HONG KONG: MU­SEUM PLAY

Ley But­ter­worth

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - LEY BUT­TER­WORTH

We’re brows­ing a gallery of Chi­nese an­tiq­ui­ties at the Hong Kong Her­itage Mu­seum in Sha Tin, weary at the end of a long day’s di­ver­sions, when sud­denly it sinks in that there’s some­thing quite odd about the ex­hibits.

Among the Ming Dy­nasty vases there’s a glass case con­tain­ing what looks like an ex­pen­sive blue and white porce­lain bowl that’s been dropped and frozen at the mo­ment of im­pact be­fore it shat­ters into at least a thou­sand pieces. Stuck to the sides of the cab­i­net are three plump, cheeky ce­ramic ba­bies, pre­sum­ably the cause of all this com­mo­tion, with their faces pressed against the glass like pink prunes.

We look around at the tra­di­tion­ally staid ob­jects and sud­denly they come alive. In each dis­play case more chubby ce­ramic tots are cheer­fully cre­at­ing havoc.

One stares de­fi­antly at an im­pe­rial guard dog, point­ing proudly at the corkscrewed pile of poo he’s pro­duced; another strikes a heroic pose as he pisses into a price­less pot; another ap­pears to glee­fully break­dance be­fore a band as it strikes up a tune.

We dis­cover it’s all the work of John­son Tsang, a bril­liant sculp­tor and ce­ramist who’s among 18 con­tem­por- ary Hong Kong artists in­vited to con­trib­ute to the ex­hi­bi­tion The Past is Con­tin­u­ing, which runs at the mu­seum un­til Septem­ber 28.

Tsang calls his work bReAK tHE ruLeS and says he hopes it will en­cour­age visi­tors to look at the an­tiq­ui­ties with fresh eyes.

We’re in Hong Kong on a five-day jaunt with our 11year-old son and we’ve been lured to the New Ter­ri­to­ries by the prospect of a day’s ac­tiv­i­ties that range from the kitsch to the bizarre. We’ve de­cided that to­day will be one for cul­tural di­ver­sions, hav­ing spent the pre­vi­ous two ex­ert­ing our­selves on ex­hil­a­rat­ing walks over Hong Kong Is­land — first hik­ing the mag­nif­i­cent Dragon’s Back trail to Shek-O Beach, then tak­ing in peer­less views over the city on The Peak Cir­cle Walk.

To­day we’ve opted to stay Kowloon-side, so our shut­tle bus drops us at Hung Hom MTR sta­tion, not far from our wa­ter­front ho­tel. A 15-minute train ride takes us to Sha Tin sta­tion, and from there we fol­low the crowd for the short walk to the bot­tom of a bam­boo-forested hill. A hum­ble sign on a wire fence an­nounces The Sha Tin Ten Thou­sand Bud­dhas Monastery and we trudge up 430 steps, gaz­ing in awe and amuse­ment at the 500 gilt, life­size stat­ues that line the path. These fig­ures range from the grin­ning to the grotesque (one even has a pair of arms emerg­ing from its eye sock­ets) and each ap­par­ently rep­re­sent a dif­fer­ent as­pect of the ex­pe­ri­ence of en­light­en­ment. In­side the main tem­ple at the top we see walls lined with 13,000 minia­ture stat­ues of Buddha, each also adopt­ing a dif­fer­ent pose and ex­pres­sion.

We make our way back down the hill, past the Snoopy theme park and mu­nic­i­pal gar­dens and along a canal to the cool, cav­ernous Hong Kong Her­itage Mu­seum. The star at­trac­tion here is a long-run­ning ex­hi­bi­tion (to July 2018) de­voted to kung fu master and movie star Bruce Lee, whose short but in­flu­en­tial life is cel­e­brated in the show, the largest ever on the lo­cal hero’s life. Its 600-odd items of mem­o­ra­bilia in­clude the fa­mous yel­low track­suit he wore in his fi­nal, un­fin­ished film, Game of Death (copied for Uma Thur­man’s cos­tume in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill), per­sonal note­books record­ing cha-cha steps and even a 3D holo­gram an­i­ma­tion of Lee swing­ing his nun­chaku.

It is while we are reel­ing from all the kung fu overkill that we have me­an­dered through the ce­ram­ics ex­hi­bi­tion to be hit with that sur­prise punch from John­son Tsang’s play­ful porce­lain tots. It’s been that sort of day. • hk.her­itage.mu­seum • dis­cov­erhongkong.com

The Hong Kong Her­itage Mu­seum in Sha Tin, above; one of John­son Tsang’s play­ful works, above right

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