ultramarinus – beyond the sea

New Territories

Hong Kong Wetland Park (香港濕地公園), Tin Shui Wai (天水圍), Hong Kong

Just a stone throw away from Lau Fau Shan, to the north of Tin Shui Wai New Town (天水圍) stands the 61-hectare Hong Kong Wetland Park (香港濕地公園).  Created as an ecological mitigation area to compensate for the loss of wetland in the new town construction, the Wetland Park is doubled as a tourist attraction with facilities including recreated wetland reserve for waterbirds and other wildlife, boardwalk circuits over the mudflats to offer a close encounter with the wetland habitats, and a visitor centre hosting exhibitions on wetland’s biodiversity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKnown as the “Succession Walk”, an elevated winding boardwalk takes visitors out to the water pond to closely appreciate various types of aquatic plants.

DSC_5245Different types of waterlilies are some of the highlights of “Succession Walk”.

DSC_5234At “Wetland at Work”, visitors can learn more about the crops produced from wetlands, such as the rice from rice paddies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFollowing the boardwalk deeper into the park, visitor arrives at the “Mangrove Boardwalk”.

DSC_5317At “Mangrove Boardwalk”, there is a good chance to have close encounter with some of the inhabitants of the wetland mudflats, such as the Bluespotted Mudskipper and Common Mudskipper.

DSC_5316Able to breathe through their skin, these amphibious fish are quite active on the mud, actively skipping around to defend their territories.  Staying in mud burrows allow them to keep moist and maintain their body temperature.

DSC_5378-2Another type of common inhabitant at the mudflats is the Fiddler Crab.  The male uses its small claw to feed and the big claw to defend.

DSC_5398Little Egret are common in Hong Kong, and can be seen in all seasons at the Wetland Park.

DSC_5418The boardwalk of Wildside Walk takes visitors to the far end of the park, where a few types of tranquil pools await both the visitors and dragonflies.

DSC_5433At some pools, algae completely covers the water like a soft green carpet.

DSC_5444The pattern on the algae looks like an abstract painting.

DSC_5458After a loop of the wetland reserve, one can return to the modernist Visitor Centre for further information.  The building is one of the few in Hong Kong extensively using exposed architectural concrete.

IMG_0842The lobby where visitors arrive is always busy.

DSC_5460One of the exhibit highlights is Pui Pui, a Salt Water Crocodile caught at Shan Pui River in 2003 when it was a juvenile.  It is believes that Pui Pui was an abandoned illegal pet from the area that had grown too big to handle.  Hong Kong Wetland Park became Pui Pui’s permanent home in 2006.

DSC_5503Other wetland wildlife on display includes freshwater fish.

DSC_5515Looking out of the Visitor Centre, one can fully appreciate the extent of the wetland reserve, a common type of ecosystem that once dominated large areas of Northern New Territories.

DSC_5522The modernist concrete architecture matches well with the peaceful landscape of the wetlands.

DSC_5525It is pleasant to appreciate the serene wetlands from the upper level of the Visitor Centre before leaving.

 

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SUNSET OVER OYSTER WATERS, Lau Fau Shan (流浮山), Hong Kong

For 700 years, oysters have been farmed in the water of Deep Bay/ Shenzhen Bay (后海灣) near the sleepy village of Lau Fau Shan (流浮山).  Situated in the Pearl River Estuary where fresh water constantly enters the bay, Deep Bay/ Shenzhen Bay is a perfect site for oyster farming.  Today, Lau Fau Shan is the last remaining site in Hong Kong that oyster cultivation still exists.  Generations of oysters and oyster sauce consumption have put these molluscs an important part of cultural heritage of, not just Lau Fau Shan villagers, but Hong Kong citizens in general.  In fact, the oyster species cultivated in Lau Fau Shan is known as Crassostrea hongkongensis, which is named after the city itself.  Oyster farming has gone through a gradual decline since 1980’s, partly due to climate change, ocean acidification and deterioration of local water quality, and partly due to stronger competition of foreign oysters in the local market in recent years.  Apart from oysters, Lau Fau Shan is also best known for its seafood restaurants and the romantic sunset over the tidal flats.  Standing by the waterfront, the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor (深港西部通道) or Shenzhen Bay Bridge and the myriad of highrise constructions over at the Shenzhen side stretch along the horizon, while on the Deep Bay’s southern shore in the sleepy village of Lau Fau Shan, time seems to have stood still in the past few decades.

