Friday, 1 August 2014

Ng Yuen, Shatin

Not so long ago (okay, I'm lying - it was actually nearly 4 years ago now!) I was having a wander along the Shing Mun River in Shatin when something caught my attention – what looked like the roof of an old colonial-era home. When I crossed over to take a closer look I came across a real gem of a building.

However, after getting back home to have a little dig around for information I really struggled finding anything that was helpful. Thankfully, the building was included in the recent Government evaluation of buildings but even they seemed to struggle with background information and all they said on the heritage valuation paper was, and I quote:

Situated at 21 Tai Chung Kiu Road, “Ng Yuen” was probably built in the 1920’s.

That’s it! All there is...oh yes except that it was recommended to be given a Grade III listing, which as we all know by now means absolutely nothing in terms of protection. It seems the place is really quite an enigma. However, I did track down a bit more info from that great online Chinese resource Uwants and have roughly translated it below:

[Ng Yuen]...built in 1920 by Ng Tsz Mei (1881- 1939) using concrete and granite. [The house is] decorated with doorway columns and has a triangular roof and eaves. It was commandeered by the Japanese during the occupation (1941-45). After the war it was available for rent but has stood empty since the 1970’s.

Now, at the time of the original post, the place was fenced off with signs in Chinese telling people to keep out. I understand that there are plans (by Sun Hung Kai) to develop a hotel next door and turn it into a ‘theme restaurant’ and cultural/historical museum. The proposal has had some flack from various Govt quarters but actually I’m more astonished that a company like SHK would propose its preservation in the first place. I haven't been back recently to see if anything has happened, but I do note that the most recent update of Google's Streetview shows the building to have its roof covered in building mesh.

I did try to get some photos of the building myself, but the perimeter fence combined with low hanging tree branches means I failed miserably to get a clear shot. As a result, I have had to resort to taking a copy of the AMO photos from the Govt paper (so the copyright is theirs). As you can see it's quite elegant and certainly looks more like a European-style house rather than a typical Chinese one.



Not long after I put this post up originally (Dec 2010), David Bellis from Gwulo.com let me know that the Antiquities and Monument Office had released their Grade 3 proposal document for all to see. You can see the full document here but below is a cut and paste to save you the hassle:
Probably built in the 1920s, Ng Yuen (吳園) was the private residence of Mr Ng Tze-mei (吳子美) (1881-1939), a prominent figure in Sha Tin. Ng had initially been living in the walled village of Nga Tsin Wai (衙前圍村) [Phil's note: that's a soon-to- be-redeveloped village in Kowloon City] 
From 1928, he started living in Sha Tin presumably because of the good fung-shui setting of Ng Yuen and its immediate environs. 
Having completed an earlier education in Queen College (皇仁書院) in Hong Kong, Ng pursued further studies in architecture. Together with his elder brother Ng Tze-chor (吳子楚), he ran a company named Tung Shing Construction Co. (同盛建築公司) at No. 14 High Street, Western District, in charge of building projects in Hong Kong. 
Ng Tze-mei was also a notable philanthropist. He was active in charity, putting tremendous efforts in taking care of people in need. For example, he donated to establish an outpatient clinic in Pai Tau Village (排頭村), Sha Tin, in the benefit of local villagers. He also provided for coffins to be disbursed, free of charge, to the next-of-kin of the deceased of poor families. 
Local informants revealed that Ng Yuen had been occupied for use by the Japanese during wartime (1941-1945). After the war, the building reverted to its original function as a private residence until the 1970s, when it was rented out to another family and then became vacant shortly thereafter. It was sold to a private developer in 1994.
It was also nice to note that soon after posting this entry on my old blog, it received a couple of comments from some members of the Ng family. Two of Ng Tze-mei's grandchildren in fact. I've copied and pasted them below for posterity, and many thanks to the members of the Ng family who got in touch. 

Ann Ng:
Ng Tze-Mei is my grandfather, the father of my father. I was born in Ng Yuen. Thank you so much for posting this article and all the information. Though he is my grandfather, I did not know as much about him as you do, as he died way before I was born.
Ng Hong-shing:
I was born in NG YUEN. Ng Tze-Mei is my grandfather.

