Dragon’s Back

During a research trip to Hong Kong’s Asia Art Archive, I managed to find some time to make a visit to the oft-mentioned Dragon’s Back at the Shek O Country Park. The Dragon’s Back route is the last leg of the 100 km Hong Kong Trail, but I specifically chose this last section of the Hong Kong Trail route because I wanted to see a different side of Hong Kong – where its dense urban centre is a stereotypical image of the city itself.

Route Log – 2018, December 19

Taking the Exit A3 from MTR Shau Kei Wan station, a short walk brought me to the bus terminus where the boarding of bus service number 9 (labelled heading towards Shek O) was just minutes away. The bus service timetable is helpfully posted next to the queue, and it would be wise to take a photograph or make a note of the schedule.

As the bus traversed the hilly locality towards the Dragon’s Back, I observed a good number of elderly passengers who were headed in the same direction as well. The trailhead starts directly at the To Tei Wan bus stop with a map of the region as well as toilet facilities for the public. The aforementioned elderly passengers were, as I found out later, from an old folks’ home and were being led on a hiking tour to Dragon’s Back by volunteers.

Given their steady pace at the early stages of the route, I admit that they seemed to be in healthier shape than I was. However I began to lost sight of them after a steeper section, perhaps they were taking it much slower given their age and possibly the difficulty in this early stage of the route. Then again, why should I worry about elderly strangers (I should) when I am here enjoying the tranquil rural trail that Dragon’s Back is offering?

The views towards Tai Tam Bay were beautiful and yet poignant at the same time. The encroachment of human development has made its way into the beautiful greenery of Hong Kong Island itself – symbolising the significant issues of housing within Hong Kong where its population is faced with escalating costs of purchasing or renting a home for themselves.

I understand that a majority of the residential development are private (as opposed to Singapore’s situation where it is mostly comprised of public housing) and that there is little political or commercial impetus to develop more public housing for its residents. Examining the terrain of Hong Kong itself does speak of the difficulties of constructing buildings on its hilly terrain, the costs of which would seem astronomical; and yet it should be for the public good to spend the resources to house its residents and lower their costs of living through public housing programmes.

The skyrocketing standard of living in Hong Kong, heavily influenced by its housing issues, definitely cast a pall on the outlook of many young Hong Kongers that I have met. At a meet-up the day after the hike, a Hong Kong friend lamented that at his current salary (which is slightly higher than that of the average salary in Singapore for a Degree holder) would take him more than ten years of diligent saving to buy a small flat in Hong Kong’s suburban areas – the size of the flat would equate to a 2-room public housing apartment in Singapore.

As a hiker, I can only shake my head in disbelief and hope that there are ways to alleviate the problems of the housing crisis in Hong Kong without having to decimate its natural and beautiful landscape.

The Dragon’s Back trail is well-marked and maintained for the majority of the route. The initial stages of the route is quite steep until the Shek O Peak – based on observations, the steepness of this stage of the route is actually more of how unnecessarily high the roughly hewn stone steps were embedded into the trail (maybe because I am of a shorter stature, I often have to fully lift my thighs to stomach height for each step).

Along the ascent towards Dragon’s Back peak, the small town called Shek O village can be seen located next to a golf course.

The same Hong Kong friend who lamented his inability to buy his own home, shared yet another interesting perspective of the social divide between the rich and the middle-class. He described the resistance of redeveloping golf courses within Hong Kong into residential developments. The rich, according to him, protested loudly on the need to preserve the cultural heritage of golf courses in Hong Kong. “What heritage does golfing belong to?” he exclaimed exasperatedly. I don’t know either.

From my vantage point, I look down onto the constrained Shek O Village bordering the edges of the expansive golf course – the bludgeoning boundaries of the small town itself seemed to suggest the urgency in the expansion of the town’s residential needs. I am not sure what to think of the developmental priorities of the government in this area – the rich do need their golf courses, and the middle-class can move out to other frontier towns or residential areas… but is that the right perspective to shape and cast Hong Kong society?

By the time I reached the peak, my thighs were screaming in protest (I mean, I think I am more of a flatland distance hiker… but out of shape is out of shape).

