Down Memory Lane

This page is for contributions from anyone who has memories of Hong Kong.

If you have an article about ‘Old Hong Kong’ and would like to share it on this page, get in touch at communications@hkas.org.uk


Do you have memories of unusual, very rare or anomalous animals in Hong Kong?

If so, please get in touch with Richard Muirhead by email richmuirhead@ntlworld.com

Website: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/richmuirhead/cryptozoology/


THE HONG KONG BOOK

Pwill

The South China Post – 1997

In 1996-97’, Pam  sketched events leading up to and during the handover. A collection of over 60 pieces. They will become part of a book, capturing classic moments of the once British colony and the transformation into Hong Kong  today.

Pam is now accepting….articles, comments and stories… contributed from  those who have lived  worked and visited Hong Kong before and during 1997…and up to today…From market traders, (the street markets too!),…to the professions and members of government.

All are welcomed.

·s»D¯S¼g      °OªÌ¡Gmian­^°ê´¡µe®vPam Williams³X°Ý¡C³¯°¶­^Äá SINGLE BLACKWATCH DRUMMER-RETOUCHED (2)

Sketches will enhance the diversity of articles to reflect special moments in Hong Kong’s history.Interested? Would you like to contribute? to be involved or hear monthly news of the book’s progress? You can subscribe on the website or send a message to Pam

www.pamwilliams.co.uk/hongkongbook

http://www.pamwilliams.co.uk/artist-blog

Email:pwill8888@aol.com

Telephone: +44 (0)207 652 1100

Click here to read an article about Pam Williams from the SCMP.


Photos and recollections to celebrate the Helena May’s 100th Birthday

The centenary of the Helena May will be celebrated in September 2016. The History Project Group of the Helena May is trying to assemble personal recollections over the years and photos, especially of the interior of the building, to extend their archives in a more personal way.

If you are or were a member of the Helena May and would like to make a contribution, please do get in touch with their history group by email: historygroup@helenamay.com

The Helena May


Historic Hong Kong seen in newly released British video archives.

Click here for the link to the SCMP article


Reminiscences of Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s

Dan Waters

The Nineteen Fifties
In the summer of 1954 I was waiting to join Her Majesty’s Colonial Service and to set sail for Hong Kong. My future boss, SJG Burt, the ‘Grandfather of Technical Education in Hong Kong’, was on long-leave in England. He drove around to my home to brief me and to size me up.

‘We have a bad typhoon once every seven years’, he told me (recently they have been fewer and further between). I had of course experienced good old north-easterly gales in England and I told Sydney Burt so. He continued; ‘In Hong Kong we have water rationing!’ ‘I fought with the Eighth Army in the deserts of North Africa, during World War Two’, I replied. Those answers seemed to satisfy him.

The sea journey from Southampton to Hong Kong, for my family and me, took 31 days on RMS Canton of the Peninsula and Oriental Line. The arrival through Lei Yue Mun Gap, by sea, is still etched in my memory as it was for so many of us. Lord David Wilson, Hong Kong’s 27th Governor and a Chinese scholar made the same reflections when he addressed us Royal Asiatic Society Members in Hong Kong on the 50th anniversary of the reactivation of our branch. He too had an indelible memory of sailing through the gap when he arrived in Hong Kong, as a Chinese language student, for the first time in 1960.

In those days, entering one of the greatest natural harbours in the world (I swam in the cross-harbour race in 1955), one could see countless squatter huts sprawling, cheek by jowl, down steep hillsides. Something like 10 per cent of the population consisted of squatters. Their huts contrasted, markedly, with some of the stately, colonial style buildings in and around Statue Square. Hong Kong was much poorer then than it is today and people sometimes took off their shoes and carried them, when it rained, and walked barefooted in order not to spoil them. In the mid-1950s I used to have a haircut, a shampoo, a shave and a manicure, in Tin Lok Lane (the lane of heavenly happiness), for HK$2. 80. Being a generous chap I left 20 cents for a tip.

