The secret South

23 07 2016

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Wong Chuk Hang, the “Yellow Bamboo Grove,” is to most Hong Kongers, an “inbetween place.” It is that bit of land you go through when you get out of the tunnel under the mountain, before you get to Aberdeen. Few people would think to stop. Long and narrow, Wong Chuk Hang runs towards the ocean, sitting between the steep, forested slopes of the Peak on one side and Ocean Park on the other. It consists of one busy main road funnelling traffic and fumes and grit all the way through, lined with a narrow belt of grimy industrial buildings and offices that trap the heat and the dust. There are few residents and no real shopping areas. But that might all soon change. The area is waiting expectantly for the opening of its brand new subway station, due at the end of this year. This has been widely predicted to usher in a new boom for the industrial neighbourhood, suddenly within minutes of Central Hong Kong. Of course the area has been gentrifying for years under the radar, with its cafes and galleries in old warehouses and flashy new office blocks. Plus there are the under-appreciated draws of a majestic hike complete with under-freeway waterfall and Hong Kong’s best public swimming pool.

I’ve talked about the changes in the neighborhood, and its hidden charms, before here and here.

But the area also offers some intriguing and little-known historical reminders. One is the presence of one of Hong Kong’s oldest houses in a traditional village, tucked behind the freeway. Another, I discovered, is just ten minutes walk away and even older. Rock carvings found on the wall of a hillside forest gully on Nam Fung Road (just follow the signposts) date back 3,500 years to the dawning of the Shang Dynasty and recorded Chinese history, or contemporary with the earliest stirrings of ancient Greece. The rock carvings aren’t much to look at it is true, but its pretty amazing to stand in a jungly gully by a rushing stream and think of the culture – since vanished and forgotten – which produced these signs, here in Wong Chuk Hang, so very long ago. In 3500 years, what will remain of us?

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Another of Wong Chuk Hang’s secrets was revealed to me as I walked home one evening along the newly-created public path (more of a walkway, really) along the banks of the stream that runs beneath the new train tracks. The newly-built Vertical Square office building was flashing with beautiful illuminations dripping down its facade, and the sun was setting over the Aberdeen fishing harbour. As I arrived at the seafront, I noticed that the park had opened up a new urban “village,” previously off-limits behind a construction fence, and located right underneath the bridge to Ap Lei Chau (and close to where a human skull had recently been found buried in a claypot).

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It was dark when I arrived, and empty, lit only by the red glare of little shrines. Wooden walkways lead down to a muddy beach and between sheds and workshops. Apparently this was where a fleet of local fishing boats was moored and maintained. Out at sea, under the rising full moon, I could see the Jumbo floating restaurant from an unfamiliar angle, with its light-bulb-lined eaves. Not quite sure if I was allowed to be there or not, and unnerved by the shadowy gangplanks, red altars and the sheer unfamiliarity, I returned to the public path, planning to come back another time (in sunlight) for a second look.

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