Sunday, 31 January 2021

jeepers creepers #3

It’s that time of year again! In the run-up to Chinese New Year, I can count on enjoying once again what I regard as Hong Kong’s most spectacular floral display: the firecracker vine. In Jeepers Creepers #2, which I posted last year, I mentioned that this astonishing outburst of colour was more than a week early, coinciding with an early date for the start of the new year. This year, however, Chinese New Year is almost as late as is possible, and as if in response, the firecracker vines have been much later than usual. In fact, almost all the photos in this report were taken in the past week.

The first three photos were taken this morning in the village of Siu Hang, which lies on the opposite side of the Ng Tung River to the village where I live. This vine borders a car park, and this is what it looks like from the entrance to the car park:
…while this is a view from the other end:
…and this provides a closer look at the right-hand end:
The next example is in the grounds of a small religious site, which I think is a nunnery, that we pass when cycling along the river on our way out west:
…and this is a view of the same vine eleven days later:
Some improvement!

I took the next photo last Tuesday in the village of Yau Tam Mei, which we ride through on our circuit of the Tam Mei valley:
This isn’t the original route that we used to take around the valley, and I must have developed this alternative since this time last year, because I don’t recall seeing this firecracker vine before.

Incidentally, if you look closely at the photo, there is an alleyway next to the lamp-post, which was part of the route that I worked out last year. Unfortunately, on Tuesday I followed the alleyway as usual after taking the photo but was eventually confronted by a fence across the path! This is a recurring problem on off-road segments and is probably illegal, but I shall just have to find an alternative.

The next two photos are of a vine next to the minibus terminus in Yau Tam Mei. As with the previous example, I wasn’t coming this way a year ago, so this is the first I knew of the existence of this firecracker vine too:
When I took the first of these photos, a gas delivery truck was blocking part of the vine, but because I was searching for an alternative to the blocked alleyway, I came this way again and took the second photo.

The next vine, also in the Tam Mei valley, was featured in last year’s collection—with the lament that it is impossible to get a good photo when pointing towards the sun. That was still the case on Tuesday, but this is what the vine looks like on the opposite side:
The mystery here is how I didn’t spot this vine as I was riding along, give that the photo was taken in the direction I was riding. My interpretation? I did spot the vine but didn’t realize at the time that photographing the other side, which meant shooting towards the sun, would produce such a crap photo. The result of this year’s attempt was even worse!

The next vine, also photographed last Tuesday, is located in an alleyway opposite a rather primitive mural that I featured in Wall to Wall last October but hadn’t ridden past since. I took two photos, one from each end of the vine:
Whenever we cycle out west nowadays, once we reach the Shek Sheung River on the outskirts of Sheung Shui on our return, we then take a detour around the network of narrow roads south of the large village of Hang Tau, and on Tuesday I spotted a firecracker vine that I hadn’t seen before in the entrance to a side road that leads nowhere (I’ve checked). Unlike most examples of this vine, which appear to be kept in check by regular pruning, this one has been allowed to go wild:
Having cycled as far west as Tam Mei then around the Hang Tau detour, I began to think that if I made an effort, I could clock 100km for the day’s ride. I was still about 18km short, and the only way I could hit the century mark would be to cycle east. I had only a vague idea of where to go to knock off the distance, but to cut a long story short, I found myself in a maze of alleyways in a village some distance east of Fanling when I spotted a firecracker vine down one of these alleys:
When I investigated more closely, I found that I could take additional photos, all of which were of vines that enclosed the same small estate:
By the way, I did manage to clock 100.5km for the day’s ride.

I included two photos taken in my home village in Jeepers Creepers #2. This is a photo of my neighbour’s firecracker vine, viewed from the inside:
…and this is a shot of Mr Lee’s garden, taken from the village car park:
I posted a photo in Jeepers Creepers #2 that I annotated with the following comment:

‘Paula rode past without noticing it’.

Of course, I stopped to take a photo, but the hill is quite rough, so I can understand why her focus was elsewhere.