At Shek O peak, the literal Big Wave Bay village (Tai Long Wan) is quite a sight. Even from my vantage point, I could see tiny figures paddling in the bay and trying to ride the waves. The beach resort feel does really hit home from the activities seen from the peak.

Continuing past the Shek O Peak of the Dragon’s Back route, it took me past and around Mt Collinson (347 m) and diverged from the Pottinger Peak (312 m) towards Big Wave Bay village.

This last section of the Dragon’s Back route is mainly plateau-hiking on a combination of dirt tracks, paved pathways (from around Pottinger Peak onwards) and with more civilised amenities such as public toilets and rest huts.

The conclusion of the Dragon’s Back route took me to Big Wave Bay village (Tai Long Wan). A sleepy and quaint village that caters to the surfing crowd with its 1980s beach resort feel. While I would have liked to linger longer at Big Wave Bay itself, my flaming (in pain) thighs and slightly twisted left ankle (from a misplaced step on a loose rock) made me decide to chance the legendary mini shuttle buses back to Shau Kei Wan MTR station (the fact that I am able to pen my thoughts here is proof that I have survived the harrowing high-speed runs of these mini shuttle buses).

The route, specifically picked to see the greenery of Hong Kong, remains poignant to me – a city bustling with life, energy, and dreams of its people… could become a destructive force to the environment itself. The balancing act between green and open spaces to cultivate the mind and liberate the soul seems to be, in my short stay in Hong Kong, second place to societal and economical development. The availability of Hong Kong’s wild and vibrant natural splendour definitely surpasses Singapore’s manicured but dull green landscape, and yet it remains fence-edge close to the economic machinations of human society – as if the concrete jungle binds and slowly constricts what green spaces that are left in Hong Kong.

Have a care not to lose what is important to the spirit, hearts and mind of people – nature herself.

Route Information

Route made on 2018, December 19
Distance: 8.4 kmElapsed Time: 3:30:30
Moving Time: 2:35:15
Stopped Time: 0:58:09
Min: 8 m
Max: 290 m
Grade: -1.2%
Ascent: 251 m
Descent: 355 m

>> 4K UHD Image Available
All map and information images are generated by Garmin Basecamp and Google Earth based on the author's GPS data. It may not represent your own personal experience.

Related Information/Links

Hong Kong Tourism Board – Dragon’s Back (Information Page)
Hong Kong Tourism Board – Dragon’s Back (Map Link)

Mt Kintoki / Ashigara

I remembered back when I was still very young, my parents brought me to Tioman Island, east of Peninsular Malaysia. I remembered very vividly looking up into the midnight blue sky at night and gasped at the infinite stars and the cosmic depths of the universe out there. I felt very small and vulnerable, but at that moment I discovered my wanderlust for the open skies and green fields of nature.

Growing up, I rarely had a chance to travel due to personal and work commitments – I grew frustrated and depressed in the concrete jungles of Singapore. The few times I was able to travel, I always felt a burden off my shoulders and I always enjoyed my travels. However, the infrequency of travelling always gnawed at my soul.

Route Log – 2017, April 2

After departing on a different path of my life’s journey, I was given an opportunity to travel to Japan for about a week plus. Due to an amusing circumstance, I was advised to hike up Mt Kintoki – this circumstance was brought up when a work colleague saw that I had a wallpaper of Kantai Collection on my laptop. When the suggestion for the hike came up, I did some research on Mt Kintoki and realised it was also called Mt Ashigara – it was my work colleague’s subtle hint that she knows about my discrete interest (also realised that she was concealing her own otaku interests as well).

This hiking opportunity struck me as some kind of homage to a legendary mountain as the WWII Japanese cruiser, Ashigara, was named after this mountain. As I have always found particular interest in the various WWII Japanese warships that had called at Singapore during the war (such as MyokoHaguroAtago, and Takao), I became even more interested in hiking up Mt Kintoki (besides knowing that I might be able to see Mt Fuji from there).

The trail wasn’t difficult but it was made difficult for two reasons: spring was thawing out (muddy) and I was really out of shape (typical city slicker). My legs, thighs and body groaned in pain but I pushed myself… I wanted to get to the summit to see something I have never saw with my own eyes.

I wanted to see Mt Fuji.

