Friday, 17 February 2017

subterranean blues, (reds, greens and yellows)

Although I’ve lived in Fanling for almost nine years, and although most of my bike rides go to the west, I know almost nothing about the part of town that lies west of the main railway line. In part, this ignorance is occasioned by geography. I live on the eastern outskirts of Fanling, but by following the Drainage Services Department (DSD) access road that runs alongside the Ng Tung River, I can avoid the need to pass through either Fanling or the adjacent town of Sheung Shui—the two were once separate, but they now form a single urban area—on my way west.

I used to cross the railway at a tunnel described in The Hill—most recreational cyclists go this way—but for more than two years I’ve been following a sequence of narrow paths and alleyways through a large squatter area on the edge of Sheung Shui (described in Journey to the West: Part 5). It’s longer this way, but more fun; in any case, ‘short cut’ is not a term with any currency in my cycling vocabulary. In both cases, I reach the DSD access roads around the Sheung Yue River catchment and barely touch the urban area. And I come back the same way.

Recently, however, as part of my attempts to extend ‘the long and winding road’, I found a different way back that took me into parts of the town with which I wasn’t familiar. I’ll not go into too much detail, but it took a long time to find a way home, and I didn’t think I could find that way again without a few false turns. Consequently, a couple of days ago, I decided to have a closer look at the cycle track network on the west side of Fanling. My starting point was the cycle track that comes into Fanling from the south, although this was coincidental—I’d come off my my bike a few days before Christmas when trying an alternative to the cycle track, and I wanted to get a photo of the location of this mishap for use in a future blog post.

Just before this cycle track reaches Fanling, there is a possible turn onto a bridge over the expressway, and I’d often wondered where it led. Now was the time to find out. Once back at ground level, I found a cycle track that led north, which I decided to follow. And it wasn’t long before I came to an underpass:

This winter, I’ve done some cycling around other towns in the New Territories—Taipo, Shatin and Ma On Shan—and I’ve noted how often subways and underpasses have been brightened up by the use of coloured tiles. I had planned to do a feature on this at some time—I probably will—but in the meantime here is what I found on this occasion. This is the other side of this underpass:

Notice that the two sides are not identical. And neither are the two sides of the next underpass, which is less than 100 metres further on:

Naturally, I was delighted to find these two underpasses, because one reason for trying to find a south-to-north route through the west side of town was to see whether I could find again a subway that I’d come across in my recent ‘lost’ meanderings. I could:

In this case, the entrance to the subway on the other side is identical. Here, I’ve included the internal walls of the subway, from both ends, because I think that these rectangular blocks of colour capture movement so well. Notice that the designs on each side are identical, but the colours are different.

The next two photos are of a T-junction on the cycle track:

The ‘tree’ motif is repeated without variation on the walls of all three legs of the T.

All the previous locations can be found in sequence, but the final subway is located on a side turning that I only just noticed as I was riding past. This cycle track doesn’t actually go anywhere. It comes to an end at the top of the exit ramp! And the walls of the entry ramp are so uninteresting that I had to photograph this stairway to illustrate the colour scheme:

But just look at the walls of the subway itself:

One final comment: none of the subways on my side of the tracks are even remotely as interesting. I wonder why.

Monday, 13 February 2017

disappearing world #3

I have rarely visited the village of Heung Tuen Wai, mainly because it lies at the end of a cul de sac, but I recalled that it does have an interesting architectural feature, a tower that I conjecture once served a defensive function, and it therefore seemed likely to be a good location for the latest instalment in my Disappearing World series. Consequently, I detoured from my usual Sunday bike ride yesterday to take a closer look:

I took several photographs of plaster mouldings and painted friezes and was just about to continue on my way when I spotted another row of houses about 60–70 metres away across what would once have been the village’s paddy fields, now no longer cultivated. To be honest, it wasn’t the houses that attracted my attention but the way to get there, a sinuous path with more meanders in its short length than the Irrawaddy (I flew over this river a couple of years ago en route to Hong Kong and was struck by its sinuosity).