DSC_0442Coming all the way to the northwest corner of Hong Kong, we entered the village of Lau Fau Shan and immediately stopped by a small eatery by the main street.  Trying the fried or grilled oyster at one of the several simple eateries offers a pleasant alternative to the more upscale seafood restaurants along Lau Fau Shan Main Street.

DSC_0451The special attraction of Lau Fau Shan is indisputably the oysters.

DSC_0454Similar to Sai Kung and Lei Yue Mun, Lau Fau Shan is also well known of its seafood restaurants.

DSC_0456Some seafood restaurants look quite traditional and casual.

DSC_0463There are a few shops in Lau Fau Shan specialized in making oyster sauce.  Inevitably oyster sauce has became one of the most popular souvenir of the village.

DSC_0467Along the main street, two workers were busy opening the harvested oysters for sale.

DSC_0481Along the main street, different types of dried seafood were sold.

DSC_0477Near the waterfront, containers and air tubes for live seafood lie all over a temporary covered area.

DSC_0510The waterfront of Lau Fau Shan was covered with oyster shells.

DSC_0501Many boats just lay on mud flats during low tide.

DSC_0490At the waterfront, the shallow water over the mud flats looked like a peaceful mirror.  Beyond the Deep Bay stood the silhouette of another metropolis of Southern China, Shenzhen.

DSC_0587From a fishing village before 1980 to today’s metropolis of over 10 million inhabitants, the emergence of Shenzhen is a miracle to many.

DSC_0593While we took pictures of mud flats and Deep Bay, a cyclist emerged from nowhere and stopped for a moment at the waterfront.  Beyond lay the 5.5km Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor (深港西部通道), or the Shenzhen Bay Bridge (深圳灣公路大橋) linking the two cities at the Deep Bay since 2007.

DSC_0614The sun finally appeared behind the clouds, casting an orange tint to the drying seafood by the shore.

DSC_0621In late afternoon, more boats returned from Deep Bay.  Some boats arrived at the pier and offloaded passengers who might have spent the entire day fishing in the bay.

DSC_0695The silhouette of Hong Kong Shenzhen Western Corridor (深港西部通道) or Shenzhen Bay Bridge (深圳灣公路大橋) stood out along the western horizon under the late afternoon sun.

DSC_0744Soon enough, the sun made its daily routine down to the horizon beyond the bridge.

DSC_0759As the sun lowered to the horizon, the tide had also quietly returned to the waterfront of Lau Fau Shan.

DSC_0784_01The moon was already up above Lau Fau Shan.  Most tourists had left except a few passionate photographers refusing to leave the waterfront despite the sun was fading fast.

DSC_0794As we left the waterfront of Lau Fau Shan, the lights from the opposite shore began to lit up one by one.


CLEAR WATER & FINE SAND, Long Ke Wan (浪茄灣) to Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong

Just twenty minutes walk from High Island Reservoir East Dam (萬宜水庫東壩), Long Ke Wan is one of the favorite beaches in Hong Kong for many.  Facing east to Mirs Bay (大鵬灣) along with the four beaches of Big Wave Bay (大浪灣), Long Ke Wan’s (浪茄灣) hexagonal stone columns, white and powdery sand and unpolluted sea water make it a popular destination for beachgoers who make the effort to the eastern edge of Sai Kung Peninsula.  It is possible to reach Long Ke Wan from two different directions, both involve some degree of hiking.  The easiest is to hop on a taxi from Sai Kung town centre to the East Dam of High Island Reservoir, from there it is only a 20 minutes walk to the beach.  The other option is to take a village bus from Sai Kung town centre to Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭).  From the pavilion, it is a two-hour scenic hike to Long Ke Wan.  This walk covers part of the Section 2 of MacLehose Trail (麥理浩徑), from Sai Wan Shan (西灣山) to Long Ke Wan.  Atop Sai Wan Shan, the picturesque beaches of Big Wave Bay (大浪灣) down below with the mighty Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) as backdrop is truly one of the most iconic panoramas of Hong Kong’s natural beauty.

