ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “堅尼地城

BOUNDARY STONES OF VICTORIA CITY (維多利亞城界石), Hong Kong

In 2014, local film Dot 2 Dot (點對點) was screened in the Hong Kong International Film Festival. The film was often described as low key, low budget and slow paced love story to the city. Amos Wong’s film explores the history and identity of Hong Kong through the encounter of a graffiti artist and a Mandarin teacher. It begins with the Mandarin teacher, newly arrived from Mainland China, discovering mysterious graffiti composed of dots at every metro station in Hong Kong. She is able to decode the graffiti by connecting the dots into meaningful imagery related to the local history of the particular neighborhood. She then comes up with her own graffiti and engages the unknown graffiti artist in a battle of graffiti riddles. It turns out that the graffiti artist is actually one of her students, who himself is a professional designer returned to Hong Kong from Canada. The movie follows both characters to explore different neighborhoods, including the quest to check out the boundary stones of the former Victoria City (維多利亞城). At the end of the film, the teacher finally realizes the true identity of the graffiti artist after visiting the westernmost boundary stone in Kennedy Town (堅尼地城). The story ends with them enjoying the peaceful sunset together at Kennedy Town ‘s praya.

Considered the capital of the former British Colony, Victoria City at the northern shore of Hong Kong island was the city’s first urban settlement. Victoria City was defined by the four “wans” (四環) or districts: Sai Wan (西環), Sheung Wan (上環), Chung Wan (中環), and Ha Wan (下環) or present’s day Wanchai. In 1903, the government erected seven stones to mark the boundary of Victoria City. The city soon expanded beyond the boundary limits and the stones became obsolete. Measured 98cm in height, tapered at the top and marked with the inscription “City Boundary 1903”, these historical boundary stones are mostly forgotten, except for history buffs who occasionally check on these urban artifacts and share their photos on the Internet. Six out of seven boundary stones survive to the present day, except the one at Magazine Gap Road in the Mid-Levels that was negligently removed by retaining wall contractors in 2007. For the remaining six boundary stones, it is possible to visit them all in a 5-6 hour hike. The hike offers hikers an interesting opportunity to walk around the old city centre, from the waterfront of Kennedy Town, halfway up the Victoria Peak and down to the Happy Valley Racecourses to the east.

