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40th Anniversary, CUHK
Flower talks
Victoria Peak - Literary Works

Hong Kong
Ingrams, Harold (1952) Hong Kong.
London, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, pp. 44-48.

Hong Kong is one of those places with a vantage point from which one can easily take in basic geographical facts. Eighteen hundred feet is, to be sure, not a very impressive height in itself, but, with its steep northern slope so close to the great city, the Peak towers impressively, indeed strikingly and majestically, over it. You can climb the Peak by car, but, thanks to a certain Mr. Findlay Smith who conceived the idea of a funicular railway, it is much more interesting to do so by the Peak Tram, which was opened in 1888. I had looked on the ride as a thing that must be 'done', but had been inclined to underrate it as one of those too-much-advertised attractions for tourists. The Peak tramway, however, is a real experience and Hong Kong is rightly proud of it. We had a holiday feeling as soon as we entered the charming little station up Garden Road, 100 feet above the sea. It is like a well-kept country station with an air of flowers and leisure about it, a sweet-stall, postcards, even a dress shop and a weighing machine. Yet the station is busy enough. Ordinarily the tram carries 4,000 passengers a day (in 1949 the total was over a million) and this year at the Cheung Yeung festival when people go up to the highest place to commemorate the dream of a woman, the tram ran 109 cars and carried 10,565 people in the day. It seems that everybody had laughed at the lady when she said she had dreamed the village was going to be destroyed, so she went off to the top of a hill alone and when she got back the village had been destroyed by floods. Reasonably, quietly, the tram starts on its ten-minute run up the mountain. On each side houses cling perilously to the steep slopes, and gardens display a glory of blooms and palms, of hibiscus and hydrangeas. In a very short time, by some strange illusion, the houses one passes appear to lean right away from the hillside and to be tumbling over. After the first three stations one is in the midst of a primeval jungle and the slow-moving open car seems unsafe, for one almost expects jungle animals to appear. This jungle is so impenetrable that it is ridiculous to think that a great city is only a few minutes away. Too few minutes bring you to Peak Station at 1,305 feet and you step out into a fresher world, anything up to ten degrees cooler than the city below. Five hundred feet above, with quite an easy paved way to its summit, stands Victoria Peak, and from it one can appreciate Hong Kong's geography. Here one is on the highest point of a range of conical hills running from east to west. At first, however, geography is far from one's thoughts, for the scenery is quite breathtaking in its beauty. On the side on which we have come up, the dense growth of forest creased with deep gullies gradually fades out and the streets and houses of the city are spread out in relief. Even the great Bank looks smaller than a rubble pile from here and no more important. Sharp cut along the waterfront is a sheet of smooth and deep blue glass on which ships look like tiny toys. Beyond the harbour, about a mile from the shore, parallel to and equal in height to the range on which we are, stand the nine peaks of Kowloon from which the peninsula takes its name—Nine Dragons. In the far distance are the blue and grey mountains of China. In between are the mountains of the New Territories. Seven miles to the north-west, a wisp of cloud clinging to the highest shows you are looking at Tai Mo Shan, Big Hat Mountain, 3,140 feet, the highest mountain in the Colony. The white hat of mist it generally wears about its crown gives it its name.

Down on the other, southern, side of the island beneath us is a very different scene. There are steep green gullies leading to the deeply-indented coastline where white foam laps at the beaches of rocky coves. They look like embroidery edging to the glossy sheet of blue, island-studded sea. In all the scene almost the only movement is the silent fluttering of those white foam crests far below. There is little sign of human life, the most conspicuous being the threads of winding roads laid over the green hillsides. As far as the eye can see there are islands which seem to float motionless m the sea. There is an ethereal quality in the scene.