01Much of coastal area from Long Ke Wan and High Island Reservoir East Dam all the way to the outlying islands south of the Sai Kung Peninsula are covered with polygonal stone columns.

02These surreal stone formations are evidences from an active volcanic era 140 million years ago.  The 20-minute walk from High Island Reservoir East Dam to Long Ke Wan offers great opportunity to see the coastal rock formations.

04Flanked both sides by lush green slopes and back against Tuk Ngu Shan (獨孤山), Long Ke Wan (浪茄灣) is a protected bay opened southeastwards to the South China Sea.

DSC_1369The beach of Long Ke Wan is decent in size, with fine sand and crystal clear water.

05Adjacent to Long Ke Wan, the coastal scenery of rock formations and sea caves are equally impressive.

03Many visitors come to the area by yachts or hired boats.

DSC_3162At the remote Long Ke Wan, there is no cafe or changing rooms.  All there is are natural scenery of a beautiful beach.

08Many visitors set up tents on the sand.  There is also a popular camp site at the back of the beach.

09Unlike the beaches of Big Wave Bay where the waves can become quite strong, Long Ke is usually calmer.

10During the summer months, the beach is very popular among young people.

11Tidal pools can be found at the rocky areas at the side of beach.

12A visitor comes to test his luck at the tidal pool.

13Walking north from Long Ke Wan to Sai Wan Shan (西灣山) along the MacLehose Trail (麥理浩徑), hikers can have another magnificent overview of Long Ke Wan from above.

14On Sai Wan Shan (西灣山), the view of High Island Reservoir and the outlying islands south of Sai Kung Peninsula makes one forget this is Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated city in the world.

15Looking north from the top of Sai Wan Shan (西灣山), the scenery of Big Wave Bay beaches (大浪灣) and Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) is the icon of Hong Kong’s wilderness.

16The trail then goes downhill from Sai Wan Shan to Chui Tung Au (吹筒坳), then winds along the north edge of High Island Reservoir towards Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭).

17From the trail, visitors can see the West Dam of High Island Reservoir from distance.

18The turquoise and green colours of High Island Reservoir always look refreshing.

19From Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭), there is infrequent village buses return to the pier of Sai Kung town.


NATURAL vs. MAN-MADE WONDER, High Island Reservoir East Dam (萬宜水庫東壩), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong

Completed in 1978, High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫) is the largest reservoir in Hong Kong in terms of volume.  Situated at the southeastern end of Sai Kung Peninsula, High Island Reservoir is surrounded by some of the city’s most scenic country parks and pristine beaches.  Designated as an UNESCO geopark, the coastal areas near the East Dam (東壩) of the High Island Reservoir is filled with hexagonal volcanic columns unseen anywhere else in Hong Kong.  140 million years ago, catastrophic volcanic eruption covered much of the area in layers of tuff.  The tuff cooled throughout time and gradually solidified to form rock.  The hexagonal columns were formed from contraction during the cooling.  Today, remnants from the highly active volcanic era become one of the most spectacular natural sights in the city.  Equally impressive at the East Dam are the concrete dolosse blocks at one side of the Dam along the coast.  Each dolos block weights up to 20 tons.  They are used as wave breakers to protect the dam against the rough sea.  To complete the beautiful picture, there are also sea caves and stack islands dotted around the coast, and the azure sky and boundless South China Sea.

01From Sai Kung Town, the taxi ride to the East Dam, the furthest point of High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫), takes about 45 minutes.

