Monday, 4 May 2015

Commemorative Stone Tablet, Tai Po Kau

I was recently reminded of an old post I did a few years back concerning a commemorative stone tablet in Tai Po Kau Garden in Tsung Tsai Yuen (松仔園) - the main entrance point for Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve located along Tai Po Road. I did briefly touch on this topic again in a previous post (Walking along Tai Po Road – Taipo to Shatin Section) because it was on route, but I didn't go into too much detail because I did envisage re-posting the information at a later date. It seems that later date has arrived and I have since been able to add a few more pictures. A special thanks goes to the folks over on the Hong Kong in the '60s Facebook group who inadvertently reminded me and also provided some rather excellent further information including what appears to be this location's unofficial name: Mang Gwai Kiu ( 猛鬼橋), which in Cantonese which means "Ghost bridge".



Tai Po Garden itself is nothing special. The area where it stands Tsung Tsai Yuen, has long been a local beauty spot (as we shall soon see) and it's popularity was perhaps enhanced by its location along Tai Po Road in the hills above Tolo Harbour affording it a rather spectacular view. These days the logistical importance and usage of Tai Po Road (it was once the only road into this part of the territory) has waned somewhat but the place remains popular because of the entrance to the nature reserve. As a result, the L.C.S.D has put some effort into beautifying the surrounding area and keeps the garden in a pretty good condition. It has a small pavilion and benches and an array of vegetation around the border. In all a rather pleasant little spot. However, over in one of the corners (see top right of the map above and picture below) is a rather strange looking stone tablet covered in red Chinese script.
Stone tablet centre left

Being tucked away in the corner it makes me wonder how many people actually notice the thing, which is a shame because the story it tells is a fairly tragic one and is the reason for the rather sinister nickname of this location. Let's take a closer look.




It may not be too obvious, but these two picture were taken a couple of years apart so despite the lower one being closer, the writing has worn out a little bit. Never mind, because I can tell you what the writing says anyway. The larger size inscription at the top says 怒水橋洪流肇禍記 (reading right to left) and roughly translates as "Angry Torrent of Water, Bridge Accident Remembered"!

Actually, even the above closeup is difficult to read, but for my Chinese-literate readers, the full transcript in Chinese is posted below:
松仔園一地,山水清幽,郊遊者多趨之。一九五五年八月念八日,盛暑逼人,士女雲集,遊興方濃,洪流突至,趨避不及,葬身狅流者,男女長幼二十八人。勝地多險,其或然歟?都人士恐慘劇重演,特勒碑誌之,使後之來遊者,觸目警心而知所慎戒焉。遇難者姓名列下:吳灼明張丁加邱華佳梁國權魏淑蓮謝焯華張富星徐煥興歐德成潘宏志張志勇馬仁志莫作彬林行根梁寶珠吳學強周振興李寶根鄭棣華金碧麥煥勝梁牛王效全李靜儀梁錦全黃麗卿譚立民梁海。一九五五年十一月吉旦立,大埔七約鄉公所全體委員仝立.
If you are wondering why I have put some characters in bold, it's because these are actually people's names and I've translated them as best as I can below because I think these are names worth hearing about.

But why- what actually happened? Bunce - a reader of my old blog post back in 2009 - was kind enough to supply a translation of the main text of the tablet, but before I post it here is a brief outline of what actually happened.

This part of the Tai Po Road is actually built on a bridge and a mountain stream (which comes down from the nature reserve and empties into the water in front of what is now Kerry Lake Egret Park) passes under the road at this point.

On the 8th 28th (see gweilo8888's comment below) August 1955, a large group of local teachers and their students stopped off at this point of the road and settled down for a picnic. Anyone who has spent a summer in Hong Kong will be able to recall at least two things: first, that it gets very very hot, and second, that sometimes the rain just comes down in huge downpours. In typical Hong Kong summer weather style, the school group all of a sudden found themselves getting drenched as the skies opened and the rain poured down. At the time Tsung Tsai Yuen had no shelter (unlike the modern pavilion that now stands in the garden) so the group decided to take shelter under the nearby bridge. As the rain fell, it started to pool further up the hillside due to the waterway being blocked in some way. The water eventually burst free and poured down the hillside in a huge torrent, hitting the bridge and washing everyone down the hillside into the bay. Twenty eight people, adults and children alike, were killed in one big sweep. It's not clear if they died by being hit by the force of the water or they just drowned as they were washed down the hillside into the sea and, in fact, not all of the bodies were recovered.

The stream bed that runs under Tsung Tsai Yuen

Current bridge and culverts - redeveloped since 1955 though...

It sounds unbelievable that something like this could happen, but having experienced quite a few summer storms myself, I can certainly vouch for the potential power HK's wet summer flash floods. One example I can remember not too long ago was during a massive storm in June 2008 when - in Tai Po - a poor girl was washed away down the Lam Tsuen river and killed after being hit by a surge of water as she crossed!

