This is my last day. I’m not sure what to do, and almost accidentally I end up getting off the MTR in Sham Shui Po, which is north of MongKok, and has a large street market. There is a mall full of little stalls selling a myriad of computer components and technological paraphernalia. I find a shop that just sells tofu. The blocks of bean curd are stacked between layers of wooden boards which are weighted down. It looks deliciously fresh and soft. I have cup of soya milk here.
In the side streets are metal recycling sheds: compacted tin, copper, aluminium squeezed onto racks.
Through a doorway a group of hand workers catch my eye. As I venture into position with my camera, one of them calls out in a friendly way. we chat about the weather in the UK. They are fixing zippers. The shop is full of racks and shelves of different types of zippers. This is all the shop sells.
On a street corner I spy what looks like a squatter camp: A low sprawling structure covered by assorted coloured plastic sheets and tarps, the outside festooned with banners. I venture inside. It is a labyrinthine market, dark, with narrow alleys, each rammed almost as high as the low ceiling with stacks and rolls of fabric. This is a fabric bazaar. As I explore cautiously, not sure if I am welcome, a lady called Margaret, sitting at her sewing machine calls out and proceeds to chat. She spend the next hour filling me in about this place, its history and its future. This is Pang Jai, the last remaining bazaar of its type and it is due to be demolished by the council who have sold the land for redevelopment. She gave up an office job abroad to come and take over the family business here. She says this place has become famous and and go-to place among fashion designers, students and costume makers in the film and theatre industries all over Asia. The traders have been campaigning for several years by running a number of events involving teachers, designers, school groups and communities to keep this place in the public eye and attempt to sway the decisions of the planners. She shows me some of her designs (which tend to be canibalised denims onto which she has stitched shells and beads and badges and slogans, meaning each of her garments has a story) and what she plans to wear at Saturday’s event: interesting PVC flower printed designs with Japanese undertones. I say I will attend the event, even though I can’t. Somehow this shows a loyalty to the cause.
KK has texted me, and it’s late in the afternoon. I had more or less given up on seeing him before I leave. We have about 30 minutes together on a wall in a noisy MongKok square, which is not the best way to part. Both of us have one eye on other appointments that we have made. He suggests next time we don’t meet in HK…I’m inclined to agree.
In the evening I meet up with Tom and we go to the buffet at Fortress Hill: to my surprise it’s really really busy. On my previous visits, I had enjoyed the slowness and quietness of the place. We talk about career and his family situation. At 9.30 we have to leave. I go and pack my small bag ready for the long long trip back home tomorrow.
Today I embark on a little excursion which I had been putting off for a while. I get the ferry from Central to Park Island (formerly Ma Wan), a 3o minute ride. The island lies beneath the motorway from Lantau and Tsing Ma bridge. There is no private transportation access, and it is home to a modern private residential development, and some dumb looking attraction called Noah’s Ark. I’m here to walk past all this crap and find the original village of Ma Wan on the western shore. There are some paths over the hill with “private property signs” which lead down to the main street, which snakes past some wharves, rotting old stilt houses hanging over the beach, a little temple, a ghostly children’s play area and the shells of windowless empty shells of abandoned houses. The street lights still work…The villagers were forcibly ejected to make way and increase the prestige for the new luxury developments. Some locals still fish from the beach and use empty houses as bolt holes. I explore a couple of houses, and climb up flights of stairs onto their flat roofs.
I miss the ferry to Tsuen Wan, as I’m engaged in a chat with KK. This leaves no alternative but to get the ferry back to Central, which is a pity as I had wanted to go somewhere new. In Admiralty I find a vegetarian “cafe” which sells fusion food and I have an interesting laksa risotto. I walk up Hollywood Rd to Man Mo temple, and take in the smokey atmosphere before waking back east through the antiques streets to the mid -central escalators. On the way I come across another calligraphy stand: same political party, same process of writing out good wishes slogans. I pass by Central, a building that captivated me last trip with its many mirrored surfaces. I spend a while exploring the optical effects with my camera and get some great shots.
