ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Outlying Islands

FAN LAU (分流), Western Lantau Island Part 1, Hong Kong

At the southwest tip of Lantau Island, the Fan Lau Peninsula (分流) extends out into the Pearl River Estuary, with its northwest facing the slightly brown water of Pearl River and its southeast to South China Sea’s pristine blue.  Only accessible on foot, at this westernmost corner of Hong Kong, deserted beaches and abandoned village homes of Fan Lau reminisce some of the city’s long lost memories.  The pleasant and relatively flat 6-hour hike to Fan Lau has been on our wish list for quite some time.  Known as the Lantau Trail Section 8, the first part of the trail brought us onto a coastal trail, where open views of the South China Sea dominated the horizon, with the hazy silhouette of Lantau Peak or Fung Wong Shan (鳳凰山) behind us in a distance.  In the trail’s second part we made a detour onto the Fan Lau Peninsula to visit its various attractions.  Then we followed the Lantau Trail Section 7 north to Yi O and then Tai O, our final destination of the day.

DSC_5737In a sunny but hazy winter Saturday morning, we took the ferry from Central to Pui Wo of Lantau Island.  On our way to the Central Pier, we passed by Lung Wo Road where the annual Hong Kong Marathon was taking place.  After arriving at Mui Wo of Lantau Island, we boarded a local bus for Shek Pik (石壁) Reservoir to reach the trailhead.

DSC_5751The first half hour or so we walked along a storm-water channel right by the mountain foot.

DSC_5761With the day’s heavy hazy, we could only barely see the silhouette of Lantau Peak or Fung Wong Shan (鳳凰山) behind us.

DSC_5767In less than an hour from trailhead, we made a short detour out to a peninsula near Kau Ling Chung (狗嶺涌) to check out the South Obelisk (嶼南界碑).  The small obelisk was erected by the British in 1902 to mark the southern boundary of Lantau Island.

DSC_5779The hilltop of the South Obelisk offered us a good view of the beaches of Kau Ling Chung (狗嶺涌) and Fan Lau Tung Wan (分流東灣) further afield.  We followed a path down to the campsite and beach of Kau Ling Chung, and walked further southwest towards the tip of Fan Lau Peninsula.

DSC_5803The coastal path up and down the peninsula took us closer to Fan Lau Tung Wan (分流東灣).

DSC_5816We finally reached the main beach of Fan Lau Tung Wan (分流東灣), and were delighted to find the colourful rocks on the sand.

DSC_5844Unfortunately, other than rocks we could also find a never-ending blanket of rubbish on the beach.

DSC_5860From the main beach, there was a small path that led to Chan’s Store, one of few houses in Fan Lau Village that were still occupied.  In fact, according to South China Morning Post, the owner of the store could well be the only resident left in the village.

DSC_5865Many houses in the area were already overtaken by vegetation.

DSC_5866The village was mostly desert, except for Chan’s Store.  We picked up a can of soft drink and rested for a few minutes.

DSC_5892From Chan’s Store, we returned to the beach of Fan Lau Tung Wan (分流東灣).  At the end of the beach we exited the beach into a narrow uphill path.  A peculiar rock (石筍) stood atop the hill overlooking the beach, just a few minutes before we reached the remnant of the old Fan Lau Fort (分流炮台).

DSC_5898Built in 1729 by the Qing government, the fort was abandoned in 1898 when the British were granted the lease of the New Territories. It was originally built to defend the coastal area from pirates.

DSC_5914Also on the Fan Lau Peninsula was a mysterious stone circle.  Archaeologists believe that the circle was arranged for ceremonial purposes during the Neolithic and Bronze Age.

DSC_5922Leaving Peninsula behind, we stumbled upon a small beach called Fan Lau Miu Wan (分流廟灣), where a Tin Hau Temple was built.  The temple was probably erected in 1820.

DSC_5932There wasn’t anyone in the temple when we entered.  The neat altar and fresh offerings on the counter suggested the temple, though remote, was under well maintenance.

DSC_5934In the temple’s anteroom there was a traditional bed with slippers and shoes on display.  Maybe that chamber was some sort of representation of the home of the deity?

