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"Art at Home": Notes from Tai Sang Wai

Text: Li Benying  

"Fish pond", "village house", "pond surface is like a mirror", "watching the sunset", "water and sky are the same color", "white egret flies over...beautiful", this seems to come from the mouth of the guide, you will Aunt Lan, who mistakenly thought to represent Dashengwei, would also say the same.


Among the 100 visitors, 99 may agree with the above description of Tai Sang Wai. Some people even don't believe that this is actually Hong Kong. I saw photos of the salon from a few years ago on the Internet, filled with the brightly colored huts that accompanied the fish ponds there.


Tai Sang Wai is located within the Deep Bay area in the northwest of the New Territories. Located in the center of the Deep Bay area is the Mai Po Marsh area, and the large wetlands in this marsh area are hot spots for many water and migratory birds to stop by, and they feed a variety of creatures at the same time. For these reasons, the marsh area, together with the Deep Bay Inner Bay and surrounding fish ponds, was listed as "Mai Po Inner Deep Bay Ramsar Site" in 1995. Five other wetlands. Other areas of Deep Bay within a 100-meter range are listed as the Deep Bay wetland buffer zone, with the intention of protecting the ecological integrity of the Ramsar wetland.


  Tai Sang Wai is located in the southwest of Mai Po and is part of the "Mai Po Inner Deep Bay Ramsar Wetland". Most of the area is villages. There are fish ponds and Jiwei of different sizes in the villages. In the past, the villagers used to raise fish or farm for their livelihoods. However, with the development of society, it is no longer what it used to be, and some villages have been deserted. The rest has lost the characteristics of fishing and farming. Tai Sang Wai is considered to be an anomaly, and there are still many villagers living and operating fish ponds in the dozens.  


The popularity of Tai Sang Wai reached its peak a few years ago. That was thanks to the drier weather that year. The drained fish ponds were exposed to the sun and cracked, and the pattern was dotted with irregular and round pits of different sizes. The news reports and online posts at that time were amazed and called the landforms of the moon and Mars.


It was found that the hexagonal shape (also four-cornered and pentagonal-shaped) produced by the cracks is a physical phenomenon after the soil loses moisture. The process is how to fill the largest area with the least materials: our common examples are soap bubbles, honeycombs, etc., which are the most economical and practical arrangements for nature. As for the round pits that appear in the upper part of the cracked pattern, they were formed when the crucian carp spawned earlier. Where there is inherent water shortage (such as the moon), those so-called landforms will never appear.


Soon after the incident was reported, more than 200 people swarmed in one day, some of them brought large and small photographic equipment, tripods, and made a fuss. Some are not friendly to the environment, trample on them at will, leaving waste everywhere. Of course, the villagers were not used to such a scene, and quite reacted.


The result of the reaction can be observed indirectly on the Internet. The photos of those color huts seem to have diminished or even disappeared in recent years. (The remaining one or two can be seen before entering the village. I believe the purpose is to let people know that they can also take pictures of the salon without entering the village.) That day, under the guidance of Aunt Lan, walked up to the roof of the village office and saw many village houses. The color tone is different from the past-either faded or changed the color altogether. Perhaps the villagers were already very annoyed --- I noticed that day when there were a slightly larger number of strangers in the village, some villagers would greet them to see what happened, although the tone of voice was gentle.


Aunt Lan is an elder, the third generation of Dashengwei villagers. Around the 1920s and 1930s, villagers began to plant rice. In the 1950s and 1960s, some people began to build foundation walls on nearby tidal flats. Jiwei is equipped with a gate, and the tide is used to introduce fish and shrimp fry from outside, and the situation is quite good for a while. However, soon after, due to population growth, insufficient rice production, and high cost of building a base wall, Aunt Lan went into the urban yarn factory to work in the urban yarn factory when she was a teenager and had no livelihood at home. In her spare time, she caught up with the trend and went to night school to learn English. Talking to her is like a normal Hong Kong person, but Chinese and English are mixed.

Picture 1: Aunt Lan on the roof of the village office (photo by the author)

After that, Aunt Lan married people in the village and returned to live and work in Dashengwei.

