Wed, Mar 12, 2014 - Page 12 News List

On top of the world

Hong Kong’ intrepid “urban explorers” get high on history

By Jerome Taylor  /  AFP, HONG KONG

Hong Kong’s police declined an interview request by AFP but warned that practitioners could face criminal damage and burglary charges in the event of any destruction of property. No explorers have been prosecuted to date.

WINDOWS INTO THE PAST

Yet not all forms of urban exploration are about seeking the adrenaline rush that comes from soaring above the crowds on towering rooftops.

Airin, a 25-year-old office worker by day, is a keen rooftopper. But she also spends much of her time exploring Hong Kong’s myriad of abandonments, from shuttered mental asylums to discarded factories and crumbling apartment blocks.

Sporting bright blue hair, suspenders and a leather skirt, she looks like a character from a Manga comic as she strolls along the decaying paths around an abandoned village in Hong Kong’s rural Sai Kung district.

In one house, she cuts past a traditional table still displaying ancestor offerings, up a rotten wooden staircase to a bedroom littered with broken pieces of furniture.

For Airin, who has gone urbexing as far afield as Russia, South Korea and Japan, abandonments offer a hidden window into the past.

“You can feel that time stops here and that’s what attracts me,” she says.

Wong Chuk Yeung is one of around 100 traditional villages in Hong Kong which lie shuttered.

“The young people move out and they have their families in the city. The old people stay and (eventually) die so it becomes abandoned,” Airin said of the village.

Tsang believes urbexers are too often portrayed as adrenaline junkies and that their respect for leaving places untouched is ignored. “There’s a lot of people putting labels on us. Calling us thrill seekers, daredevils. That’s true, there are some people like that but it doesn’t fully represent this subculture,” he says.

Meanwhile Airin believes more and more people across Asia will inevitably be drawn to explore the forbidden as the subculture grows.

“Everyone is actually born an explorer,” she concludes. “But they just don’t realize it.”

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