8 comments:

  1. For some reason I Google “Ng Yuen in Shatin” tonight and am surprised to see this posting, it brought back a lot of memory.
    I am the number two grandson of Ng Tze-mei; I lived at that building for 12 years, longer than any of my siblings (from 1957 till the fall of 1969) when I moved to America. None of my sibling was actually born in the building; they were born in the hospitals but lived there for a few years after they were born.
    When I was there, I lived in four separate rooms during different times, which include the front section's main and second floor and the back section’s second and third floor. The back section was added on after the war.
    Because I am older, I heard a lot more about the family history including the history of the building from my dad than most siblings even though none of us was born before our grandfather died, so I know all of the facts mentioned in the posting plus a lot more.
    Indeed, the building is a European style structure at least in the front section. The original building's wall is about 12”-18" thick. The structural wall consists of a one cubic foot of granite stone sandwiched between several inches thick of concrete.
    The original front door was a wood and glass panel door but behind it was a heavy steel or cast iron gate; I bet it was thick enough to stop a 50 cal bullet.
    The rooms in the front section have high ceiling, may be 12’ high and have hardwood floor; the rooms in the back section have regular 8’ high ceiling but only granite floor. There is a bomb shelter or basement beneath the main floor on the front section which you can get into from the enclosed court yard between the front and back sections. There is a big living room on the main floor you see in the front of the building with a three sections window; a formal European style dining room is attached to the living room divided by a folding wood and glass panel door. There is one full bath and a kitchen on the same floor plus a foyer behind the front door and a wooden stair that leads to the second floor. There are three large bedrooms and a smaller room on the second floor plus a small den between the stairs in front of the hallway. The small room actually is connected to one of the big bedrooms separated by an interior door. There is also another thick metal gate in front of the hallway leading to the bedrooms. Interesting is that there was no bathroom on the second floor when the building was built; a toilet room was added on at the end of the balcony in early 60’s.
    The water supply was from a private pipe run from the clear water ponds on the nearby hill about half a mile away or so from the right side (east) of the building. The pipe was connected to a plump in a small plump house located on the right side of the building where the water was plumped up to the roof into a concrete holding tank between the front and back sections which you can see in the second photo a square structure on the roof next to a tree; from there the water was directed to all bathrooms and kitchens in the building. I don’t know how did the trees grow on the roof, I guess there was a lot of dirt acuminated over time and nobody was cleaning it up so the trees grew.
    The 2nd floor window was originally the same as the main floor (3 sections window), but my youngest uncle replaced it with a modern picture window a few years after he returned to Hong Kong from Canada in 1968.
    One thing to mention is that the hill where the water was from has many water holes in a cascade formation, some are big enough to swim; I remember we always went there in hot summer days and swam with the kids from the surrounding villages, those were the good old days. More to come.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The roof is flat and housed a family shrine, a kitchen and a bathroom (just a tub); the rest is a flat space one can use it as a patio. Because the building is facing north which is where the old Shatin downtown was located, the night scene was beautiful with some lights form the town about a mile away. There was also a small runway between the town and the Ng Yuen compound where in the 50’s and earlier 60’ small military planes were still using that runway; later on, it became a public playground where hundreds of tourists would use it to ride bikes and flew remote controlled model airplanes in the weekends. Next to the runway, there was a walkway built like a retaining wall connecting the narrow bridge by the Ng Yuen compound and the Shatin downtown; next to the walkway was the Shatin sea.
    There was a very big “garden” in front of the building, which consisted of a larger lawn with two big and tall pine trees in the middle and a full size basketball court on the front right of the building next to the lawn. There was a fenced vegetable garden next to the building behind the bus shown in the photo. There were also many fruit trees beyond the lawn, which included seven longan tree (“dragon eye”), one lychee tree and one Chinese pomegranate tree. There were fruit harvest every other year from the longan trees until the famous typhoon (cyclone) Wanda hit Hong Kong in 1962 when the flooding was so serve that the tide rose 20 feet or so, the water reached almost to the window frame on the main floor (lucky I was living upstairs at that time), since than none of the fruit trees bore any fruit, I guess the salt water in the soil changed the characteristic of the trees.
    There were also many flower trees in the garden, including lots of jasmine and Banana Shrub; but the biggest and the best one was probably a 50 feet tall tree called White Jade Orchid Tree (Magnolia alba). The flower looks like a bigger Banana Shrub before blossom and the fragrance is very pleasant. I remember picking a few of those flowers (before it blossomed) and put them in my shirt pocket before I go to school and all of a sudden, girls in my class would come to ask me for the flowers, which made me more popular.
    In the back section of the building, there are three stories which were rented out to tenants when no family members were living there. Each floor has three rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. The third floor was the last place I stayed in that building before I left for America.
    There are other structures built around the main building; there was a small two stories single family home across from the vegetable garden where my cousin lived (he lived in the this family compound longer than I and he is currently still living in Hong Kong). There was another building at the north east corner which was rented out. There was a formal entrance building at the east side of the property facing the public walkway. This entrance building has two wings and is built like a miniature Chinese castle with the center as an entrance to the property and a wing on each side; a one story building was attached to the north side of the wing. Each wing had two rooms each. Three of the rooms were empty all the time when I was there except one room facing the public walkway was occupied by a very old lady (a distant relative) in her 90’s; she was unfortunately drown during the Wander Typhoon attack. One of my dad’s workers was staying at the attached building at the time, he and I tried to rescue the old lady but she had her door locked and was unable to unlocked it when we pounded on it; meanwhile, the water was waist deep and rising fast and we were fearing for our life too, so we gave up and returned to the main building.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The entire compound was surrounded by thousand of bamboo trees, some of them may still be there today. The thickness of the bamboo trees acted like a natural wall separating the compound to the outside.
    Across from the walkway on the east side was a bible school campus built behind a brick wall; I believe it may still there.
    I heard my dad had registered the building with Hong Kong Government as a historical site; therefore, after the building and the surrounding land was sold by my uncle in 1994, the buyer could not tear it down and redevelop the property, that was why there are all high rise buildings built around the property but it just sits there for the last 20 years unchanged, perhaps it is finally reclassified as Grade III property after some kind of appeal by the developer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Addie - many, many thanks for taking the time and effort to provide all this extra information. It is all very fascinating and I love hearing your memories - your descriptions are so precise the place must be really imprinted on your memory. Have you managed to return to HK to visit at any time - I think the house must be one of only a few buildings still around that were there before the massive redevelopment in the 80's.
      Cheers
      Phil