In fact, the current Tai Sang Wai is not the old Tai Sang Wai, but the "Glass Wai" nicknamed by the villagers in the past, which is located in a corner of the original village. In the 1970s, the fish pond farmland in the village was purchased by developers, and the "Splendid Garden" of more than 5,000 houses was built. The original villagers were forced to relocate, and the developer built a stone house on a piece of land in Glass Wai to resettle them.


Here, I have to disclose a past event. It turns out that, whether I was young or ignorant, out of romantic feelings, or out of a taste of wild cattle, I actually lived in the Fairview Garden and stayed for a few years, and I didn’t even know the ins and outs of the development around me. . Only because of work related to contact with some documents, knowing that it is a low-lying area, the consequence of the construction of a large number of concrete projects must be the discharge of rainwater to the neighboring area and cause flooding. The government subsequently improved the flood control facilities in the affected areas and dug a river from the fish ponds. The far side of the river is Nan Sang Wai, and the other side of the river is the current Tai Sang Wai.


Here, I am like those uninvited guests who break into the fish pond to take pictures without knowing it, and it is more or less unavoidable to be accused of being part of the sabotage process.


The origin and demise, "break-in", we will think of the countryside invading cities, and more and more people are entering cities from the countryside. This is a global trend. The situation faced by the villagers in Tai Sang Wai is reversed. The city invades the countryside. In the face of urban people and the upper-level construction of the society from the top to the bottom of the skyscraper overlooking the ground like ants, no matter how hard the former is to make planning policies for urban development (strategy), the villagers and lower-level ants can only look up from the bottom to the top. Always go its own way, do what you need, and go out of a unique way. This has nothing to do with survival, but over time. Because everyone feels the depression from the modern city, they subconsciously look for tactics, in order to create physical and psychological spaces to express themselves or prove their existence. [1] Therefore, in the face of tourists and filming friends from the city, the villagers respond as described above --- reduce the exposure rate, turn to a low-key, and express more concern for strangers entering the village.


Dashengwei has been operating from mud flats to rice fields to Jiwei and fish ponds for a hundred years. (Some villagers also ran amusement parks, factories, car yards, container yards, etc. during this period. There are many challenges in the future. In the long run, many people will worry about the future of the fishing village.


In the 1970s, villagers encountered forced evictions and moved to a corner of the original village. At that time, there were more than 100 households, and now there are more than 70 households. Of Aunt Lan's five children, only one lives in the village --- Aunt Lan had been in her arms earlier, and her relatives drove into the village from outside to pick them up and were admitted to the hospital. Another villager, Uncle Gen, in his nineties, is very enthusiastic in his hospitality. He owns several fish ponds. Except for an assistant who takes care of the rough work of raising fish and shrimps during the day, he has to live and eat the rest of the time by himself, and none of his children and grandchildren live in the village. Every time I was asked about them, Uncle Gen seemed unenthusiastic. Several white banners with scarlet letters hung up conspicuously outside his house, appealing to his fish pond industry, making people feel that his property is being threatened.
















Picture 2: A crying white banner hanging outside Uncle Gen's house (photo by the author)

Another challenge is the limited sales of fish catches. Limited by financial resources, the output of fishing villages is difficult to compete with others. Although its fish ponds are certified by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, and the fish are also labeled as "Quality Fish Farms Program", the price still needs to be compared with the quality. Due to the low sales volume, some sales outlets even sold the products of the fishing village together with imported goods from other places, which made the villagers feel helpless.

This is all putting a question mark on the sustainable development of Tai Shengwei. The villagers are faced with practical problems, and each step is thoughtful, because it involves trade-offs and balances.


In fact, the uninvited guests, in addition to tourists, photographers, and urbanites like me, there are also waterfowl and migratory birds. The fish pond has always been a good place for them to find food. For the villagers, they are of course unwelcome foreign visitors, consuming the villagers’ catch and fry from time to time. How to resolve this contradiction and conflict of interest?