02The spectacular High Island Reservoir East Dam separates the buffer lake of the reservoir and the boundless South China Sea.  Known as Po Pin Chau (破邊洲), the magnificent stack island outside of the East Dam is famous for its tall volcanic columns on one side of its cliff.

03The concrete East Dam structure that separates the two sides of blue water is really photogenic.

04The dolosse blocks pile up on the seaward side of the East Dam, creating a chaotic yet beautiful barrier.  Walking on the dam, we could hear the waves but weren’t be able to find an open view of the sea unless we climbed on the dolosse blocks.

07Once we climbed on the dolosse blocks, we were immediately overwhelmed by the sight of the powerful waves hitting against the coastal volcanic hexagonal columns.

05We climbed down the dam, sat on one of the step and had a quick picnic lunch.

06Looking inland, we could see the inner East Dam that separating the buffer pool with the main reservoir above.  The massive dam structure looked to us as if merged with the adjacent natural landscape.

08Sea caves are common features near the East Dam.

09At the East Dam, natural volcanic hexagonal columns appear side by side with the manmade dolosse blocks.

10To explore a bit of the surrounding coastal landscape, we decided to walk further into the trail heading to Fa Shan (花山) and Pak Lap (白臘).  The trail was not very well defined, but we managed to find our way in the hill of shrubs reaching waist height.

10aOur goal was to at least to have a closer look at the cliff of volcanic columns of the stack island of Po Pin Chau (破邊洲).

11The coastal landscape in the area was truly spectacular.  Some like to explore the area by sea kayaking.

12Passing by the stone beach of Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘), we saw a few hikers watching the powerful waves.

13Some visitors didn’t mind to get wet and chose to explore by boat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, we reached the closest lookout overlooking the magnificent Po Pin Chau (破邊洲).

14The stone columns of Po Pin Chau (破邊洲) appeared like a gigantic church organ.

16We then found our way down to the Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘) to get a even closer look and even touch of the volcanic columns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll cliff sides at Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘) were covered with stone columns.

17After the hike out to Po Pin Chau (破邊洲) and Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣), it was already late afternoon by the time we returned to the East Dam.

18.JPGInstead of calling a taxi, we decided to walk back out to the main road where we could take a public bus.  The route led us to go along a little over half the perimeter of High Island Reservoir and took about two hours.

19Beyond the haze we could see the Sharp Peak or Nam She Tsim (蚺蛇尖) in a distance, a popular challenge for hikers in Hong Kong.

20Soon the full moon was up over the tranquil water of High Island Reservoir.

21The scenery of High Island Reservoir was serene and calm.

22We enjoyed a few minutes of perfect sunset when we reached the West Dam (西壩).  Beyond the West Dam was Port Shelter Sea (牛尾海) and a series of islands.  The closest island was Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲).

23As the sun gradually set, we picked up our pace of walking.  Known as the Maclehose Trail Section 1, the trail surrounding High Island Reservoir was long but relative flat and easy.  By the time we reached the bus stop at Tai Mong Tsai Road it was almost dark.


FRAGRANT SEA AND PRESTIGIOUS MOUNTAIN (香海名山), Tsing Shan Monastery (青山禪院), Tuen Mun (屯門), Hong Kong

In the middle of the 5th century, Buddhist Master Pui To (杯渡禪師) from India arrived in Tuen Mun, where at that time was a military outpost where foreigners were required to go through immigration customs.  Legend has it that Pui To traveled in a “wooden cup” across the sea, and therefore was named “Pui To”, which literally means “cup sailing”.  Pui To decided to stay in Tuen Mun to host religious ceremonies and teaching sessions for the stationed soldiers.  He settled on the mountain above the military station and practiced meditation regularly in a cave.  His name was widespread across the region, and his residing place (a grotto and hut) soon became a place for pilgrimage.  In the next 1500 years, this pilgrimage site had been considered as the origin of Buddhism in Hong Kong.  In 1829, the To clan built a Taoist institution known as Tsing Wan Kwun (青雲觀) just adjacent to the pilgrim site of Pui To.  In the 1910s, Chan Chun-ting bought the adjacent land to redevelop Tsing Wan Kwun.  His plan made a big twist in 1918 when Chan was converted to Buddhism.  Instead of a Taoist temple, Chan developed the Tsing Shan Monastery (青山禪院), which encompassed Buddhist halls, Pui To’s grotto, as well as the Taoist Tsing Wan Kwun.  The monastery and Taoist temple fell into legal dispute after Chan Chun-ting died in 1932.  In 1998, the case for Tsing Shan Monastery concluded at the High Court.  The court ruled that the Monastery would become a public institution managed by a charity trust.

