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40th Anniversary, CUHK
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Victoria Peak - Literary Works

The Peak Environment
Gillingham, Paul (1983) At the Peak.
Hong Kong, Macmillan Publishers Ltd, pp. 17-28.

It was claimed at the time that reserving the Peak for Europeans had nothing to do with racial discrimination. The purpose of the reservation was "to provide a congestion-free area which would preserve the health of foreigners living in a hot and trying climate and which, in times of strike or internal disorder, would afford some protection". Michael Wright believes that the racial exclusiveness of the Peak arose out of a genuine fear of disease and the belief that, if Chinese were allowed to live there, they would start building Chinese-style tenement houses which, on the lower levels, were notoriously filthy.

The Peak's uncongested environment protected its denizens from the diseases which ravaged the coolie masses below. The Peak even became sufficiently mosquito-free by the late thirties to allow residents to dispense with that domestic article so essential to foreigners living in the Orient, the mosquito curtain. A great advantage of the Peak was that, in the days before air-conditioning, it was five or six degrees cooler than the lower levels at night. As people dressed more formally then, even on casual occasions, the cooler air in summer was welcome.

The benefit of losing a few degrees in the summer, however, was offset by the uncomfortable chilliness of the winter, when the barometer could plunge dramatically. Peak sites fortified themselves against the cold with roaring fires and stiffer drinks. The Hong Kong Telegraph reported in 1932, "A local taipan swears he's seen ice on the Peak. We've often heard this about cocktail time."

Coping with mildew was always a problem for Peak sites. Fur coats could be stored during the hot season in a refrigerated room on the top of the Dairy Farm building in Wyndham Street and in every Peak residence there was a large drying room with a coke stove in it, which kept the Peak fire station busy. Before flush toilets, all Peak residences had dry latrines or "thunderboxes", as the locals called them. Coolies came round every day to collect the night soil, which was loaded on to barges and dumped into the sea off Lantau, or sold off to a contractor who in turn sold it to farmers as fertilizer.


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