All aboard the Dukling: How the junk boat became a Hong Kong icon


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(CNN) — You may well not know what a junk boat is, but odds are substantial that you’ve viewed one.

The junk boat — tall and wooden with its 3 shiny-red sails glowing in the Victoria Harbor daylight — is 1 of the most legendary visual symbols of Hong Kong.

These vessels are frequently depicted on postcards, retro journey posters, keychains, T-shirts, ceramics and even the symbol of the city’s tourism board. But when it will come to getting a junk in present-day Hong Kong, you can expect to have to glimpse a ton more durable.

Dukling is the very last remaining Hong Kong junk boat obtainable for general public use. In her very first lifetime, Dukling was developed in 1955 and was home for a seafaring area relatives.

She is 18 meters lengthy and weighs 50 tons, supplying locals and readers alike a possibility to practical experience Hong Kong’s person-created and organic attractiveness from the h2o.

It can be easy to neglect that Hong Kong isn’t a one island — it is really an archipelago. When obtaining out on the drinking water is a fantastic way to feel the wind on your confront on a incredibly hot working day, it really is also a way to recognize the condition and scope of this wildly diverse metropolis.

Like so numerous tourist points of interest around the world, Dukling is at chance of closure owing to small customer figures amid the pandemic. Presently, she is only offered for non-public charters because of to Hong Kong’s virus limitations.

Right before coronavirus, there ended up three sailings a working day on weekends with a maximum of 40 passengers each. The Saturday itinerary built several stops in Kowloon which include Tim Sha Tsui, even though Sunday’s went from Central to North Place. The night sailing was timed for observing the Symphony of Lights, a nightly clearly show where skyscrapers alongside the harbor light-weight up their windows in enjoyment models and colours just following dusk.

When the harbor was comprehensive of crimson sails

Libby Chan, Assistant Director (Curatorial and Collections) at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, clarifies that a lot of of the early residents of Hong Kong came from two teams — those who lived their lives on land (Hakka) and these who lived their lives at sea (Tanka).

As lately as the 1970s, several Hong Kongers lived, worked, ate and slept on board these picket boats, periodically pulling into typhoon shelters or docks along the city shoreline to promote their wares and stock up on supplies. Starting in the 1970s, a lot of locals traded in their boat properties for flats in Hong Kong’s now-well known tall housing estate blocks, giving up their life at sea for extra reliably paid out do the job in factories or workplaces.

The Dukling sails on Victoria Harbour.

Dan Hodge/CNN

But how did junks become synonymous with Hong Kong?

Chan suggests it all started off when Westerners to start with came to the Pearl River Delta — invariably, they arrived by sea.

“The initially group of folks who fulfilled traders have been boat people. You can see loads of depictions of boat persons in a really wonderful way by Western artists. Starting from that working day, the junk became the brand of Hong Kong.”

Even the identify “Dukling” is a combine of contemporary and classic Hong Kong. Her Chinese identify is Ap ling ho: Ap means duck, ling implies soul or spirit, and ho is a way of indicating a “the” in entrance of a name. So a rough English translation could be “the holy duck.” Her authentic owner thought the front of the boat looked like a duck’s head.

Nevertheless, If you google “junk boat,” you get webpages upon pages of photos of vessels protected in trash. Search “duckling” and you may get sweet photos of downy child ducks. “Duck boat” conjures up those hybrid drinking water-land crafts that tourists just take through San Francisco and Seattle.

So the existing operator, neighborhood businessman Hazen Tang, opted to deliberately misspell the name Dukling in purchase to better match the research engine device.

dukling junk boat

Junk boats had been once ubiquitous not just in Hong Kong but during the Pearl River Delta.

Dan Hodge/CNN

Restoring a historic vessel

Dukling’s heritage parallels that of Hong Kong’s.

The boat’s unique proprietors, area shrimpers, bought her to a Frenchman who made use of the boat for recreation, not full-time living. Up coming, the Frenchman offered Dukling to a British expat who ended up moving back to his homeland and abandoning the boat, where she sank during a storm in 2014.

Rescuing Dukling from the South China Sea was a intricate, multi-yr ordeal. Initially, the metropolis had to track down the erstwhile operator in the Uk and get permission to bring her up. Then she was repaired in Zhuhai, which required more permits as the town is element of mainland China. The future stage was acquiring carpenters and repairmen who however know how to treatment for picket boats.

