A Tale of Two Towns: Fanling & Sheung Shui


Fanling in HK
Fanling and Sheung Shui were extremely far from Hong Kong Island and the Sheung Shui was actually just located inside the boundary between Hong Kong and China (Shenzhen). Fanling is located in Northeast of New Territories, with Tai Po on the southeast and Sheung Shui on the Northwest. It is a component of the North District[1], 3 other sub-areas. The North District is bound by Shenzhen as mentioned above and is one of the most densely populated district in HK, with 2, 228 persons / sq.km and account for 4.3% of HK’ s entire population.

As it is bound district with China, a lot of refugees from China cross border and settled down there since the Anti-Japanese and Civil Wars in China, which make the population within the district increased dramatically and formed its own Clan Culture. Walking through Fanling, you will found some unique features comparing with areas in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. The topography is plain so it is an ideal place for bicycling; the taxies there are also the uniformed Toyota but in Green Color.

Even though, the area is still a major green and agricultural area of Hong Kong with much land undeveloped. In recent years, the Government has initiated a plan on “Developing Northeast[2]” including Fanling North, Ta Kwu Ling and Kwu Tung North. It is originally proposed to solve 3 long-existing problems in HK:1)    Increase land supply;2)   Reduce population density in urban area;3)  Improve industrial and commercial function of the North District.The government’s plan is forward-looking, but due to various reasons, they met with many obstacles like:1)   Relocation difficulty of the original residents;2) Influence on local agriculture;3) Land exchange and compensation controversies. etc.

For my understanding, Fanling and the North District is linking point of Hong Kong and China, therefore its culture and history are emerged and combined by original local villagers there and new immigrants from other parts of China. During our visits there, we could find the much part of the area is still accompanied by traditional Chinese style, which have not been changed for several hundred years.

On development potential or just from urbanization perspective, the area of HK Northeast should be developed further. But it cannot be materialized that smoothly as the government planned, as mentioned above, the “change” is “painful” to many stakeholders, “local evolution” of economy and international process is actually always accompanied by” cultural resistance”. There are still years to go before the government development plan can be realized completely.

Sheung Shui

Farmland in Sheung Shui
After a heavy rain, we continued our steps towards Sheung Shui, seems that we were going to walk away from Hong Kong as we were getting nearer and nearer to the frontier. The land in Sheung Shui seemed greener as most of the area there were still farmland. It was still quite traditional as we did not see any modern agricultural facilities in their farmland. There are also divided farm plots along the way. Actually, these are the plots for workforce who used to live a farming life in the country before but may now work in HK Island or Kowloon, they might came back at weekend to recall their enjoyment of farming on green and natural farmland to relax themselves.

The houses in the village were still in its old image and separated randomly within Sheung Shui village[3]. It sometimes caused troubles for the postman as it could be very challenging for them to find the specific location addressed on the envelope. The Sheung Shui village seemed the only place with its original layout and nature maintained.There was a river outside Sheung Shui village called Ng Tung River. Walking along the waterfront of the river on a rainy day was extremely a pleasure. The paths along the river are holed with 2 major applications: 1) to accommodate more green 2) to protect flooding. What a smart design.

Sheung Shui Marketplace
The Sheung Shui marketplace[4] is a famous place in the old days and was busy and prosperous in 1950s to serve locals of the entire Sheung Shui area. However, after a fire in 1957, some of the heritage was damaged with limited ones left.However, after new planning, there are some new developments within the area, which facilitate modern urban functions.

The prosperity of marketplace in Sheung Shui emerged from its culture and history background but not a strategic planning perspective. As mentioned above, the area has long been a market area with hundreds of years’ history. Its “downtown” status cannot be changed easily as the local people there already get accustomed to its style and location.As an intersection of HK and China; and a center between urban area and villages, the Sheung Shui marketplace also has its own features:
  • Commodities are rather cheap than Kowloon and HK Island;
  • More smuggling goods from and to China on sale: HK milk powder etc.
  • The new walking streets are more convenient, with no steps and vehicles prohibition etc.

“The tale of two towns” has demonstrated and witnessed thousands anecdotes on the combined culture and history of Hong Kong and Mainland China. They evolved with history and thrived on culture. Hundreds of years have passed and they seemed different from what they originally looks like. But one thing is everlasting: the old villages should and must develop under the economic push and urbanization trend to survive. They can maintain their tradition, lifestyle and culture, but to live themselves in a forever changing world, they need to spare no effort and suffer pains. And that’s how Fanling and Sheung Shui sharped themselves as what they look like today.

