Sunday, 16 August 2015

Aberdeen, Hong Kong

After a brief walk (actually 1.5 hours of leisurely walk) of Ap Lei Chau across the harbour, I took the ferry ride to come to this side of the Hong Kong's main island, which is known as Aberdeen. Local Cantonese call this place Heung Kong Tsai (香港仔) or Little Hong Kong in English. This local name gives you clue that once upon a time, this place was known as Hong Kong until the name was extended to refer to the whole island, indeed the whole of former British colony (which includes Kowloon Peninsula, and the 263 islands). It was renamed to Aberdeen to avoid confusion.

Interior, Ferry between Ap Lei Chau and Aberdeen, Hong Kong
Ferry ride between Ap Lei Chau and Aberdeen

Ferry that take passengers between Ap Lei Chau and Aberdeen, Hong Kong
Public Ferry at the typical low HK transportation fares at $2.10 HKD = $0.12 USD at the time of writing.

Movies - Hollywood or local made - like to use Aberdeen as backdrop for their movies (at least before the 1980s) because this is the part of HK that's uniquely and colourfully HK. What's more, it harks back to the origin of HK as a fishing village when British Empire took it from China during the Opium Wars. For the various economic, social and historical reasons, Aberdeen becomes somewhat the symbol of HK.

Well, for action flicks, the boats and sampans give great obstacles for the water actions to take place as the boat whizzes around them. The most recent film that depicts the contradictions of the old and new of lives in Aberdeen is entitled, guess what, Aberdeen (2014).

Movie poster, Aberdeen (2004)

Tourist Ferry, Aberdeen Harbour, Hong Kong
Tourist ferry

One more point, while the rest of HK, especially the northern shore of HK island is transformed into a modern mega financial city, Aberdeen - locates on the southern or the polar opposite shore of HK island - still retains much of its fishing past jostles with modernity. Some fishing families had moved into the highrises (most are middle class) that line the 2 sides of Aberdeen Harbour. There're still some people living in the houseboats just as they did in the past.

Floating Village and Apartment Highrises, Aberdeen West Typhoon Shelter, Hong Kong
Floating village and apartment Highrises

Floating Village and Apartment Highrises, Aberdeen West Typhoon Shelter, Hong Kong
The green building is Ap Lei Chau's Town Hall building.

A Tanka houseboat that's docked next to the shore with a connecting walkway, Aberdeen Promenade, Hong Kong
A Tanka houseboat that's docked next to the shore with a connecting walkway

Entry way to the houseboat above, Aberdeen Promenade, Hong Kong
Entry way to the houseboat above

Floating housing, Houseboats, Aberdeen Harbour, Hong Kong
These houseboats are anchored in the middle of the harbour as supposed to those that are moored at the promenade

They don't just live on the boats, some run their business on the boats - other than as transportation - like selling congee and whatnot.

Congee selling on a sampan, Aberdeen Harbour, Hong Kong
Congee vendor selling it the old way.
They're selling congee (or porridge) that gives its name: the Sampan Congee (艇仔粥).

Congee selling on a sampan, Aberdeen Harbour, Hong Kong
Today, you can eat this congee in any Cantonese restaurant that sells congee.
One day, nobody sells this congee this way, and sampan congee is in name only.

Speedboat in the harbour, Aberdeen Harbour, Hong Kong
Modernity speeds into the semi-traditional fishing harbour.
The harbour shelters the community from coastal wind,  but not the wind of change.

Aberdeen (and Ap Lei Chau across the Aberdeen Harbour) is a nice place for people - locals or tourists alike - to escape the hustle and bustle of shopping and dining crowds, and the maddening traffic of HK's dynamite city centres. You'll find low crowd here, and the leisurely pace reflects this semi-traditional (far from ultra-modern, but not completely old-world) fishing community (can't really use the word "village" here).

Chess house, Aberdeen Promenade, Hong Kong
chess house that contains tabletops with Chinese chessboard at Aberdeen Promenade.
The chessboard and pieces are shown on the wall.
Maybe I'm bias. I prefer Chinese chess over Indian chess (or known in the West just as chess).

Chinese chess players, Aberdeen Promenade, Hong Kong
Locals playing Chinese chess (for peanuts...really?)
Let's bet on who will win and turn the tame/mild game of chess into a wild game of chance.

Indonesian, Aberdeen Promenade, Hong Kong
If chess isn't your thing, you can always 'relax' with a smartphone.
Let him or her without the sin of smartphone cast the 1st generation mobile phone.
Ouch! I prefer the smartphone with plastic cover. It doesn't hurt so much.

To complete the Aberdeen experience, you can dine in one of the floating restaurant. I didn't. It's too early for din-din, and I've been there, done that before. You can catch a ferry on their own dedicated piers to one of the 3 floating restaurant. No price for guessing the relative sizes of the 3 restaurants.

Piers to floating restaurant, Aberdeen Promenade, Hong Kong
The 3 floating restaurant piers' entrances at Aberdeen Promenade

Is the water dirty? I saw a little bit of litter floating on a little corner of the harbour. Considering this is a small harbour with very heavy congestion, where many people work, live and play (tourists), it isn't dirty at all. Look at all the photos above, there're no (photographic) evidence of any rubbish (in or out of water). You have to look very hard to find a little of it.

Janitor with the traditional Tanka hat, Aberdeen Promenade, Hong Kong
Janitor with the traditional Tanka hat

Is the water smelly? I detect a faint smell (of fish and oil sleek). Quite faint, and not everywhere in the harbour. Considering that this is one of the hottest days in the year (just about the heyday of summer in HK), if the smell isn't bad now, it should br less so at other time of the year.

I think these are the things of the past (more than a decade ago).

Ap Lei Chau Bridge, Aberdeen Promenade, Hong Kong
Aberdeen Harbour and Ap Lei Chau Bridge

The costume of the Tanka people can be only seen in museum now (the hats are still being worn). Soon, the Tanka people's way of life could only be studied in a museum in HK when they prefer the solid ground over the rocky boats. The airy HK's real estate prices may keep the Tanka people from being grounded for awhile longer. There's lesser demand in living on water than on land.

Well, similar fishing communities have been long gone in Singapore, which is the other former British colony, financial centre, international port and transportation hub (with no domestic flights), small city-state island with a few million Chinese-speaking population. In short, its southern cousin (almost a long lost twin).

See it before it's extinct (like those in Singapore). I think it will, the speed HK modernises. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Person in panda costume
Panda, River Safari, Singapore
Panda is far from extinct. But I don't think there's a Conservation Society for Tanka People.
They wouldn't appreciate such a society.

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