Latest operator Tang is a Hong Konger who was eager to get her back again into neighborhood arms — and into Victoria Harbor. His business enterprise, HS Travel Worldwide Organization Restricted, is a tourism enterprise based mostly in Hong Kong but with workplaces all over Asia.

The finished merchandise is a wonderful, dwelling piece of history that commenced plying the waters for travellers in 2015. Charlotte Li, director of organization enhancement for Dukling’s father or mother organization, suggests that 80% of the boat is initial.

The first picket wheel is still utilized to steer the boat, but it truly is so significant that crew members can only operate it for two hrs at a time before acquiring tired.

dukling junk boat

It is traditiional for Dukling crew to pray to the sea goddess Matsu (also spelled Mazu) to talk to for luck and basic safety on each and every sailing.

Dan Hodge/CNN

Dukling’s makeover did not only extend to infrastructure. It turns out that the well-known red sails are not so purple — they are really an orangey-brown color that appears to be like much more pink in the vivid Hong Kong daylight.

There is however a smaller shrine to the sea goddess Matsu in the vicinity of the entrance of the boat that crew users bow to and place incense in front of in get to wish for a fortunate voyage, but in this period women of all ages are allowed to go into this entrance segment of the vessel, although in fishing moments it was strictly forbidden.

Moreover Dukling, readers to Hong Kong may possibly spy two equivalent boats in Victoria Harbour.

Aqualuna is a nearby tourism business that built two reproduction junks, both of those of which will ferry visitors up and down the harbor multiple instances for each working day, most notably at sunset when skyscrapers along the waterfront gentle up their exteriors for a clearly show.

Although the two providers could see just about every other as opposition, Li insists that there is no rivalry because the homeowners of Dukling and Aqualuna want the exact factor — to protect the city’s maritime heritage.

“They have the coronary heart and they want to preserve junk boats in Victoria Harbour,” she claims. “There is no ‘real’ or ‘unreal’.” Li notes that Dukling is only capable of carrying 40 travellers at a time, whilst both Aqualuna boats can every in good shape up to 90.

In which to discover boat society these days

As Hong Kong continues to grow and extra than 50 % its land is secured for town parks and general public inexperienced areas, discovering places to develop new residences is generally a challenge. Just one of the most prevalent tactics is land reclamation, typically alongside the harborfront. Like the tourism marketplace considering the fact that the pandemic, Victoria Harbour has actually been shrinking.

But whilst numerous Tanka people moved onto land, there are even now traces of their way of daily life throughout the town that complement a journey on Dukling.

Hong Kong’s name signifies aromatic harbor, which was inspired by the crimson incense burned in temples dedicated to Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea. (She and Matsu are interchangeable — Matsu signifies “mom of the sea.”) To this day, dozens of Tin Hau temples dot the islands of the Hong Kong archipelago.

In some neighborhoods where Tanka people resettled — like Tai Po in the New Territories — it is continue to attainable to see bits of the “old way” of existence at major functions like weddings and funerals. Several boat persons communicated through traditional tunes, recognised in English as saltwater music.

dukling junk boat

Sail colors indicated a family’s standing. Wealthier fishing people could pay for brown or red material sails.

Dan Hodge/CNN

“The dialect of the boat persons is distinct from Cantonese, but they have some overlaps. It really is a pretty aged dialect. It is really a very advanced sound and it truly is quick to sing,” says Chan.

Some tracks were about navigation — best routes to acquire to prevent storms, for example — even though other individuals were being about courtship or household. “It is really element of our intangible heritage,” Chan provides.

The Maritime Museum has been able to movie some elderly men and women singing these songs and conversing in their dialect in buy to guarantee this “intangible heritage” is not dropped endlessly. It is component of the lasting selection of the museum, which is located — properly — at Central Piers on Hong Kong Island, the same spot wherever you can board ferries to Lamma Island and Cheung Chau.

In spite of all the adjustments that have taken area in and all-around Victoria Harbour, the waterway nonetheless has room for conventional junk boats — as long as there’s water to sail on, Dukling strategies to sail on it.



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