Through the Eyes Of... Bernie Ng

‘Through The Eyes Of’ is an impressionistic photo series that features locations around the globe as seen through the eyes of a local creator. In today’s photo essay, Hong Kong-based photographer Bernie Ng @itsbernie81 shares his perspective on how he sees and feels the landscape between two of Asia’s great cities – Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Bernie’s work consistently explores and observes as he connects with the space around him

Borderlands. A short photographic essay of the land between two of Asia’s great cities - Hong Kong and Shenzhen

The heart of Hong Kong and Shenzhen are only around 60km apart, yet between them is a hard border that keeps the two cities well apart. I want to share some images from Deep Bay (also known as Shenzhen Bay), which forms part of the border, and give you my perspectives why the borderlands are actually a precious resource for our city.

Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region within China, and movement between Hong Kong and China are subject to immigration controls, much like crossing a border between two countries. Historically, the Hong Kong side of the border was subject to fairly tight control, because throughout China’s tumultuous period of modern history, there were many who saw the urge to leave. Hong Kong, then under British rule, was seen as a safe haven. To those fleeing China at the time, Hong Kong was either a place to start a new life, or perhaps a stepping stone to a long voyage overseas.  

To properly manage the border, the British administration set up what is known as the Frontier Closed Area - a strip of land behind the border that acted as a buffer.  Entry into the Frontier Closed Area is limited to local residents and those holding a permit. This had the effect of limiting the development of the Frontier Closed Area.

Despite the name “Deep Bay”, this body of water separating Hong Kong and Shenzhen is actually muddy, silty, and shallow. Many folks fleeing China avoided the hard border and the Frontier Closed Area by wading or swimming across this stretch of water. As you can see from the photo, Deep Bay is a tidal estuary with a very flat slope, so when tides are low and conditions are calm, the sky and the crimson sun are reflected in the mudflats, creating a beautiful scene.

A classic Deep Bay sunset.

Bernie Ng, Trope Publishing CoThe days of illegal border crossings from Shenzhen into Hong Kong are long over, but the Frontier Closed Area - and in many ways - the colonial era mentality - remain. Shenzhen’s population has since boomed, and its side of Deep Bay is completely developed.

The Shenzhen Bay Bridge crosses Deep Bay, and is one of several gateways to the border between Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

Bernie Ng, Trope Publishing CoYet, the Hong Kong side of Deep Bay remains largely rural, dotted with small fishing villages.  The most prominent of them is Lau Fau Shan, famous for its sun-dried oysters and fresh seafood.  

Fish and prawn ponds and small villages on the Hong Kong side, and an urbanised Shenzhen across Deep Bay.

Bernie Ng, Trope Publishing Co

Bernie Ng, Trope Publishing CoAs we head east, the Frontier Closed Area begins where the estuary meets Deep Bay, and we come to the Mai Po Conservation Area, a place frequented by migratory birds.  Nowadays, this piece of wilderness sits incongruously in front the gleaming Shenzhen skyline.

Contrasts: In the foreground, a rare portion of preserved biodiversity that lies adjacent to the Frontier Closed Area on the Hong Kong side of the border. In the background, the gleaming skyline of Shenzhen.

Bernie Ng, Trope Publishing CoThe Hong Kong side of its border with Shenzhen has, for historical reasons, been deliberately left in its rural state.  This has turned out to be a small gift for Hongkongers. These fishing villages, mangrove marshes and fishing ponds are almost certain to have made way for expensive waterfront skyscrapers decades ago if it was not for the fact they were too close to the border.

In view of recent political developments in Hong Kong, one also wonders whether the way we have left the border largely untouched is also a metaphor for Hong Kong’s ongoing feeling of uncertainty and ambiguity about its relationship with the rest of China. On the one hand, you have Shenzhen eagerly expanding to every inch of space, right up to the border. On the other hand, Hong Kong has looked the other way, keeping a distance.