Yuen Long was one of the earliest ‘new towns’ in the new territories. Success was judged on a utilitarian scale, not on amenity or livability. The industrial area was separated from the residential (unlike the old mixed areas in Tsuen Wan and Kwun Tong), despite this separation, at first glance this is one of the ugliest places in Hong Kong. Some small relief is provided by the names of the streets in the industrial area, which to puerile western minds like mine are hilarious: Fuk Hang; Fuk Hi; Fuk Wang; Fuk this and Fuk that. There was a proposal to name a street to a local sewage treatment plant after Chris Patten after the handover (in the long tradition of street naming after HK governors). What better place than Yuen Long industrial area for Fuk Chris Patten Road?
Yuen Long has the reputation of being the go-to place for eating dog. It’s a bit lawless and after crossing Deep Bay and the fishponds of Tin Shui Wai, was probably the prime destination for many illegal immigrants from China to disappear into.
The centre of ugly modern Yuen Long
Another very ugly street in modern Yuen Long
And just when you think it can't get any uglier...
...you turn a corner and see what they did to the river through the centre of town. You wouldn't want to sit and sup a long pleasant drink on the banks of this river.
The downstream end of the 'river' ends in a trash-filled trough from which the Drainage Service Department bulldozes out the pig excrement and rubbish when the smell gets too bad.
Some of the older villages on the northern periphery of Yuen Long provide some interesting images
A fung shui bad spirits deflector above a shuttered door in northern Yuen Long
This abandoned mansion was off Wang Lok Street (leading to the Industrial Estate). This is typical of the kind of place that my western friends would enthuse about the living or business opportunities going begging; while my Chinese friends would roll their eyes and talk about the potential redevelopment profit.
Digging a little deeper though, there were many beautiful old buildings in Yuen Long South which had escaped the planners initial destruction. The whole southern area was due for ‘redevelopment’ in the early noughties.
A farmer watered his land in 1998 - by now lost under skyscrapers.
Just a few weeks after photographing this old Hakka woman watering her field, this land was filled in for car parking.
The old Hakka's land after filling for parking. The worst thing that can happen in a day in the life of an officer from Planning Department, Environmental Protection or Agriculture Conservation and Fisheries is to receive a letter tipping them off of a transgression. I was told by a Senior AFCD officer that unless the letter is specifically labelled 'Complaint' it goes straight to the bin.
Distinctly unpromising from a distance, my first walks around Yuen Long South turned up surprise after photogenic surprise.
An abandoned agricultural storehouse
I started my trail at the western end as I noticed a tree covered hill which according to the development plan was due for flattening. It turned out to be a fung shui hill which had only just survived the Yuen Long Bypass.
Amost lost in amongst the trees were graves of all sizes and conditions.
Many of the graves were huge, presumably village chiefs. This was small and tucked around the back of the hill.
Two together - parent and child?
A newer grave with a photo of the occupier and stone lion guards
If I as a gwai lo could immediately see the cultural significance of this hill, it’s somewhat strange that the intention of flattening it had ever gained momentum. Yuen Long’s council officials had poor relations with the indigenous villagers. One council officer trying to serve an enforcement notice was pursued by an angry mob back to his office and beaten and chopped. As a gwai, I could have placed myself at risk wandering around the village lanes, but I was in turn acknowledged or ignored.
This house has a traditional sliding-pole gate. Secure, but allows the air to circulate.
This typical central passageway behind the village entrance leads unbroken to the temple on the back row of the village.
A village well (with shrine) still in use
Life and business as usual...
...perhaps not such a good thing in this case with an illegal discharge to a storm drain
At number 51 we find a painting of a pheasant.
When a house is abandoned, it is not uncommon for it to be locked with a rope twisted tight with a stick
The decorative painting above this window is a scenic bridge
Many of the old buildings around the new territories date from 1928
Inside one rusty tin shed, I found a village meeting hall.
Two more impressive buildings from 1928