We arrived in Tuen Mun by bus No. 962 all the way from Causeway Bay.  It was a grey day and it seemed that rain patch might come in any minute.  In the first glance, Tuen Mun New Town appeared like another uninspiring satellite town built in the 1970s by the British government to resolve the housing issue of Hong Kong.  Adjacent to the new town, the lush green Castle Hill (青山) was partly hidden in the mist.  We came to visit what claimed to be the oldest temple in Hong Kong.  From Tsing Shan Village, the winding Tsing Shan Monastery Path was a decent uphill walk to the monastery.

01With relaxed hearts, we slowly climbed the Tsing Shan Monastery Path to the famous Pailou (牌坊).  On the Pailou, the calligraphic inscription 香海名山 or “Fragrant Sea and Prestigious Mountain” was written by Hong Kong Governor Sir Cecil Clementi (金文泰) in 1929.  Clementi was a British administrator who possessed deep knowledge of Chinese culture, fluent in Cantonese and mastered the skills of Chinese calligraphy.

02The front gate (山門) of Tsing Shan Monastery was renewed in 2009 into the current appearance.

03The first thing that caught our attention was a portrait of Maitreya (彌勒佛) displayed on the wall of the Guardian Pavilion (護法殿).

04To the right of the Guardian Pavilion (護法殿) stood the Tsing Wan Kun (青雲觀).  The original heritage building was the oldest structure in the entire Tsing Shan Monastery.  Against advise of conservationists, the old structure was controversially demolished in 2004 by the To family, the owner of the monastery.  A new building in style of the Tang Dynasty was erected in its place.

05
Despite the relatively new building, there were still a number of historical items inside the Tsing Wan Kun, such as the bronze bell in the courtyard.

06Inside the Taoist Tsing Wan Kun, there were quite a variety of deities for worship, such as the 60 Tai Sui deities (太歲), a group of deities created from the orbiting stars directly opposite to the Jupiter in Chinese astrology.  Worshipers would come each year to pay respect to a specific Tai Sui deity according to his or her birth year.  Other than the Tai Sui, the central altar was dedicated to Doumu (斗母), the mother deity of the Big Dipper.

07Other deities could be found in the upper chamber of Tsing Wan Kun.  Like many Taoist temples, Tsing Wan Kun houses a variety of traditional deities.

08The atmospheric inner hall of Tsing Wan Kun was filled with suspended incenses.

09Buddhist figures like the Guanyin was present in the inner hall of Tsing Wan Kun.  Most believe that the Chinese Guanyin originated from Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.

10Back to the entrance courtyard of Tsing Shan Monastery, we followed the path to the back of the Guardian Pavilion and arrived at the Grand Hall (大雄寶殿).  Eight characters were inscribed on the front wall, “Everything on Earth Has Ties and Reaches Nirvana Together” (一切有情、同登覺地).

11The Grand Hall (大雄寶殿) was dominated by the altar of three Buddha statues.

12On the side walls of the Grand Hall (大雄寶殿), there were a series of tiny niches each with a bodhisattva figure lit up from above, many were marked with a donor’s name.

13Outside of the Grand Hall, we could clearly see the interesting roof detail of Guardian Pavilion (護法殿)

14Behind the Grand Hall (大雄寶殿) we walked up the stair to the upper section of Tsing Shan Monastery.  From the upper platform, we could have a closer look at the roof carvings of the Grand Hall (大雄寶殿), which included a pair of dragons on the ridge.

