Small Villages Are Saving the “Airspace” in the New Territories, Hong Kong

I was walking around the North District Park (kind of like a Chinese version of a mini- Central Park in NYC) the other Sunday afternoon. It was a beautiful day so I wandered off another route and I ended up walking into this little indigenous village called So Kwun Po. Seriously this village is really pretty. It is made up of all these three-story high houses arranged within a square. There are also old tall trees and green lawn surrounding the village. The nicest thing about this village is that it has preserved the open space above and surrounding it. With those walls of monolithic highrises in a distance, one can really appreciate the benefits of having these villages.

Some people may argue that these villages are taking up too much land and the practice of building indigenous villages and their houses should be stopped. I would counter-argue that the housing demand in Hong Kong will never be satisfied because rich people from all over China are buying up everything here. So there is no valid reason to stop expanding local villages and be slaves to real estate companies. Yes not everyone get a chance in live in one of these villages. But at least when I walk by it, I can see the sky and the open space, and I feel good about it.

so kwun po village, sheung shui, new territories, hong kong – 2:25pm, 23 jun, 2012

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A Hidden Neighborhood “Corner Temple”

I accidentally walked into this small temple in my neighborhood when it was raining the other day. Interestingly, this temple is a little hidden behind a group of trees and I never noticed that it is actually open most of the time. Me being there for a quarter of hour, I realized this temple is a hot spot for all kinds of activities – people walking dogs; neighbors meeting each other at the outdoor plaza; older fellows saying prayers inside the main hall.

To me, this Sam Shing Temple (Temple of the three saints) at the corner is like a corner convenient store but better. It not only provides a free shelter for neighbors to hang out, it also gives out free blessings from the saints! I particularly like that the temple has not been converted into a tourist spot or a museum. Its modest scale and its down-to-earth but delicate craftsmanship have given it a very local and neighborhood feel.

front plaza

front entrance

wall painting and green roof tiles

entrance decoration & screen doors at vestibule

interior courtyard (light well) & upper wall ventilation tiles

incense “burning” altar in the foreground

corner of ma sik road and jockey club road, sheung shui, north district, hong kong 2:36pm, jun 17, 2012

Another Condemned Historic “Crap” in Hong Kong


Shek Wu Hui Sewage Pumping Station, before

before

after

This local sewage pumping station cannot be considered an architectural masterpiece when compared with like the Grand Central Station in NYC or the Union Station in Chicago. But it certainly meant quite a big deal to the people in this small town of Shek Wu Hui (literally meaning a market with a pond of water bounded by a stone wall) when it was built around 1940s.

The station was probably the first modern sewage pumping station they ever had. And architecturally, this building must seem pretty foreign or alien to them at that time – a little building with no decoration of any kind except some small holes of simple rectangular forms, looking totally functional. It was a product of the Bauhaus and early International Style. The very lean and light name tag (signage) on the front was done strictly in the Bauhaus fashion. The form of the building carried no bullshit but truth to its function.

What about the inside though? Sadly I have no idea! It was never open to the public when it was in use. And then it was close When it retired. People in general here are not encouraged to be curious about their neighborhood. Now the station was blown up and a new shopping center and high-rise will be built.

Honestly I do not really think the station was ever condemned a piece of historic “crap”. I believe most people just do not have the knowledge to understand that this station is a valuable asset to the history and development of the market (Hui). It carries a collective memory that the station itself has to be physically present to sustain this memory. The land belonged to the government, and it should have never been auctioned out to real estate developers because it belonged to the people.

Well what could have been done with this retired station? I was watching this program on TV called “Museums of the World” and in it I learned that every building should have a story to tell. This pumping station presented a unique opportunity to create the first historical museum from a former sewage pumping station. It could have composed a very compelling story for its past and future existence. Oh wow, it is all too late. A clear has been made between local heritage and shopping center.

former shek wu hui sewage pumping station, shek wu hui, sheung shui, north district, hong kong – 10:43am, may 6, 2007 / 2:51pm, apr 17, 2012

A Very Sad Ghost Town in Hong Kong

Tens of unfinished houses have long sit empty on this piece of land for years. All these people walking by cannot stop wondering what is going on with this supposed-to-be low-density luxury housing project. Somehow these houses are just never finished and they become a ghost town behind the chain-link fence.