On arrival my family and I were first ensconced in ‘Winner House’, a small hotel in North Point which was sometimes known as ‘Little Shanghai’. This had a splendid view of the Kowloon Foothills, and, with relatively no pollution and low humidity in the winter, it sometimes seemed you could reach across the harbour and almost touch Lion Rock. In the 1950s and 1960s there were of course many expatriates still working in Hong Kong who had lived and worked in the Colony before the Second World War. They had been ‘in the bag’ as they described prison camp.

In early 1955 there was a report that a leopard, which was rarer than a South China Tiger, had been spotted in the New Territories, but, on reflection, on that occasion it was probably a rumour. GAC Herklots, a zoologist teaching at Hong Kong University, firmly believed that tigers still came to Hong Kong in the early post-World-War Two years (The Hong Kong Countryside, SCMP, 1951, pp.86—88).
The New Territories were much more rural in those days. New Towns, such as Tsuen Wan, came later.

I taught for three years at the old, three-storey government, colonial-style Technical College in Wood Road, Wan Chai. This was built of red facing bricks which had been shipped in as ballast, from England, in the mid-1930s. As tends to happen with ‘academic drift’ that same college, after we moved over to Hung Hom, in Kowloon, in 1957, was upgraded to become the Polytechnic University in 1994.

There was little air-conditioning in 1955. The only air-conditioned building around Statue Square was the Hong Kong Bank which was the first air-conditioned building in Hong Kong. It was built in 1935. It was also said to have been the tallest building between Cairo and San Francisco. As government servants we went ‘into whites’ on 1st May. That meant, for most of us, white shorts together with open-necked and short-sleeve white shirts and long, white stockings. My old boss, Sidney Burt, used to come down from the Peak with a Hong Kong rattan basket, instead of a briefcase, and a Saigon, wet-wash linen suit. We changed back into winter clothing about the 1st November.

What with teaching in a new environment, Cantonese lessons and adjusting to new surroundings, life for me was quite hectic. During the 1950s there was conscription in Hong Kong for physically fit British subjects. I became a Special Constable. This meant, after basic training, pounding the beat once a month and raiding opium dens and the like. I also attended a 10-day camp at Brick Hill, Aberdeen,  every summer.

Serving part-time in the police also meant my being called out on the outbreak of the 1956 Riots, which were sparked when a low-ranking government official pulled down a Nationalist Flag which had been flying on a resettlement block on the ‘Double Tenth’– the 10th day of October. During the Riots the Nationalists pitted themselves against the Communists and, soon afterwards, the triads joined the fray. That was the time for British troops to march down Nathan Road with fixed bayonets to ‘show the flag’. The 1956 Riots lasted only about five days.

There used to be about six sedan chairs parked in Wyndham Street which carried people up to Mid-Levels. At the end of the 1950s the issuing of such licences was discontinued. Up to about the same time you could see bamboo ramps which were used to bring down cadavers in coffins. It was considered inauspicious to bring them down narrow staircases banging and scraping walls and doors. With traffic congestion and taller buildings the erection of these ramps was discontinued.

The ‘Great Leap Forward’ started in China in 1958 and went on into the early 1960s. People set up ‘backyard furnaces’ to manufacture pig iron much of which was worthless. Many people left agriculture and crops failed. Famine swept the country with somewhere in the region of 30 million dying – we will never know the exact figure. There were long queues in post offices in Hong Kong mailing food parcels to relatives and friends in the People’s Republic.

A major transformation started in Hong Kong with the phasing out of the Royal Naval Dockyard, in the second half of the 1950s. The site has long since been renamed Admiralty and HMS Tamar, and a section of what was part of Queen’s Road became known as ‘Queensway’. We used to drive both up and down Garden Road. A policeman, employing fancy hand and foot movements, directed traffic standing on a traffic pagoda at the bottom of garden Road, near the old Murray Parade Ground and the old cricket ground. But, in the early 1960’s, after the new Cotton Tree Drive was constructed, Garden Road became one way. Hong Kong’s first flyover was constructed in 1963, where Prince Edward Road crosses Waterloo Road in Kowloon Tong.