15And a ceramic lion at the side hip of the roof.

16On the upper part of Tsing Shan Monastery we reached a open platform overlooking town centre of Tuen Mun below.

17One of the highlight of the monastery’s upper platform was the shrine at what believed to the the grotto where Master Pui To (杯渡禪師) meditated.

18Near the grotto, there was a offering table and a wall of plaques with donor’s names.

19Near the grotto, a small stair led us up to another platform where a three-tier Buddhist stupa (時輪金剛佛塔) stood.

20Further up the hill stood the ruins of the old Abbot’s Chamber (方丈室).

21As we turned away from the ruined Abbot’s Chamber, we spotted the profile of two people standing at a lookout.  Soon we found out they were actually life size paper cut of passed actors Bruce Lee (李小龍) and Roy Chiao (喬宏).  In 1973, Lee, Chiao and their crew members came to Tsing Shan Monastery to film a scene of “Enter the Dragon” (龍爭虎鬥).

22Back down to the level of the grotto, we passed by a garden and the Gate of Harmony (和合山門).  On both sides of the gate, the inscriptions stated that “No sweeping is needed for pure land.  No closing is needed for empty doors” (淨土何須掃,空門不用關).   At the end of the garden stood a yellow pailou.  It was part of the original Hall of Scriptures (藏經閣).

23After a decent stroll of the monastery ground, it was time for us to head back downhill.  We passed by the Entrance Pailou once again.  Instead of “Fragrant Sea and Prestigious Mountain” ( 香海名山) at the front of the pailou, this time the back of the Pailou read as “Repentance is Salvation” (回頭是岸).

24After the descend, we soon reached a large public square and the historical Hau Kok Tin Hau Temple (后角天后廟 ).  Tin Hau was the deity that former fishermen of Tuen Mun prayed for a peaceful return from the sea.

25In the public square, a large bamboo pavilion was erected, probably as a stage and performance theatre for traditional Chinese operas.

26Adjacent to the Tin Hau Temple, there was a relatively new museum housing three enormous ceremonial backdrops.

27We walked southwards along the Tuen Mun River Channel.

28Since 1970s, Tuen Mun new town has been developed into a city with close to half a million of population.

29Boats by the shore at the mouth of Tuen Mun River reminded us that Tuen Mun was once a fishing village.

30In the evening, we walked to the mouth of Tuen Mun River and reached the Butterfly Beach (蝴蝶灣) in the dark.  The Inner River Dock (內河碼頭) where container ships to and from China’s Pearl River would stop for customs.


LAI CHI WO (荔枝窩), Plover Cove Country Park (船灣郊野公園), New Territories, Hong Kong

At the northeast extent of the New Territories where Mainland China is just a stone throw away, vacant houses and abandoned farmlands reveal a forgotten past of the rural communities situate at what is now known as the Plover Cove Country Park (船灣郊野公園) and Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).  One of the largest villages in the area is Lai Chi Wo (荔枝窩), a famous Hakka village dated back to 400 years ago.  At its peak, Lai Chi Wo had more than 200 houses and over a thousand inhabitants.  As the city rapidly urbanized, most residents of Lai Chi Wo either moved to urban areas,  or overseas.  Today many houses in the village had been vacant for years.  Behind the rusty gates, broken windows and crumbling walls, rotting furniture and old housewares lay on the dusty floor.  Yet in recent year or two, some people from the city turned to farming.  They move to Lai Chi Wo and re-cultivate some of the abandoned farmlands.

Despite situated far from the city at the northeast border of Hong Kong, we didn’t particularly start our hike early.  By the time we reached Wu Kau Tang Village (烏蛟騰), it was already early afternoon.  From Wu Kau Tang, there were a number of hiking trails heading into Plover Cove Country Park.  We headed east to another village, Sam A Village (三椏村), right by the coast of Yan Chau Tong or Double Haven Marine Park.  Like most villages in the area, Sam A has passed its prime long ago.  Today, only a few villagers return to Sam A during weekends to run their restaurants and shops serving hikers and tourists.  At Sam A, we stopped by Yuan Hing Restaurant (源興食店) for lunch.  Only open in weekends, Yuan Hing serves good Hakka dishes and tofu dessert.  The restaurant was fully packed, and a number of dishes were already sold out when we got there.

