2

Cheung Chau

 CC intro

 

In need of a break from Hong Kong’s 7,650 skyscrapers, countless low-scrapers and scary hazy air, I got off the island this week – and headed to another of Hong Kong’s 236 islands, Cheung Chau.

I’ve been to Cheung Chau before many years ago but only as a ‘tourist’. This time I wanted to leave the waterfront and seafood cafes to the daytrippers and explore up into the hills where the locals live.

Some facts about Cheung Chau before we wander. A 30 minute ‘fast ferry’ ride from Central, the island is one of the oldest inhabited areas in Hong Kong, with estimates as high as 7,000 years. Fishing village originally and still is with a harbour full of boats and nothing over three storeys on land. Population swells by the thousands once a year during the annual Bun Festival. Cars are banned except for a few emergency vehicles. Name means ‘Long Island’ despite the fact it weighs in at a tiny 2.45 km².

Okay, let’s do it.

 

Part 1: Day 1 wander

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was coming down with an upper respiratory infection when I first set foot on Cheung Chau last Saturday. Which explains why I wandered around in a kind of daze, my only thought being to explore beyond the waterfront.

 

leaving the big smoke behind, literally

leaving the big smoke behind, literally

 

 

 

where bikes rule the roads

where bikes rule the roads

 

 

 

exercise then eat

exercise then eat

 

 

 

folds

folds

 

 

 

temple vs church

temple vs church

 

 

 

battle's on dude

battle's on dude

 

 

 

Chinese New Year, just around the corner

Chinese New Year, just around the corner

 

 

 

out for their midday stroll

out for their midday stroll

 

 

 

is that a Canon 5D?

is that a Canon 5D?

 

 

 

rub it in why don't you

rub it in why don't you

 

 

 

love

love

 

 

 

protect your wealth or just wear it in your teeth

protect your wealth or just wear it in your teeth

 

 

 

gold is god

gold is god

 

 

 

I kept bumping into temples on my wander but the one that intrigued me most was dedicated to a feisty looking god, Kwan Ti. While I was there I thought I’d give the fortune sticks a go; you shake them while thinking of a question and the one that drops out of the container first gives you the answer. I asked how this year would go, shook the sticks in front of Kwan Ti, and waited to hear my destiny from a man behind a desk with lots of little papers. After consulting his big book I got the thumbs up – apparently 2012 is going to rock. No pressure but I’m counting on you Kwan Ti.

 

shaking the sticks before the mighty Kwan Ti

shaking the sticks before the mighty Kwan Ti

 

 

 

and the result is ...

and the result is ...

 

 

 

Leaving Kwan Ti to his business I resumed my wander. Just down the hill I stopped to photograph a pale blue wall. Mid-shot, its owner suddenly appeared. As I was explaining to Belgium-born Catherine that I liked her wall and er, would she mind me shooting it, two street-sweepers wearing the traditional Hakka hat strode up the hill. A rare sight, I gestured to them if I could take their photograph. Smiling shyly they shook their heads. Until Catherine uttered ten words of Cantonese and converted them into almost-willing subjects. Ah, what I’d do for an instant grasp of the local language.

 

Catherine of Cheung Chau

Catherine of Cheung Chau

 

 

 

Hakka hats

Hakka hats :: 1

 

 

 

Hakka hats :: 2

Hakka hats :: 2

 

 

 

hard yakker in a Hakka

hard yakker in a Hakka

 

 

 

Part 2: Eugen’s house

Catherine, who has lived in Hong Kong for 20+ years, 17 on Cheung Chau, told me about another long-time ‘foreign local’ and friend of hers, Eugen, who lived in an old interesting house, the only one of its kind on the island. Was I interested? Hell yeah.

So two days later I met Eugen and the 70 year old house he has rented for the past 20 something years. How was it? Let me show you…

 

the entrance

the entrance

 

 

 

outside in

outside in

 

 

 

Mister Eugen, very nice picture

Mister Eugen, very nice picture

 

 

 

east west

east west

 

 

 

no no, not the kitchen please!

no no, not the kitchen please!

 

 

 

the parlour

the parlour

 

 

 

flowers on the wall

flowers on the wall

 

 

 

late avo :: 1

late afternoon :: 1

 

 

 

late avo :: 2

late afternoon :: 2

 

 

 

window love

window love

 

 

 

The house belongs to a Chinese family and has been divided up into sections over the years, one of which is Eugen’s home. But at least it’s still standing and so much of it is still so original, like the many insets, high windows and stone floor. An ideal setting for Eugen’s blend of precious with lap sap (rubbish). 