DSC_5935In another small chamber there were old stone plagues dated from late Qing Dynasty, Nationalist era, to just a few years ago.  Each plague recorded a major renovation of the temple and the names of donors (mainly from individuals and business around West Lantau.  There were also two wooden boat models on display.

DSC_5943After checking out the temple, we stepped back onto the Fan Lau Country Trail.  Some parts of the trail was dominated by taller-than-human silver grass.

DSC_5949As we left the tip of Fan Lau Peninsula behind, Fan Lau Country Trail led us back to the main path of Lantau Trail Section 7, where we once again encountered the former settlement of Fan Lau Village (分流村).

DSC_5950At this westernmost area of Hong Kong, Fan Lau Village once housed 200 people, but now there could be only one inhabitant left (owner of Chan’s Store).  We passed by plenty of abandoned houses in various state of crumbling.

DSC_5962One of the highlight in the village was the former Fan Lau School.

DSC_5956There was only one room in the building.  The blackboard was still on the wall.  There was a photography show by artist Lily Leung on display in the building.  Her works depicted a strong sense of nostalgia of the nearly abandoned Fan Lau.

DSC_5970Many old utensils were left behind in the village, including a stone grinder below a banyan tree.

DSC_5978In most of the abandoned houses, there was a mezzanine floor.  Large ceramic containers were also common.

DSC_5985The wooden roofs of many village homes crumbled, while walls were taken over by vegetation.

DSC_5988One of the most impressive building in Fan Lau Village was undoubtedly the ancestral hall.  Some travelers set up a tent right in front of the former ancestral hall.

DSC_6004Some village houses revealed unique preferences of the former residences.

DSC_6007Glass details of the old windows revealed the age.  These glass windows were popular decades ago, but is now a rarity.

DSC_6013Before leaving Fan Lau Village, we passed by another iconic structure from the village’s heyday, a chimney structure right by the Fan Lau Sai Wan (分流西灣).  After the village, we continued on our hike on Lantau Trail Section 7 northwards to Yi O.

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TUNG PING CHAU (東平洲), Rocky Paradise in Mirs Bay, Hong Kong

Tung Ping Chau (東平洲) lies at the northeastern-most corner of Hong Kong’s territory. The island is much closer to Mainland China than to Mainland Hong Kong. Long before the island was included in the Hong Kong Global Geopark in 2009, foe decades Tung Ping Chau had been a popular destination for visitors who came to see the island’s unique rock formations and wave cut platforms. Tung Ping Chau was once home to over three thousand inhabitants, and also infamously a . Its population went through a continuous decline in recent decades. Today less than ten islanders called Tung Ping Chau their home. Most people come to the island as tourists on Saturday and Sunday, when the island is served with a daily ferry departing from Ma Liu Shui pier at around 9:00 am. 1The ridge of Pat Sin Leng (八仙嶺) and the dam of Plover Cove Reservoir (船灣淡水湖) lie right in front as we left Ma Liu Shui Pier (馬料水) behind venturing out into Tolo Channel from Tolo Harbour. 2After an hour and fifteen minute of boat ride, we finally arrived at the pier of Tung Ping Chau. Immediately we were captivated by the pristine clear water. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnlike other volcanic islands of Hong Kong, Tung Ping Chau is made of sedimentary rocks. 4Apart than geology, Tung Ping Chau is also renounced for its coastal ecology. In 2001, the sea surrounding the island has been designated as the fourth Marine Park (conservation area) in the city, a marine conservation area. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome surviving village homes are used for guesthouses and eateries serving visitors who land on the island every weekend. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocal delicacies of Tung Ping Chau include squid with salt and pepper, and sea urchin fried rice. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADrying cuttlefish. 8Rock formation in Tung Ping Chau is unique down to the smallest details, much owe to erosion caused by the sea waves. 9Crabs of various sizes are common on the island, especially in the tidal pools. 10These tidal pools are completely cut off from the sea during low tide. 11Wandering in the rocky coastal areas on Tung Ping Chau was a surreal experience. 12In many cases, the force of sea waves can be clearly visible from the rocks. 13 Wave-cut platforms. 14 Amazing triangular wave-cut platforms. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Some of the rock cuts look so perfect as if they were carved with a knife and ruler. 16 The layering of sedimentary rocks can be clearly seen. 17Clear water, splendid seashells, fine sand, and charming afternoon sun. 18Close-up of a coral head on the beach. 19 As we waited for the returning ferry, we saw a man sat on the rock contemplating the industrial facilities of Mainland China.