Along the way, we passed by stone beaches and mangrove groves of the Yan Chau Tong Marine Park.  Famed for its tranquil scenery and interesting rock formations, the coastal landscape of Yan Chau Tong were created by a series of prehistoric volcanic eruptions.  Protected from the open sea by several islands at the outer edge of the bay, the water of Yan Chau Tong is often calm.  We reached the village of Lai Chi Woo at around 4pm.  Old trees, dense mangroves and giant vines greeted our arrival.  At the main plaza, a huge banyan tree stood like a large umbrella.  A few elderly villagers were cleaning up a vending stall in front of a former primary school building.  After most tourists left with the 3:30pm boat, Lai Chi Woo returned to its half-abandoned state of serenity.  We wandered for a while, and asked around for the way going to Luk Keng (鹿頸), where we could take a minibus getting back to the city.  It was getting dark and we still had another 2.5 hour of hiking ahead.

We quickly confirmed the route with a villager and headed out of Lai Chi Woo.  Along the way to Luk Keng, we passed by a few more ghost villages until we reached a fork path where the water of Starling Inlet separated Hong Kong and Shenzhen of China.  A dessert and snack vendor was about to close his stall Old San Tofu Dessert.  We ordered a bowl of dessert tofu and sat by the waterfront to finish it.  From then on, it was about 45 minute walk along the waterfront to the village of Luk Keng.  As it grew darker, the buildings and port across the water in Shenzhen looked bright and busy.  We finally reached Luk Keng before 7pm.  In the dark, we were surprised seeing a very long queue at the micro-bus station.  We ended up waiting for over an hour to board the last bus of the night heading to Fanling Station.

DSC_8874The village of Wu Kau Tang (烏蛟騰) served as a trail-head for a number of hiking routes.

DSC_8983Mangrove sprouted from cracks at the coast of Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).

DSC_8985Interesting coastal rocks at Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).

DSC_9000We reached Sam A Village (三椏村) where we sat down for lunch at Yuan Hing Restaurant (源興食店) .

DSC_9039Mangrove groves at Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).

DSC_9041Ancient trees greeted our arrival at Lai Chi Woo (荔枝窩).

DSC_9047The old giant vines were fenced off from the main path.

DSC_9051The former primary school at Lai Chi Woo.

DSC_9052The prominent banyan tree at the main village plaza of Lai Chi Woo.

DSC_9056Traditional lanterns were hung on the branches of the old banyan tree.

DSC_9061Illustration of Lai Chi Woo with its rows of houses backed by a fungshui forest.  A fengshui forest was believed to be a natural protection from outer harms.

DSC_9064Some of the abandoned houses are now occupied once again.

DSC_9071 Farming returned to Lai Chi Woo once again.

DSC_9072We left Lai Chi Woo through the west gate.

DSC_9111Abandoned houses were common sights on our way to Luk Keng.

DSC_9153The delicious tofu dessert at Old San vendor.

DSC_9195Across Starling Inlet the skyline of East Shenzhen was clearly visible.

DSC_9220At last we arrived at Luk Keng at almost 7pm.


MA PO PO: Sustainable Future in Fanling, Hong Kong

We almost forgot Hong Kong still has a considerable amount of arable land suitable for farming until we visited Ma Po Po (馬寶寶), the community farm at Ma Shi Po Village (馬屎埔) in Fanling (粉嶺). In recent months, the government’s proposal to develop rural areas and farming villages into high dense residential communities in Northeast North Territories has became a controversial topic in the city.

1Ma Po Po Community Farm is located at Ma Shi Po Village in Fanling.

2A group of youthful artists from YMCA enlivened the village with beautiful wall paintings. At village entrance, we were welcomed by this handsome cat farmer.