That looks like fun, I thought. And it was. The path was only about 50cm wide, making it a good test of my bike-handling ability. And I was in for quite a surprise. Only one block of houses was visible from the road, but as I drew closer I became aware of a second block, hidden by trees. It is the more south-westerly of the two blocks that I’ve circled on this map:

Because of the trees, it wasn’t possible to photograph the whole building, so what follows is somewhat piecemeal, but the first thing to notice is that unlike the buildings that I photographed for earlier posts in this series, this is a two-storey structure. There are three doors, and the painted friezes above the doors are in remarkable condition:

Because of the position of the sun, it was necessary to take these photos from closer to the doors than I would have liked, and even then some glare has been unavoidable. On the walls between the recesses housing the doors, there are some incredibly intricate plaster mouldings:

I was unable to photograph the entire block satisfactorily, but the next two photos show something of how these features relate to each other. I will be looking to replace these pictures if I’m in the neighbourhood on not such a sunny day:

Of course, I still wanted to take a closer look at the building that had originally attracted my attention from the road. In fact, only the nearest house is occupied, and if you look closely, you will see that it has simply been tacked onto the end of the original terrace:

In fact, the remainder of this block is merely a fa├žade. The rest of the building is already a ruin! However, the friezes above the two main doorways are still in quite a good condition, although I cannot imagine them ever being renewed:

I will conclude this report with a view of the watchtower block from the buildings that I’ve featured here.

Of course, there are unanswered questions that I intend to pursue if possible. To begin with, the first building I’ve described seems to be rather grand to be merely a row of village houses (it has two storeys for a start). And does the existence of the watchtower indicate that this village was once more important than others in the area? If I can find answers to these puzzles, I will post a report.

other posts in this series
Disappearing World
Disappearing World #2

Thursday, 9 February 2017

mr lee’s garden

It’s often claimed that you don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it, and although I’m not completely convinced that this is always the case, Mr Lee’s garden does come close to proving the rule. When we moved into the village where we now live, in 2008, there were three things that we noticed straight away: the walled enclosure of Kun Lung Wai, the walls and gatehouse of which date back to 1744 and which are declared monuments; some noisy neighbours; and Mr Lee’s garden.

Mr Lee is a kindly Chinese gentleman who spent his entire working life in England but who returned to his home village in Hong Kong to retire. With little else to do, he took over what had been a patch of waste land alongside the only road through the village, and by hard, painstaking work transformed it into an artistic masterpiece. This is a photograph of the road that I took a few days after arriving in the village (Mr Lee’s garden is on the right):

…and these are four photos of the garden that I took at the same time, in sequence, as I walked towards the camera in the first photo:

The walls of Kun Lung Wai can be seen in the background in the first three photos. The three trees in the third photo are all banyans. I’ve no idea how old the two close together just right of centre were, but they were cut down a few years ago. The authorities in Hong Kong have been paranoid about sickly trees ever since a young woman was killed by a falling tree branch a few years ago, and it is true that these two weren’t producing much foliage, but I was still sad to see them go.

The fourth photo was taken from the entrance to the garden. It shows how the much younger tree in the third photo integrated with the rest of the garden. It was planted by Mr Lee himself around 1989/90, and it met a far more dramatic fate than its erstwhile neighbours in 2015:

Around this time, Mr Lee had been neglecting his garden for a couple of years because he had found himself with child-minding responsibilities. The weeds are obvious in the next photo, which is of the end of the garden furthest from the entrance. Compare it with the first photo of the garden above:

When I talked about losing something of value at the start of this report, I didn’t go into detail. However, I did mention that this garden is located on ‘waste land’. Well, last summer, we heard of plans to build a house here. We understand that this house will be located in the section shown in the previous photo, but we don’t know how long the rest of Mr Lee’s garden will survive.

Consequently, I’ve been taking a few photographs to remind us of former glories. First, I should point out that there are no garden gnomes in Mr Lee’s garden, but there are quite a few bizarre ornaments. Can you spot all the odd ornaments in the following photo?

You will be doing exceptionally well if you can identify all the unusual objects in this photo:

The strangers in this picture are pretty obvious:

The next four photos are merely random views of the garden:

In the next photo, the firecracker vine marks the entrance to the garden, while the brick structure that appears in a few photographs houses a brass plaque explaining the history of Kun Lung Wai:

Finally, here is a recent photo of the road that leads past the garden. You can compare it with the first photo in this report:

How things change!

Saturday, 4 February 2017

surprise view

When we moved to Fanling in 2008, we continued to cycle south every Saturday, an exercise described in Saturday Morning Adventure. At that time, once we’d reached Taipo, we used to cycle along the footpath that ran alongside the Lam Tsuen River, which is the main watercourse running through the town. After 2012, when I started to explore the cycling possibilities to the west (Across the Tracks), we rarely rode south, and by the time Paula started working at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2015, which allowed her to cycle to work, we’d begun to follow dedicated cycle tracks through the town because we’d heard that the police had started to issue tickets to cyclists who were following the aforementioned footpath.