You can see many of Hong Kong's 75 islands from this vantage point and one of them, Lantau, away to the west, is larger than Hong Kong Island. Roughly it has much the same shape and you can gain a very good idea of what Hong Kong was like in 1840 from looking at Lantau. This thought brings home a startling appreciation of the crowding of Hong Kong. The Colony's area is, as we have seen, 391 square miles. The actual estimate of the population in May 1950 was 2,360,000. That makes about 6,000 to the square mile. Compare this with New Zealand, which has 1,800,000 people with 104,000 square miles for them to move about in. Tiny Gibraltar has 15,000 people to each of its two square miles, far and away the densest population of any 'country' which Whitaker gives. But there are few areas other than Hong Kong which approach such figures. Yet here on the Peak one can see how much of this small island is without extensive signs of habitation and one could find many places in the New Territories with even fewer. The breakdown guesses at Hong Kong's population are never up to date, but let us take the latest recorded ones at the end of 1948 when the population was estimated at 1,800,000. The city of Victoria—the capital— and the Peak had about 887,400, and the villages of Hong Kong Island 70,100; Kowloon had a population of 699,500, and the New Territories 200,000. Included in these figures is the— literally—floating population estimated at 114,400. From this it will be seen that the vast majority of the people are crowded into Hong Kong and Kowloon cities-—no more than ten square miles. There are areas in those cities with over 2,000 to the acre. My own house and garden at home cover one acre and I try to imagine what it would look like if 2,000 Chinese came to tea! It is easy to see from the Peak that you could not walk ten miles in any direction on the island without coming to the sea. It is said to be eleven miles long at its greatest length and five miles wide at its greatest width, but everywhere except on its northern coast it is deeply indented and there are therefore a number of splendid natural harbours such as Aberdeen. That fascinating fishing port is only indirectly connected with Aberdeen in Scotland. It was not some homesick Scot wlio so christened it: it was named after Lord Aberdeen who was Foreign Secretary from 1841 to 1850. In the same way Stanley, the first British settlement on the island and perhaps now more famous as the site of the prison and internment camp where so many Britons suffered during the Japanese occupation, was called after his colleague Lord Stanley (afterwards Earl of Derby), Secretary of State for the Colonies. It was the fashion of the time to call the towns of new colonies after the statesmen of the day and the Empire is sprinkled with many names which would otherwise be forgotten. Governors and other local worthies had generally to be content with streets. Encircling the Peak runs a beautiful road, Lugard Road, named after perhaps the most enlightened of all colonial governors. Lugard's name is so bound up with Africa, and especially with Nigeria and with Indirect Rule, that one is apt to forget he was once Governor of this Colony. Hong Kong commemorates officially many other names connected with its past. In some colonies these names stick, often with curious pronunciations, and there are many instances of this in Hong Kong. On the whole, however, the Chinese go their own way, using their own names, and Aberdeen is, for instance, known to them as Hong Kong Tsai or Little Hong Kong. Aberdeen is, indeed, the site of the original Hong Kong. The first British sailors who used it as a watering place called it Waterfall Bay, a name now given to another place. About a mile from where the rocky stream discharges into Aberdeen harbour was the village of' Heung Kong Wai, which being interpreted means 'the Walled Village of the Fragrant Lagoon'. It is easy to see how it happened. The sailors learnt this name, pronounced it Hong Kong and applied it to the whole island. When the present capital was built it was named Victoria and officially still is Victoria, but the city being in effect Hong Kong the Colony, almost everyone, British and Chinese, calls it Hong Kong. Its present bounds extend far beyond the official bounds of Victoria. Indeed the whole length of the island seafront from Shau Ki Wan in the east to Kennedy Town and beyond in the west is, since the war, almost a continuous built-up area. Thus the name Hong Kong serves, as in the case of Zanzibar, for city, island and the whole territory, and it is only by the context one learns which is referred to.

With all these reveries up in the heights, evening is coming on and one feels a chill. It is time to descend again to the heat of the city. The difference between the Peak and the city is as that between ice-cream and pea-soup. As a matter of fact it never got unbearably hot during March, April and early May when we were in Hong Kong. Thanks to the monsoons Hong Kong has a sub-tropical climate. With the north-east monsoon it has a cool winter, but when the south-west monsoon blows, from May to August, it brings warm, damp winds from the Equator. June to October is the season of typhoons, which can be very violent and have done enormous damage. Temperatures range from 40°F. to 95 °F. and humidity in spring and summer exceeds 95 per cent. People who live on the Peak have to have drying-cupboards, for they live in the clouds at this time. The summer is also the rainy season and three- quarters of Hong Kong's rain (mean annual rainfall 84.26 inches) falls between May and September. Tonight, however, it is clear and fine, and on going down we are struck by the loveliness of the jewelled lights set here and there on the dark mountain side. Below, Hong Kong is as lit up as a fairground, but the variety of coloured lights in the city and in Kowloon beyond make me think not only of jewels but of fireworks, and it would hardly be possible to make more of a show for a coronation or a peace celebration. The harbour too is sprinkled with lights stationary and lights moving. Looking back to the dim form of the Peak from the city, the lights of Lugard Road look like a crown about its brow.


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