Design on a Wall Tile (Guest Laundry, Regal Riverside Hotel, 沙田 Sha Tin)

Ma Wat Wai 2016_CROPPED

A red bug on a leaf of emerald-green clover —
I addressed myself to Almighty God:
            Dear Lord, could You please move over!
Because sometimes it is the fine details in an act of artistic creation
that bring me that rich-rare gift

(do You remember it?)

Despite a lifetime’s long-drawn-out light-years
how much exaltation did I ever get for all my darkening cares?
How much?
I scratched my head, perplexed. I believe

            I began to rave:
A bug and a leaf of clover just for now, that’s all I have
I said out loud to myself — here on a hotel laundry wall. And preposterously
            I tell You it is enough.


Photograph: 香港粉嶺麻笏圍 Ma Wat Wai, Fanling, Hong Kong (2016)

Tin Hau Temple (Fanling 粉嶺)

Lung Yeuk Tau Tin Hau Temple

香港龍躍頭天后宮 Lung Yeuk Tau Tin Hau Temple, Hong Kong

Incense lit in honour of the Earth God
rings round me. Here I sit —
smoked — on a crude stone bench,
catching my breath, as awareness spins
through simple cycles
of scent-rest-scent-rest-rock.
In the sky-painted forecourt,
a humble tap drips deep in the hush,
and a fern, deeper,
squarely on one wall,
grows in recognition of the part
chance and disorderly vegetable life
play in this world.
Two pygmy demons, wild
dogs’ eyes goggling,
brandish serrated swords
as protectors of the Sea Goddess —
a stern empress — serene, unworldly
in her sombre cave. Electric
red-flame candles
and a neat building of oranges
glow from the altar
through gloom, but still
this faceless atmosphere puzzles prayer:
I have nothing of my own
worth adding. What can I do
but align the straying needle
of my noise patiently
to the temple’s faint magnetism
and hope it strikes root in dark’s —
deeper — indirection?

《文化途徑之外嘅「小文化」》/ Off the Beaten Heritage Trail in Fanling

2017-12-04 Fanleng Yellow Flowers 1 RESIZED

香港粉嶺崇謙堂嘅「野花王國」Field of yellow flowers, Shung Him Tong, Fanleng.

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.

tin zai haa gaau

粉嶺聯和墟熟食中心「添仔蝦餃」Tim’s Prawn Dumplings, Luen Wo Hui Market Cooked Food Centre in Fanling, Hong Kong

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.