Hong Kong has many interesting places to offer, especially if you love ancient history and are willing to walk for a while under the sun. The Kwu Tung 古洞, literally “old cave”, is one of those places out of the map and rarely visited by foreigners. Located in the northern New Territories, not far from Sheung Shui 上水, it doesn’t even show in Google Maps –there is a mysterious white hole there, but don’t worry, there are no aliens around–. If you walk around the Kwu Tung across Ho Sheung Heung 河上鄉 Road, you will eventually reach a temple dedicated to Hung Shing 洪聖, a government official from the Tang Dynasty who is believed to guard people from natural disasters. Since some of the relics in the Hung Shing Temple 洪聖古廟 can be traced back to the 16th century, this could be one of the oldest temples in Hong Kong –the bell preserved inside the temple is so old that any writing has already been worn out.
This is not the only temple in the zone. When I was there, I had the chance to meet a descendant of the Hau 侯 family who is in charge of the site. We had a long and very interesting conversation about the history of the temple and he took me to the remains of another temple situated in an alley, about 30 meters away from the Hung Shing Temple, that is now almost destroyed and full of garbage. We walked around and observed the remains with sadness in our faces. Then my new friend blurted out: “Take pictures! Take pictures! Next time it will all be gone!”.
Remains of an old temple near the Hung Shing Temple in Kwu Tung
The Kwu Tung has so much to offer: besides the Hung Shing Temple there is a Paai Fung Temple 排峰古廟, the Memorial Hall of the Hau Family 居石侯公祠, at least two old cemeteries and many tombs in the mountains, many old houses such as the Jan Hwa Lodge 仁華盧, the Yeung Garden 楊園, or the Gamyik Tea House 錦益茶樓, and a curious mark in Daai Sek Mo 大石磨 mountain from the days of the Brits that reads “Scots Guards 2nd Batt”. There is at least one destroyed temple that, according to my friend and guide, was even older. When compared with any other “Heritage Trails” such as Fanling´s Lung Yeuk Tau粉領龍躍頭文物徑 or the Ping Shan Heritage Trail 屏山文物徑, the Kwu Tung seems way more interesting and rich. Thus, I ventured to ask my interlocutor why there is no Kwu Tung Heritage Trail. “Because the government wants to develop this area”, he answered.
The Yeung Garden, the Gamyik Tea House and the Jan Hwa Lodge
Kwu Tung’s cementeries and the Scottish Mark on Daai Sek Mo
The Hou Family Memorial Hall and the old temples of Paai Fung and Hung Shing
Indeed, when walking around the Kwu Tung one can see many signs against the government: “The government is destroying my land to build great mansions”; “The development is forcefully tearing apart the houses of the people, the government is getting someone else to do the dirty job”. Kwu Tung is not an exception, and similar signs about the government not respecting public opinion and destroying citizens’ property can be seen in many areas, for instance, in Kam Tin’s Kat Hing Wai 錦田吉慶圍 and near the old Ho Yin Lodge 浩然廬 in Fanling 粉嶺. But since Kwu Tung doesn’t have a Heritage Trail, how can all this places be protected? By not having a “Heritage Trail”, the government can freely dispose of the place as it wishes. But more importantly, how is Hong Kong different from China when the government can freely tear apart (chaak 拆) your private property against your will if they decide that the area should be developed?
Banners protesting against the new development plan of the northern area of the New Territories, in the Kwu Tung and Fan Ling
The resulting “mansions” will be expensive houses unaffordable to ordinary people, and the inhabitants of the Kwu Tung will be displaced with a small compensation for the “chaak” that will not be enough for a new good house. Their children will have to face a new problem: they will either have a rather small house, or live in a rental property, since they cannot inherit the family house. And, of course, they will have to leave behind all their earnestly lived lives, their lands and friends, and why not, their own identity.
Some days ago a friend told me she loved the Hong Kong government because it provided her with a public house. But the reason she, like many others, cannot afford a house is because of the development plans of the Hong Kong government, which is pushing away the poor/middle classes into small apartments to accommodate an increasing number of immigrants or creating expensive areas for the elites. A graph from the Hong Kong government clearly shows how the prices for the property market raised twice in 2005 and 2010, as did the rental in these same years. It is not by chance that Donald Tsang took office in June, 2005. Housing prices are not the result of Hong Kong’s capitalism, but of China’s communist measures introduced by Tsang and continued by CY Leung.
Thus, I asked my friend how she would feel if someone stabbed her with a knife and then gave her money to go to the hospital. “Would you love that person? Then, you don’t need to love the Hong Kong government when it gives you a free house”.