The problem is that while it may be unacceptable for cyclists to ride on footpaths, there isn’t a similar level of enforcement against pedestrians who walk on cycle tracks—and Taipo is a nightmare of pedestrians who simply don’t look where they’re going. As a result, I became obsessed with the idea of finding a way through the town that involved the minimum possible interaction with these moving hazards. I still haven’t succeeded in this endeavour, but this is the account of one failure that turned out to be worth the time spent.

Approaching Taipo from the south, the route we had become accustomed to following takes a right turn next to a modern temple, but last month, on my way north, I decided to continue straight on instead. I soon found myself back on my customary route, but before reaching that point, I’d noticed a subway on the left that carries a cycle track, so I turned back to investigate where it might lead.

It led a long way, but it eventually came to an end at a fairly quiet road. By this time, however, I was out in the ‘suburbs’, far from the high-rise estates of central Taipo, so I thought “since I’m here, I might as well see where the road goes.” Within a fairly short distance, I came to the point shown in the following photograph:

The hill looked innocuous, but if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll have spotted immediately the alleyway on the left. And you will know that I can’t resist finding out where such alleyways lead:

The posters on the railings are about elections to the local district council—a year ago!

At this point, I need to jump ahead in the narrative to explain various photographs. The two previous photos were taken when I came this way with Paula last week, and I had intended to take some more in the alleyways ahead as we progressed. Unfortunately, I would have been shooting directly into the sun, so the next three photos were taken a couple of weeks earlier as I rode in the opposite direction and are therefore looking back the way I’d just come:

As you can see from the last photo, the route follows the banks of a massive storm drain, and the next photo, also looking downstream, shows the bridge in the middle distance that the route eventually crosses:

Although I know almost nothing about hydraulic engineering, even though I once edited a book on the subject, I imagine that the elaborate concrete structures that you can see in the stream in the two previous photos are there to ameliorate the effects of heavy flow during a tropical rainstorm, which Hong Kong gets plenty of.

The next photo was taken from almost the same position as the last one but is looking upstream:

From the parked cars, a short and reasonably gentle hill leads to a point on the road in the first photo where the minibuses terminate. That should have been a warning: on my first visit here, I decided to return along this road, but not before I’d clocked the continuation of the road. And, inevitably, I would want to know to where it might lead:

As I discovered when I returned, it led here:

The photo was taken from the top of this hill. There is an S-bend at the bottom, so you can’t see what’s coming up, but I can say that I was already in bottom gear before I was halfway round the first part of the S. The photo was taken on my first visit. There is a small car park at the top of the hill, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I stopped there for a rest. And there is a signpost to Lead Mine Pass, which encouraged me to believe that I might find a way over the top of the mountain and down the other side.

The road is now quite level for some distance, but it isn’t long before another brute of a hill presents itself. The first photograph looks up towards a bend in the middle, while the second looks down from the top:

Another all too short level section precedes the next hill. The next photo shows the top section of the hill, from a bend halfway up. Before reaching this point, a signpost shows the way to Lead Mine Pass—up a long flight of steps! Goodbye to that option then. The second photo shows Paula struggling up the top section of the hill. Well, at least I was far enough ahead to take the photo! Finally, I’ve included a view from the top of this third hill, the start of which can be seen on the left.

And where does the road go? To the village of Ta Tit Yan:

Having reached this point, it would have been easy to say ‘job done’ and go no further, but I had to know whether there was anything beyond the village, even though finding out would mean more uphill work. But I was right: there was a way forward:

Beyond a well-constructed bridge across a small stream, the way ahead seemed easy enough:

However, the path soon became much steeper, and I found it necessary to stand on the pedals—something I do very rarely—in order to keep going. The next photo was taken on the way back down this section:

I don’t know whether this is the steepest part of the entire climb, or whether my legs were simply knackered by this time, but when the path levelled out again and I heard dogs barking ahead, I decided to dismount and walk ahead to see whether there was any point in continuing. After a short ramp, I came to a typical rural cottage:

I wondered whether this was as far as I could go, but I walked past the cottage anyway, to see if the path continued beyond. It did:

The streetlight was an encouraging sign, so I returned to my bike and set about tackling this next incline. If you’re still following me at this point, you may be wondering about the title of this post. All I can say is that what I discovered at the top of this final climb was completely unexpected:

As the inscription above the door proclaims, this is a temple dedicated to the goddess Gunyam. It has no special architectural features, but there is a plaque recording that the temple was renovated in 2009. I was immediately reminded of something I read many years ago: in ancient times, the steps leading to a temple were made deliberately steep to ensure that supplicants were in a suitably reverential frame of mind before they entered the temple. I understand.