Lam made his artist’s log on display at Wong Uk. From first encounter to subsequent snippets of thoughts, it records a creative process which is akin to a sentimental journey for the artist.
Memorabilia from days of yore – Lam acquired them from hidden corners of Hong Kong.
By participating in this project, Lam Tung- pang, a long-time resident of Sha Tin who had not ever been to the place, has been able to know the old house at Wong Uk in depth. “As this old house is very near my home, I can go in the morning, in the evening, during sunny and rainy days, so I know what it is like in different weather conditions. I also have begun to feel like
I'm visiting an old friend.” The guards on duty at the old house are like its long-time tenants; every time Lam visits, chats with them. “My conversations with the security guards are very inspiring. They often tell me stories about the old house, giving me ideas for my work and expanding my knowledge of this monument.” As time goes on, Lam has come to know the Wong Uk inside out, he even knows where the cleaning tools stored, and such knowledge contributes to the creation of this interactive and interesting project.
He finds that most visitors to Wong Uk would only stay for 5 to 10 minutes. Perhaps this is because, compared to other monuments, it tends to emphasise on architectural features and does not display any furniture of its past occupiers. To Lam, the tranquility and simplicity of Wong Uk are what makes it unique. The murals on the wall and carvings on the eaves also serve an edifying purpose for its descendants, holding up the hopes and aspirations of the clan for the future. These preserved decorations are already telling the old house’s own story. As an artist who uses painting as his creative medium, Lam is especially touched by these murals, so much so that he hopes to use his paintbrush to echo those feelings and tell a story.
An old house that evokes nostalgia
We may not understand how meaningful the stucco murals on the walls and the carvings on the eaves are, but they also stir up certain feelings in Lam. When he was young, Lam used to pay regular visits to his ancestral home with his parents four times
a year from the time he started primary school, so a quarter of his childhood days was spent there. The ancestral home was filled with his childhood memories, which surge back when he walks through Wong Uk. “My ancestral home in Fujian is similar to this house in many ways: both are two- storey and have a courtyard. I remember there were also many relief sculptures, and I was able to touch them while lying in bed. The feeling was so visceral.” As both of his parents were Mainland-born and had later moved to Hong Kong, Lam is his family’s first-generation HongKonger who still has a deep impression of his ancestral home. “But for the next generation, they may not have the ‘homecoming’ experience. ‘Home’ for them may just be here – Hong Kong,” he says. Indeed, the idea of ‘home’ can be interpreted in numerous ways for different people. For Lam, although his native place is in Fujian, he considers to a certain extent Sha Tin, where he has lived for the past 36 years, his hometown. Yet, he believes that, like him, many people in Hong Kong also have memories of their ancestral homes and would be able to find some resonance in Wong Uk, and this old house would rekindle such nostalgia.
Once a vibrant place
Lam is getting curious about Wong Uk where he finds it somehow familiar. In addition to the guards’ stories about the courtyard’s amazing draining system on rainy days, his interviews with overseas Wong Uk descendants about pirates, and a serendipitous encounter with a former village head who shared his knowledge of its topography and history, Lam has also consulted the archives. Yuen Chau Kok, where Wong Uk is situated, was an important transport hub between Guangdong and Kowloon during the 19th century. There used to be a traders’ inn named ‘Yili’ (meaning the inn is operated on a ‘pay what you decide’ system to facilitate the passing travellers) right next to the village. Now more than a hundred years later and having witnessed reclamation and development, Wong Uk still stands on the same site, and right next to it is a big hotel. “What a wonderful coincidence!” he laughingly exclaimed. “I am curious about stories attached to inns: people coming from so many different places have gathered in one place, each with a different background and life story... I find this fascinating. A traveller who comes to an alien land would invariably miss his home.” Lam thinks that, now that this old house has been preserved, it would be a pity for it to be forgotten. He also thinks that the significance of preserving an old house lies not in crystallising it at some point in the past, but in linking it with the present, as has been done in many Western countries where historical buildings are being deployed in ways to keep them ‘alive’. He hopes that his visits to Wong Uk will also leave behind some traces of life, “something as simple as chatting with the guards, bringing friends here for visits and playing chess outside the house, or just lingering around to bring back the vibrancy of the place and breathe new life into it.”
When an old house is emptied out, there is, ironically, space for possible new stories. To Lam, furniture always has a lot of stories to tell, each having been part of the life and times of its owner. Therefore, for this project, he scoured all over Hong Kong to find old furniture to put into Wong Uk. This is, in a way, like collecting various stories and gathering them here in one place. “The dialogues I had with the people who were parting with their old furniture are also very interesting.” The entire process of considering what furniture to install, where to put them and how to set up as suites was also an interesting process – it felt as if he was going to move in there himself. When visitors see the furniture that looks familiar,
perhaps they will be able to recall the past and be stirred to reminisce about a past era and explore its history. Lam hopes that, with the help of sounds and images, and a series of fringe activities, the old house will become an interesting space that can be studied and viewed at ease, a place where we can all explore how we and old houses can relate.
Wong Uk is like an old friend who has endless stories to tell, watching over the village quietly with its door wide open. A hundred years have passed, and the time lapse seems to have shut it off from the hustle and bustle of the city today. But it had lived its life to the full. Although it is empty and uninhabited now, with its past glory much faded, it has left us with a historical legacy and pearls of wisdom just waiting for us to explore.
