ultramarinus – beyond the sea

DEITY GARDEN & FU GUI SWIMMING CLUB – Ad Hoc Space Making in Wa Fu Estate, Hong Kong

Built in mid 1960s at the southwest end of Hong Kong Island, Wah Fu Estate is one of the first public housing projects in Hong Kong based on the modern housing concept  which introduces elevators in high-rise apartments  and standard facilities such as toilet,  kitchen and balcony in each individually owned unit.  In recent years, housing officials have been busy coming up with renewal proposals aiming at increasing the capacity of Wah Fu as part of the solution in tackling the ongoing shortage of affordable housing in Hong Kong.

Situated at the southwest corner of Hong Kong Island, Wah Fu Estate enjoys a dramatic seaside setting, with Lamma Island clearly in sight across the water to the south.  Along the shore lies a strip of park called Waterfall Bay Park.  Throughout the years, the park has become a prominent communal feature for Wa Fu and the adjacent Wa Gui Estate.  In addition to the facilities built by the government, there are two interesting examples of ad hoc space making within the park.

About 30 years ago, a number of Wah Fu residents began to abandon and leave their traditional deity porcelain figures on a slope in the park; some of which belonged to their deceased family members. Those porcelain figures were mostly used for either decoration or for worshiping at home. As the numbers of porcelain figures began to accumulate in the park, someone had a brilliant idea of using cement to fix them onto the ground, preventing them from toppling during typhoons. Years after years, an outdoor garden of hundreds of deity porcelain figures was created and has been used by the community as a place of worship. The porcelain figures are all facing the sea. A small pavilion was later added next to the garden.  Today this original “dumpsite” has become an interesting deity garden used by the community as a place of worship and local attraction for tourists.

By the waterfront immediately adjacent to the deity garden stands a small shelter and a sign that says “Fu Gui” Swimming Club, another ad hoc organization established at an unofficial spot by the local  residents from Wah Fu and Wah Gui Estate.  Further into the sea, out on a coastal rock is a small outdoor shrine for worshiping Tin Hau, Goddess of the Sea.  Accessible only via a series of stepping-stones, this once unofficial Tin Hau shrine has earned its official status from the government after bargaining and will stay permanently, according to the local residents.  Together with the deity garden, the Tin Hau shrine is a sacred place and is believed to protect the swimmers and the community. Worshiping at the shrine before swimming in the sea has become a ritual for the swimmers from the “Fu Gui” Swimming Club.

In contrast to the planned redevelopment of Graham Street in Central, residents living further away from the commercial core of the city seem to enjoy bigger flexibility in shaping their own neighborhood.

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Apartment blocks of Wah Fu Estate.
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Years after years, the abandoned porcelain deity figures have become a local garden and a place of worship in the community. With collaborative effort and creativity, the people created an unique identity to their own community.
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On the day I visited the Deity Garden, I met the members from the Fu Gui Swimming Club who were preparing for the annual celebration and offering for the birthday of Tin Hau, Goddess of the Sea, at the small shrine built on a rock. They happily shared with me stories behind the Tin Hau shine and the founding of the swimming club.  The shrine was built to protect the swimmers and community. The experienced swimmers acknowledge that the water between Wah Fu and the Lamma Island is a busy shipping corridor and they would not venture farther than they should.
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Every year the swimmers celebrate the birthday of Tin Hau with rituals followed by an outdoor feast. Roast baby pork was first offered to Tin Hau at the shrine, and then shared among participants. Beer, pop and red wine were drank to wash down the roast park, chicken and other food that were offered to Tin Hau.
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