It’s the end of the work day. Under an elevated walkway is a busy Chinese medicine shop, with workers following recipes to source ingredients from walls of labelled wooden drawers then weigh them out with hand balances. At the door a man is selling herbal teas from vast metal urns. I try one. It is acrid but feels good. I sense this is an old and traditional shop….but when I looked for it on Google Street view later, I saw an empty concrete shell, suggesting that it hasn’t been around for very long at all.
I have an anxious hunt for a recommended restaurant on the 23rd floor of a block in Wan Chai/Causeway Bay. Anxious as my phone battery has run out, and then because my Octopus card is empty so I can’t go anywhere else as it’s late. I’m the last customer in this buddhist place and I feel like a curio or inconvenience to the staff. Anyway the food is good, in spite of the hidden charges!
Today is the day that KK and I finally get together but it turns out to be a disappointment. His business venture has gone sour and his mind is fully occupied with that. After meeting in Mong Kok, where I have been killing time looking at the Anti-Falun Gong stall on Argyll Street, he drives me to the east of New Territories to Sai Kung, a very small fishing village. On the way we stop at a derelict ATV TV studio. KK is concerned about leaving the car anywhere and fears vandalism. In Sai Kung we walk for a while looking for somewhere to eat. Many places are closed, and anyway KK isn’t hungry. In the end I chose a Turkish-type place and have a falafel wrap. Not that great, and not really the nicest place to talk. KK has some kind of stomach issue and rather than enjoy being together and looking around, finding toilets becomes the goal of the afternoon. The afternoon is a bit of a disaster, and I feel a bit sad, as I have been here 9 days and I know we won’t have any more opportunities, and worse, I don’t know when we might meet again. HK is rather far from UK. As we both put it in a chat the other day: our time was wasted.
Back in Mong Kok, I roam around photographing the bustle of groups of people eating snacks on the streets, goldfish street, and a busking old man playing the erhu. I get lost in a mall and find myself at the wrong MTR! Eventually I make it back to Fortress Hill.
This is one of the loneliest days. I was hoping that KK might have been able to make some time at the weekend, but there are no messages. I don’t feel like doing much, but can’t sit indoors. I decide to see what’s at the western end of the tram line in Kennedy Town. Victoria Park is empty. It is cordoned off as preparations are being made for an event for the Spring Festival. The Filipino maids who usually gather there on their day off are clustered on the pavement and under the flyover. Admiralty looks busy with shoppers. Kennedy town is definitely an end of the line place. Quiet, seems to be home to quite a lot of Gweilos and full of western restaurants, with western prices. I have a late breakfast of various breads sitting on a bench looking over the harbour. Feeling a bit empty and listless. There is nothing to see here and so I walk East along the great named Belcher’s Street then Queens Rd West. Here I come across a trestle table stall where members of the Democratic Party are writing pithy new year’s wishes on slips of red paper. Passers-by queue up to get their carefully calligraphed slogans to hang on their doors.
In getting off the main road I end up under the dramatic sweeping flyover that carves a swathe over Hill Street.
I climb some steps which take me up to Pok Fu Lam Rd. Ahead of me is an impressive collection of towers and sky bridges: this is HKU. Curious I cross a bridge and am among the university buildings under one of the towers. It’s a ghost town, but everywhere seems accessible and no security guards, barriers etc. A small group of men are practising some form of self defence.
I pass them and climb 10 (?) flights of steps on the outside of the Biological Science Building. I’m very high up as the tower is pierced on the flank of a hill. The view looks over the northern towers of Sai Wan and beyond to Kowloon. Beneath me are several smaller, older, colonial-era buildings. One of these is the main building of HKU, which I visit later. It has the feel of a museum with its inner cloistered courtyard. Students have come here to take pictures of each other in graduation robes.
On Bonham street I enter Sai Ying Pun MTR by means of a lift which takes me down through the hill to underground level. I am taking the MTR to Tsim She Tsui and ISQUARE. Here I visit and Indian restaurant and sit on the terrace above Kowloon Park Drive as the sun goes down with a really good thali and lassi.
I’m tired. I can’t remember much more.