"Hi! Houses - A Journey into the History of Century-old Houses with the Artists", published by Leisure and Cultural Services Department, produced by Art Promotion Office, pp 64-77
林東鵬在沙田住了那麼多年，一直都不曾 到訪過王屋，是因為這個計劃，他才有更 深入認識這幢老房子的機會。「因為這 老房子離我家很近，所以我可以早上去、 晚上去、晴天或下大雨也去跑一趟，看看 天氣對它的影響。久而久之，也開始有一 種探望朋友的感覺。」而長年累月守護這 間老房子的保安員就像老房子的住客，林 東鵬每次到訪，都會找他們閒話家常。
「 與保安員的對話很有啟發性。他們常常 與我分享跟古屋有關的故事，令我得到不 少創作靈感，也對老房子的認識更深。」 日子久了，林東鵬了解到老房子的各個 細節，甚至打掃工具放在哪裡，他都瞭 如指掌。
閒談間，他觀察到訪王屋的人大多只有五 至十分鐘的停留，這可能是因為相比起其 他舊屋，王屋沒有多少展示故人生活的陳 設。然而，林東鵬卻認為王屋那份寧靜與 樸素，也是其獨特之處。王屋內的壁畫和 屋簷雕塑，都肩負著為這房子帶來好兆頭 及教化後人處世之道的責任，也是家族對 自身及將來的祝願，這些保留下來的裝 飾，已經在述說老房子自己的故事。作為 一個以繪畫為創作媒介的藝術家，林東鵬 對老房子中的壁畫尤有感覺，他希望以畫 筆描述一些感受，與壁畫互相呼應。
牆上的灰塑和屋簷上的雕刻有什麼意義， 我們也許未必有多少的瞭解，但對林東鵬而言，卻有著另一份感受。自小學一年級起，他每年都會隨父母回鄉四次，一年中有四分一的時間在家鄉渡過，祖屋承載著藝術家童年的回憶。在王屋裡踱步徘徊的時候，他想起兒時種種:「福建的祖屋和這裡也有相似的地方，有兩層，也有天井。我記得祖屋裡面也有很多浮雕，小時候常躺在床上觸摸那些浮雕，很有感覺。」由於父母都生於內地，之後才來到香港，林東鵬算是家裡第一代於香港出生，提到回鄉，他這代的印象較深刻，「但到下一代， 他們甚至未必有回鄉的經歷，他們的鄉， 也可能就是這裡(香港)。」家鄉，對不 同人來說或許有不同的詮釋，對林東鵬來說，他雖祖籍福建，但也不多不少視已居住了三十六年的沙田為他的家鄉。他相信很多香港人都與他一樣，也有一些回鄉的 記憶，在王屋裡找到一點共鳴。他相信， 人們與家鄉回憶的連繫，可以透過這老房子再次呈現。
林東鵬對似曾相識的王屋愈發好奇，除了 從保安員口中發現天井在大雨天神奇的去水功能、造訪居於國外的王氏後人所得知的海盜故事、巧遇前村長了解王屋一帶的地形歷史等，也翻查了一些歷史資料。王屋所在的圓洲角，在十九世紀是往來廣東 及九龍的重要交通樞紐，在旁邊有一所接 待商旅的「義利客棧」。王屋在同一個地 方已經一百多年，經歷過填海及發展，到 了今天，在旁邊的亦是一幢大型酒店。「這是一個很奇妙的巧合!」他笑道。「我對在客棧發生的故事很好奇，來自不同地 方的人聚集在同一個地方，他們有著不同 的生活和經歷，這很吸引我。這些客旅來 到異地，也許一樣有思鄉之情。」林東鵬慨嘆，這老房子當年得以被保留下來，現在卻被人遺忘了，是一件十分可惜的事。 他認為，保留老房子的意義，並不在將它 凝固在舊日的那個年代，而是可以與當下 有一些連繫，就像很多西方國家的歷史建 築一直在被人不斷使用，予人一種「活生 生」的感覺一樣。他希望在王屋中的一舉 一動，也帶來一些生活痕跡，「 簡單地如 我跟保安員閒聊、帶朋友來參觀、在屋外 下下棋等，在這裡有一些逗留，已能夠把 熱鬧和生氣帶回來，加添新的生活氣息。」
林東鵬認為，一間古屋內裡淘空了，反而 就有容納不同新故事的可能。在他而言， 家具盛載著主人的生活和歷史，代表了一 個又一個個體的故事。在這個計劃當中， 他在香港不同地區收集舊家具，把它們放 到王屋，就好像將不同的故事集合到這個 地方一樣。「過程中，與這些放棄舊家具 的人所產生的對話，也很吸引我。」想像 在王屋中要放些什麼家具、放在哪裡、如 何組合等等，本身也是一個非常有趣的過 程，就好像他真的要搬進去居住一樣，而 觀眾看到似曾相識的家具，也許會想起一 些自己的過去，引起對追憶往日的情懷， 對歷史的探索。林東鵬希望配合聲音及影 像，以及一系列的公眾節目，將老房子變 成一個可閱讀、可徘徊觀看的有趣空間， 帶大家一同探索老房子與我們的關係。
王屋就像一個總有故事說不完的老朋友， 在圓洲角悄悄留守，門戶一直大開。百年 過去，它彷彿隔絕了城市的塵囂，同時又 吃盡了人間煙火。今天的王屋燕去堂空， 鉛華去盡後，卻留下了滄桑和睿智留待我 們發掘。
《邂逅老房子 - 與藝術家走進百年故宅的歷史現場》，康樂及文化事務署出版 ，藝術推廣辦事處編製 ，2016，頁66 - 74，