Saturday, 12 February 2011

Old walled village

Travelling Aunty says she's not returning home to Blighty unless she's seen a walled village of old Hong Kong.

Um. I'm sure we can find one, with the help of the Urban Renewal Authority and a group of Hong Kong property developers. It may have been reconstructed as a superior modern and spacious living environment of 50 floors with security keycode access. Will that do?

Not at all, says Travelling Aunty. Her guide book, she says, lists old walled villages of Hong Kong, and she wants to see one.

Things change quick round here, Travelling Aunty. Not like Northumberland. There you can be away 20 years, go back home, and the streets are exactly as you left them. Dig tried it once. He walked into the greasy spoon down the road after an absence of two years and the waitress looked at him and said 'The usual?'

In Hong Kong you turn your back for five minutes and when you turn round again they've dug up the road and planted a skyscraper. This is the way it goes. The old buildings are neglected, which means they drop to bits in typhoons, electric storms, 39C temperatures and 99% humidity. The developers seize a perfect opportunity to say 'Look at the state of that!' then knock down the neighbourhood to use the land for an MTR, utility connection, retail complex, office space and apartments selling each for $2 million where you'd have trouble swinging a gerbil.

'I'm not going home' she says, 'until I've seen a walled village'. Then she sat down square in the armchair and gripped the arm rests.

Very well. Look, there are some in the New Territories. But those are a long way from our island, so make it four hours there and four hours back. We may be at the mercy of a Hong Kong taxi driver who doesn't normally drop off further than Kowloon Cultural Centre. And don't forget, walls in this country aren't about being pretty. I hear tell of one tribe who lock you in, then won't open the gates again until you've bought their souvenir wood carving of a rabbit. We want to avoid that.

Travelling Aunty narrows her eyes and fixes me with a menacing stare.

So of course we sort it. Thanks to the History Museum, who took over Sam Tung Uk's place.

Sam Tung Uk was a migrant some two hundred years ago, and he did the obvious Chinese thing, which is build a wall around your house. Over in mainland China, they've been doing it for years. They're still doing it.

I am impressed that someone managed to save Sam's place, I don't mind saying it. In Hong Kong, to preserve any old building, to go as far as reconstructing it with authentic materials, tools, and working practices, well, that is one impressive achievement. Someone must have set their face firmly to fight a culture which is simply not encouraged to value old buildings. This is one of the few countries in the world to look at the land area, then think that's not enough, let's flatten the sea and make a bit more.

Credit to the historians, restorers, and the old man who rebuilt the brick fireplace. It must have taken some mighty willpower, heel digging, and threats of screaming with sinister undertones of intentional physical damage.

Travelling Aunty, this is right up your street. Have you considered staying here and becoming part of the Hong Kong Heritage group?

Then here it is. Sam Tung Uk's place. With walls.

1 comment:

sharon said...

And another new hat for a certain someone ;-)