Tai Fu Tai Mansion in San Tin, although the latter is a declared monument, while this house is derelict and is slowly crumbling away.

Incidentally, Paula noticed that the date 1925 has been carved into the lintel above the door of one of the two-storey houses, although I couldn’t see anything other than a blank block of stone!

I cannot be quite certain of the exact location of this site, which isn’t marked on the map above, although I’m fairly confident that the red oval on the following satellite photo is an accurate indication.
I believe that these buildings should be restored, if necessary with government money, and accorded some kind of heritage listing. They may not be quite up to ‘declared monument’ status, but it would certainly be a shame if they are simply allowed to decay slowly in obscurity.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

via caritas

I never used to do any cycling on Sundays, because all the places that I was familiar with were clogged with people who had hired bikes for the day. Most of them had little or no idea about what they were doing and therefore represented serious moving hazards with their abrupt changes of direction and total lack of awareness of whatever was happening around them. I’d never ventured east of Fanling either, but that situation changed at the beginning of 2016, when I learned that an area to the northeast of Fanling that had been part of the so-called ‘frontier closed area’ and was therefore off-limits to casual visitors like myself had been opened up to the public.

I started my exploration by heading north, because I’d once ventured down a road until I’d been confronted by a sign warning me that I was about to enter the closed area, and in order to do so, I needed a permit. Naturally, I turned back, but it seemed an obvious place to begin. This first foray produced a circuit that came back into Fanling from the east, but it was entirely on roads, which wasn’t what I wanted.

However, I remember coming back home with a tale about a ‘six-hill switchback’, which I wanted to show Paula. It was on the road on which I’d started my exploration, and on this second occasion, I didn’t fancy continuing as I’d done on my first foray, so we rode ‘the switchback’ in the opposite direction, which in retrospect is a much better option.

It took quite a long time, and a lot of exploration, but I finally managed to work out a coherent bike ride, which, naturally, I named ‘the final frontier’. Oddly enough, this ride is only really viable on Sundays because of the large amount of industrial traffic on key road sections during weekdays, even though I follow off-road paths as much as possible.

I had to revise my original route to avoid a village that was home to a psychotic dog that attacked cyclists, with the likely encouragement of the villagers, but I didn’t think there was anything else I could add. Of course, that didn’t mean that I stopped looking. There is a region to the east of Ping Che Road, the main north–south road through the area, that I’d explored earlier from further east but concluded, erroneously, that there was no through route.

However, last November I was cycling north along a short section of Ping Che Road that is unavoidable when I passed a turn-off to the Caritas Home for the Elderly. I decided to see whether it led anywhere else. It did!

There was a problem though: the return route to the start of this segment was entirely on roads, so I didn’t do it again until a couple of months ago with Paula, who usually goes to church on Sundays but has had to make do with a virtual service during current covid restrictions and was therefore available for a bike ride. I wanted to show her the new path, which was certainly worth a visit, even though it didn’t fit well into the overall sequence.

However, we had just passed through the village of Ping Yeung—its village arch marks the end of the first video—when, on the spur of the moment, I decided to turn right onto a side road that I thought might be a better option. I had expected merely to avoid some of the busier roads, but I was surprised—and delighted—to discover another path that led to a group of houses that marked the transition from country path to dirt road on my earlier discovery:

Narrow country paths always present different problems, depending on the direction of travel (see Two-Way Fun), so it was obvious that we would then backtrack along the earlier path. Incidentally, if you watch the video, look out for the dog that rushes out as we pass the group of houses. It’s of the all-bark-no-bite variety, although it is certainly enthusiastic.

And that’s ‘via caritas’, which has become one of the highlights of ‘the final frontier’.

other final frontier videos
Ping Yeung Exit
Chow Tin Exit
The Corpse Road
The Switchback

Saturday, 3 April 2021

ghost alley: latest update

I haven’t cycled through ‘ghost alley’ for quite some time, mainly because it has become something of a tourist attraction, and riding my bike through a crowd is not something I want to do. However, we passed the entrance early yesterday, and because I couldn’t see anyone, I decided to take the detour.

Although I hadn’t seen any new artwork here since 2019, I couldn’t help but notice some new additions:
Two of these additions are dated—26th March, just a week prior to our visit—and I can’t help wondering why it has taken so long to add to the gallery. It could be that the latest contributions are the work of another group, the original artists having abandoned the site once it had become popular. I base this conjecture on three observations: all the signs that proclaim this site to be ‘Ping Che Mural Village’ (it’s marked as ‘Ping Yeung Mural Village’ on Google Maps) have disappeared; the decorated picnic table that I described in Latest News from Ghost Alley #3 has been removed; and the artwork on the painted house that I described on my first visit has been vandalized by the addition of what I can only describe as spurious elements. Incidentally, Paula reached the same conclusion regarding the vandalism before I mentioned the subject.

My intention in shooting a video here was not to record the artwork but to record the exit path, which starts at 0.59 on the video and is quite tricky. We used to exit this area via the path to the right of the painted house. And here is the video:

By far the most impressive artwork here is the mural that is passed on the left between 0.18 and 0.21 on the video (photos in Latest News from Ghost Alley), although the ‘great wall’ mural, which I described in Latest News from Ghost Alley #2, does come quite a close second. Incidentally, I didn’t spot him at the time, but when examining the video, I noticed someone who was taking photos of this mural as we executed a U-turn to reach the start of the exit path.

This site is definitely well worth a visit; just don’t come on a Sunday!