Breakfast is various buns from the bakery. Then I take the bus across the harbour to Kwun Tong and the Public records office. There is an exhibition here based on a 1970s survey of the bus system on HK island, which contains some fascinating B/W photos of areas that I have become familiar with. The speed of change is striking
Afterwards I walk further into Kwun Tong. It’s raining a little. I track down lunch in a weird place: a health vegetarian restaurant attached to a yoga centre in an up-market tower block. A uniformed courteous concierge patiently makes sure I get the right lift. An interesting phenomenon in some of these buildings is that not all lifts go to all floors.
I hang around a mall and walk people posing and taking selfies in front of an elaborate and tacky new year’s centrepiece of cockerel and fake pink blossoms. I watch life here for a while. Outside the mall street life is more down at heel. Around the bus and mini-bus stops are small alleys and lanes with tiny shops: copiers, tailors, pawn shops, stalls on the streets where spivvy jewellers, magnifying lenses jammed into one eye scrutinise watches and rings, looking to make a quick buck.
I’m tired and decide to get the MTR back to Fortress Hill for a rest. This is not a great idea as later on I have to cross the harbour again and get to Junction Rd. By bus this takes an age and the traffic jam in the tunnel is tedious. I’m off to watch the
Raise the Umbrellas at HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity
Raise the Umbrellas explores the origin and impact of Hong Kong’s 2014 ‘Umbrella Movement’ through the inter-generational lenses of three post-Tiananmen democratic activists – Martin Lee, founder of the Hong Kong Democratic party; Benny Tai, ‘Occupy Central’ initiator; and Joshua Wong, the sprightly student leader – alongside voices from unknown ‘umbrella mothers’, student occupiers (Yvonne Leung and Vivian Yip), star politicians (Emily Lau, and ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok Hung, as well as the pro-Beijing heavyweight Jasper Tsang), prominent media professionals (Jimmy Lai, Cheong Ching, Philip Bowring), international scholars (Andrew Nathan, Arif Dirlik and Hung Ho-fung), and activist Canton-pop icons Denise Ho and Anthony Wong. Driven by stirring on-site footage in a major Asian metropolis riven by protest, Raise the Umbrellasreveals the movement’s eco-awareness, gay activism, burgeoning localism and the sheer political risk for post-colonial Hong Kong’s universal-suffragist striving to define its autonomy within China.
Graduated from Northwestern University for his Doctor degree in Visual Culture. He is born in China, raised in Hong Kong, Chan is a critic, dramatist, and award-winning director of two feature films: To Liv(e) (1991) and Crossings (1994). His films have been exhibited and awarded in various international film festivals, e.g. in Berlin, London, Rotterdam, Moscow, Taiwan Golden Horse Film Festival etc. He is a former advisor to the Hong Kong International Film Festival. He is ‘the most intellectual of the current crop of Hong Kong directors’, wrote Barry Long in Hong Kong Babylon (1997, Faber & Faber).
Apart from his engagement in film industry, Chan also known as a veteran cultural critic. Chan’s publications including Dream Tenants, a collection of essays and stories, and The Last of The Chinese, a collection of critical essays on dance, cinema and literature, are all highly praised and circulated.
It was worth seeing, but I got there after it had started and was uncomfortably sat in the front row before a massive screen. I felt the film tried to do too much and didn’t have a coherent narrative. What was interesting was the LGBTQ thread: there is a parallel with the story of Pride. In fact this is referenced by Andy Wong, the canto-pop gay singer who becomes one of the figures of the Occupy events, as his inspiration to get involved. Some naive quotes from students: “Before Occupy I didn’t like his kind of people, but this changed…”I didn’t stay for the Q&A (a Skype link with the director): the translation on the wi-fi loop was hard to keep up with and drowned out by the volume of the Skype call.
I have a quiet late evening wander afterwards which takes me back to some places from my time with KK in the summer. It’s interesting re-visiting places under different circumstances and alone. I wander around Kowloon City park, the site of the demolished Walled City. It’s dark, cool, lonely, more or less empty. Adjectives you don’t usually use to describe Kowloon. An eventual walk down to Prince Edward Rd East, where KK and I had looked for the approach to the former Kai Tak airport. Getting to the bus stop “home” is extremely complicated as road bridges and diversions of footpaths send you back and forth over the busy highway in the most convoluted way.
