Hong Kong As It Was

Glimpse of walled city

The Kowloon Walled City Park is probably the most historic park in Hong Kong. The park was built on a site which was first a military fort in Qing Dynasty and later became a walled city and an ungoverned enclave before its demolition in 1987.

You can read the rich history of the Walled City here.I don’t find the park particularly scenic, which is built in the southern China garden style of Qing Dynasty. Nor does it evoke memory of the past. It all looks too good and too neat to be history. Yet, the exhibition in the building “Yamen” (which has been declared a monument itself) featuring the history of the Walled City prior to its demolition is very interesting. It contains fascinating interviews of the former residents as well as photos.

Here are some of the photos:

Because of its unique history, the Walled City was effectively lawless. Taxation, as a result, was not required in the enclave. This had led to hundreds of factories established, especially the food processing factories. It was estimated that 80% of the fishballs in Hong Kong were manufactured in the Walled City.

Unlicensed dentists and doctors were many. Many of them were skilled dentists and doctors who came from mainland China and whose qualifications were not recognzed by the Hong Kong government.  They therefore turned to the Walled City. The photo below captured the dentist street full of signs advertising dental services. There was no freshwater supply. To supply water, people dug wells. But the water was hardly clean – it could only be used for washing clothes and showers. For cooking and drinking, the residents had to use the freshwater supplied by the Hong Kong government next to their enclave. Carrying freshwater to the households had thus become a business.

The houses were so packed that former residents in the interviews recalled that they just jumped from their houses’ windows to the roof of the next building. That was how they went out to the street.

Because of high density of the population and shoddiness of the buildings (no piles used for the foundation), the one thing that worried them most was fire hazards. Fortunately no big fires had ever been broken out. Nor had serious crimes been committed, although the Walled City, a maze of dirty alleys, was described as a hotbed of crimes. Former residents recalled how collegial their neigbourhood was.

“Oh, I could find where I lived,” a woman standing next to me told her friend excitedly, pointing to a map. “It was there. There, ” she said, trying to take a photo of the map, zooming in her former residence.

How to get there: take mini bus No. 39 from Lok Fu MTR station. Get off in front of the Park.

Hong Kong As It Was

Man Lun-fung Ancestral Hall

I have written about the heritage site Tai Fu Tei Mansion in San Tin, Yuen Long. In fact, there is another  monument – Lun Fung Ancestral Hall, nearby. The two sites can be visited together.

Tai Fu Dei is in the Wing Ping Tsuen. After leaving Tai Fu Dei  and carrying forward, you will soon get to Fan Tin Tsuen. It is a mere five-minute walk. Man Lun-fung Ancestral Hall, built in the seventeenth century to commemorate the Man clan’s eighth ancestor Man Lun-fung, is located in the centre of the village.

Most impressive of the Hall is the shrine in the centre, with the Man clan’s ancestors’ names on tablets, solemn and dignified. The brick building has beams decorated with exquisite wood carvings, with a typical southern Chinese architectural style.When I visited the Hall, two Man’s clan men stopped by to pay homage to the shrine. It is amazing that the Hall is still in use today, as it was thousands of years ago, although it has been designated as a heritage site inviting visitors.

How to get to the Ancestral Hall:
Address: Fan Tin Tsuen, San Tin, Yuen Long
Transport: Take bus 76K or green minibus 76 at Yuen Long MTR station. Get off at San Tin Post Office.

Continue reading: Historical Monument: Tai Fu Tai

Hong Kong As It Was

Historical monument: Tai Fu Tai

Tai Fu Tai, a mansion of a high-ranking official in Qing Dynasty, is a historical monument in Hong Kong.“Tai Fu” (大夫) is a title given by the Qing Dynasty emperors to those appointed as officials in the civil service. “Tai” (第) means mansion. The mansion was built in 1865, whose owner was Man Chung-luen, a member of the “Man” clan (文氏家族), and a successful merchant and a renowned philanthropist of his era. He was awarded “Tai Fu” title by the Emperor for his generosity.

The “Man” clan was and is one of the powerful clans in the New Territories. It has been settling in the San Tin area (新田) in Yuen Long, where the mansion is located, since 15th century. To date, the “Man” clan members still live in San Tin. 