In early post World-War Two years there were a few Russian restaurants in the colony. Among other things they sold delicious pastries. The Russians introduced the borsch soup that can now be found in many western-style restaurants all over Hong Kong.

When I arrived in Hong Kong the population was, in round figures, two-and-a-half-million. By the mid-1960s it had reached three-and-a-half-million. Today, it is over seven million. As Claude Burgess, the Colonial Secretary in the late 1950s used to say, ‘Hong Kong has a problem of people!’

The Nineteen Sixties
The 1960s have been described as the ‘One damn thing after another decade’. It started in 1961, with an outbreak of cholera which was dealt with in true Hong Kong fashion. Stalls, manned by nurses, were erected, outdoors, such as either side of the Star Ferry. People who were too busy to visit a hospital or clinic could roll up their sleeves and receive their injection with a total absence of paperwork.

At this time street parking was becoming a problem so, in 1962 parking metres started to be introduced. At around the same time a service charge began to be added to bills in some hotels and restaurants. This by no means pleased everyone.

In the spring of 1962, in the region of 70,000 men, women and children were allowed — indeed directed — by the Guangdong authorities to sweep over the border into Hong Kong within a period of 25 days. A large number came in over the hills at Robins’ Nest, on the border. The communist guards did not prevent the Hong Kong police and the British army from sending them back, but countless intruders avoided capture. It was a threat from China. They seemed to be saying, ‘We can flood you with people whenever we like’.

On 1st September, 1962, Typhoon Wanda struck. The eye of this severe storm, a direct hit on the colony, coincided with high tide which brought about a storm surge and bad flooding in places such as Tolo Harbour. Wanda was the most severe typhoon to strike since the Second World War. Over in Argyle Street our concrete framed building swayed slightly and we were kept busy mopping up. You could hear glass breaking in neighbouring buildings brought about by ‘flying objects’. If a storm gets inside your flat you are in deep trouble. The death toll from Wanda was 130 with an estimated 2,000 sea-going craft sunk or damaged. A 154 knot gust wrecked Tate’s Cairn Radar at the height of Wanda.

Following on from Wanda came the ‘Year of the Gales’ in 1964. Five typhoons struck in the one year and another four typhoons passed close enough to bring strong enough winds to disrupt shipping. The Royal Observatory tracked a total of 44 storms in that year.

Some years after I had arrived in Hong Kong, 1963 turned out to be the hottest, the sunniest and the least humid year since records began in 1884. For a long period we had water on tap for only four hours once every four days. The Governor of the day, Sir Robert Brown Black, insisted that government house be subjected to the same stringent rationing. Of course for people living in resettlement estates, having to queue at standpipes was even worse. In 1967, in addition to the riots, we also had water on tap for only four hours once every four days, but the stringent rationing did not last so long as in 1963.

A limited amount of water was shipped in by tankers, thieves stole water and clerics of all denominations prayed for rain. The night the water was turned on children were bathed first, then mother used the same water, followed by father who was the grubbiest, and the left-over water was used for mopping the floor and for watering the plants.

Water was turned on according to the district. An advertisement appeared in the press: ‘Gentleman with water supply on Monday evening, would like to contact lady with water available on Wednesday evening: purpose … sharing bath water.

In 1965, fuelled by nothing more than rumours, there were bank runs with long queues at the Canton Trust Commercial Bank and the Hang Sang Bank. These were cause for considerable concern at the time but were quietened when the Hong Kong Bank bought a controlling interest in the Hang Sang Bank.

Although the 1960s was overall a dry decade, I remember a heavy rainstorm on 12 June, 1966, and I never recall it raining so heavily before or since. In Aberdeen 6,18 inches (15,69 centimetres) of rain fell in one hour and 15.8 inches fell in 24 hours. But this was much less than the 27.44 inches that fell in 24 hours in May 1889. This can be compared with the average annual rainfall of 23 inches in London.

Also, in 1966, there were the so called ‘Star Ferry Riots’ which were sparked by a proposed five-cent fare increase on the lower deck. Nevertheless, the root cause was really the lack of welfare amenities, a shortage of school places and medical services and the like. Again soldiers, as in 1956, marched down Nathan Road with fixed bayonets and the disturbances came to an end after a few days.