So there you have it, a very sad story and one that certainly deserves some remembrance. However, with the memorial also comes a stern warning as you shall now read in Bunce's (in his own humble words: 'rough') translation below:
The picturesque scenery of Tsung Tsai Yuen attracts many visitors. On 28 August 1955, a day of intense heat, a sudden torrent washed away and buried 28 men, women and children just as their excitement at visiting the area reached its height. Is it really true that our favourite places are filled with danger? 
This tablet is erected to alert future visitors so that they, armed with this knowledge, can take the necessary precautions to avert a similar disaster. 
[Names of the perished - see below]
Members of the Tai Po Tsat Yeuk (七約) Village Committee
An auspicious day in November 1955
A sad story indeed. Anyway, here is my best attempt at putting the victims names into some sort of acceptable standard HK-style English name format - if there are any Chinese readers who would like to offer corrections please feel free.

吳灼明 - Ng Jeuk-ming, 張丁加 - Cheung Ting-ka, 邱華佳 - Yau Wah-kai,
梁國權 - Leung Kwok-kuen, 魏淑蓮 - Ngai Suk-lin, 謝焯華 - Tse Chow-wah,
張富星 - Cheung Fu-sing, 徐煥興 - Tsui Wun-hing, 歐德成 - Au Tak-sing,
潘宏志 - Pun Wang-tze, 張志勇 - Cheung Tze-yung, 馬仁志 - Ma Yan-tze,
莫作彬 - Ying Tsok-bei, 林行根 - Lam Hang-kan, 梁寶珠 - Leung Po-tzu,
吳學強 - Ng Hok-keung, 周振興 - Chow Tsang-hing, 李寶根 - Lee Po-kan,
鄭棣華 - Tseng Tai-wah, 金碧 - Kam Bik, 麥煥勝 - Mak Wun-sing,
梁牛 - Leung Ngau, 王效全 - Wong Hau-chuen, 李靜儀 - Lee Ting-yee,
梁錦全 - Leung Kam-chuen, 黃麗卿 - Wong Lai-hing, 譚立民 - Tam Lap-man, and finally 梁海 - Leung Hoi.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for this background. I've walked there many times and it's interesting to know this.

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  2. Excellent post, Phil. Thanks for it.

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  3. Very interesting, thanks for sharing. A slight correction, though -- the date of the flood was August 28th 1955, not August 8th. I found the original coverage of the incident in the Hong Kong Public Libraries' Multimedia Information System, in an issue of the China Mail dated the following day. Chinese Wikipedia also confirms the same date of August 28th.

    You can see the front-page article from the China Mail at the link below:

    http://imgur.com/8YNyuYH

    From the article, it seems that at least 24 bodies were recovered. I quickly glanced over the following week's worth of papers, but didn't see any further mention of the remaining bodies having been found. (There were still two missing if the figure in the period paper is correct; four if the figure on the sign and Chinese Wikipedia are.)

    Since the image link above is likely to stop working at some point, here's the text of the article:

    -----
    TAIPO TORRENT TRAGEDY

    Three More Bodies Recovered

    TWO CHILDREN MISSING

    LATE THIS MORNING IT WAS OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCED THREE MORE BODIES, MAKING A TOTAL OF 24, HAD BEEN RECOVERED FROM A MOUNTAIN STREAM AT TAIPO KAU, NEW TERRITORIES.

    This stream was turned into a raging torrent yesterday afternoon after a cloudburst on the heights above. A foaming wall of water rushed down the mountainside swamping picnickers on the banks.

    Police had recovered 21 bodies last night. This morning they found three more and by their reckoning two are still missing.

    Last night it was reported that 34 were missing but eight have since been found safe.

    Of the 24 drowned, 19 have been identified including a teacher and 11 boys of the St. James Settlement party, one adult, and six other children.

    Police at Yaumati are still trying to identify five bodies.

    Police Search

    More than 40 police are searching the area and a Marine Police launch has been posted to Tolo Harbour to search for any further victims.

    The search will continue throughout the day.

    The St. James Settlement party, comprising four teachers and 22 boys, had been on a week's camp in the grounds of the Taipo Rural Orphanage. They were due to return home after the picnic.

    They were playing in the creek when disaster struck.

    Five survivors told the St. James authorities the tragic story of the fate of their friends later.

    Teacher Identified

    The 22 boys were among 55 unemployed Wanchai youths attending an annual camp at St. Christopher's Home, Taipo.

    The missing teacher of the St. James Settlement party was identified as Lum Hung-kun, 17, a trainee.

    In the second party there were 17 boys and girls, belonging to families of the Kowloon Canton Railway club.
    -----

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    Replies
    1. you're absolutely correct! It appears that the 念 character is the formal word for 20. I'll change it when I get the chance later. many thanks gweilo8888

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    2. I must admit I am more inclined the trust the victim tally on the tablet, simply because it was erected in November of that year - long enough after for the dead and missing to be identified.

      It's interesting to see how Cantonese can and is variously romanised. Lum Hung Kun, the 17 year old trainee teacher is on the tablet as 林行根 which I had written as Lam Hang-kan.

      Either way, I think this is a great find so many thanks gweilo8888. Such as sad story.

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    3. Yep, and also there's a list of names on the tablet, which means they must either have found more people missing later, or some who were found later died of their injuries. Didn't think of that when I was comparing the counts...

      Very sad indeed, doubly so that they were mostly kids (heck, even one of the "teachers" was really just a 17-year old kid.)

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