When artist Brian Tilbrook set his easel down on the edge of Pak Sha O in 1988, he sensed he had discovered something extraordinary. Tilbrook, now aged 80, had been commissioned to choose and paint 50 heritage sites by the government for a book called Hong Kong Heritage. 'When I parked myself there, in what used to be paddy fields, I knew there was something special about it. There was a sense of having discovered something old nestled there in the hillside,' he says. The resulting painting (see magazine cover), a serene scene of the village bathed in warm sunlight and surrounded by mountains, was included in the book along with ones depicting the Man Mo Temple in Tai Po, the colonial Supreme Court Building and the walled village of Tsang Tai Uk in Sha Tin. '[The project] was a good idea, although not particularly well executed,' says Tilbrook, who has lived in Hong Kong for 47 years. 'At the time Hong Kong had just woken up to the importance of preserving its heritage for the people, after seeing what Macau had done to preserve its identity. 'The book was published along with wall charts, which were sent to schools to encourage them to take trips to see the ancestral halls and temples. Unfortunately, [the government] lost interest and it is only in recent times that the younger generation have begun to refocus on preserving Hong Kong's heritage. In the meantime, Macau has continued to preserve its Portuguese past.' Tilbrook, whose works include many large murals around Hong Kong, is horrified at the thought of modern houses changing that scene he discovered 24 years ago. 'I can't believe something so crass could be done. It will take away the nature of the old village. It's like putting an airport hangar in Statue Square or a four-storey supermarket in a village in the [English] Cotswolds. The government should be preserving these places, not encouraging and giving permission for this kind of development. I have a lot of admiration for the people who live there. They have done a good job of preserving the village. Each house has been given the kiss of life.' Today it is impossible to get the same view of Pak Sha O that Tilbrook recorded on canvas in 1988 because trees have grown to obscure it. Tilbrook is grateful that, for the moment at least, it is only nature changing the appearance of Pak Sha O. 'I would imagine a fair number of those [other] places I painted for the book are in a much more dilapidated state today,' he says.