To their credit the government did take decisive action. By 1971 there was a primary school place for every child who needed one. The Technical College became the Polytechnic in 1972 and five technical institutes were established in the 1970s. In addition, in 1971, conditions for workers improved considerably including one week’s annual holiday and one day’s holiday a week.

The 1967 Riots really deserve more than the brief mention I have space for here. They started in May with a strike at a plastic flower factory in San Po Kong. This developed into a lock-out. Displeasure soon spread but the riots were really a spill-over of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) which was in full swing at the time in China. The Year of the Riots, 1967, developed into a calamitous year and 51 people were killed. Many thought it was the end of British Hong Kong and they emigrated. But, in spite of that, it was, surprisingly, a good trading year. Prices in the property market hit rock bottom.

Government policy, at first, was to take the soft approach and the rioters received a great deal of sympathy from the general public. But when the police made a determined stand on the then Hilton Corner (now Cheung Kong Center) and they were grossly humiliated, it was then decided enough was enough.

This was followed by a raid on a stronghold of the rioters, Kiu Kwan Mansion in North Point. Police landed in a helicopter on the roof. They then worked their way down from the top of the building. That police raid was led by Peter Godber. He was one of my instructors when I was a Special Constable in the 1950s. He was a capable senior police officer and it was sad that he later became implicated in corruption that was all too common, turning him into the proverbial ‘bent copper’.
Consequently he served time and his decorations were, quite rightly, taken from him.

When the demonstrators started placing bombs in the street, and, in the first instance, two children were killed in North Point, the rioters lost a great deal of public support. Some of the bombs were fakes.

Jack Cater, who was later knighted, was one of the government officers who played a leading role in countering the riots. He chaired a meeting in which Susan Yuen agreed that the Federation of Hong Kong Industries would place an advertisement in the South China Morning Post stating it supported the British Hong Kong Government, Then, gradually, other organisations followed suit. These made a remarkable impression.

Although the above is a simplistic version of the Year of the Riots, things gradually improved, and, by the end of 1967, Hong Kong was licking its wounds but well on the way to recovery. The Hong Kong Police Force was granted the Prefix ‘Royal’ after the riots. There was no doubt they had provided sterling service. By far the majority of the population had supported the Hong Kong British Government.

Those of you reading this short account of the 1967 Riots who lived through them as did I, will have your own memories. For my part, I was working at the time at the old Technical College (now the Polytechnic University). We had a total of 10,000 full-time and part-time students and curfews would bring about the cancellation of classes. Transport was a problem with strikes, and there was a suspected bomb (we did not know it was not genuine at the time) at the entrance gate and Communist Chinese slogans painted on walls. But, having said that, our students behaved generally very well. By and large their aim was to get on with their studies and, as far as they were allowed to do so bearing in mind the events of the day, this is what they did.

Afterthoughts
Certainly the 1950s and 1960s were eventful decades in Hong Kong, and, at the time, the topic of 1997 and the end of British rule was largely a taboo subject.

Inevitably a short article like this is little more than an outline which can’t do justice to the events which marked the period. I realise too that some readers may have lived in Hong Kong before I did and they may have vivid memories of the 1950s as well as the 1960s. I do very much hope that any such ‘old-timers’  will feel moved to send in their particular reflections to fill in my own memories of those stirring times.

One thing we can all possibly agree on. If you cannot adjust to change Hong Kong is certainly not the place to live.

The ship on its sideThe HK NecktieCars piled up in the road after a rainstormA Bamboo Ramp

Pictures from L-R:

In September 1962 Typhoon Wanda struck a ‘direct hit’ on Hong Kong. This caused considerable destruction and as many as 2,000 sea-going craft were sunk or damaged.

The Hong Kong necktie  designed by Eric Cumine depicts three figures: The White-Skinned Pigs symbolise expatriates; The Yellow-Running Dogs represent Chinese loyal to the British; and the Red Fat Cats the Chinese ‘Commies’ living it up in Hong Kong. The narrow, dull red line symbolises the Communist propaganda. The background for the tie is black, the same as the outlook in 1967 (the ‘Riot Year’), but if you turn the tie inside out it has a silver lining.
Cars piled up after being washed down Ming Yuen Street, in North Point, after the June Rainstorm of 1966.

