Simon Patton 著
Whenever I go to Hong Kong, I stay in the same hotel in Sha Tin, and so friends of mine there take pleasure in jokingly referring to me as a Saa Tin yau or “Sha Tin friend”, a term used in Cantonese for residents of that town. However, I have a hidden secret that I rarely tell anyone: actually, I could also be considered to be a bit of a “Fanling friend” as well.
Your immediate response to this might be: What’s so interesting about Fanling? Many visitors to Hong Kong are naturally drawn to Fanling for the first time because of the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail that has been established there. The sites of historical interest along the trail are in actual fact quite interesting, places such as the old Christian church of Shung Him Tong (sung him in Cantonese means “worshiping humility”), several walled villages (Ma Wat Wai, Lo Wai, San Wai, among others), a Tin Hau temple, as well as the big ancestral hall built for the Tang clan. To be perfectly truthful, my own original “discovery” of Fanling was because of this trail. Now, however, there is something even more enticing that keeps me coming back to Fanling: the Cooked Food Centre at Luen Wo Hui Market.
Australia is a country which makes a big song and dance about convenience, and the markets here were soundly defeated by supermarkets long ago. Although Hong Kong has also been adversely influenced by this “convenience-ism”, quite a number of bustling wet markets can still be found to this day, most of them with their own cooked food centres.
When you ride the escalator at the entrance to the Luen Wo Hui Market up to the Cooked Food Centre, the first shop you see is called “Tim’s Prawn Dumplings”, and for someone like me who is especially fond of eating haa gaau, it is perfectly natural that I should choose to go there for breakfast or lunch. Apart from the dumplings, I am also rather partial to the cheung fan and juk (congee) served at Tim’s Prawn Dumplings ― the food is really tasty, and while eating I can also enjoy the spectacle of the human comedy being played out all around me.
I remember one time when I was enjoying some prawn dumplings at Tim’s, I shared a table with another customer. When I tried out a few phrases of my half-baked Cantonese on him, he replied in fluent English and we got talking. He told me that he had grown up in Sha Tau Kok but had left Hong Kong many years ago to settle in England. He was the man who gave me my first introduction to gip jap vinegar, and since that meeting, religiously I add a dash of it to my prawn dumplings whenever I eat at Tim’s. I think the flavours combine rather well and, at the same time, I recall the man from Sha Tau Kok who taught me this word. In actual fact, in the course of my study of Cantonese, there have been many examples of this sort of thing: it is often the case that my learning of a new piece of language is closely bound up with a specific person, a specific place, and/or a specific occasion, with the result that many parts of Hong Kong have become a kind of living dictionary for me!
After I’ve had my dumplings at Tim’s, I head off at a leisurely pace eastwards in the direction of the Ma Wat River, the location of the starting point of the heritage trail. If I am in the mood, I like to go and take a look at the Earth God shrine, the inscribed lintel stone at Ma Wat Wai Walled Village (this inscribed stone over the entrance-gate is made from a particularly eye-catching red stone), as well as the Tin Hau Temple there ― the statues of the two spirits Chin Lei Ngan (who has eyes to see a thousand Chinese miles) and Shun Fung Yi (who has ears to hear a pin drop in Heaven) inside the temple are wonderfully worked and extremely lifelike.
But sometimes, when I do not feel like seeing such things, I go in search of other pleasures off the beaten heritage track. First of all, after passing the Shung Him Tong Church, and not far from the derelict mansion known as Shek Lou, there’s a small road off to your right that goes all the way to a Christian cemetery, an area that I find very peaceful. Secondly, as you walk that section of the road that takes you to the walled village of Ma Wat, there is a deserted stretch of wilderness to your left, which has transformed into a kind of kingdom of the wild flowers. Apart from the ginger flowers which I am particularly fond of, enormous numbers of large yellow flowers the name of which I don’t know can be found here when things are in bloom. When I visit this kingdom of blooming yellow flowers, I get a moment of relief from the anxious self I normally am.
Thirdly, at the end of the trail, at the walled village of San Wai in Lung Yeuk Tau, I sometimes press on straight ahead, cross the Indus River (the Cantonese name Ng Tung actually refers to the Chinese parasol tree), and turn left, following the road along the river all the way to Sheung Shui, day-dreaming and appreciating the movements of my own body in motion. If I happen to be feeling a bit peckish by the time I reach Sheung Shui, I make my way to Shek Wu Hui for a bowl of wonton noodles as a reward for all my efforts.