Sunday, 15 January 2017

a kaleidoscope of colour

When I posted The Long Way Home last November, I neglected to mention that there are two routes I could have followed: one that takes a wide swing to the north—the one that I described—and one that takes an equally wide swing to the south. It’s rare for me to follow this latter route on foot, because at some stage I will have to cross a busy main road, but it’s probably true to say that this option is more interesting.

One point of interest, which I wrote about in An Unhappy Garden, is Happy Garden, an abandoned garden with an ornate entrance that includes steps and a masonry gateway. At that time, this entrance was in a severely dilapidated condition, but in 2015, Drainage Services constructed a nullah* alongside the road that passes in front of the steps, during which the entire entrance was ‘restored’. The nullah, once completed, was covered with narrow concrete beams, which now function as a discrete ‘sidewalk’ alongside that stretch of road.

I cycle along this section of road quite frequently, but I hadn’t walked along it since the nullah had been completed—until yesterday, when rain and low temperatures combined to make my normal bike ride on a Saturday morning with Paula a distinctly unattractive proposition. We saw nothing unusual until we reached the sidewalk section, but at this point I was staggered to find the concrete beams awash with bright colours. The oil that was creating these colourful patterns could not have come from a motor vehicle, because there is a barrier between the road and the ‘sidewalk’, but the entire 30-metre section was covered with a thin veneer of something that was refracting the light. I wonder if it originated on the hillside above.

Anyway, as was previously the case with Colour Field Analysis and Christmas Flowers, in which all the images were collected on a single day, I’ve decided to post a selection of the photos I took yesterday. I’ve assigned purely neutral titles, but if anyone wants to suggest titles for any image in this collection, please feel free to do so. I would also welcome opinions on which of these images you find most appealing. My own favourite is #6.

* A nullah (one of a very small number of words that I’ve only ever encountered in Hong Kong), is what would be called a culvert in the UK.

kaleidoscope #1

kaleidoscope #2

kaleidoscope #3

kaleidoscope #4

kaleidoscope #5

kaleidoscope #6

kaleidoscope #7

kaleidoscope #8

kaleidoscope #9

kaleidoscope #10

kaleidoscope #11

kaleidoscope #12

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

disappearing world

When I travel around the villages of the New Territories, I see many traditional houses, but most are in an extremely dilapidated condition, and many are being demolished to make way for more modern dwellings. I’m not referring here to the kind of house that I wrote about in Bamboo Garden, which would be more accurately described as a kind of mansion, standing as it does in its own grounds. I’m more interested in what might be considered the Chinese equivalent of the cottages found in a typical English village.

I’ve no idea how old some of these houses are, but they certainly predate the Second World War, and I imagine that in fact they were in existence when Britain signed its 99-year lease on the New Territories with the Qing Dynasty in 1898. In this post, I’m only considering a single village, Muk Wu, which is located close to the border with China and which was, until the beginning of 2016, in the so-called ‘closed area’. This means that, until last year, outsiders like me would not have been allowed anywhere near the place, and because of this relative isolation, there are architectural features here that are much less commonly seen in villages that have been more extensively developed since the 1970s.

Muk Wu has a kind of gatehouse, which suggests that in the past it had defensive walls to protect its inhabitants against bandits and other ne’er-do-wells. The walls no longer exist, but the houses on each side of the gatehouse are crammed together, and it seems likely that in their construction they incorporated the existing walls. This has certainly happened in many other villages I’ve visited, including Fanling Wai.

I’m not sure of the purpose of the two round holes above the entrance, which may have a fung shui function, but there is a platform inside the gatehouse above the entrance, so I conjecture that they were originally openings through which guns could be fired against attackers once the gate had been closed.

The village has not one but two temples: there is a very modern one at the head of the alleyway straight ahead from the gatehouse (the orange tiles of its roof can be glimpsed in the previous photo), but an older one, located outside the original village, is still in use—and is much more interesting:

The painting under the eaves to the left of the door is particularly notable. It illustrates a famous Chinese poem in which an official (the figure on the left with the winged hat) has had too much to drink and is dancing around with his head lolling to one side. The other two figures are servants, recognizable as such by their hairstyles; the one on the right may also be dancing, and he could well have been surreptitiously at the drink while his master wasn’t paying attention:

Within the village, the central alleyway that leads from the gatehouse to the new temple is much wider than that in Fanling Wai, and the side alleys are also wider. The next few photos are of traditional houses in the transverse alley in front of the temple, starting from the left:

The roof projects a short distance above the doorway in this house, although it would not provide much protection from a tropical downpour. The mouldings would once have been brightly painted, but it is still possible to see the intricacy of the craftsmanship. Note too the diorite door lintel. This would not have been a cheap option. The next two photos are of the mouldings to the left and right, respectively, of the previous photo. I leave the reader to decide what is depicted here.