Victoria City in 1900, about the time when the boundary stones were erected. [Credit: G. William Des Voeux (1903), My Colonial Service, Vol 2., London: John Murray, public domain]
Six boundary stones of the former Victoria City (highlighted in orange above) remain more or less at their original locations. From west (left) to east (right), the six remaining stones are located at 1) Kennedy Town, 2) Pokfulam, 3) Hatton Road near the Peak, 4) Old Peak Road near the Peak, 5) Bowen Road near Happy Valley, and 6) Happy Valley. The stone at Magazine Gap Road (highlighted in blue above) was removed in 2007 likely by road and retaining wall contractors under the negligence of the authorities. South of Victoria Harbour, connecting all seven stones would more or less offer us the rough extent of the former Victoria City.
1) Boundary Stone at Kennedy Town (堅尼地城)
The westernmost stone is located in Kennedy Town, inside a ball court right by the sea. [Kennedy Town Football Pitch, Sai Ning Road, Kennedy Town, 2020]
1) Boundary Stone at Kennedy Town (堅尼地城)
Kennedy Town Football Pitch is a popular spot for local residents. Hardly anyone notices the 1903 boundary stone right adjacent to a rubbish bin. [Kennedy Town Football Pitch, Sai Ning Road, Kennedy Town, 2020]
1) Boundary Stone at Kennedy Town (堅尼地城)
It is sad to see one of the six boundary stones stands unnoticeably adjacent to a rubbish bin. [Kennedy Town Football Pitch, Sai Ning Road, Kennedy Town, 2020]
2) Boundary Stone at Pokfulam (薄扶林)
In the midst of student dormitories and college buildings of Hong Kong University on the slopes of Pokfulam (薄扶林) stands another boundary stone. [Near Junction of Pokfulam Road and Smithfield Road, Pokfulam, Southern District, 2020]
2) Boundary Stone at Pokfulam (薄扶林)
Half an hour walk from the boundary stone of Kennedy Town led us to the boundary stone in Pokfulam. [Near Junction of Pokfulam Road and Smithfield Road, Pokfulam, Southern District, 2020]
2) Boundary Stone at Pokfulam (薄扶林)
The Pokfulam boundary stone is located close to the entrance of a pedestrian underpass. [Near Junction of Pokfulam Road and Smithfield Road, Pokfulam, Southern District, 2020]
3) Boundary Stone at Hatton Road (克頓道) near Victoria Peak
As the entrance of Lung Fu Shan Morning Trail ascending up to the Victoria Peak, Hatton Road is popular for morning walkers. It is also home to one of the historical boundary stones. [Hatton Road near Kotewall Road, The Peak, 2020]
3) Boundary Stone at Hatton Road (克頓道) near Victoria Peak
The boundary stone at Hatton Road is the only boundary stone remained at its original location. The rest were somehow re-positioned throughout the years due to different constructions. [Hatton Road near Kotewall Road, The Peak, 2020]
3) Boundary Stone at Hatton Road (克頓道) near Victoria Peak
Hatton Road is one of the pedestrian paths that leads to Lugard Road and the Victoria Peak. [India Rubber Tree at Lugard Road, The Peak, 2020]
4) Boundary Stone at Old Peak Road (舊山頂道) near Victoria Peak
From the main square on the Peak, walking down Old Peak Road would bring us to the next boundary stone. Old Peak Road was once the only road connecting the Mid Levels to the Peak and the grand colonial mansions overlooking the city. Today, much of Old Peak Road has been pedestrianized. [Old Peak Road, The Peak, 2020]
4) Boundary Stone at Old Peak Road (舊山頂道) near Victoria Peak
From Old Peak Road, we could occasionally have glimpses of the city below. [Old Peak Road, The Peak, 2020]
4) Boundary Stone at Old Peak Road (舊山頂道) near Victoria Peak
Standing by the side of the steep road, the century old boundary stone silently greets every sweaty hiker. [Old Peak Road, The Peak, 2020]
4) Boundary Stone at Old Peak Road (舊山頂道) near Victoria Peak
The markings from 1903 are still clearly visible on the stone. [Old Peak Road, The Peak, 2020]
5) Boundary Stone at Bowen Road (寶雲道)
Not counting the lost boundary stone at Magazine Gap Road, the next one further east is at Bowan Road (寶雲道), another popular spot for runners and hikers. The relatively flat fitness trail on the eastern slope of the Peak offers visitors splendid views of Wanchai below. The 64-storey cylindrical Hopewell Centre near the lush green slope was the tallest building in Hong Kong from 1980 to 1989. Further out towards the waterfront, the 78-storey Central Plaza was the tallest building in Asia from 1992 to 1996. [Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
5) Boundary Stone at Bowen Road (寶雲道)
The boundary stone is located close to the east end of Bowan Road, where the horse racecourses in Happy Valley and the buildings of Causeway Bay appear within walking distance. [Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
5) Boundary Stone at Bowen Road (寶雲道)
The Bowen Road boundary stone stands comfortably by the side of the fitness trail. [Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
5) Boundary Stone at Bowen Road (寶雲道)
[Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
6) Boundary Stone at Happy Valley (跑馬地)
From the eastern end of Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Stubbs Road and Blue Pool Road leads the way down to Happy Valley Racecourses. Happy Valley Racecourse was established by the British in 1846. Since then, Happy Valley has become a synonym of horse racing in Hong Kong. [Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
6) Boundary Stone at Happy Valley (跑馬地)
Along Wong Nai Chung Road, all apartments contain large windows facing the racecourses of Happy Valley. The last boundary stone is located just outside the wall of the racecourses. [Wong Nai Chung Road (黃泥涌道), Happy Valley, 2020]
6) Boundary Stone at Happy Valley (跑馬地)
The Happy Valley boundary stone stands in a small parkette outside the racecourses. [Wong Nai Chung Road (黃泥涌道), Happy Valley, 2020]