I also loved the ancestral shrine on the top floor of the house belonging to the Chinese family. Sure, the incense and candle burning has taken its toll over the years but what a lovely way to keep your loved ones alive so to speak.

Oh and the place has ghosts Eugen told me. They smile and play nice. How cool is that?

 

shrine :: 1

respect

 

 

 

grandpa

grandpa

 

 

 

Part 3: Lin Cheung and other dearly departed

I’d heard of the Chinese custom of building and then burning 3D paper models of someone’s favourite things upon their death to ensure they have a comfy afterlife. Just never seen it. Until my visit to Cheung Chau when I stumbled on an almost full size car and other various objects made out of colourful paper. Peering into the models I noticed an ID card stuck to the paper – Lin Cheung, 85 years old.

 

Lin Cheung of Cheung Chau

Lin Cheung

 

 

 

these are a few of her favourite things

these are a few of her favourite things

 

 

 

The day after I’d seen that I was on the ferry coming back to Cheung Chau when I noticed little yellow papers being thrown off the back of the ferry. Turns out there was a coffin on board and relatives of the deceased were performing another ritual associated with death – offering paper ‘money’ to the ghosts in the sea to placate them and keep them from bothering the dead. Not entirely sure how the dead can be bothered (anyone?) but that’s approximately the story.

 

keeping the ghosts happy :: 1

keeping the ghosts happy :: 1

 

 

 

keeping the ghosts happy :: 2

keeping the ghosts happy :: 2

 

Now, fair enough, they didn’t want me to photograph the coffin or the procession of relatives that left the ferry and made their way to the square. But was this Lin Cheung I wanted to know? On my third and last visit to the island I made the long trek over to the far side of Cheung Chau to the cemetery there. I wanted to find Lin Cheung.

 

on the way to find Lin Cheung

on the way to find Lin Cheung

 

 

 

where are you Lin Cheung?

where are you Lin Cheung?

 

 

 

There was no sign of a newly installed headstone and as it was getting late I headed back. (Eugen later told me I was looking in the wrong area; the custom is that they bury the coffins in a certain area and then seven years later, the bodies are disinterred and organised into these smaller plots.)

Just before I jumped on the ferry I noticed a new lot of paper models had arrived in the square, this time for a man. Another dearly departed soul, a Merc driving, Mahjong playing one at that.

 

no guessing what type of car he drove

no guessing what type of car he drove

 

 

 

his_Mahjong_buddies

his Mahjong buddies

 

 

 

the Merc driver's send off

the Merc driver's send off

 

 

 

Why so many funerals I wondered. Turns out that Cheung Chau is considered an auspicious place to be buried because it has good feng shui. Not to mention great ocean views.

 

four funerals and a wedding

four funerals and a wedding

 

 

 

Part 4: Old Cheung Chau

Some of which I found on my trek to try and find Lin Cheung, some just when wandering around.

 

in need of tender love

in need of tender love

 

 

 

Europe-ish, aside from the mad wall

Europe-ish, aside from the mad wall

 

 

 

Europe-ish

Europe-ish

 

 

 

how old does that look

how old does that look

 

 

 

old shop

old shop

 

 

 

and the obsession continues

and the obsession continues

 

 

 

mail but no mail box

mail but no mail box

 

 

 

go get the mail junior

go get the mail junior

 

 

 

criss cross

criss cross

 

 

 

lethal looking

lethal looking

 

 

 

see through

see through

 

 

 

5: Surprising Cheung Chau

Very simply this is something I never expected to see or hear anywhere in Hong Kong let alone on Cheung Chau – bagpipes.

 

a Chinese Scotsman

a Chinese Scotsman?

 

 

 

from the Scottish isles to the islands of HK

from the Scottish isles to the islands of HK

 

 

 

Part 6: Fishy Cheung Chau

On one of my visits to Cheung Chau, with some time to kill before a ferry arrived and Coco at my side, I decided to break with tradition and do something completely touristy – hire a little putt putt boat for a spin around Cheung Chau Harbour. Of course I was more interested in the old wood inside the boat than the scenery around me.

 

wood on water

patina on a putt putt

 

 

 

captain

captain

 

 

 

spin around the harbour

spin around the harbour

 

 

 

as you were

as you were

 

 

 

cat fish

cat fish

 

 

 

right back at you

right back at you

 

 

 

ciao Cheung Chau

ciao Cheung Chau

 

 

 

The Wrap

It’s pretty remarkable that chilled Cheung Chau is just 30 minutes from hyper Hong Kong. There are parts of the island where I didn’t see or hear another living soul for what seemed like an eternity. And for someone with a brewing chesty coldy thing, it was a welcome breath of fresh air. But most of all I enjoyed exploring an old house that has managed to escape the wrecking ball. I just wished I could have paid my respects to Lin Cheung. Never met the woman but may never forget her either.

