San Francisco on Steroid


When I was living in San Fran, I could really feel I was living in a city of hills and valleys. I was quite amazed that people decided to build a city on these hills. The longer I thought about that, I started to realise that I grew up in the North District in Hong Kong which is an area of hills too. But somehow I never really noticed the hills, why is that?

Well, in San Fran, I actually “see” the hills every day, but in Hong Kong, the hills are blocked by the super tall buildings. These buildings form layers of walls and totally block the view to the hills. You can totally understand that what I mean from the photo above taken from my window. I live on the 18th floor already and still I don’t see much of the hills! I guess there should be a height limit set for the buildings and the buildings should be placed on a grid so people can have a view when they look in between the buildings.

sheung shui, hong kong – jun 30, 2013


Best Use for Pedestrian Footbridge’s “Underneath Space”

After months of observation, I have come to the conclusion that the space under pedestrian footbridge is best used for storing bicycles. These bicycles that bring people to the bridge for “transfer” are in great demand for “parking” and the unusable space underneath the bridge is perfect for that. The empty space in between the bicycle parts and the bicycles themselves actually enables one to still see the supporting structures of the bridge, instead of having the pillars covered up if they build a box around it. It is funny that relationship between the bicycles and the bridge are quite like that between the planes and an airport terminal!

pedestrian bridge between sheung shui kcr station and sheung shui center, sheung shui, hong kong – 12:45pm, aug 8, 2012

Palace of Fine Arts vs Palace of Materials

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

“Palace of Materials” (Landmark North mall) in background, Sheung Shui, Hong Kong

On a nice day out, people in San Francisco were taking a stroll at the Palace of Fine Arts, admiring the sculptures and arts, perhaps imaging how it would be like walking in the Palace when it was first created for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, six years after the great fire. The lagoon, the trees and the arts cost them nothing.

While at the same time in Sheung Shui, people from the People Republic of China and some locals were busy consuming goods at the “Palace of Materials”. This “Palace” alone opened the doors for each shopper to review goods and brands from top nations in the world, though most goods actually made in China. Nike, Adidas, K Swiss, Rolex, I Phones, Mac books, milk powder had cost them everything in their pockets…

the sculptures and arts

the materials and the shoppers

palace of fine arts, san francisco – 3:24 pm, sep 3, 2011
“palace of materials” (landmark north mall), sheung shui, hong kong – 3:45 pm jul 29, 2012

Seeing History of Fanling’s Founding Villages from the Sky

aerial views looking from left to right

Recently I have been exploring the ancient villages (about 200-500 years old) in Sheung Shui and Fanling to educate myself the history and development of my hometown. I have walked the historic trail, seen the walled castle-like villages and photographed two of the biggest-and-finest ancestral halls. Just when I thought I did it all, I discovered that there is even a cooler way to do that – seeing it from the sky!

At 1000 feet in the sky, I can clearly see that the original villages were built along the foot of the hills along the Ng Tung river (River Indus). This settlement pattern best illustrates the basic principles of Feng Shui – hills sheltering the villages from the elements while river providing water for farming and fertility. San Uk Tsuen (literally meaning New Village) at the center in the first picture actually has an artificial pond in the foreground for enhanced Feng Shui. I never noticed the pond until I looked at the village from the sky.

The founding family of Tang clan settled and built the first walled village at the northeast part of the River Indus. When the village became over-populated, they built another village along the river in close proximity. In the past five centuries, the villages, walled or un-walled, spread out along the river like water flowing down the stream. The prosperity of the clan is believed to be a blessing from the good Feng Shui.

One very interesting observation is that all these little houses in the villages are arranged in grid, like a Roman settlement. But these different grids were rotated and placed according to the curves of the river and the hills. It must have been a really amazing experience wandering from one village to another along these majestic hills back in the days. Let’s hope that this landscape and Feng Shui can be well preserved and protected.

lung yeuk tau historic trail, fanling, north district, hong kong – 6:29pm, jul 1, 2012

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

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

The Disappearing Villages In Sheung Shui

Ng Uk Village, one of the many “indigenous” villages in Sheung Shui (a city in Hong Kong), has existed for more than a hundred years. “Ng” is the family name of the clan while “Uk” literally means “house”. Basically the “village of the Ng’s people” had settled there before the British arrived and colonized Hong Kong. In order to make peace with the “native”, the British made a deal to let the clans keep their land. And for each male born in the clan, he could inherit a piece of land sized about 400 square feet next to their village to build their own house. Consequently, the villages of the “founding families” (a very precise term recycled from “The Vampire Diaries”) of Sheung Shui were able to remain and moderately expanded in the past century.

However, while the villages had not dramatically changed with time, their surroundings had undergone rapid development. These included roads, highways and most dangerously housing development. As a result, most villages had become islands surrounded by high-rises and roads. That is exactly what happened to Ng Uk Village. The villagers are to “blame” too since they sell their land for these development. This again presents another very interesting phenomenon.

If you look around Sheung shui, almost everything old or historical is owned or related back to the villages. The villagers basically own all the historic properties and the right to develop or destroy them. While government has started doing some historic preservation, it only applied to high-profile monuments in the central city. There is no law against demolishing something old as long as they are not designated monuments. And the prevalent way to designate a building a historic monument is for the government to pay a ton of money to buy it. As a result, what you are seeing historic now in these photos could be gone the next time you walk by it.

As shown in these photos, the village has something interesting to offer. The central piece is the ancestral hall with the open plaza in the front is the place to worship the founding male ancestors during different seasonal ceremonies. It is the oldest building built in traditional style. The surrounds houses are no architectural masterpiece but together they produce a rectangularly gridded city with narrow lanes and closely packed square houses. Like other villages, this one is sited in front of a little hill for Feng Shui purpose. Supposingly the hill can protect the villages from wind or attack from the back.

sheung shui, hong kong – 2:16pm, apr 17, 2012

(left) Each house takes the shape of the lot and expand upwards. (Right) Narrow lane formed by the rigidly aligned houses in the front and back.

(Left) Traditional tile roof with end caps covering end of tiles. (Right) Open drain all around the buildings and the village.

(Above) Long green brick were a popular locally made material for prominent buildings.

(Left) New modern three storey high houses located on the outskirt of the village.

(Below) The green logo on the left is an abstract form of the Chinese character “north” because Sheung Shui is located in the North District.