Category Archives: hong kong

New: the Heritage Hiker’s Guide to Hong Kong

Heritage_Hikers_Guide_to_HKAs the weather cools, I’m pleased to announce the publication of The Heritage Hiker’s Guide to Hong Kong – available from all local bookshops from later this week.

When I began to write the book which became the first in this series – a walking guide to Hong Kong’s high peaks and long-distance trails – I had no idea it would lead to an illustrated book about local history.

Before recent times, there was less call for a book like this. The accepted view was that Hong Kong people cared little for their heritage. Besides the clans of the New Territories, few residents had deep roots in Hong Kong; many had used the city only as a stepping stone between China and a more prosperous life overseas. And before the issue of 1997 had been settled, the future of Hong Kong itself was uncertain. Everything was seen as transient. Who would spend too much time worrying about a ‘borrowed place living on borrowed time’?

But since the protests against the demolition of the Star Ferry pier a few years ago, that has all changed. Hong Kong people – and especially young people – have woken up to the value of a connection to their past. Historic places, those which evoke collective memories, now have legions of defenders sworn to protect them at all costs.

This new interest in shared heritage is part of a wider trend towards protest of all kinds in Hong Kong: against delays in more representative elections, against reclamation of the harbour and other harm to the environment, against the profiteering of developers, and most vociferously against the perceived collusion between government and big business. Angry citizens are now ready to confront the government on every issue – a problem the colonial authorities rarely faced. Already it seems that their voices have been heard, and the tide has turned for the better on heritage conservation.

Hong Kong has been many things: a string of fishing villages; a centre of the opium trade; a refuge for revolutionaries; a freewheeling market where fortunes could be made; a prize of war; a window on China; a colony with an expiry date; a beautiful city. It can be hard to find reminders of ages gone by, but they still exist. I hope this guidebook will help you discover some of them.

Crossing Salisbury

As someone who makes a living partly from writing guidebooks, I was a natural choice to show a friend of a friend around on their brief stopover in Hong Kong recently. She was only in town for a few hours, so I met her at her hotel on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront and planned to take her on a brief tour of the district before going for lunch.

We had barely stepped out of the hotel before we got lost in an underground shopping mall which was the only way of crossing Salisbury Road. Narrow escalators, piles of merchandise, unmarked doorways, anti-intuitive routes out and a lack of exit signs made me suspect that a quick passage from one side of the road to the other was not the main purpose of this underpass.

We spent 15 minutes searching for the right exit from this subterranean maze. I could see my guest wondering whether I had ever been to TST before, let alone lived there and written articles about it. I made some explanation about it being part of a new network of subways. But really, removing zebra crossings is just an easy way for the government to hand street space over to cars while funnelling pedestrians – sorry, consumers – through a series of commercial malls owned by their developer chums. The same plans are in store for other districts.

Tsim Sha Tsui has been wrecked over the past decade by bad planning and endless roadworks. This is bad enough for local residents, some of whom complain frequently through the SCMP letters page, but it’s an added shame that it’s the part of Hong Kong most tourists see. As an example of poor planning, the old railway station next to the Star Ferry pier was demolished in 1975 and moved to Hung Hom. Then, less than 30 years later, it was found necessary to extend the line back again, requiring years of disruptive construction work with all the attendant noise and air pollution. Who are the fools who make these decisions? They can’t all be taking kickbacks from construction firms or lining up jobs after retirement with developers.

An interview with local WWF chief Markus Shaw in last week’s HK Magazine matches my thoughts:

… frankly, we are making a mess of our city. We’re not planning our city for people, we’re planning it for the big property companies. We’re not trying to make it pleasant for ordinary Hong Kong people.

The feelings toward our heritage are stronger among young people because they are the ones inheriting this city. For people growing up in the 1960s, their life’s ambition was to move into a high rise. Today, this is the only life most people have. It’s all big estates and people are starting to think that maybe they don’t want to spend the rest of their lives in shopping malls.

We have huge projects such as Kai Tak and West Kowloon right now. They will determine the future of Hong Kong, so we have to get them right. Government ministers have begun to speak the right language—but they don’t necessarily understand what people want. They don’t use public transport, so they have no idea how hard it is to cross Salisbury Road.

Hong Kong needs political reform. Not only to give voice to a broader range of people, but also to make our government work more efficiently.

Amen to that. My vote goes to the pro-democratic camp here, if only because without elections, we have no way of voting out the idiots who are ruining Hong Kong.

The Serious Hiker’s Guide to Hong Kong: back in print

High ridges, sparkling waterfalls, lush fung shui woods and ancient fishing communities nestled in rocky harbours. Your mind refreshed, your limbs exercised, and your senses intoxicated, you wonder at the fact that only a few miles separate all this from one of the world’s most crowded cities.

The Serious Hiker’s Guide to Hong Kong — the bestselling guidebook to the SAR’s four long-distance hiking trails — is back in the shops in its sixth edition, with a new cover. Describing the Lantau Trail, Wilson Trail, MacLehose Trail and Hong Kong Trail, it’s been updated for 2010 and is profusely illustrated with maps and photographs. Available in all local bookshops.

Hong Kong hiking: Victoria Harbour from Devil’s Peak

It’s hot and sticky but we’re going through a period of unusually clear skies in Hong Kong, so the heat doesn’t deter us from hiking. This week we followed a trail from Tseng Lan Shue on Clearwater Bay Road south across Black Hill and Devil’s Peak to Lei Yue Mun.

Standing on the high points of this ridge, you can look westwards directly down the length of Victoria Harbour. Click on the photo to view it at full size. Kowloon is on the right, and Hong Kong Island on the left. You may be able to pick out IFC Two, the Peak Tower, the Wanchai Convention Centre, Green Island, and the North Point ferry pier. Behind Kowloon, the twin summits of Lantau Island are just hidden in cloud. There are some days when you cannot even see Lantau from Kowloon, so this is exceptional.

We started walking through a lush green valley crossed by farmers’ aqueducts and full of dragonflies. Then, in the forest above Ma Yau Tong, we passed a tiny temple to Kwun Yam which is guarded by an army of garish cement statues — Chinese gods, Japanese soldiers, dancing girls, monkeys and tigers. I learnt from Phil at Oriental Sweetlips (a blog, not a Wanchai curtain bar) that these were made by an 84-year-old local gent a decade ago in his spare time. The Trumpton-like statues are crumbling now but the shrine is still tended. Continue reading Hong Kong hiking: Victoria Harbour from Devil’s Peak

Victoria’s Secret: the Pokfulam prison with no name

I head to Victoria Road in leafy Pokfulam, with a dozen members of the Royal Asiatic Society’s heritage volunteers group, to investigate an overgrown compound of white buildings stretching down the hillside towards the harbour. These abandoned buildings have no name, and no street number. What are they?

The answer may come as a surprise even to people who live nearby. In 1967, Hong Kong was seized by a burst of pro-Mao agitation as a knock-on effect of the Cultural Revolution taking place over the border. Chanting rioters confronted the police and picketed the gates of Government House, bombs were planted on the streets, and transport networks were paralyzed. Fearing chaos, and even invasion by China, the colonial government went on the offensive. The Hong Kong police force’s Special Branch (the unit responsible for gathering intelligence) rounded up prominent leftists, and these buildings were used as a secret detention centre for them. Choi Wei-hung, the secretary of the Chinese Reform Association, was incarcerated in a tiny cell here for 18 months. Continue reading Victoria’s Secret: the Pokfulam prison with no name