I’m with Len, Lin’s uncle who specializes in village property. He’s lead us deep into Sha Tin along a narrow footpath to Ha Wo Che village, which lines the train tracks and takes you back in time to days of a bygone era. Much of the places in the district have retained their old style Cantonese names. On the way to the property prospect, we trudge past the Lung Wah Hotel.
“That’s the place from the James Bond movie,” says Len.
I was struggling to recollect. “The Man with the Golden Gun,” Says Len. That was it. That’s the flick where Bond breaks into the place to tackle Scaramanga, the guy with three nipples, but gets to grapple the sumo wrestler statues that ‘come alive’ in the garden instead. So it’s quite an old place. “Now it’s a restaurant made famous for its pigeon dishes,” says Len.
I stop to take in the view; some of the old glory of the place is retained amongst the surrounding decay. I imagine James Bond today would have a hard time trying to sneak up on Scaramanga, what with the rough cut village shacks, tangles of phone lines and electric cables, in the way, not to mention the feral village dogs that protect their lot and surround the Lung Wah Hotel today. A KCR train rumbles past which breaks the reverie, and we continue along the cement path to the property, which at a glance from the path, looks like a great investment property with potential. On two sides of the property, which itself was clad in pink inch square tiles, were old derelict low rise buildings, overgrown with creepers. There was a lot of improvement possibility here for investment.
We climbed the turning stairwell to the second floor to discover, uncommon in village houses, this one was an oblong format with a balcony the full length of the building and two full height sets of sliding doors letting onto it, one coming out of the master bedroom. This is where I could see the inherent value.
Len let us inside and proceeded to show us around. None of the electrics worked, and most of the fittings, like door handles, water pipes even the water heater had been carelessly ripped out of the place. Probably weighed in for scrap metal. The kitchen was in a sorry state what with the taps missing and a dated tiled counter top occupying two walls, with crud growing into new forms of glorious life from the black between the tiles. The whole bathroom window was missing which was probably a good thing providing ventilation to the whole apartment. The hand basin and toilet bowl stained brown and otherwise looking wretched. This was perfect. Plenty of cost down negotiation opportunity with a dramatic redecoration possibility.
The flooring is the usual parquet dark wooden tiling. I thought it was in good condition until I notice over near the bedrooms something heavy, like a fridge has been carelessly dragged leaving deep gouges like claw marks in the tiles. So it would all have to be replaced. This was a ‘fixer upper’ in a rare class of its own, full of promise offering the possibility of starting from scratch. Though solidly built, the interior was presented in an utter shambles. Just what I was looking for!
At the other end of the main room, a face mask was hanging on the window latch and along with a pile of debris stacked on the balcony outside, left to look as though someone one was peering through the window across the lounge. It was a bit eerie, but obviously meant as a joke. It was a kid’s mask of the blue colour, ‘Big Head Buddha.’ In the tradition of Chinese culture; he’s the boy who is sent to tease the dragon like you see at the Chinese New Year parades or in other Buddhist fairy stories.
I took my time to look around. Inside the lounge I started to notice a strange presence. Like the room had a life of its own. Something strange setting off goose bumps. Buddha imagery arranged in sort of a fung shui way near the bedrooms. There’s a small sword fashioned from Chinese coins and red twine. Mystical magic devices designed to dispell ill omens. You could still smell the incense from burnt joss sticks.
As Len lead us out onto the balcony, I was alerted something was amiss when I slid open the balcony doors and stood looking at the length of the property, which was stacked high with long bamboo poles, just like the ones used in Hong Kong scaffolding. Strange because the property did seem structurally sound.
I kick over a bundle of bamboo sticks and uncover a discarded beef knife. The proper chopper sort that you see in the Hong Kong street fight movies. The butcher variety which are around eighteen inches long, wrapped in newspaper, it had weathered and gone rusty, so it had been there for a long time. Ignoring the knife, I take in the view of the train lines and step back inside.
Pacing the length of the lounge, I pause for a second outside the main bedroom, turning I see the Big Head Buddha mask smiling right at me. The bright afternoon sun burning through the eye sockets and mouth of the mask leaving a laughing face in silhouette.
I was looking towards the bedroom area. The far end of the lounge was bathed in light from the late afternoon sunshine. Dust hanging in the air as the apartment was so unkempt, but in a rhythmic way, a draft pulls the dust into the gap of the bedroom door and wheezes it back out again, like something large, inside, is breathing.
I throw open the door to the master bedroom and staring back, larger than life is a ferocious dragon’s head, ornate in gleaming golden splendor, itself almost five feet tall; set on a tripod with just enough space for the bedroom door to open. It’s eyes wide and teeth set in a snarl, we are almost nose to nose, ferocious front claws raised, looking like its about to pounce.
Shaken, not stirred!
fung shui: Chinese geomancy that often governs the layout of an apartment.
KCR: Kowloon Canton Railway Train Company.
About the Author:
Michael Jerome is a 41-year old British writer who has lived in Hong Kong for over half his adult life and likes to recount his experiences in art, culture and cuisine in a small ‘tall story.’ His story telling is a hobby, taking readers to places and spaces off the tourist track.
Photography by Ian Mackown