TAI O, Fishing Village on Lantau Island, Hong Kong – Part 2

A popular 2.5 hour hike on Lantau Island brought us back to Tai O again.  This time, we started our hike from Tung Chung (東涌), across Tung Chung Bay from the busy International Airport of Hong Kong. The Tung-O Trail winds through the northwest coastline of Lantau Island, overlooking the water of Pearl River Mouth where the construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is still ongoing.  We reached Tai O in late afternoon when sunlight cast an orange glow on everything from drying shrimp paste to mangrove bushes. DSC_5009Descending airplane above the Pearl River Mouth was a common sight happened every few minutes along the Tung-O Trail. 1Construction work of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is visible throughout the first part of the hike. Part of the 50km network of tunnels and bridges that will ultimately connect the three cities, work on the Hong Kong section has been falling behind schedule. 2aRoof detail of a small shrine near Tai O. 3a Flowers and wooden terraces overlooking the water welcomed us as we arrived at Hong Kong’s most famous fishing village Tai O once again. 4Dried fish is a local favorite and a popular souvenir for visitors. 5Dried lime and tangerine skins are handy for a number of uses in Chinese cuisine. 6Western herbs such as rosemary also made their way into some villagers’ garden terraces in Tai O. 7But the most iconic product from Tai O is undoubtedly shrimp paste. 8For generations, the shrimp paste industry had been providing a rich source of income for the fishermen in Tai O. 9Drying shrimp paste bricks 10 However, the industry of Tai O shrimp paste manufacturing has been shrinking rapidly in recent years, from 10 factories in the 1960s down to 2 remaining today. 11 Since banning trawling fishing in Hong Kong, much of the shrimp fishing industry has shifted to other coastal cities in Guangdong. As a result, the majority of the shrimp paste industry has been moved to China as well. 12In most occasions, buckets of shrimp paste from China are shipped back to Tai O for the final process of the production. 13Incoming tide and the mangrove trees 14A fire broke out in 2000 burnt down a large number of the original timber stilt houses. New stilt houses have been rebuilt using metal sheets. 15Despite the recent decade’s of transformations, the sleepy ambiance of Tai O remains unchanged, especially in comparison to the intense urbanity of many other places in Hong Kong.

> Link to   TAI O, Hong Kong Part 1


TAI O, Fishing Village on Lantau Island, Hong Kong – Part 1

Remotely situated at the west side of Lautau Island, Tai O is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hong Kong. Despite touristy, Tai O’s iconic stilt houses, shrimp paste factories, pristine wetlands, and its sense of rural community remind us of what Hong Kong used to look like a few centuries ago where the territory’s coastline was dotted with numerous fishing villages. Located at a coastal wetland where shrimps, mudskippers and mangrove forests once ruled, Tai O reveals a delicate balance among humans, coastal wildlife and the mangrove forests. Unfortunately, due to urban development, much of Hong Kong’s precious wetlands are either in danger or completely gone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A short walk from Tai O is the village of Yi O, where farmers reintroduce rice paddies and other organic farming back to Lautau Island a few years ago.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Between Tai O and Yi O, there are a series of coastal wetlands and pebble beaches open to the mouth of Pearl River.

3 In Tai O, shrimp paste and dried seafood still dominate the souvenir shopping list for many visitors.

4 Without the presence of chain stores and large supermarkets, each local store in Tai O still possesses a distinctive character along the main shopping street – Kat Hing Street.

5 Spontaneous art brut can be found throughout Tai O.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Among the various street food options on Kat Hing Street, traditional charcoal grilled egg waffle is definitely one of the most popular.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Apart from egg waffle, grilled squid is equally tempting.

8 Opposite from their street entrances, many eateries in Tai O have back patios overlooking one of the many canals in the village.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Many villagers remain in Tai O spend much of their lives in the village.

10 Metal sheds of various sorts can be found throughout Tai O, especially after the fire of 2000 when a great number of original timber stilt houses were destroyed.

