Last month, I was excited to be involved in a Drink & Doodle session for Ladies, Wine & Design where I organised a virtual tour of Hong Kong – starting with a visit to my mum’s village, Po Sum Pai. The evening then focused on drawing a classic HK ice cream van over at Tsim Sha Tsui which you can see here and here! As I’m writing this, I’m getting ready to log into another ‘digital nomad’ session with some buddies I regularly do this with, where we’ve decided to draw my grandma’s old house. This has got me thinking back to some images I took a few years ago, I shared some images at the time on Instagram and managed to post these Hong Kong market shots, but I can’t believe I left such an important location out of my posts. So it’s time to share them properly here, starting with one of my favourite photos I’ve taken of my grandma!
Po Sum Pai is a village a short bus ride from Tai Po, which is the main town in the New Territories. The area is a stark contrast to the city with no tall apartment blocks but is instead, surrounded by lush green hills. The journey out to Po Sum Pai from where I stay with my dad’s family at North Point, HK island, consists of a ride on the MTR (the underground) followed by a train which takes roughly an hour. My maternal grandma lives in the UK but she was visiting home for a few months and was excited when our trips overlapped. She was keen to show me around the village and we hopped on the bus along Ting Tok Road and made a pit stop at my mum’s childhood home. My mum’s side has hundreds of years of history in this village, no one has ever done a family tree but countless generations of my family have always lived out here.
A distant family member now lives in my mum’s childhood home, but it’s a great example of a traditional house in the New Territories. In this part of Hong Kong, people live in houses rather than in apartments like the city folk. Out this way in the ‘countryside’, people traditionally own land including the land their house is on, and nowadays, a lot of these ‘Ding’ houses have been knocked down to make room for more modern apartments (there’s one being built right next door in the photo below). These apartments are usually quite lucrative as they are either lived in by the family or each floor is let out.
It’s unsurprising to see the communist five-pointed star on the top of the house. I don’t know enough, but I do know that the schools out in the villages had a lot more emphasis on Chinese history, and my mum remembers having to learn a little bit of simplified Chinese – not to mention the fact my grandad was a Mao follower. It seems like another world to me and not something I know much about at all. I wasn’t close to my grandad but if he was still alive, I like to think I would have talked to him about his beliefs and also his childhood.
I love looking at these images, the rusty gates, and the old mint tiles and embossed glass. There is an ancestral hall just next door to my mum’s old house and the signs above the door show that it belongs to the Chan clan. These buildings are common and families will often return to these buildings to remember their ancestors and burn incense. My surname is Nip and my ancestral hall is in Sun Wui (Xinhui) 新會, Guangdong. My paternal grandparents moved from Sun Wui to Hong Kong around 1945 during the first wave of immigration from China, just ahead of the communist revolution, and this is a link to an old Instagram post of the Nip ancestral hall. I’ve still got a lot to learn about my ancestors on both sides of my family – a grandad keen on the teachings of Mao and another fleeing communism, they couldn’t be any more different!
After this, we visited my grandma’s cousin’s house (one of the pink houses above) and we had some tea, munched on some fruit, and the old ladies had a good old gossip. After visiting my relatives, we walked further down to the road to see my grandma’s childhood home. It’s seen much better days! I didn’t have a wide enough lens that day, so could only get these close up shots – but here is a link to see it on google maps. All three buildings belong to my grandma’s side, the Law clan, and the middle house with decorative arch detail is my grandma’s childhood home. It’s a listed building and the characters 堂章豫 signify the name of the building with the date 1936 below. Hopefully, I’ll see this place restored one day, as my grandma’s childhood home is pretty much falling down.
As I get ready to press publish on this, I’ve got my doodle of this building finished so here’s my latest sketchbook entry. I’ve also just spotted Michelle Turton’s version of this which you must take a look at! I always adore her happy, zingy neons. My mum recognised the buildings immediately and I can’t wait to show my grandma our drawings the next time I see her.
Before I hopped back on the bus to catch my train back to the city, we stopped at Tai Mei Tuk, which is just around the corner from Plover Cove and the reservoir. It’s such a pretty part of HK and so chilled compared to the bustling city. I remember thinking, as I stood in this idyllic spot and watching those boats bob up and down, just how different my mum’s life is now after she left for the UK when she was a teenager.