I sat down on a rock at the summit with tears welling up for some strange reason. A veteran Japanese hiker sat down beside me and said, “Mt Fuji is beautiful, isn’t it?”. I bashfully agreed as I wiped away my tears. After realising I was a foreigner, the veteran hiker introduced me to other veteran hikers and we shook hands and declared that it was a good day for hiking!

The same veteran hiker invited me to the traditional rest stop to meet the owner (a lady whom he claims to be more than a hundred years old) and have a meal there. This lady is locally known as the Kintoki Musume, Daughter of Kintoki. Apparently she had begun living up at the mountain since she was a teenager after her father died in an avalanche.

Udon with some ingredients from the mountain itself and a much welcomed pot of hot green tea.

The veteran hiker told me stories of the old lady and asked where I came from. He then introduced me to a group of older men – whom I realised later that one of them was the mayor of the town and they were having a “work break” up at the summit. Apparently they were checking on the trail for loose rocks and other hazards along the way up.

At the insistence of the mayor’s companions, the veteran hiker explained that I should write down my name in their register.

The mayor then told me (at least from what I could understand) that if I registered myself for every trip that I made up here, I could be on the way to getting a plaque to myself.

“What plaque?” I asked. He pointed up to the roof and I saw rows upon rows of plaques and these plaques had people’s names on it. The hiker then said that each of this plaque is a milestone for the name of each hiker that registered themselves whenever they reached the summit. To have my name there, I need to attain at least 300 climbs.

Towards the back wall of the rest stop, there are shelves packed full of name registers – of the people who came up the mountain. I was told the registers began in the Meiji era.

“I only did 287 climbs so far… I need to work harder!” he laughed. The old lady shuffled out from behind the counter and her helper (who does the cooking) came to greet me and make small talk (later, I didn’t managed to get a photograph taken with the old lady as she was being interviewed by two Tokyo producers).

When I had felt that my aches dissipate from my bones, I thanked my Kintoki hosts for their warm and friendly hospitality.

“Please come back again soon. I am very old and don’t have much time left… so it would very nice if you would come back again!” the Kintoki Musume said to me with an affectionate smile. I was really moved and I promised that I will come back again to visit her.

As I went down the hill, I realised that this is something I really enjoyed – the hiking, meeting of people, and smiles of everyone…

This is something I should continue.
And one day, I will visit Mt Fuji properly.

Route made on 2017, December 16 (Previous attempt 2017, April 2 no data recorded)
Distance: 7.8 kmElapsed Time: 5:21:10
Moving Time: 4:09:52
Stopped Time: 1:11:10
Min: 698 m
Max: 1224 m
Grade: -0.2%
Ascent: 722 m
Descent: 736 m

>> 4K UHD Image Available
All map and information images are generated by Garmin Basecamp and Google Earth based on the author's GPS data. It may not represent your own personal experience.

Related Information/Links

Completion of MASS Website


Just a short note to say that I have finally finished the Modern Art Society Singapore‘s website.

To be honest, a majority of the work was already done when I set it up for continuity purposes (read: easy to use). There were some delays in persuading the society that web-quality (i.e. 72 dpi) images with decent viewing size should not come with digital watermarks. With the idea that the society provides 72 dpi images of artists’ artworks on their profiles pages, visitors can view the images without any image obstructions or deformities – the artists can be assured that these digital images are not suitable for print or replica purposes (unless the digital perpetrators want to make postal stamps or something).

The inclusion of a blanket copyright clause on the usage of the digital images, with guidelines on proper accreditation and image usage, allows for students/researchers/visitors to utilise these digital images for research/study purposes.

By doing so, the society is offering an implicit trust and understanding for the usage of its digital images.

Through gentle persuasion and earnest explanation, this is my way of guiding art societies or artists to show their artworks on digital platforms… and allow for the global expansion and growth of research/study on Singaporean artists.

The Face of Defeat

As I was looking out of my window and pondering the deary weather, my scattered thoughts ran across the state of the art community we have here in Singapore today.

A Perspective Of The State Of This Community

I do feel that the different forms of art cannot be quantified to make the bean counters happy about how much their budget is being turned into other sorts of comfortable numbers (like visitorship, as a form of Return on Investment quantifier).