 

address is Far from the Maddening Crowd, Cheung Chau

address is Far from the Maddening Crowd, Cheung Chau

 

On the ‘home’ front

Coco and I have both been under the weather this week. She with a garden variety head cold that passed quickly. Me, not so lucky. But I’m on the mend now and may resort to wearing one of those face masks you see everywhere here to ward off any more evilness. Be a good look wouldn’t it? Being asked by a woman wearing a mask and wielding a camera if she can take your photo?

See you next Friday.

 

1

Sham Shui Po

 

After months of desk slog to get this project off the ground, 52 Suburbs Around the World is finally off and running. Hooray and welcome!

We’re kicking off in Hong Kong where we’ll be exploring a suburb each week over the next month, starting today.

I chose this ex-British colony turned Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China to be part of the project because it satisfies my number one ‘criteria’: it’s one of the world’s most famous cities but it’s rarely celebrated for more than its skyscrapers and shopping. Okay, its skyline and retail offerings are pretty impressive but as you’ll know if you followed my previous Sydney-based project, 52 Suburbs, I’m not impressed by the shiny new. What floats my boat – and I’m hoping yours too – is the stuff that provides a portal into a bygone era. Old buildings, peeling paint. Or the repurposed and recycled. Or just everyday details that are really quite beautiful.

So. Having settled on the city, my next decision was which suburb(s) to explore. Hong Kong doesn’t have suburbs as such. Instead this city of seven million people is divided up into 18 districts which each include a handful of gaai fong or neighbourhoods. I chose Sham Shui Po to be our first neighbourhood because it’s one of the oldest – and old is good if you’re after patina.

In-depth research (alright, barely any but come one, it’s tricky researching the uncelebrated) revealed that aside from peeling paint, I would also find two types of housing that particularly interest me in Sham Shui Po. One being Tong Lau shophouses that used to be in abundance but are now rare as hen’s teeth. The other, the first public housing estate built in the 1950s, Shek Kip Mei.

Some facts about the place before we start. Name means ‘deep water pier’. To get there you have to leave Hong Kong Island (you’ll be fine) and head to the other side of the harbour, to north-west Kowloon. It’s one of the most densely populated and poorest areas in Hong Kong but includes a thriving electronics market where men actually like to shop.

Without further ado, let’s go Sham Shui Po!

 

Part 1: In search of Tong Lau – and other endangered species

I first discovered and fell in love with shophouses – where people work on the ground floor and live upstairs – when I went to Singapore years ago. Having no idea that they existed in Hong Kong, I was thrilled to read that there are a smattering of them around the place, including some in Sham Shui Po.

So off I went, hell bent on finding a Tong Lau or two. It was not easy. While there is an increasing awareness of heritage and the importance of retaining the old in this city, most Tong Lau have been demolished and replaced by eew, modern ugly stuff.

Still, I found a few and what’s more, while I was roaming around in search of them, I stumbled across some other interesting patina and developed a few new obsessions as I went – old metal shutters, curved corner buildings and, what I like to call, mail-doors.

Tong Lau, is that you?

Tong Lau, is that you?

 

 

 

how's that for patina?

how's that for patina?

 

 

 

Lisa's shop from the 1950s :: 1

Lisa's shop from the 1950s :: 1

 

 

 

1950s shop in 2012

Lisa's shop from the 1950s :: 2

 

 

They were the three examples of Tong Lau that I could find in all my hours of wandering. But as I said, along the way I developed some more obsessions. Old metal shutters being one of them – especially when they curve. I found a few but they were mostly shut – until I stumbled on a scissor-sharpener working away behind one. We couldn’t speak a word of eachother’s language but he took pity on the strange woman wielding a camera at his shop and kindly gave me a brief demo of how his ancient shutter system worked.

 

scissor shop shutters

scissor shop shutters

 

 

 

I hope his name is Edward

I hope his name is Edward

 

 

 

then and now

then and now

 

 

 

thanks Edward

thanks Edward

 

 

These old shutters are fast being replaced by ugly rollerdoors so I was glad to see quite a few of them still exist, in various shapes and sizes…

 

nice curves

nice curves

 

 

 

keeping out the cold

keeping out the cold

 

 

 

decorative security

decorative security

 

 

 

lights, camera, action

lights, camera, action

 

 

The other features that caught my eye were the curved corner buildings and the mailboxes…

 

Miami vice?