1aHanging on the metal gate of Ma Po Po Community Farmer’s Market is a handmade signage. Ma Po Po literally means “Baby Horse”. The founders of the farmer’s market hope that everyone would treat the gradually disappearing farmland with care and love as if their baby.

3Every two weeks a community market is held at Ma Po Po, selling cook-to-order snacks and bread, organic vegetables, biodegradable home products, handcrafts, souvenirs, etc.

4The farmers market at Ma Po Po offers some of the best produce in the entire city.

7Developing the north region of New Territories is a controversial topic in recent months.  Many farmers, including the villagers at Ma Po Po, are facing a real risk of eviction.  The Hong Kong government favors urban development over agriculture, and doesn’t seem to bother finding a balanced solution that encourages the coexistence of farming and urban development.

5“I love my home, to North Fanling, from Hong Kong citizens,” the banner says.

6Fresh bread was made from these communal ovens.

8A month-old puppy was looking for a new home.

9Lego display of recent news incident in support of the Umbrella Revolution (Occupy Central Movement).

9a0Many people like us who came visit the farmer’s market would join a brief local to learn more about the Ma Shi Po Village.

9a
Wall mural depicting the snacks that once sold at this village’s grocery store. The elderly shop owner is still living in this house, but his tiny shop couldn’t stand the contest with the chain supermarkets outside the village.

10Simple wall murals are common in Ma Shi Po depicting original farming scenes.  Since the residential towers were built across the street from the village, sunlight exposure to certain farmlands is greatly affected.  Some owners switch to growing fruit trees instead.

11Raising poultry was once part of the village life.  However, we were told that in recent years the government has imposed heavy restrictions on raising poultry.  Today, free range chickens and ducks can only be seen on wall murals captured by the young artists.

12Hong Kong’s climate is suitable for farming all year round.  Green vegetables dominate the farms during winter, while melons and fruits wait for their chance in summertime.

13
The guide presented a bucket of soy pulp collected from a tofu shops nearby.  Many types of organic waste are being collected from restaurants and markets in nearby neighborhoods to support organic farming.  Ma Po Po aims to demonstrate a perfect cycle of co-existence among organic farmers, restaurants and the local communities.  Not only does their collection/compost/farming cycle create some of the best produce in the city, it also indicates a strategy that partially alleviates the burden of organic waste.

14The last part of the tour was to demonstrate about how the collected organic waste is turned into organic fertilizer.  Removing the plastic wrap, our guide showed us a compost mount, in which dry leaves and branches were mixed with small amount of organic waste such as fish bones.

15Farms at Ma Shi Po Village are usually small in scale.  Each family decides on their crop selection and farming methods.  Even the bird repellent method is unique for each farm.

15bPapaya is common in rural Hong Kong.

15cThese mandarin oranges seem to remind everyone that Chinese New Year is just around the corner.

16Not everyone in Ma Shi Po maintains a farm.

17Many original farmlands and houses have been vacant or sold to large developers.  Large developers then come and fence off the properties under their control.  After months of neglect these lands would soon turn into overgrown wastelands. Some people have proposed to rent the abandoned farmlands from the developers while the land was left idling.  Their proposals were rejected by the developers.

17aBanners in protest of earlier land bidding exercises when farm lands were sold off to developers.

18Ng Tung River dominates the scenery north of Ma Shi Po. This river has once been the reason for the founding the farming community.

19While exiting Ma Shi Po, we could clearly see the overwhelming residential development just across the street.  Without character, memories, and living traditions, these highrise developments are efficient machines to house a population made up mainly with people from elsewhere in the city.

20We brought back lots of fresh vegetables from Ma Po Po.  They were definitely the sweetest vegetables we’ve ever had in recent months. Now, a visit to Ma Po Po Farmer’s Market has become our weekly ritual. People who live in the Fanling area are lucky to live so close to this terrific organic farm.  We believe in balanced development.  The coexistence of Ma Po Po and the surrounding neighborhoods shows us a good example of what a sustainable future may look like for generations to come.