Sunday, 14 February 2021

then and now #2

There are many reasons why I like Hong Kong, why I keep coming back year after year, but one of the most compelling has always been that it keeps changing. When I came here to work in 1974, once you moved away from the main entertainment and upmarket residential districts, Hong Kong was unmistakably a third-world city, but three decades later, I wouldn’t have hesitated to describe it as a twenty-first century city, an exclusive category the members of which you can count on the fingers of one hand.

Of course, not all the changes I’ve seen over the past 47 years have been good ones, and this post documents three changes that I would have preferred not to see.

I featured a large area of star-shaped yellow flowers in Starburst last November:
I didn’t use this photo in my earlier post, but I was horrified to learn, when I cycled this way a couple of weeks ago, that this is what it looks like now:
This is a view from the opposite direction that shows the full extent of the clearance:
I don’t know why this entire area of flowers has been cleared, but I would guess that new houses will appear here in the coming months.

The ‘frontier road’ was in the so-called closed area until 2013, when it was opened up to casual visitors like me. Near the western end, there used to be a lotus pond where I often stopped to take a photo or two:
This photo was taken in January 2019, and here are two close-up photos that I took on separate occasions a month earlier:
However, this is what the pond looked like three months ago:
Aargh! This is just one, albeit particularly egregious, example of the environmental devastation that is being wrought in this area as a result of the construction of a new science park that is a joint venture between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. And while stands of star-shaped yellow flowers are relatively common—I included photos from several locations in my November post—lotus ponds are a distinct rarity (I know of just one other lotus pond, and the last time I passed that way, I learned that the area was slated for ‘development’, so the lotus pond there may no longer exist either).

Finally, this is a view from our balcony that I took in 2009, shortly after moving to our present residence:
The mountain is Lung Shan (‘Dragon Mountain’), although it is marked on Ordnance Survey maps as ‘Cloudy Hill’. However, I take a dim view of what I contemptuously refer to as ‘gweilo toponyms’. I saw the resident dragon once (photo at foot of page).

And this is a view slightly to the left that shows Pat Sin Leng (‘Eight Immortals Ridge’)—try identifying the eight summits—that I took two years later:
However, as I’ve already pointed out, things are always changing in Hong Kong. This is a recent shot of approximately the same view:
Judging by the architectural style, this will be public housing (the Hong Kong equivalent of council houses). I can no longer see the Pat Sin range, and I don’t expect to see the dragon again, but I do still have a decent view if I look in the other direction:
see also

Wednesday, 10 February 2021


On balance, last week was highly successful from a cycling point of view, but it did end on rather a bum note. Having clocked 104km the previous Saturday, Paula and I set out on Tuesday with the express intention of improving on that distance. We could simply repeat Saturday’s ride, at the end of which we’d come straight through Fanling on our way home because it was getting late. However, if we were to leave home only slightly earlier, we could loop round to the south, through ‘poke in the eye’ (Po Kak Tsai) and return along Sha Tau Kok Road, the only road into Fanling from the east. There was one small problem though. By the time we reached Sha Tau Kok Road, it was late, and the sun was very low in the sky, making it difficult to see where we were going. But we did clock 110.6km, so that seemed like a minor nuisance.

On Saturday, we set out again to improve on the distance. Once again, we would do the same ride, but I had in mind a few diversions that I wanted to try, and these would be enough to achieve the required improvement. First, I’d spotted a temple on Google Maps that I wanted to take a look at:
It was described on Google Maps as a Buddhist temple, but Paula spotted that it is dedicated to the eight immortals, which makes it a Taoist temple! I’ve already received an email from Google telling me that my correction has been accepted. I couldn’t quite get a photo of the entire building, because it is surrounded by a high wall:
By the way, the bike in this photo is neither mine nor Paula’s, in case you hadn’t already guessed.

Next on the itinerary should have been ‘the outer limits: path #3’, but we discovered that a truck had parked across the entrance, completely blocking access.

“Never mind,” I said. “We can do it later.”

We continued on to do ‘the outer limits: path #2’, on which there is a T-junction where we had been accustomed to turning right. I wanted to find out where a left turn would lead:
My immediate impression was that this path just led to a group of houses, but it passed between the houses and continued on a long, sinuous loop that eventually brought us back to the T-junction, even though I kept thinking that it would eventually reach a dead end, which happens far more often than not when exploring new paths.

On our way back, we found that the entrance to path #3 was now clear, so we followed that next. On this particular detour, it’s necessary to follow a series of quiet lanes to get back to the main route, and at one point, we turn right at a fork. However, on the spur of the moment, I decided to take the left-hand option, merely because I wanted to take another photo of the ‘wild’ firecracker vine that I included in Jeepers Creepers #3:
I think that it looks even more impressive in this photo.