STONE WALL TREES (石牆樹), Central-Western District (中西區), Hong Kong

Entangling roots stretch across the surface of granite walls might remind people of the Ta Prohm Temple at Angkor Wat instead of the city of Hong Kong. Commonly known as “Stone Wall Trees” (石牆樹), the urban scenery of Chinese Banyan (Ficus microcarpa 細葉榕) enrooted on historical granite walls is a unique scene in Hong Kong, especially in Central-Western District where the heart of the old Victoria City was located. In 1841 when the British first landed in Hong Kong, the bare, rocky and hilly terrain of the island posed a huge challenge for establishing a settlement. Apart from land reclamation along the coast, the British also create habitable land by constructing flat terraces on the slope of Victoria Peak (Tai Ping Shan 太平山). From the mid 19th century onwards, local granite was used to construct retaining walls for the terrace constructions. To make the relatively bare island more habitable, trees were planted across the city to provide shade and visual interest. Many foreign tree species from other British colonies such as India and Australia were brought to Hong Kong. Due to its suitability to the local climate and ability to grow rapidly, Chinese Banyan (細葉榕) were widely planted. From these banyan trees, birds and bats ate the figs and spread the seeds all over the city, and into stone joints of the retaining walls. This led to the birth of the stone wall trees.

In 1996, scholar C.Y. Jim found 1275 trees with 30 or so species on about 505 stone walls. Ficus Microcarpa or Chinese Banyan is the most common type of stone wall trees. With hardly any soil to clinch into, these banyans take the wall as their host and spread their intertwining roots on the stone surfaces. After 50 to 100 years, these banyans gradually mature into shading crowns that we see today. Many of these old stone wall trees have survived to the present day, especially in Central – Western District which contains the city’s largest concentration of stone wall trees. The emergence of stone wall trees in Hong Kong, however, was no coincidence. Perfect climate conditions, suitable stone wall surface, and some good fortune of surviving the WWII when many old trees were cut down by the Japanese for timber, all played a part in the story of stone wall trees. After WWII, stone was soon replaced by concrete for retaining wall construction. Concrete walls left little room for new trees to enroot themselves by chance. After a few generations, the resilient stone wall trees have become iconic features for various old neighbourhoods.

Despite over a century serving to improve the micro-climate of the city, cultural and ecological significance of the stone wall trees have gone unnoticed until the recent two decades. In light of the government’s intention to demolish the former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) and its iconic stone wall trees in 2005, the local resident group “Central and Western Concern Group” was formed to fight for preserving the stone wall trees as well as the heritage building. Not only has their effort succeeded in convincing the government to preserve the PMQ, they have also increased the public awareness of the stone wall trees. In 2007, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) decided to relocate a proposed exit for the new Kennedy Town Station in order to preserve the stone wall trees at Forbes Street. The admirable effort decisively preserved the largest concentration of stone wall trees in Hong Kong. Though not all cases were success stories. In 2015, five 150-year old stone wall banyans at Bonham Road were fell sneakily overnight, just because one of their neighbouring trees toppled some time ago due to heavy rain. In name of public safety, the five healthy trees were cut down before the arrival of a potential typhoon. No detailed study was made before the decision, and that particular typhoon didn’t even come close enough to pose any thread. The hasty action of the government led to a huge loss for the community and sparked public outcry. More and more people become aware that there is an urgent need to develop a strategic plan for protecting these unique urban stone wall trees before it is too late.