There is a path that emerges onto this hill to the left of the photo that I finally got around to checking out a couple of months ago. We now cycle along it regularly, which has given me the opportunity to see what this firecracker vine looks like from the other side:
Although I’m familiar with all the alleyways within walking distance of our house, there are many that I rarely venture down because they don’t lead anywhere useful. However, on Boxing Day last year, I did ride down one alleyway that turned out to be lined on one side by a firecracker vine. There were just a few flowers, but on Friday I decided to check it again. This was the result:
Finally, in January last year, we were shooting the ‘outer limits: path #3’ video, and it was only when I watched the video later that I noticed a most spectacular example of a firecracker vine that had gone wild down a road to the left (I was focusing on the road ahead):
Naturally, I wanted a photograph, so we cycled there yesterday for the first time since shooting the video. This was the result:
Incidentally, given that this vine is located almost 40km from our house, we set off with the express intention of breaking the ‘century barrier’. We eventually clocked 104km, although it did take eight hours.
*  *  *
It would appear that in order to obtain a uniform flower density, it is necessary to do some judicious pruning from time to time, and the intensity of the display does vary from year to year. To illustrate this point, I also took photos yesterday of two firecracker vines that I featured in Jeepers Creepers #2 last year. The first is located in the village of Shui Mei, about 35km west of Fanling, and the second borders a narrow path that leads away from the village:
If you compare these photos with last year’s, you will see that this year’s display is more impressive.

another post in this series
Jeepers Creepers

Sunday, 24 January 2021

another frontier road mystery

Two years ago, I wrote about new markings on the frontier road that I found impossible to interpret, although I did make an informed guess. And guess what? A different set of markings appeared recently a short distance east of the police operational base: two sets of parallel yellow lines across the road about 35 metres apart. Although these are not standard markings, I’ve interpreted them as some kind of hazard warning.

This is what they look like:
The first photo shows the more easterly of the lines and was taken looking west. The second photo is a view looking east. The ‘SLOW’ signs were there long before the yellow lines.

So here’s the mystery: there is nothing remotely hazardous in the section between the two sets of lines, unless the possibility of a vehicle pulling out of the passing place without the driver looking first counts. However, I’ve never seen any of the passing places along the frontier road being used, and this is the only location with the yellow lines anyway. There is an accumulation of sand just west of the more westerly set of lines—presumably debris from the tipper trucks that have been using the road with increasing frequency—on which I’ve skidded a couple of times, but this could easily be swept up, if anyone could be bothered. And there are quite a few potholes—caused by the tipper trucks—but this is far from the worst section for potholes, and no other section is marked in this way.

Any suggestions as to the meaning of these lines will be most welcome.

Monday, 18 January 2021

a poke in the eye

Whenever we do any cycling, we almost always ride along Po Kak Tsai Road at some point. If we cycle out east, then we start by doing a circuit of the villages of Lung Yeuk Tau; there is a good path leading across ‘the swamp’, where a lot of wild ginger can be seen at this time of year:
…from the walled village of Tung Kwok Wai to the road in question. If we cycle out west, then we finish the ride by following this same detour. In each case, we ride along Po Kak Tsai Road from west to east. However, we frequently walk this way too, and if we do, we approach Po Kak Tsai Road via Lau Shui Heung Road. And this is what I couldn’t help but notice at the point where we turn off Lau Shui Heung Road onto Po Kak Tsai Road:
Rural roads in Hong Kong are frequently named after the place they lead to, and Po Kak Tsai Road is no exception. However, North District Council has erected many directional signposts in its area of responsibility—that’s its logo on the lower of the two signs—and you will notice a discrepancy in the romanization of the second word on the signs. But notice too that the Chinese character is the same on both signs, so one of them must be incorrect! But which one?

I noticed this discrepancy years ago, but I’ve only recently decided to investigate further. Unlike in England, where there are signs on all roads entering a village that proclaim the village’s name, the only way to identify a village in the New Territories is to look for the public toilet—every village has one:
And in this case, the name is clear:
Po Kak Tsai! Lau Shui Heung is a larger nearby village.

There is only one other identifying sign along the road:
I’ve included this photo to show the remarkable concrete bastion. I can’t imagine the locals building it as a slope stabilization measure—it looks more like some kind of military installation, and the remains of the old British army base known as Burma Lines lie close to the toilet. And this is a close-up of the sign:
So the district council can’t make up its mind! However, ‘Po Kak Tsai’ does seem to be the correct romanization.
At this point, I foolishly decided to consult Google Maps:
Not a smart move. Google seems to think that it’s ‘Po Kat Tsai Road’. I’ve notified them of what is a certain error, although it won’t be corrected in a hurry, unless confirmed by someone else.