I’ve decided to do a hike today. I get the MTR to the eastern end point of the HK island line to Chai Wan. Here Lonely Cows lets me down as the place I’m looking for for lunch can’t be found. My back up is a stall in the multi-level market next to the mall. Here a get a bag of snacks and buns for my picnic and head for the starting point of the walk, which is gradual climb along a steep road to Cape Collinson, the slopes of which are covered with extensive cemeteries, both Chinese and Catholic. I climb up the terraced steps of the Catholic cemetery for about 20 minutes and the view of Shau Kai Wan and the narrow channel into Junk Bay appears in the haze behind the tower blocks. I carry on up a path through some woodland that opens out on a picnic area. I turn right and carry along a paved road for another 20 minutes before turning up a steep winding path which climbs up to the ridge known as Dragon’s Back. Up here you have views both east looking across the bay to Tung Lung Chau island (though hidden in the haze) and down over the curious promintory town of Shek O; and west over the shelters narrow inlet of Tai Tam harbour.
The path along the ridge climbs to a series of peaks with rocky out-crops, at each of which I take a break and admire the view. It’s a bright overcast day, and not at all cold. It’s funny how the HK guide describes this as a level 8 hike (the hardest). It’s a good work-out but not really strenuous. I take the west-bound path down off the ridge which descends rapidly to the Shek O rd. Here I wait for the bust to Shek O, but a mini-bus arrives first and I inadvertently end up further along the peninsular, as far as the road goes, in the car park above Big Wave Bay. This sandy cove is full of surfers, but the waves are not big. The path that leads around the headland north of the bay is steep and should take me to the signposted prehistoric rock paintings, but I soon realise I have missed them and have gone so far it’s poinless to go back. I’m not sure where the path will go, only that it’s north and in the direction of Cape Collison. Steeper and steeper. I have to climb 312 m Pottinger Peak to get back to the Cape. Feeling tired. At a split in the pathos, where I should have turned left I hear a tuneless song approaching. Hallelluya. At the top of her voice, headphones on ears’ a lone hiking woman remains within earshot for the rest of my hike. When I finally descend, the path so steep, that steps have been cut in the mountainside, I am passed by joggers running UP. The path empties out onto a road, and am amazed to discover I am several miles from Chai Wan still. No public transport at all, dusk falling, I walk a very long descending road flanked by the vast sprawl of the cemetery.
I’m a bit pushed for time and rush to Sai Wan Ho. Golden Veg again, and once again great food. Then I’m off back to the HK Film Archive to watch a fascinating film called Enclave, directed by Li Wei. A documentary in remote Sichuan: a community disregarded by Central Govt, where schooling is in the hands of outsider volunteers who struggle with the primitive conditions and harsh weather. The kids are covered in shit, are using school books from the 1970s, believe Mao is the president, and have no need for any learning as they have no prospects. The people burn fires in their huts for warmth and to cook by; no chimneys, huts full of smoke. Squalid and medieval.The central character is an interesting study in the brainwashed. The village has only very recently got TV, and Yibu (an illiterate adult) watches it eagerly, lapping up what he sees and then praising the virtues of the Chinese army, party and leadership. China is great and I love my country. What he fails to see is that his village has been forgotten by China and is wallowing in a dark age. I wonder how many other places are like this. Do my students who have silver spoons and espouse positivity about progress in China have any awareness of the stark inequalities in this so-called developed country? There is a Q&A afterwards. One of the girl volunteers comes to find me and so kindly offers to translate the conversation with the 22-year old director. There are interesting issues to discuss: communication problems, the diallect of this place being so localised; the unpredictability of the occasionally unhinged alcohol Yibu; the extent to which the film crew’s presence may have exposed the community more to the “developed outside world”; the difficulties in coping with being embedded in such harse and filthy conditions. I’m impressed and inspired by this provocative work.
Director: Li Wei
There is a remote village in Sichuan Daliangshan, the people here lead a life that the same as animals. Electricity became available in the village in 2012, many volunteer teachers came here. Yibu Sugan lost his father when he was young and now lives with his mother. Through television, he has a new way to learn more about the outside world. With the arrival of volunteer teachers, he is praised about leader’s policies and pleased to talk politics, economies, education and other deep opinions with teachers, it reveals the concern about civilisation and un-development.