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> Link to  Tai O, Hong Kong Part 2


BUN FESTIVAL – Cheung Chau’s Reinvented Festival, Hong Kong – Part 2 of 2

The Buddha’s Birthday on the 6th of May was a public holiday in Hong Kong.  It also marked the final day of the 2014 Cheung Chau Bun Festival.  On this day, the festival highlights included the Parade of “Floating Colours” in the afternoon, followed by the ghost rituals in the evening, and the bun-snatching race at midnight.  I arrived at Cheung Chau at around 6:30pm.  The first thing I saw was the enormous crowd lining up at the pier, who were waiting for the city-bound ferry after watching the afternoon parade.  That evening I stayed on the island for about 6 hours, in which 4.5 hours were spent in queue for the bun-snatching race that lasted for only 3 minutes.  Luckily, before I was trapped in the queue, I did stumble upon the interesting ghost rituals at the waterfront.

The bun-snatching race has always been considered the climax of the Bun Festival.   Originally the race was restricted to the communities of Cheung Chau.  Over a hundred participants would race up one of the three bun mounts to snatch as many buns as they could from as high up as possible.  Each bun they gathered represented good fortune; the higher they reached to the top, the better the fortune gained for the community.  In 1978, a bun mount collapsed during the race and injured many.  The event was consequently banned until a much-modified version reemerged in 2005.

Before the bun-snatching race was reintroduced in 2005, a popular HK-produced animated film in 2001, My Life as McDull,  uses the bun-snatching race as one of the central themes to reflect on HK’s collective memories and spirit.  My Life as McDull  depicts the pure and simple life of a piglet character named McDull in Hong Kong.  In the film, McDull constantly fails to achieve his goals but he never gives up trying and dreaming.  Inspired by Olympic gold medalist Lee Lai Shan, one of McDull’s dream is to participate in the Olympics, and his chosen sport is the bun-snatching race.  The story portrays how McDull trains hard to master bun-snatching techniques, and also illustrates how his mother writes to the IOC with her limited English asking them to consider bun-snatching as an official sport.  Many considered the popularity of McDull as the main driving force behind the government’s decision to revive the bun-snatching race after a 26-year ban.

Unlike the community-based event prior to 1978, the reintroduced bun-snatching race since 2005 has been a government-run event aimed for tourism.  From the first glance, the new event resembles a rock-climbing competition contested by well-trained climbers, many of which are actually police or firefighter from other parts of the city.  The original three bun mounts have been reduced to one, and the number of participants has been cut down to a dozen.   Steel replaces bamboo for the mount structure, and plastic buns substitute the traditional fresh home-made buns.  To many, the biggest drawback of the reinvented event is the fact that the race is no longer a community event of Cheung Chau, but a commercialized tourist spectacle emphasized on showmanship, sponsorship and order.  No wonder the biggest criticism has come from nowhere else but Cheung Chau, where many saw the new race a poor appropriation and a pillage of their own heritage.

ImageLion dance went from one shop to another to chase off evil spirit and welcome good fortune.ImageLong lineups at the ferry pier waiting for the city-bound ferry services.ImageWorshipers at the waterfront performed rituals dedicated to the ghosts.ImageImageImageImageLanterns, incenses and snacks dedicated to the lost spirits were neatly placed at the waterfront.ImageImageImageThe three traditional bamboo-supported bun mounts were erected for display only.ImageThe steel-supported bun mount at the centre stage was equipped with climbing ropes and safety mats.ImageThe bun snatching race was at the mercy of the unpredictable weather.ImageDespite the long wait and great anticipation, the actual race lasted for only three minutes. It was like a performance on stage which lacked the spirit of the actual community.
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BUN FESTIVAL – Cheung Chau’s Reinvented Festival, Hong Kong – Part 1 of 2

Held every year in the fourth month of the lunar calendar, Cheung Chau’s Bun Festival, or “Tai Ping Ching Chiu” in Cantonese, is comprised of a series of Chinese religious rituals, a massive street parade, and a bun-snatching race.  I never got a chance to experience the Bun Festival in person; but the old photographs of the bun-snatching race, in which dozens of strong men climbing madly up to the top of a multi-storey high bun mount collecting the white buns, have captured my attention since I was a child.  Unfortunately, due to an accident in 1978 the race was banned before I was even born.  In 2005, the government reintroduced a new bun-snatching event known as the Bun-Snatching Carnival, and has since then promoting it as the regional cultural event in Hong Kong.