On the way to visit Uncle Gen that day, I saw villagers using machines to pump water from the fish pond. It turned out that since 2012, the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society has launched the "Hong Kong Fish Pond Ecological Conservation Project" in the northwestern New Territories, cooperating with local fish farmers to manage more than 600 hectares of fish ponds. Participating fish farmers need to lower the water level of the fish pond and maintain it for at least seven days within a year, provide a shallow water environment for birds to find food in the fish pond, and shall not install any devices that harm them. After completing the agreement, fish farmers can receive a fixed amount of management fees.


This is a win-win arrangement after consideration and weighing. Fish farmers receive subsidies and can coexist with birds to achieve conservation goals. Lowering the water level of the fish pond turned out to be an established action. After the fish are harvested every year, the fish farmers will release water for drying ponds. After the water in the fish pond is drained, dig deep and dry the pond to allow the ultraviolet rays of the sun to eliminate fish feces bacteria on the bottom of the pond to prepare for the next breeding.













Picture 3: Works made by villagers using dead trees for placing objects (photographed by the author)

I watched the fish pond that day, but I couldn't see the brightly colored huts. Instead, there are three inconspicuous small "art" installations scattered on the rice paddies. These small devices are not lacking in attractiveness, and people passing by will stop to consider what they are, how they are made, and what their purpose is. It turned out that some of the installations were made by villagers, and some were works by artists outside the village. The latter also returned to the land due to local materials, and most of them were lost in nature after filming and recording. All works have practical uses, or metaphorical social reality, and some are just playful. In short, it is interesting.











Photo 4: A bowl made of coconut shell, hand-made by Aunt Lan's family, with detailed carvings (photo by Art Daojia)

The most fascinating thing is a lonely hut that can be seen from a distance in the wider space between the fish ponds---the artist's landscape painting, which occupies the entire wall, and is similar to the scenery of the fish pond nearby. echo. The color selection of landscape paintings is not sensational, there is no distraction, but a subtle, reverie atmosphere. I wonder, isn't this the epitome of the fishing village in the past few years?









Picture 5: Art House (Photo by Art Daojia)

It turns out that since 2018, the Bird Watching Club has cooperated with "Art Home", combining art and ecological conservation to let the public understand the importance of local fisheries and fish pond ecology. In addition to the above-mentioned artwork creation, activities also include artist residency in the village, outdoor art exhibitions, ecological guided tours, workshops, etc., and an annual fish pond art festival is held with villagers also participating. In addition, some works and documentary records have been brought back to the urban area for exhibitions to spread the message that art can be integrated with ecological conservation.


By the way, fish ponds and color huts are objects touted by the upper structure and the media intentionally or unintentionally. The impression that the fishing village gave to people in the past has been alienated into a "spectacle", a part of the media, propaganda, and popularization of cultural consumption. There is a relationship of master and servant, control/being controlled. [2] What the villagers have done in recent years, including the introduction of conservation and art, is nothing more than a natural response to the above-mentioned wonders.


When you first come to the fishing village, you will feel that the villagers are a little bit cautious. Needless to say, establishing friendship is not a matter of one moment or three, let alone ordinary tourists, filming friends, or casual people (such as me). In the past few years, through consultation and cooperation, the bird watching club and the art workers have understood what the villagers think in their hearts and have understood each other to a certain extent. When encountering familiar faces, the villagers will greet them when they pass by, and then stop to greet one or two. Some villagers even prepare meals, worrying that they will starve their stomachs just by working. You will also hear the staff who are preparing to enter the village hesitating to bring some souvenirs to the villagers, because the hospitality they receive is really hard to return. People often enter the village in a hurry for only half a day, but there will always be people who will buy some time to stay and gather with the villagers. This embodies a friendship that is rare in today's society, and everyone secretly cherishes it.


This is very different from the city. The city has a large population, but on the street, it is rare to have a word with people passing by. There are few people in the village, but anyone will say hello to you, maybe for a long time. In the village, you can be alone, but you will not be forgotten and you will not feel lonely.


I sincerely pray that they will no longer be unnecessarily disturbed in the future, and will be able to stand on it calmly.

refer to:

[1] M d Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Chapter VII-Walking in the City), University of California Press, 2011.


[2] G Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, Zone Books, 1995.

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