With a crown stretching over 28m, the Rubber Fig at Lugard Road on the peak of Tai Ping Shan is a popular attraction for selfies. Origin from India and Malaysia, Rubber Fig (Ficus elastica, 印度榕) were planted in Hong Kong to provide shade during the colonial era. [Lugard Road (盧吉道), The Peak (太平山), 2021]
The aerial roots of Chinese Banyan may look out of place in the city. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
An old Chinese Banyan is a great shade provider. [Hollywood Road Park, (荷李活道公園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2020]
The old Chinese Banyans in Blake Garden define the tranquil character of Po Hing Fong in PoHo, Sheung Wan. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2020]
The odd gesture of the Chinese Banyan in Blake Garden is said to be resulted from a typhoon. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
With a crown spread of 28m, the enormous Chinese Banyan in Blake Garden stands like a giant. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Chinese Banyan is native in China, tropical Asia and Australia. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Chinese Banyan is very versatile and can enroot in a wide range of urban setting, including manmade slopes in the city. [Victoria Road, Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), 2020]
Quite a number of Chinese Banyans have become stone wall trees. [Tank Lane (水池巷), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Stone wall trees form a unique urban scenery in the Central Western District in Hong Kong. [Between Bonham (般咸道) and Hospital Road (醫院道), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
All residents in the Central Western District are used to having the stone wall trees around. [High Street (高街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
Stone wall trees are great to provide shade along narrow sidewalk where there is absolutely no room for tree planting. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
The entangling roots is part of the urban scenery. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
Wherever there is retaining wall and terraced alleyway, there would be stone wall trees. [Tai Pak Terrace (太白臺), Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), 2020]
In many occasions, the stone wall tree is inseparable with the history and heritage of the stone wall itself. Built in 1850, this stone wall has supported the terrace for the Anglican Bishop’s House and the old St. Paul’s College for 170 years. [Ficus virens (大葉榕) at the Bishop House and St. Paul College, Lower Albert Road (下亞厘畢道), Central, 2021]
Local efforts to save the stone wall trees at the former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) in 2005 have raised public awareness on preservation of heritage buildings and old trees. [Stone wall trees and retaining wall of the PMQ along Hollywood Road (荷李活道), Central, 2020]
In 2015, five 155-year old stone wall trees at Bonham Road (般咸道) were sneakily cut down by the government in midnight. The move has sparked public outcry, especially from the immediately neighborhood. Since then, new branches have emerged from the tree stumps, once again providing shade for the bus stop below. [Junction of Centre Street and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Inflected by fungus Phellinus noxius, a prominent stone wall tree over Hospital Road (醫院道) has been diagnosed with Brown Root Rot Disease. The tree is now at risk of structural deterioration and failure. [Near the junction of Hospital Road and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Manmade structural supports have been installed recently to secure the inflected stone wall tree. [Near the junction of Hospital Road and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
The 27 banyan trees at Forbes Street (科士街) is one the largest groups of stone wall trees in Hong Kong. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
In 2007, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) decided to relocate a proposed station exit in order to preserve the stone wall trees at Forbes Street. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
The penetrating ability of their roots make Chinese Banyans the perfect species to thrive on stone walls. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
Built in the 1890’s, some say the Chinese Banyans at Forbes Street were planted intentionally to strengthen the stone retaining wall. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
Another well known cluster of stone wall trees is found at King George V Memorial Park (佐治五世紀念公園) in Sai Ying Pun (西營盤). [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
King George V Memorial Park is located across the street from Tsan Yuk Hospital The park’s retaining walls is famous for the stone wall trees. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Built in 1936, King George V Memorial Park was built following the death of King George V of Britain. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
35 stone wall trees lined along the retaining walls of King George V Memorial Park. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
With a football pitch, childcare centre and seating areas, the park is a popular destination in Sai Ying Pun. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The atmospheric park entrance is a popular spot for film shooting. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The Chinese Banyans provide pleasant shade for the exercise terraces along Hospital Road. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
After 85 years, the metal plaque is almost covered by the banyan roots at King George V Memorial Park. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]