Here’s the flower plague I saw when I arrived at San Tin, which is in honor of those being elected to the rural affairs governance board, all surnamed Man.Tai Fu Dai, a fine example of traditional dwelling of the scholar-gentry class in the 19th century China, is one of the most elegant historical buildings preserved in Hong Kong. Surrounded by a spacious ground and a garden, it has a typical southern China architecture style with green brick walls, ceramic figurines, wood carvings, murals and plaster mouldings. It is also distinguished by its Western influence, as illustrated by the tint glass windows. Located under the roof of the hall, there are two honorific boards, each engraved in Chinese and Manchu language, which are the text of the Qing dynasty emperor Guangxu (光緒) in praise of Man Chung-luen’s grandparents and parents, believed to be one of its kind in Hong Kong.How to get there:
-Address: Wing Ping Tsuen (village) (永平村), Yuen Long
-Opening hours: 9am – 1pm, 2pm – 5pm (closed on Tuesdays)
-Transport: take bus 76K at Yuen Long MTR station (i.e. Sun Yuen Long Centre stop), and get off at San Tin (新田) stop. You will see road signs as shown in the photo above pointing to Wing Ping Tsuen and Tai Fu Tai. You can also take No. 76 minibus which passes Yuen Long MTR station.

Hong Kong As It Was Where to Visit

A walk into abandoned villages

Pak Tam Chung Nature Trail in Sai Kung is a 1-hour long leisurely walk. On the way you can visit an old site of a Hakka village, which has been converted to Sheung Yiu Folk Museum. The Hakka people settled into the area along the coast in the late 19th century. The village was most prosperous  when lime making along with fishing and farming provided the livelihood. It dwindled, following the decline in lime making after the Second World War. The village was abandoned in 1960s.

If you carry forward from the musuem, you will come to a crossroads, with signs pointing to two villages – Hei Tsz Wan Village (起子灣村) and Wong Yi Chau Village (黃宜洲村), both hakka villages.

Go in the direction of Hei Tsz Wan Village, and you will see  an abandoned village, with a magnificient view of the bay with mangrove closer to the shore.Turn back and go in the direction of Wong Yi Chau Village. Again, the village, but on a much larger scale, was abandoned. As with the Hei Tsz Wan Village, this Village also has a magnificient view over the bay. But don’t stop there. Continue.  You will be amazed by what you see. Yes, a stately Wong’s Family Temple, newly built and freshely painted, amid the wreakage. The villagers may have abandoned the village, but they want to keep their roots and come back here yearly for paying homage to their ancestors.

What a blissful place here, overlooking the sea and in the shadow of mountain. When no livelihood could be made around here, it had to be abandoned, with great sadness. With villages abandoned, and fishing and farming gone, this city has to rely on imported food from China, an unrelaible source, in terms of quality and quantity.

How to get to Pak Tam Chung Nature Trail: take bus No.94, or mini bus No. 7 or No.9 at Sai Kung Bus Terminus, get off at Sheung Yiu.

Hong Kong As It Was

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 5)

For reporting on the clearance, I went to Tiu Keng Leng for the first time in July 1996 and subsequently a few times to interview the residents who vowed to stay. I felt a deep sense of loss when walking up the narrow paths flanked by largely abandoned small huts and houses. A part of Hong Kong history would be gone forever, I thought to myself. Indeed, who would have known the history of Tiu Keng Leng now, 14 years on, which has become an area crowded with housing, and housing only?

On the eve of the clearance which took place on 30 July 1996, I had interviewed Madam Ko chun-kwan, aged 68, who had a Buddhist temple in Tiu Keng Leng. In those times, Tiu Keng Leng was a self-contained community, lying next to the sea. The residents had made the community the way they wanted it to be, including putting up a Buddhist temple.

Madam Ko’s sons, who were born in Tiu Keng Leng and later moved out, made a special return to the temple to be with her on the eve of clearing. “I feel so much for the temple. It has a seaview and is so tranquil. I feel very sad to be leaving here.” She blamed the government for not giving her land and enough money to build another temple.

“The compensation money is not enough. Neither has any land be given to build a new Buddhist temple. You tell me, after you demolish my temple, where should I put up the Buddha statues?” she asked.

“The government oppresses us. They are even worse than bandits.” She added.

“I am of course not feeling good on the eve of clearance. But it won’t stop me sleeping. I am optimistic about life.”

If Madam Ko were alive, she would have been 82 today.

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 1)

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 2)

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 3)

History Stories: Tiu Keng Leng (part 4)