I thought that if I ran a Google search for ‘Po Kat Tsai’, I might find more information on the subject. Unfortunately, at the top of the page was a map segment at a much larger scale that identified the village as ‘Po Kat Tsai’. Not only this, but on the Google Map, the second Chinese character is also incorrect!
There are other problems with this second map, on which the red circle indicates where the path across ‘the swamp’ (see above) joins Po Kak Tsai Road. First, ‘Po Kak Tsai’ should be moved about 100 metres north. Second, in my Google search, I came across a reference to ‘Po Kat Tsai, Kwan Tei’. While it is common practice for smaller villages to have the name of a larger nearby village appended—note the sign on the toilet—there is no direct connection between Po Kak Tsai and Kwan Tei, even for people on foot. And Kwan Tei is in the wrong position on the map anyway. Although it is impossible to demarcate the precise boundary between Kwan Tei and Fu Tei Pai given the amount of house building that has taken place there in recent years, Kwan Tei lies north of Fu Tei Pai, which is marked in the correct position. Third, there is no sign whatsoever of any kind of village in the area marked as ‘Tai Wo Ping Che’. And Ping Che lies about 3km northeast of this location anyway, so I can’t understand why its name has been appended to this nonexistent village in the first place.

Perhaps I should have stuck with my initial conclusion. It is Po Kak Tsai Road, and if it hadn’t been for the misleading double sign at the start of the road, I wouldn’t have given the matter a second thought.

related posts
Mission Impossible

Although I didn’t expect a quick response to my notifying Google of its error, I received an email yesterday informing me that my report had been published. Here is the amended version:
I shall have to see whether I can get any more of the many errors I’ve noticed on Google Maps in my local area corrected.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

anatomically speaking

Many of the words that are used to describe parts of the human body have other uses and other meanings, although in many cases that alternative meaning is just a simple metaphor. For example, if you toe the line, you are conforming to a specified code of behaviour, as if keeping the foremost extremities of your feet behind an imaginary line. However, this particular metaphor is complicated by the observation that many people appear to think that the phrase is ‘tow the line’. This anomaly was first pointed out by George Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language, in which the author decried the tendency of contemporary writers to use metaphors without visualizing a concrete image as they did so. You can, of course, tow or pull a line, but it then becomes impossible to link that to the meaning of the phrase.

And what about someone being required to foot the bill? It’s hard to see the connection between one’s feet and being obliged, reluctantly, to pay for something. If you describe someone as a heel, you are suggesting that they are not a nice person, although, again, it’s difficult to see the connection. This term is probably not much used nowadays, like the upper-class British terms ‘cad’ and ‘bounder’; I would suggest that speakers on both sides of the Atlantic are now more likely to use words that reference the genitalia. ‘Heel’ is also used in phrases that describe a person’s financial status: ‘down at heel’ (poor) or ‘well-heeled (rich). Both are references to the type of footwear that would be worn by someone who can be described in such a way.

Staying with the lower extremities, I don’t think that the average American would shin up a rope, a ladder or a drainpipe, but I believe that they would know what I meant if I described them as doing so. To leg it, meaning to run away at speed, is also a term that doesn’t appear in the American lexicon, although once again the meaning is obvious. It is much less obvious why a stage in a multi-stage journey should be known as a leg, or why a match in a knock-out sporting competition is played over two legs to nullify home advantage. And any connection between one’s calf and the young of a cow appears to be completely arbitrary.

Moving upwards, to hamstring someone is to render them ineffective by imposing an obvious handicap. The origin of this term is less mysterious: it was once common practice to cut the hamstring muscles of domesticated but possibly dangerous animals so that they became more docile. But why someone who is up to speed with all the latest trends would be thought of as hip is not obvious, especially given that this use of the word appears to have originated with modern jazz, which in my view is anything but hip.

Internal features of human anatomy also appear in metaphorical contexts. For example, to rib someone is to tease them, presumably because such teasing is accompanied by a subtle nudge in the ribs, while a football manager might say “the last-minute defeat was hard to stomach, but we can take heart from the positive way we played throughout the game”. In the same vein, a main road might be described as ‘a major traffic artery’, and one might be required to shoulder responsibility, although this usage probably derives from one’s shoulders being the load-bearing part of the human body. The metaphorical nature of these words may be obvious, but it is not at all manifest why a wooden box-like structure would be called a chest, as in ‘treasure chest’ and ‘chest of drawers’.