Then again, if the bean counters are so fixated on the RoI, I am pretty sure a lot of institutional places in Singapore would have to close down – we will be culturally bereft and heritage is just a whisper in the wind (just like some of the neglected heritage trails in Singapore).

As the corporate dominance within cultural institutions get stronger everyday, I find that it is a place which is hard to understand or grasp – how is art and their practitioners being respected in Singapore? When corporate decisions and their efforts become widely separate from the creative/curatorial content, the result becomes jarring and shameful for other people in the arts communities or even public audience to see.

When consumerism overtakes art, you
know that something is very wrong.

A “Sans Consumerism” Cultural Experience

I remembered visiting the Hakone Open Air Museum in Japan recently. It is a private museum with wide open spaces, filled with cast sculptures from the Masters as well as a lovely Picasso museum sitting in the most beautifully landscaped part of the museum. There is a lot of emphasis in curatorial content and visitor interaction with the art works… the commercial aspects (the museum shop and eatery) are just a tiny complement to the entire museum. I felt liberated from the overwhelming consumerism in Singapore’s cultural institutions.

Which part of the phrase cultural institution
does consumerism exist? I only see culture.

The Hakone OAM operates as a “public interest incorporated foundation”, which is similar to a non-profit organisation. From my limited understanding, the Hakone OAM is supported by the Fujisankei Communications Group (owner of Fuji TV Group, Pony Canyon Group, Sankei Shimbun Group and so on). I remembered a staff member sharing with me that they do not focus on visitorship numbers but on ensuring the quality of the exhibits, “It is a big place with a few of us here. We don’t need to worry about fundraising but we do worry about the artworks we are looking after. It is for our future generations’ benefit too”.

Besides the fact that Hakone OAM is bankrolled by a financial giant, I really do wonder whether Singapore will be capable of something like that – making the cultural institution a proper cultural experience, with consumerism as smaller aspect of the experience.

Worrying About Our People

Whatever the case maybe, I am aware of how some of the senior creative/curatorial positions feel (in some cultural institutions) – defeatism. I remembered sitting in a few meetings where I could see the defeated looks of such persons. When I meet them in private, the same haunted and defeated grimaces are shouting warnings to me – I fear that we will lose some extremely talented and experienced creative/curatorial people.

You know after you shared that “defeated look” thing with me. I suddenly managed to piece it together what you meant. How did I ever miss that given that I worked with him frequently?
– Friend from the same industry

I once gave an analogy to few friends, “corporate functions within a cultural institution is easily dispensable and replaceable – but to lose creative/curatorial people within the cultural institution would be irreplaceable” – they agreed wholeheartedly.

These same friends (coming from various arts communities and groups) talked about how the balance between corporate and creative sides to be crazily in favour of one side. However, I do get the general opinion that the performance and dance communities have the power of authority leaning more on the creative side. When they question me why some cultural institutions have it the other way around (“I don’t get it. Is it a business or is it art?”), I can only shrug and give my best impression of my fellow defeated friends.

And What Can We Do About It?

I think it is going to be a slow process – we need more people (from the cultural institutions) to understand that the art provides the basis for everything else. If there is no content, there is nothing to show for – it would be fluff and does not bring visitors back. We can do with less people who are focused on gaining personal objectives, and find more comrade-in-arms to work together.

Corporate people do forget easily… the arts community
is a very exclusive, small and tightly-knit community.
You’ll never know whose toes you have just stepped on.

We also need an understanding that too much focus on consumerism brings about the conversion of cultural institutions into retail institutions – it is a terrifying concept for members of the arts community. Be it music, dance, theatre or visual arts, we should be engaging with the arts as the primary objective; the complementary commercialisation aspects are secondary or even tertiary and should never be the forefront of a billing.

This Solution Is Not Mine

Before I end, a guest speaker once shared with me on the ways to change the lopsided authority in various cultural institutions, “find a few of the most respected and annoying artists to write and complain everyday… then we will win! I know it works beautifully. Just read the papers and see the results! Hahaha!”

Maybe we could hire this same respected artist to sit in some of the senior positions on various cultural institutions or groupings? That would be a lot of fun! *grabs popcorn*