The truth is that this artificial ghost town was built to be demolished before they are finished. It sounds totally weird and wasteful but here is another sad story of how developers have taken control of the Hong Kong government. The developer bought this land and agreed to build low density housing. But under the table, they planned to do some corruption and “transfer of monetary interest” in order to get approval to re-zone the land to build high-rises for more profit. However before the land can be re-zoned, the previous contract requires that something has to be built on the land within a certain time. So they decided to build some whatever on it and blow it all up afterwards.

The ghost town should have been gone long time ago but “unfortunately” the secret deal was exposed by the media. What’s more, the government was so corrupted in the past couple years and thus further high-profile under-the-table deal would really damage the government’s already bad image and upset all other developers. As a result, the ghost town is still here, looking empty, wasteful and sad. But what can we as ordinary citizen can in a non-democratic society?

ma sik road, fanling, north district, hong kong – 3:35pm, 17 jun, 2012

The Egret, the Canal and the Castle

Lately on the weekends, I have been taking walks along this Lung Yuek Tau (literally meaning dragon jumping over the heads of mountains) heritage trail near my home. Here along the trail, there is no malls to shop, no restaurants to dine and no crowds at all. It may seem a little boring for city-goers. But instead, it will surprise you with a magical experience just minutes away form the concrete jungle.

Along the canal where the trail is situated, wildlife blossoms. There are tortoises, fishes and birds. Even Egrets, one of the most sacred birds, also fish along the canal. Interestingly, the canal was once an un-manicured river filled with domestic waste from the villages along it. After the facelift, it has become a canal for collecting flood water and now a fishing ground for birds. Not sure if the fish is edible for humans though.

Also located along the canal are some of the founding villages of Hong Kong. These villages are hundreds of years old. They have maintained their original layout, with traditional ancestral worship hall and even an old gate. Surrounding the villages are farms that have existed for hundred years.

The highlight of the trail is the 400 years old “castle” in the heart of Lung Yuek Tau Village. This “castle” is indeed a walled village with nine streets going east-west and north-south directions. It has a square layout with four fortification towers at corners and a front main tower with a gated entrance. There are still small holes on the wall where arrows or other attacks can be launched from inside.

lung yuek tau heritage trail, fanling, north district, hong kong – 3:53pm, 10 jun, 2012

Experiencing An Ancient Tradition in Ann Arbor Through Its Bells

Clip from carillon playing

The Art Deco-styled Burton Memorial Bell Tower in Ann Arbor has always caught my attention when I wander in downtown. I have long heard that there is an observation deck way up there with a set of 55 bells, one of the largest sets in the world. After several attempts to get up the tower, I finally did it shortly after last Christmas. Seriously, my experience there was simply amazing.

First, you have to walk up the narrow staircase around the tower to go up to the ninth floor, and then walk up and even narrower metal staircase to get to the observation deck. There is not that many places that I can experience this kind of space. Secondly, the aerial view of downtown Ann Arbor is stunning. So many buildings in Ann Arbor have beautiful slate roof. Being at the almost highest point in Ann Arbor, you can see as far as you want.

But the coolest part of my experience was being there when the bells were played. It has been said the practice of bell ringing in America directly traces back to its European root in the ancient time. Knowing this actually allows me to see the bell tower and the bell ringing in a very different way. I never thought I could close my eyes and just use my ears to experience something from more than 1000 years ago like in Rome or Paris a few times a day. It is a total luxury and people in Ann Arbor should feel very privileged. I have uploaded a clip from the bell ringing during my visit. It was beautiful.

downtown ann arbor – 12:07pm, jan 4, 2012