In the back of Hong Kong island, there is a secluded area where the hills are filled with thousands of ceramic deities. Once residing in homes, they now cast their gaze towards the open ocean, just a few meters away. Slim, rocky paths wind up and around the figures, making them accessible to those wishing to pay respects, similar in both the feeling and look of a graveyard. The bottom of the hill is mostly fragmented pieces, with a few whole deities protruding from their waste. I was not the only person there; an old man emerged from a metal shack holding incense, slowly making his way from figure to figure, displaying the utmost care in his step, moving around the uneven, delicate ground.
The Southern side of Hong Kong carries a unique, almost spiritual stillness, standing in sharp contrast to the rest of the bustling territory. Even buildings cloaked in modernity bend to unseen, superstitious forces. Some skyscrapers house massive, rectangular holes, making sure their intrusive designs do not block the path of dragons venturing towards the water, which would otherwise bring bad luck. Pastel-colored, tiled residencies integrate itself in the mountainside, with some smaller buildings and infrastructure left to deteriorate and be reclaimed by nature. Pok Fu Lam, located just a short way from Aberdeen, is one of the last tin-roofed villages in Hong Kong. Nearly 400-years-old, its development has strayed from the surrounding areas, opting for a more down-to-earth lifestyle.
A gallery not too far from the ceramic deities, aids that spiritual, mysterious tone that resides in Southern Hong Kong. I can only describe the Empty Gallery in Tin Wan as an anti-gallery, one that is an art piece all on its own. My friend Rose came along, she had been there before and after visiting I knew there was a good chance I would not have been able to find it. After traveling up a plywood-lined elevator in an unmarked, under-construction building, the doors opened to pure blackness. Stepping off the elevator, the doors closed behind us leaving us in the dark. Rose fingered for a button to unlock the gallery door, eventually leading us inside. Slowly adjusting to the darkness, I noticed that the walls and ceiling were painted black. In the lobby, a large black cube containing exhibit information was dimly lit by a ceiling light. Tishan Hsu’s exhibit, called ‘Delete’, is the only part of the gallery that is illuminated, with highly textural canvases containing twisted and deformed hallucinogenic formations and photographs. Waxy drops protruded from the canvas like gravity had switched sideways, with florescent bulges breaking up the composition uncomfortably. Though we were alone, the air was periodically filled with voices. The floor below had a short film by Cici Wu called ‘Unfinished Return of Yu Man Hon’. Aided with haunting imagery and sounds, the film outlined the true events of a mentally handicapped child who slipped through Hong Kong immigration into Mainland China without papers. Two decades later, he is still missing.
Like Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok in the New Territories, there is a timeless feeling surrounding the area here. Separate from the noisy and fast lifestyle of the cities, Southern Hong Kong provides a slower, more rural alternative full of hidden gems to explore.