Miami vice?

 

 

 

Cordelia, keeping traffic in line

Cordelia, keeping traffic in line

 

 

 

mail door

mail door

 

 

 

pass it on

pass it on

 

 

 

mail at 220

mail at 220

 

 

Oh, one last ‘feature’ that I doubt is ever celebrated much – Hong Kong’s bamboo scaffolding and ‘shrouding’ system. Practical yes but quite beautiful too.

 

Christo-esque

Christo-esque

 

 

Part 2: Shek Kip Mei

Half of Hong Kong live in some form of public housing apparently. The very first estate is on Sham Shui Po’s doorstep, Shek Kip Mei. It was built in 1953 after a massive fire swept through the area, destroying a shanty town of immigrants from mainland China. Shek Kip Mei was the beginning of Hong Kong’s vertical solution to overcrowding – multi-storey public housing. Most of Shek Kip Mei’s orignal 1950s buildings have been replaced – except one, currently being ‘revitalised’ – but other more recent buildings still exist.

After the denseness of Sham Shui Po, the housing estate’s enormous courtyards provided a welcome sense of space and air.

 

tall, short and shrouded

tall, short and shrouded

 

 

 

22

22

 

 

 

young and old

young and old

 

 

 

happiness is a playground and a blue sky :: 1

happiness is a playground and a blue sky :: 1

 

 

 

happiness is a playground and a blue sky :: 2

happiness is a playground and a blue sky :: 2

 

 

 

see ya 22

see ya 22

 

 

Part 3: Hungry?

Of the three trips that I made to Sham Shui Po, one was in the early morning – breakfast time. Not a cornflake in sight. Instead lots of steaming bamboo baskets, filled with delicious looking dumplings of one kind or another. Sadly I couldn’t sample any, being gluten free.

 

brekkie

brekkie

 

 

 

tea and dumplings

tea and dumplings

 

 

 

morning coffee

morning coffee

 

 

The next time I visited was during the afternoon – snake soup time. Anyone?

 

snake

snake

 

 

 

cat in snake soup cafe

cat in snake soup cafe

 

 

 

stacks

stacks

 

 

 

artfully arranged

artfully arranged

 

 

 

waiting

waiting

 

 

 

slippery floor!

slippery floor!

 

 

 

Part 4: To market we go

After seeking out Sham Shui Po’s past, I thought I’d better at least witness its present – a thriving electronics market on Apilu Street and the fabric, ribbon and button stores on Ki Lung and Nam Cheong Streets. A great example of yin and yang right there.

 

retail heaven for men

retail heaven for men

 

 

 

Tony does purple

Tony does purple

 

 

 

ribbon to match anything including your hair

ribbon to match anything including your hair

 

 

 

let's call her Onion because that's her name (apparently)

let's call her Onion because that's her name (apparently)

 

 

 

spun

spun

 

 

 

high gloss

high gloss

 

 

 

wheels

wheels

 

 

 

a bow for the bow wow

a bow for the bow wow

 

 

 

Ruby and her technicolour tresses

Ruby and her technicolour tresses

 

 

 

fringe dwellers

fringe dwellers

 

 

 

two religions

two religions

 

 

The Wrap

I spent ten years growing up in Hong Kong but never once visited Sham Shui Po. I so wish I had – imagine all the Tong Lau I would have found back then. Not to mention those curved buildings and metal shutters. Like many older, densely populated parts of Hong Kong, the neighbourhood is changing rapidly. So I left the place feeling grateful I’d seen at least some of the history that is still hanging on. And while the language barrier prevented much interaction with the locals, I did enjoy meeting Edward Scissorhands; I don’t know for sure but I suspect he loves his little shop as much as I do.

 

don't cross her

the old in the new

 

On the ‘home’ front

‘Coco, what do you like about Hong Kong?’

‘Um, well, I know what I don’t like – the smells.’

For me, the biggest challenge this week wasn’t olfactory (I find ‘the smells’ familiar and comforting) but more about trying to placate Coco after the first hour out exploring and photographing. It didn’t help that I chose to start the project in one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. But as a precaution against a mutinous eight year old, I’m going to enlist the services of someone next week to look after Coco for a few hours on the days I go out and about. It’ll be worth every penny I’m sure.

Hope you enjoyed our wander through Sham Shui Po and see you next week.

 

 

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