When I first arrived in HK it felt impossible to navigate my way through the endless loops of staircases and narrow roads, but they quickly became less of a frustration and something I grew to appreciate as a historically and culturally significant pattern in the urban fabric of Hong Kong Island. Although I could never find the same way back on a freshly explored route ANYWHERE in HK, the pervasive secret pathways that snake through the hills and building were always a pleasant stumbled upon surprise. They all led somewhere. You always knew there was an intention behind the creation of these massive winding staircases. Why else would anyone carve into that extraordinary topography? While some people chose the safe air-conditioned routes of shopping malls, escalators, and lifts, I embraced the mystery of the staircases and their unknown destinations.
The shopping malls themselves, in a way, were a challenge for me as well. I understood that it was hot outside and humid and a lot of the times raining, but one of the very last things I want to do while visiting exotic Asia was to be stuck commuting in a westernized shopping mall. I felt like it was really difficult to connect with the city of Hong Kong and its community when most of the transportation was structured around imported clothes, shoes, and handbags. I’d rather walk through an outdoor market (despite climatic conditions) and see, hear, smell vendors cooking food, selling produce, or local products. It seems as if this shopping mall culture has stripped away a lot of Hong Kong’s past identity and made it all about consumption. But of course the shopping malls have improved the walkability of Hong Kong for some inhabitants, for example, anyone struggling with mobile disabilities that are challenged by endless slopes, staircases, and obstructions and conditions of pavement… or anyone with health conditions that cannot tolerate extreme heat, cold, or pollution.
Idealistically, I just wish that all the shopping malls could be like the PMQ market. This may sound like a plug, but I was just so inspired by the concept. The PMQ market, formally a school and married police quarter, transformed itself into little shops that host design shops and pop up stores. They include artists, musicians, workshops, and food. All of the shops are in former apartments that were common to a family of four, and are SMALL. This happened to be one of the only first hand references I had to the indoor living space while studying settlements in Hong Kong. The site also hosts larger art exhibits, installations, and other fun festivities in it’s open air area. Not only does this site support the local arts and economy, but it preserves local heritage and provides public-private open space too. I’d say I’m slightly obsessed.
The Ultimate Standoff Between Old And New, Macau
This study abroad program to Hong Kong was truly valuable for my future studies and career plan. I’ve decided to use Lei Yue Mun as a site for my upcoming 6-month comp project. I’m looking forward to this culturally rich site and future opportunities that lie within the inevitable development. The investigation of the city and its many types of settlement patterns from this program will be a great foundation for my future project. The program also gave me great insight into what it would be like to work cross culturally in the field of planning or landscape architecture. I was presented with the challenge of a language barrier and the exposure and experience with to a dense way of development like I have never seen before. I just wish the program could have been longer.
Before I was able to catch up with the fast pace of life in Hong Kong, time got ahead of me as well, and the second week was over. Monday morning of week two we were given assignment two: use video format to narrate the story of an element of our site’s landscape. The video was meant to show patterns of how this element shaped the physical landscape within the settlement and the values created in this site that makes it a place.
At first we found it extremely difficult to narrow this story down to a 3-minute video. Like I mentioned before, the identity of Lei Yue Mun was blurred and it didn’t seem fair to try and explain the identity to others when I didn’t fully understand it myself. I had to dig my way out of this rabbit hole of politics and land rights I was lost in.
Rather than creating a story line ourselves, we decided to allow the video footage we captured and the still shots to tell the story to us. Lei Yue Mun is very much a poetic place, and the images and videos were powerful enough to speak alone with the added effects of music. Our goal was to evoke emotion and guide the audience on an experiential journey through Lei Yue Mun. This introduces the development and memory of the site, the fishing industry and its consequences, the occupation of natural and human shaped spaces, and the strengths, struggles, values and transitions of the new and old community.
When the video began our whole group was a little anxious questioning if everyone else would follow the inexplicit story, but fortunately the crowds response was receptive to the message.