Since we were on this road, I thought, we might as well see where it goes, even though I felt sure that I’d checked it out during my explorations of the area last winter. I can’t have done though, because after about 200 metres I spotted an alleyway on the left. I would definitely have checked it out if I’d seen it before, but we could certainly do so now.

It led eventually, with the usual quota of twists and turns, to Tin Tak Kung Temple, which we had visited earlier. However, we turned off onto another path just before reaching the temple and found ourselves back on Kong Tai Road, the only named road in the area. I’m still trying to work out how best to incorporate this new path into the overall ride.

On our way back to Fanling, having detoured via ‘fish pond alley’, we then embarked on a ride around the Tam Mei valley. Although I discovered no fewer than seven new paths in this area last autumn, we usually stick to the roads if we’ve been cycling further west. However, on this occasion, I found myself turning off Chuk Yau Road—without thinking—to start the first of these paths.

“Oh! well,” I thought. “As we’re here, we might as well shoot a video”:
The remainder of the return journey was straightforward, and we stopped off in Fanling for something to eat before heading home. I’d worked out that in order to beat Tuesday’s distance total, we would need to cycle past the Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall before heading home. This road eventually comes to an end at Tung Kok Wai, and we usually follow a path from there across ‘the swamp’ to ‘poke in the eye’. However, the sun was already low, and we wanted to avoid the problems encountered on Tuesday, so I suggested an alternative.

There is a convenient short-cut between Tung Kok Wai and Ma Wat Wai, and although we didn’t actually want to go to this second wai (‘walled enclosure’), we could leave the short-cut where it crosses Sui Wan Road and head directly home. The decision to follow this option turned out to be a serious error of judgement!

This is a view of the start of the path:
There is a tiny ‘bridge’ across a nullah (storm drain) where the path turns to the left. And this is a closer look at the ‘bridge’:
Although the ‘bridge’ is much narrower than the rest of the path, it never used to be a problem on a bike. However, the handrail appeared a few years ago, and since then I’ve rarely come this way, because my handlebar is wider than on most bikes, which means that it’s necessary to keep well right of centre to avoid clattering the railings.

This is a view of the ‘bridge’ from the opposite direction, which clears illustrates the problem:
And there was a far bigger problem on this occasion: the sun was in my eyes! I ended up crossing the ‘bridge’ just 2cm from the edge (Paula’s estimate), much closer than is actually necessary. With no wobble room, I felt as though I was about to topple over the edge at any moment. I just had time to say to myself, “Phew! That was close!” as I exited the bridge when my back wheel went off the path (Paula’s observation):
…and I found myself crashing down into the nullah, where I landed in about 15cm of evil black sludge:
I remember thinking that I was going to hurt myself seriously as I fell, but I seemed to have escaped with just a few bangs and scrapes, and I was able to climb out of the nullah unaided. However, I did need Paula’s help to recover my bike, which had landed on top of me. And I was able to ride the remaining kilometre home without either difficulty or discomfort, although I must have looked like a creature from the swamp, covered in evil black slime, to anyone I passed on the way. By the way, the colour of the slime indicates decayed organic matter, which probably means that untreated sewage is finding its way into the nullah, a conjecture that appears to be confirmed by the first of the photos of the crash site above, which shows two pipes that lead from houses on the right.

The first order of business once I’d returned home was a high-pressure hosing down to remove the slime, followed by a hot shower. Next, of course, was a couple of beers, after which I crashed out (in a good sense) until morning.

The next morning, unfortunately, I found that I couldn’t hold a cup of coffee in my left hand or use a pair of chopsticks to eat a bowl of noodles, and I couldn’t bend my thumb. I thought that I must have fractured a bone in my thumb, and a visit to A&E at North District Hospital seemed like a good idea. However, an X-ray revealed no fracture, and the following day, although the thumb was still swollen, I could again hold my morning coffee in my left hand—and, later, a can of beer.

However, there were other casualties in the crash. I don’t recall hitting my head on my way down into the nullah, but my helmet is a write-off. I shall have to buy a new one before I go out cycling again. I know that a lot of people think that cycling helmets are unnecessary, but as someone who has been spared serious injury by my helmet in two previous crashes, I won’t get on a bike without one nowadays.

My waist bag must have been submerged in the slime for several minutes before I was able to climb out of the nullah, and as a result my phone is now buggered too. So is my camera, although I was able to retrieve the photos that I’d taken earlier in the day, which included the two temple shots and that of the firecracker vine above, and a new photo of the firecracker vine in the grounds of a small nunnery in our immediate neighbourhood, which I added to Jeepers Creepers #3 for comparison with the original photo that I took there.

One final point: we did manage to hit the distance target, clocking 111.8km. We expect to go out again next Monday—today has been very wet (the first rain in more than two months), while Friday will mark the start of Chinese New Year, and although I expect the celebrations in our village to be rather subdued this year because of the coronavirus, I don’t want to miss them.