[1] North District (http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%8C%97%E5%8D%80_(%E9%A6%99%E6%B8%AF))
[2] Northeast Development Plan (http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%96%B0%E7%95%8C%E6%9D%B1%E5%8C%97%E7%99%BC%E5%B1%95%E8%A8%88%E5%8A%83)
[3] Sheung Shui Village (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheung_Shui)

[4] Sheung Shui and Fanling Market (http://www.stay.com/hong-kong/shopping/15058/sheung-shui-and-fanling-markets/)

Travelling from Tradition to Modernization

Wong Tai Sin Temple

It seems that every part of Kowloon has its own culture and history and the Wong Tai Sin Temple[1] must be the cultural and historical representative of the Wong Tai Sin District. 

1.Wong Tai Sin Temple
Wong Tai Sin Temple is undoubtedly one of the most famous tourist attractions in HK. The temple lives up to its reputation as “What you request is what you get” in the Chinese prayer tradition. Every year, millions of visitors arrive at Wong Tai Sin Temple, pray for the things they want to get no matter for business, love, fortune and happiness.

The tradition is that people shake the bamboo to get the fortune stick before they take the number in the stick to the soothsayer for interpretation. If the interpretation works well, the prayer needs to come back on Jan next year to thank the immortal. I also had a try and the soothsayer said some good fortune will come to after August this year!

2.Densely-populated Housing Outside
However, looking out at the surroundings outside the temple, I could find the temple is actually located in a very densely populated area surrounded by rows of high-rise residential blocks (see background of the picture below). For my understanding, the living space within the Wong Tai Sin area is rather limited and in 1956, the government even proposed to reclaim the temple for public housing development. After the great effort of the Wong Tai Sin Chairman, the temple was able to remain open till now.

It’s not an easy task for urban planners when influences of culture and history facing the pressures of local development demand. They should accommodate local residents’ living while keeping the original culture and history undamaged. It is not easy and there must be one party surrenders to balance. It our case, Wong Tai Sin Temple prevails as the its cultural and historical value should be protected on top and the public housing development should make room and relocate to other places.

Zero Carbon Building

Walking through the bustling streets and old-fashioned industrial buildings, we arrived at our next destination. I finally caught my breath as the journey along these old streets was a lit bit breathless in this extremely hot summer.

3.Zero Carbon Building
Standing in front of a fresh new modern-designed architecture surrounded by green parks and landscape, I felt suddenly into a brand new world embracing nature. The Zero Carbon Building[2] (ZCB) is definitely a symbol of the Government’s “Green Initiatives” on the Energizing Kowloon East on top of their CBD development and industrial zones revitalization schemes.

The ZCB is HK’s initial zero-carbon architecture built by HK government and its construction committee. It is a showcase of an environmental-friendly construction and the sustainable development concept by the HK government. It was completed in June 2012 and obtained the LEED Platinum Certificate and won the environmental-friendly prize in the same year.

4.Green Walkway in ZCB Square
It is said that the ZCB integrated 80 environmental-friendly technologies and can reduce 45% energy consumption. ZCB generate power with renewable energy and is able not only self-satisfied but also additional power for output. In front of the ZCB, there is a landscape area with the first native urban woodland in HK, which can reduce the heat island effect in this busy district. There is also a green walkway beside the woodland central square with green features.

The ZCB is definitely a green initiative and showcase by the HK’s government. Although it has a lot of Green features, the level and quality it achieves the “Green Standard” is still to be verified. Actually, except the Government, nobody knows the “real number” of environmental-friendly technologies it used, the detailed amount of energy it could save, and is it really “zero carbon”?

If you look carefully at the 3rd picture above, we can still find an shabby residential building just on its left, which is rather incompatible with these green buildings. Therefore, from a planning perspective, there should still be some steps moving forward towards a completed urban renewal schemes.

The traveling from tradition to modernization was exciting. People were praying themselves on the ancient temples and following the soothsaying in Wong Tai Sin but found them amazed at the brand new modern and high-tech architecture in the front just a few moments later. The culture and history of Kowloon make Wong Tai Sin Temple standing there for hundreds of year and witnessed crowds of new high-rise and high-tech designed architectures erected in the nearby areas under the economic and internationalization trend. As a cultural and historical representative, Wong Tai Sin Temple will never be changed, but the “immortal” in the temple seemed have soothsaid the current changes hundreds of years ago, as there will be some significant transformation from tradition to modernization, which is an unstoppable step forward.

[1] Wong Tai Sin Temple (http://www.siksikyuen.org.hk/public/contents/article?ha=&wc=0&hb=&hc=&revision_id=20432&item_id=2080)

[2] Zero Carbon Building Website(http://zcb.hkcic.org/Eng/index.aspx)