Cars piled up after being washed down Ming Yuen Street, in North Point, after the June Rainstorm of 1966.

Bamboo ramps were erected to carry coffins down from upper floors until the 1950s, after which new buildings were too high and streets became congested.

Basin MealThe author with friends enjoying a traditional ‘Basin Meal’ in a New Territories’ village.


A YANKEE IN HONG KONG

By Geoffrey Emerson

I came to Hong Kong from New York in July 1964, in my mid-twenties, on a two-year contract to teach at St Paul’s College on Bonham Road.  Next year will be my 50th anniversary of living in HK.  I’ve been asked to write about a few of my memories of my early years.

Never having lived out of America until coming to HK, of course it was quite a shock, and for about the first two weeks I wondered why on earth I had come here.  Since those first two weeks, I have wished I’d come earlier!     As a child growing up in upstate New York, in the beautiful Finger Lakes region, I used to help my mother in her large flower and vegetable gardens.  She once said, “I’ve heard if you dig deep enough, you’ll come to China”.  I don’t recall my reply, probably, “Oh, really?”, but surely I had absolutely no idea that I would one day get to China by BOAC rather than by digging and that I would spend most of my life in Hong Kong.

Fortunately I had an American friend living in HK, who gave me the idea of coming to teach here, so I had a place to live and help in getting adjusted first of all to HK’s wicked summer heat.  At that time air conditioning was not everywhere, as it is today except outside.  I recall the first month of so of my teaching I did so with a piece of chalk in one hand and a fan moving quickly in my other hand.  There were ceiling fans, which did help a bit.

One of my very early memories is of going to Causeway Bay to shop at Asia “Supermarket” and suddenly realizing that I was the only non-Chinese on the crowded streets, which was the first time in my life that had happened.  I put “supermarket” in inverted commas because it was nothing like our many supermarkets today where we push carts around and line up at a computer check-out.  I would go into the crowded, seemingly unorganized Asia store and sit on a high stool with my list.  A very polite clerk – “Good morning, Sir, what would you like today?”- would come and take my order.  Then he would run round the shop and find the merchandise, bring it to me and list it item by item. I paid cash.  The groceries would be delivered later that day. Then across the street I would go to Daimaru, the first big department store in Causeway Bay, for lunch.  There was a pleasant restaurant and a counter at which I would usually sit and have delicious tempura.

I mentioned being the only non-Chinese on the streets.  I also recall the very first day I went out on my own to Causeway Bay, being driven there by a private taxi, called a ‘baak pai’ (white license car). When I decided to return home, I was so inexperienced and rather awestruck by the whole experience, that I thought no one would speak English, especially a taxi driver, so  I walked home to MacDonnell Road at mid-levels.  This was quite a hike in July heat. Later in the year, when the weather cooled, such a walk was really very pleasant especially with much less traffic in those days and after discovering such wonderful walks as Bowen Road from Happy Valley to Central (still a great walk).

Teaching was another new experience.  In New York City, I had taught for one year in a junior high school, grades 7-9 or Forms 1-3.  The students were more than 90% blacks.  Sadly, oh so sadly, they were in school only because they had to be according to the law.  They hated school.  They hated the teachers, almost all of whom were white.  I soon found the classroom to be a battlefield – the students often fought each other and I had to learn to protect myself after being punched trying to break up a fight.  I was proud to complete a year.  (Teachers were in and out of that school, sometimes only staying for a day.) The following year when I first walked into a classroom at St Paul’s with 40 Chinese boys waiting for me, no one told me what to expect.  Naturally before I arrived some of the boys were moving around the classroom but most were sitting.  Not surprisingly, the room was very noisy.  I hesitated at the door and then as I entered the classroom, the students pushed back their desks and leapt to their feet.  The noise was very loud and my reaction, coming from a classroom in New York, was to stop, put up my hands and protect myself!  There was silence.  The students were surprised to see a young foreigner entering their classroom.  They stared at me.  I stared at them.  What to do?  After a few seconds, I walked across the front of the room to the teacher’s desk, put down my books, looked at them and said, “Good morning, class”.  With one voice, they shouted, “Good morning, Sir!” What a contrast to that New York classroom!  I then told them to sit down, and after a great noise of 40 boys pushing back their chairs and sitting down, I began to teach.  For the 30+ years at St Paul’s, I always insisted on the students standing at their desks when I entered the classroom, coming to order and waiting for me to say, “Good morning” or “Good afternoon”.  Even with the oldest classes.  It got their attention and brought them to order.  I discovered that many teachers had given up this custom and took longer to get the class to order.  I maintained the custom till the day I retired.

