OLD HONG KONG
- The Western District -
"The World of Suzie Wong"
The Western District is an area west of Central District on Hong Kong Island's north shore and is quite historical because it was here Royal Navy Commander Belcher with a group of marines landed at Possession Point in 1841. They had noticed a flat area a little up the mountain slope and decided that this was a good place to land and make camp. They cleared a track from the coast up to the camp site, and that track must be what became the first road in Hong Kong: Possession Street. And indeed, - it is still there to this day.
Here, - for the first time -,they planted the British flag in Chinese soil and Queen Victoria could now welcome a new colony to her Empire. Her mighty Royal Navy took possession of Hong Kong, and started to survey the splendid natural harbour, which proved to be deep and well sheltered.
Other street names a little west of Possession Street indicate that they too, were made very early in the history of the new colony: First Street, Second Street and Third Street. We are where Hong Kong was born.
The flat plateau where the landing party settled, is also there to this day. It is now a small park, - Hollowood Park -, and can be found to the right of where Possession Street ends. As a memory of the take over of the new colony, a sort of marker was erected at the spot where the flag was raised. It has now long gone , but still excists. It was taken across the water to Kowloon to Hong Kong Historical Museum, where you can see, - and touch it -, if you want. Hollywood Park has been completely redesigned as a Chinese park with moon-gates, pavillions, pagodas and lakes. But Possession Point is no more. It is now buried deep under reclaimed land, but must have been where Queen's Road suddenly takes a sharp turn outwards towards the harbour, - and then turns back again. If Queen's Road was constructed along the original coast, this unmotivated bulge could very well indicare, that here was a small peninsula, - with Possession Point at the tip.
The British conquerers, - however -, never settled permanently at the point where they first landed. Eventually they preferred to move further to the east, and instead Chinese settlers moved in and completely took over this historical Western District. Therefore it has been very little influenced by European culture, and that is the reason why I , -120 years later-, loved to take long, long walks in this area. The sights, smells, and sounds combined with this mysterious "something" that is difficult to explain, drew me there, - and the architecture was fantstic.
Everything was there. Not just an old building here and there, - but complete streets and blocks, - untouched by modern times, - and completely free of tourists. This place oozed history, athmosphere and beauty, but in spite of this strange beauty that old things have, - the sanitary condition must have beena nightmare.
But it was last call! The demolision teams with their wrecking balls came closer and closer, - house after house fell -, and it was evident, that this special Hong Kong culture was going to disappear for good, - and did so at an alarming rate!
I feel extremely privileged, that I had a chance to explore it all while it was still intact, but at the same time I deeply regret, that I did not go there more often to record it all om film before it was too late. Well, - I did in fact go there lots of times, - and I have tons of photos -, but it could be better, because today I cannot always identify the exact location where I took the photo, - except that they are all from Western District.
The Western District was also where the famous movie "The World of Suzie Wong" was shot, - although the story in fact was centered around Wanchai, where the author, - Richard Mason -, was inspired by a stay in the Luk Kwok Hotel. But although the old Luk Kwok Hotel still was there when they shot the movie, - it was torn down around 1980 -, the Wanchai surroundings looked too modern for filming. But who cares??? Western District was there,- fully intact -, with no need to build up a Chinese city in a studio. Everything was there, - even an old temple, - the Man Mo -, which is one of Hong Kong's best.
Regarding Luk Kwok, it was soon built up again, - not as a traditional Chinese hotel -, but as a new and sparkling modern tourist hotel, and thereby it was not special anymore, but looks like all the other tourist hotels in Hong Kong. But the old Luk Kwok was truly fantastic. It was a typical Chinese hotel, but unfortunately I never got the idea to photograph this historical landmark, - outside or intside. I remember it as a very big, square block, and as far as my memory recalls, the colours inside were dominated by brown. Brown thick curtains, brown bed blankets and brown walls, - everywhere brown. Also the alleyways outside was dark and brown too. Could all this brown be because of dark wooden panels??? I do not remember, - unfortunately. I just have this picture of brown popping up in my mind. A possible explanation to why I have not really paid attention to the surroundings could be, that I were with "Suzie Wong". On each floor there was a floor attendant, that took care of everything, - including checking in and out. Apparently there was no lobby and reception as on a western hotel. But it was fantastic . Just a pity that I did not take photos, - and a pity my memory is not too good about the details of old, historical Luk Kwok. This is actually a little bit strange, because Luk Kwok holds the record of being the hotel in the world where I have stayed most times, - but never more than 2 nights at a time.
Now you might of course ask if I really met Suzie Wong??? Yes, - of course! Only she had another name, - and likewise I was not Robert Lomax, the male character in Richard Mason's book. But the story is the same, - exactly the same, - the never ending story - - - - And it will happen again!
The pictures I have submitted to this page are all from a walk on Aug.18th.1975. But I have many more from other walks around this once fascinating and exiting area. Pictures from Hollywood Park and of the flag raising marker, - markets and much more. At a later opportunity I will submit more photos to show what Hong Kong once was for only about 40 - 50 years ago.
Possession Street(Photography: copyright Karsten Petersen)