Almost a week later, and the Lei Yue Mun images are still flashing through my mind. I continue to spectacle what design moves could be made to define the blurred identity and the messy transitions of public and private spaces within the site. How could one make these public and private spaces not only clear, but also individually viable? How could tourism through the area be organized in a way that does not disturb or degrade the current residents daily life and landscape? Or how an economy could be built in order to encourage the younger generations to stay? What could be done with vernacular ecological design to meet the resident’s basic human needs and enhance the natural landscape, cultural heritage, and economy? The most obvious immediate and specific improvements would tackle the lack and complications of connections, ventilation, shading, utilities, garbage, and water. This sounds like a potential comprehensive project for me!
Overall, I felt like our group worked really well especially the added communication and language hurdle. We had funny little misunderstandings that we were able to work through and laugh about, while finishing strong in the end. With my professional dreams of working abroad with cultural landscapes, these two weeks were certainly a little slice of reality in what it would be like to cross culture collaborate. It was an enlightening experience that I will always hold in my memories. (Click on the links below to view the Lei Yue Mun final board and the video)
Final Board, Lei Yue Mun Group
With 7 million people densely compressed in and around the walls of clustered high-rise vertical towers, escaping to Lei Yue Mun (my studio site on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong) felt like I’d set foot in an oasis. What historically served as a home to indigenous Hakka people, turned farmland, turned home to granite minors, turned refugee squatter settlement… presently identifies as a fishing village tourist attraction. Naturally, the spontaneous identity patterns within the community reflect the nonsystematic and scattered arrangement of the village. But it was mainly the landscape that informed the morphology of Lei Yue Mun as it is rich in natural resources. The village alignment follows the natural contours of the topography and extends out into the sea on stilts and platforms. And more obviously, the village’s orientation between the sea and mountains shape its long linear form.
I have to admit though, before that feeling of landing an oasis set in, I felt completely disoriented and out of my element. It wasn’t until I got past the market and posted up on a large rock that overlooked the sea, when I was overcome with a feeling of bliss. Despite the large paifang indicating a transition between two districts, it was unclear where the entrance to the village actually was. Navigating my way around the harbor and past the sleepy fish markets, it seemed as if I’d left the public space and entered someone’s private territory. The narrow paths that were only one shanty separated from the sea were no more than 8 feet wide and draped with line-drying clothes. There were no cars, only people commuting on bicycles with dinging bells or walking on foot which was commonly seen burrowed inside a rubber boot. The corrugated metal roofs were rampant and stacked like the skewered meat from the night market. Had I been transported in the MTR tube from the cosmopolitan metropolis of Hong Kong to a distant underdeveloped country?
I was lucky to be accompanied by two amazing HKU Cantoneese and Manderin speaking students. With their help we were able to verbally communicate with the residents, visitors, and workers onsite. After several interviews with visitors and workers, we were finally able to interview a group of long-time residents of Lei Yue Mun. The residents cluster against the back side of this bathroom wall everyday around 2pm shadowing the sun patterns. They explained that they enjoy their home, but feel a bit isolated and would like to improve the connectivity for convenience to amenities.
I don’t know how many days its been since I left home and I’m not sure if I slept last night. The journey to get here was long and anything but pleasurable. Arriving in Beijing my texts home read “I just puked in the airport trash-can in front of 20 people.” And then in Hong Kong read “On the third leg of the flight, I grew cankles.”
So upon touchdown in that demented state of mind, I decided to brave the public transportation to my new home for the next two weeks at Hong Kong University. Navigating through the subway was as extraordinary as my friend Jane had raved: Chinese and English signage, easy to understand diagrams of lines, and friendly locals recognizing and accommodating a tourist getting her luggage locked in the turnstile.
But as soon as I walked out of the HKU stop of the subway station around 10:30pm, it was a different story. Double decker buses zipping by, taxi-cabs honking, pedestrians scrambling…it was a M.C. Escher madhouse of a city layout. Still, I courageously decided to ride herd on my roller luggage and duffle bags up the curbs, down flights of stairs, over bridges, and zig zag through streets until finally surrendering to the dark narrow streets of Hong Kong and hailing a little red 1980s Toyota taxi-cab. Before I could even shut the door and tell the driver where I was going he was hauling up hills and then flying down them with twice the speed. Fifteen minutes of hugging the curbs up to the foggy tropical peak where the university lies, I was grateful to have relinquished my jungle crusade and find a familiar University of Oregon face.