Next door to the previous house is a similar building on which the mouldings on each side of the door have already disintegrated, and the section directly above the door is much less intricate than that of its neighbour. The three ‘designs’ in the centre appear, superficially, to be Chinese characters, but they probably aren’t. I certainly can’t provide a translation.

On the opposite side of the temple, there is a large gap where a traditional house has recently been demolished:

This photograph does at least demonstrate one feature of traditional Chinese houses that I haven’t discussed: while the outline of the pitched roof indicates the location of the house’s living quarters, the flat section to its right is part of what would once have been a walled courtyard. The doors in the photos above, which are still in use, provide access only to such courtyards, not directly into the house. Note too the remnants of mouldings on the extreme right of the photo. This is shown in more detail in the next photo:

It is unlikely that this section will last much longer, given that so much vegetation has already established itself here, so I will present the next three photos, which include two more entrances, without further comment:

Did I say ‘without further comment’? I can’t avoid remarking that the moulding on the right of the second photo appears to depict some nightmarish carnivorous plants. Or is that just my fevered imagination?

Finally, I present three photos of a house that you will pass between the gatehouse and the temple. The first is of a moulding on the gable end, the second of a moulding on the side wall of the courtyard, and the third of the craftwork directly above the entrance to the courtyard. The writing visible in the second and third photos is in an archaic script that most Chinese cannot read.

Friday, 6 January 2017

ghost alley revisited

Although I haven’t made a special visit to the location I named ‘ghost alley’ after I came across it during my explorations of the area in April last year, I’ve been passing through it every Sunday on my bike, and each time I’ve been thinking that there was more here that was worth recording. The first photograph was taken on my first visit following my return from the UK in October and shows the path that links the ghost alley section with the painted house:

This path, 80–100 metres in length, is covered in painted images, although as you can see there is room for more. However, the most striking new installation at that time was the colourful paper lanterns, which may have been hung up as part of celebrations for the Mid-Autumn Festival a few weeks earlier and which were then either taken down soon afterwards or were destroyed by the heavy rain we had in early November.

Another new installation has been the refrigerator seen on the left of the next photo:

The fridge, which clearly no longer fulfills its original function, has been decorated with brightly coloured hearts, and it would appear that the intention of the artist is for people to affix post-it notes (nobody has to date). It also looks as if some new images have been painted on the ground hereabouts. The net that has been painted on the path to the right of the painted house is definitely new—Paula has christened this the ‘giraffe path’, which is our exit route from the area.

The next photo, taken only four days after the previous one, shows two new features: a brightly coloured picnic table; and what I can only describe as tinsel spheres that rotate in the wind.

The next two photos don’t show new images. They are of the side of the painted house that is next to the giraffe path, which were probably painted at the same time as the rest of the house and which I think are amusing—especially the anthropomorphic carrots and Chinese turnips.

Only a few days ago, while cycling along the path towards the painted house, I spotted something in the vegetation on the side that I hadn’t previously seen, although the state of disrepair suggests that these artefacts have been there for quite a long time:

Finally, I’ve decided that I should record more of the images that have been painted directly onto the path. Many of these carry a date in May 2015, and as such have faded somewhat, although Paula and I did cycle through on a rainy day in November, and I have to say that on that occasion the colours positively gleamed!

You could say that these paintings are extremely crude, but I think that this enhances their effectiveness, and I do like the quirkiness of many of these images. The last photo is of a painting that fills in a gap on the top right of the first photograph in Ghost Alley. Apart from its intrinsic aesthetic value, it tells me that ghost alley is a work in progress, and that I can expect more surprises here in the future.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

photographic abstraction #21

My latest quarterly collection of abstract photographs may be the last, because I’m running out of new motifs that I can use, and although I have done so in the past, I don’t want to post what are merely amorphous blobs of colour that do not suggest a concrete image.

The first photo in this collection appears to be of two humanoid faces, hence the title:


You might think that the next image is nothing more than the kind of ‘amorphous blobs of colour’ that I decried above, but to me the blue and yellow fragments seem to be of an object, possibly a light aircraft, hitting the ground with considerable force:


Everyone has their own ideas of what a ghost looks like, and you will probably disagree with my interpretation of this image, which reflects a kind of ‘Casper the friendly ghost’ stereotype:


The next image may be about as much use as a Google map for actually finding your way around, but it does show what seems to be a network of roads:

road map

This photo appears to depict a series of aerial explosions, which with the fire and smoke encroaching from the right immediately suggests a battlefield:

the fog of war

The final image reflects the kind of music I was listening to in the mid-1970s, music that I would probably find unlistenable nowadays. The title I’ve used is from an album of the same name by the Mahavishnu Orchestra:

visions of the emerald beyond

recent posts in this series
Photographic Abstraction #17
Photographic Abstraction #18
Photographic Abstraction #19
Photographic Abstraction #20