The upper limbs also provide several words that can be used in a non-anatomical context. For example, arms is a much-used euphemism for ‘weapons’, a hand is an unskilled worker, as in ‘farm hand’ and ‘deck hand’, and you might be asked to ‘lend a hand’ or help out. A particularly tight hairpin bend on a road might be known locally as ‘the devil’s elbow’, while to finger someone is to betray them to the relevant authorities. And making the most/least of one’s assets in a given situation is often described as ‘making a good/poor fist’ of those assets. However, there appears to be no connection whatsoever between the palm of one’s hand and the tropical plant of the same name.

The head provides the last group of words that are used in non-anatomical contexts. For example, a mountain has faces, and we talk about a ‘cliff face’, while ‘to save face’ is to do something that ameliorates an otherwise embarrassing situation. With reference to speaking, cheek is casual insolence, while lip is more pointedly insulting language. We may talk about the brow of a hill on a road, the last section before the top. And someone who is annoyingly inquisitive, who is always looking into into other people’s business, is nosey, while the eye of a storm is the calm area in its centre. When a group of people sit around a table, there is always someone who is seated at the head of the table, and, more generally, an organization’s leader is often referred to as its head.

Finally, I might say that “there are no shops in my neck of the woods”, which is true, even though woods don’t have necks, and I don’t live in a wood.

other language posts
Super Dooper
Animal Adjectives
Saying the Same Thing Twice

Sunday, 10 January 2021

from the archives: luk wu ravine

When I worked as an instructor at Hong Kong’s Outward Bound School between 1974 and 1978, I probably walked along every path in the Sai Kung Peninsula, the school’s main area for land-based activities. I certainly climbed all the mountains—several times. However, one feature of the area that I missed was a narrow ravine carved by a stream that flows into the sea at the eastern end of the peninsula.

When I returned to the school in 1981 as program director, I happened to be walking along a particular mountain path when it occurred to me that the valley that was down to my right was unusually deep, and perhaps it would be worth taking a closer look. I was so impressed with what I found that I decided that a traverse of the ravine would be included in future course programs.

I should point out that there is nothing difficult here, except when the stream is in spate, when it becomes extremely dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. In fact, I had two experiences of this kind while guiding groups of students through the ravine, which I named after a long-abandoned village a short distance downstream.
*  *  *
Paula and I lived in the village of Sai Keng, in the Sai Kung area, between 2006 and 2008, and I’d been looking through the photographs that I took during this period when I came across a series of photos of a visit to Luk Wu Ravine, which seems to have become something of a tourist attraction in recent years (it’s marked on Google Maps, albeit in the wrong place). However, we had the place to ourselves on this occasion.

The first two photos show the unremarkable start:
You can scramble up these rocks almost anywhere (the second photo was taken near the top).

However, the sides of the ravine soon begin to close in:
The next photo is a view looking downstream of the section depicted in the previous two photos. It includes the rock pool directly below the waterfall you can see in those photos:
This is a photo of Paula sitting beside the next rock pool:
The route then becomes much steeper, although it still isn’t difficult:
It leads to yet another waterfall and rock pool:
If you fancy a swim, then this is the pool in which to do so, although be warned that the water is bloody cold, even in summer:
The next waterfall and pool seem quite nondescript compared with what has gone before:
…while the next waterfall features the biggest drop of any in the ravine:
I recall one occasion while guiding students through the ravine. As we approached this waterfall, I couldn’t help but notice that there appeared to be a sudden increase in the flow of water over the fall. It was a flash flood, and several students became trapped on an island at a point where the usual route crosses the stream as the trickle became a torrent. However, this is why I’d specified that all parties traversing the ravine must carry ropes. We were able to extricate the trapped students from their predicament without too much difficulty (I used ‘we’ here because another of my requirements was that all groups tackling the ravine be guided by two instructors).

The final waterfall is the only one that actually requires some climbing, although it isn’t hard. The only difficulty here is in avoiding getting your feet wet as you step across the waterfall:
These photos were taken on Christmas Day 2006, and we haven’t been back since. It’s probably about time we did.