Dated back to the 18th century, the Bun Festival is a religious event dedicated to the Taoist deity of Pak Tai, whose power was credited for stopping a devastating plague and chasing off evil spirits.  Every year the forecourt of Cheung Chau’s Pak Tai Temple is transformed into the main festival ground, where gigantic bun mounts are displayed, a temporary stage for Chinese opera is set up, and a bamboo shelter is erected to house three huge papier mâché deities.  On the weekend before this year’s bun-snatching festival, Cheung Chau was already packed with visitors who came to check out the preparation of the festival, the bun mounts, lion dances, Chinese opera performances and other religious rituals that officially kick-start the festival.

ImageReligious crafts donated by local families were displayed in front of the Bai Tak Temple.

ImageTraditional lucky wheels, the  popular merchandises at the festival ground.ImageCommunity groups were busy setting up the bun mount displays.ImageThere were many actions around and a group of men unexpectedly running towards my direction from nowhere with the huge papier mache deities which were being relocated into a bamboo shelter at the festival ground.

ImageThe temporary stage for Chinese Opera would become a focal point after sunset.ImageDonor recognition wall at the back of the temporary stage for Chinese opera, with each name and donation amount handwritten on bright orange papersImageAfter sunset, the lights at the festival ground unveiled a romantic ambiance.  The three huge bun mounts looked even more impressive with the floodlights.

ImageThe three papier mache deities were displayed at a temporary shrine.ImageA woman came to check out the donor list.  ImageThere were a few spots for deities worship within the festival ground.ImageThe forecourt of Pak Tai Temple and the adjacent basketball courts were transformed into the main festival ground for the Bun FestivalImageBoth the huge and small bun-mounts were made with real Chinese buns.ImageThere is always lion dance performance for large Chinese celebration. ImageImage


CHEUNG CHAU – An Urban Retreat, Hong Kong

Just 45 minutes of ferry from the Central Ferry Piers, the Island of Cheung Chau is one of the last fishing communities in Hong Kong.  As a grown up who has come to terms with the ever-changing cityscape of Hong Kong, visiting the island’s narrow laneways, fishermen marinas, historical temples, crumbling buildings, shabby souvenir shops, and cluttered seafood eateries is like wandering in an atmospheric film set of Hong Kong decades back in time.  Cheung Chau has always been a highly popular weekend getaway destination among families with kids, teenage groups, young couples, and amateur photographers.

Cheung Chau was one of the earliest inhabited spots in the territory of Hong Kong.  Spending most of their lives on boats, the early settlers originated from various fishing communities in Southern China.  Living off the sea is no longer the case, but the people of Cheung Chau nowadays still maintain a unique seafolk culture.  Perhaps it is no surprise that the island was the birthplace and training ground of Lee Lai Shan, the first Olympic gold medalist of Hong Kong who made history by competing in the sea for windsurfing.  A little further back in history, Cheung Chau was also the legendary “treasure island” of pirate Cheung Po Tsai, who roamed the waters of South China Sea with his 50,000 strong followers in the early 19th century.  Each year around early May, the people in Cheung Chau is busy preparing for its annual cultural celebration – the Bun Festival.

 

ImageLife remains casual with a sense of community on the island.  It’s common to see public space being taken over by private use. In this case, seafood eateries have their table clothes hanging on the concrete balustrade for drying under the sun.ImagePeople visit Cheung Chau for various reasons with noon would argue the sense of tranquility in a low dense streetscape on the island  is a rarity in Hong Kong.ImageThe shabby looking guesthouses along the beaches don’t seem very inviting. ImageBuildings such as this abandoned cinema are in crumbling conditions but preserve a sense of history.ImageThere are a number of century old temples on the island where tourists rub shoulders with local worshipers.ImageTraditional street stall selling assorted groceries is still a common sight on the island.

ImageThe fishballs from Kam Wing Tai are popular local specialties made on the island.ImageDry seafood of various kinds can be found everywhere on the island. ImageImageImageNo visitors would leave the island without feasting at one of the local seafood eateries along the waterfront.ImageThe islanders are getting ready for the upcoming multi-day celebrations of the Bun Festival.Image