      Delete
    2. Phil - I have been back to Hong Kong many times over the years; in fact, I am coming back again this November for an 11 day visit, but I had only been back to the old house about three times. The first time must be in the 90’s before it was fenced up and I had a chance to actually got into the house; the next two times I could only take some pictures outside as the parking lot attendants wouldn’t allow me to get near the building. I will try to dick up some old B&W photos at my mom’s home and see if I can find some that show the past glory of the house.
      Yes, the memory is deep simply because I lived there for so long and the place is unique compare to the majority of homes in Hong Kong at that time and probably more so now.
      Wells, thanks so much for posting this blog, it is totally unexpected and a very pleasant surprise to me.
      Regards,
      Addie

      Delete
  4. Hi, Mr Addie Ng and Phil, it is very glad to know Mr. Ng's descendants and your kind responses with such valuable information. Also so much thanks to Mr Phil for writing such blog which draw attentions of Ng family's members. I infact live nearby and thus have affection over Ng Yuen while growing up and I wish to know about the grand house which I can see it everyday. When in 80's,I recall my mon met a friend who told her she lived in Ng Yuen (I bet she rented to live there) However my mon had not be made a visit or I could have look over it. Anyways, nowsadays news report the house was vacant since 70S. From my children memory, I think there are still residents in 80s.
    Besides, Mr. Ng, I find a name in the NG's ancestor records, 吳漢成 (26 generation) and his dad is 吳國泰(his dad is 吳子美, 24 generation). If you have not seen before, I would like to forward you but am afraid if you would like to send via open platform. I may send to you both via emails if you both don;t nind to let me know. The Ng ancestor records do contain some more history info about your heir.
    Besides, I do have other questions to ask. May I ask you further and hope you both would excuse my bothering :>
    Looking forward to hear from both of you. Nice to know you all!!! HAPPY LUNAR NEW YEAR!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi wahbel, thankyou for the additional information. Let's hope that Addie sees this comment and then perhaps I will be able to put you in touch with each other. Cheers, Phil

      Delete
  5. Hi Phil. Thanks very much. So much wish to be in touch with you both for sharing more information. Hope to hear from you both soon :>

    ReplyDelete