I was fortunate, I learned later, to teach in a so-called “elite”school where most of the boys were highly motivated to study.  Still, boys will be boys and they would take advantage if they could.  I have to say that it was much easier to maintain discipline in the 1960s than by the time I retired in 2000.  By then things had become more relaxed in the school and the students more spoiled and less disciplined.

Chinese students, certainly mine, were on the whole a joy to teach.  Unlike myself in America and the students I studied with and taught there, they seemed to really appreciate their teachers.  To this day, more than a dozen years since retiring, I see many of my former students (some are now grandfathers!) often for lunch and of course at reunion dinners.  I even went on a trip with them a few years ago to a beautiful national park in Szechuan province, as their guest.

Aside from teaching, life in Hong Kong was certainly different in the 1960s and 1970s.  I was lucky to have a car soon after I arrived, and any time of day I could drive down to Central, park free in front of Hong Kong Bank, where Statue Square is today, and run into the Bank or do other errands.  Eventually I gave up the car because by the late 1970s, the roads became congested and driving became expensive and often unpleasant.  In the 1960s, there were no tunnels from the island to Kowloon and if driving, we simply planned our time to include the vehicular ferry crossing.  I recall how nice it was to meet visitors at Kai Tak airport, drive onto the ferry, get out and stand at the front of the ferry and watch the visitors’ reactions of awe and delight as Hong Kong island opened up in front of us.  A pleasure soon lost once the first cross-harbour tunnel opened.

In 1964, having applied at various church offices in New York to teach in Hong Kong, I had the great fortune of being interviewed in New York City by Bishop Ronald Hall.   He just happened to be passing through New York and agreed to interview me.  I had heard of the man and had no idea of his reputation and fame in Hong Kong.  I went along to a church office in Manhattan and met him, sitting behind a large desk.  The interview lasted one hour.  For the first five minutes or so, he asked a few questions about me and my desire to go to Hong Kong.  Then he spent the remainder of the hour telling me how wonderful Hong Kong was!  Finally he pushed back his chair as if to get up, so I stood up too, ready to shake his hand and thank him.  Instead, he fell to his knees and said he would like to pray for my success in Hong Kong.  There I was on my knees with the Bishop of Hong Kong in a New York office; I looked at him as he prayed and out the window behind him and noticed the Empire State Building there.  What an incredible feeling!  Myself on my knees, the Bishop of Hong Kong on him and the New York skyline behind. A few months later I arrived in Hong Kong and let him know that I was here.  From time to time, when he was overwhelmed with visitors, he would ring me and ask me to take a visitor around for half a day or so.  Of course I was delighted to do so.   In the 1970s, I ended up living in a flat at Bishop’s House, 1 Lower Albert Road. By then Bishop Hall had retired to England and my neighbour was Bishop Baker, a delightful man with an American wife, with whom I soon became friendly.  On my last visit to England a few years ago, I visited his secretary now retired in London.

I’m sure most people reading this will appreciate my saying that there is no place like Hong Kong.  I came for two years and, as mentioned earlier, next year will be fifty.  The experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met have convinced me to spend the rest of my life here.

GCEGeoffrey has written a book called ‘Hong Kong Internment, 1942-1945: Life in the Japanese Civilian Camp at Stanley’ for details of this book and where to order, please visit our Libraries page.

 

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