Fung Tak Road, Diamond Hill

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 October, 2011, 12:00am


At the entrance to Tate's Cairn Tunnel lies a neighbourhood that's little more than 10 years old in its current form but has roots that stretch back centuries. If you can block out the roar of the traffic heading in and out of the city from the New Territories, Fung Tak Road offers a welcome respite from the urban mayhem that stretches across the Kowloon peninsula below.

The road's Chi Lin Nunnery, a vast temple complex modelled on Tang-dynasty architecture, attracts surprisingly few visitors. Like the nearby Wong Tai Sin temple, this site was chosen because it backs up on the Kowloon hills, an auspicious location that was once a peaceful distance from the urban jungle.

The temple, newly rebuilt, has long been overshadowed, first by squatter settlements and then by the faceless megatowers of the modern metropolis. From its grounds, the 'mountains' that dot the horizon are now made of concrete and glass. The complex is effectively surrounded by a wall of faded public-housing blocks and new high- rise developments.

Diamond Hill has traditionally been one of the poorest parts of Hong Kong. In the 1950s and 60s, the area became one of the city's largest 'informal settlements', with squatter villages stretching down the slopes towards the city, housing some 50,000 people at their peak. Pathologist Feng Chi-sun's 2009 memoir, Diamond Hill- Memories of Growing Up in a Hong Kong Squatter Village, captures a time of slumlords, drug dealers and refugees from the mainland, trying to carve out a life in the city. The last squatter homes were removed in 2000.

There never have been diamonds at Diamond Hill- the name may have come from the rock quarries that operated here, since the Cantonese term for the district can either mean 'diamond hill' or 'drill rock hill'. Another interpretation suggests the rocks here contained quartz-like qualities that, at a stretch, resembled a girl's best friend.

The new face of Diamond Hill is one of kindergartens, amahs, grandparents passing the time in nearby Hammer Hill park, suburban shoppers chatting in Cantonese- the Putonghua tidal wave doesn't seem to have yet swamped these slopes- and streams of commuters making their way into the towers overhead.

Chi Lin Nunnery was built without using a single nail and is made of interlocking beams - the only such building in Hong Kong

Around Fung Tak Road

1 Chi Lin Nunnery

The 350,000 sq ft complex (5 Chi Lin Drive, tel: 2354 1888) is an oasis of calm, with bamboo groves and cloistered prayer halls off-limits behind the spacious public grounds. The nunnery was founded in 1934 and rebuilt in 1998 - the timber buildings and walkways still waft with the pleasant smell of treated wood. All the structures were built using traditional methods and the buildings are topped with 238,000 'smoke-baked' tiles, which shine like pewter in the sun.

2 Nan Lian Garden

A joint project by the government and the nunnery, Nan Lian Garden (60 Fung Tak Road, tel: 2329 8811) has pleasant, koi-filled watercourses and a large gold pagoda that's reached by garish orange bridges. The 3.5-hectare park opened in 2006 but has a timeless quality, with its manicured lawns, gnarled pines and bonsai trees. There's a rockery with 'scholar's rocks' from Shanxi province, layered ochre- and tan-coloured blocks formed when silicon erupted from the bottom of the ocean and shot through hard rock. The gift shop sells brick-sized chunks for HK$6,000 to HK$30,000.

3 Plaza Hollywood

The shopping centre sits directly above Diamond Hill MTR station and below the towers of the Bel Air Heights and Galaxia housing developments. Its name reflects the fact that some of the city's earliest movie studios, such as Jian Cheng Film Production Factory, were set up nearby, often using the area as a location for television shows and films. The complex is known for its quirky promotions. On a recent visit, for example, people who could show a picture of the moon on their mobile phones received three hours of free parking.

Average home price HK$4.65 million for a 656 sq ft flat at Galaxia

Average rent HK$14,600 for a 656 sq ft flat at Galaxia

Nearest shops stores in Plaza Hollywood but few standalone shops in the area

Nearest ATM Hang Seng Bank and Bank of China on the ground floor near the MTR and bus stop

Nearest MTR Below your feet at Plaza Hollywood

Nearest restaurants Conveyor-belt sushi, ramen shops, dim sum and fast-food chains in the mall