Hong Kong proper is an island, an island with a superb harbour, seized by the British in 1842, as a base for their trade with China. The nearest point on the mainland opposite is a peninsula known as Kowloon, which again the British seized in 1860. Since then, Hong Kong and Kowloon have been to a large extent a single entity, Hong Kong being the main commercial centre, and Kowloon the main shopping centre
We went over to Kowloon the traditional way, by the Star Ferry from Central Pier.
At first sight — and I think we were deceived right to the end of our visit - Central Pier appears to be the original building dating back to the beginnings of Star ferries in the late 19th century. In fact it is new: it opened in 2006. It is said that the distance between Hong Kong and Kowloon has diminished by at least 1km due to land reclamation on both sides, and a major new reclamation project is still in progress, and it is now a long walk from the central area down to the ferry terminals.
However the terminal buildings on both sides have been built in a traditional style to deceive tourists like us. In fact the ferries have lost most of their rationale as there are both a road tunnel and the tunnels on the underground metro railway which most Hong Kongers use, and it is only tourists like us who use the ferry.
One of the first monuments that one sees in Kowloon is the clock tower which is all that remains of the former Kowloon railway station which was the end of the line for the Trans-Siberian railway. The railway station has been swept away, much of it by the new Cultural Centre, the windowless building seen on the left
The major new conservation project is the rebuilding of the former Marine Police headquarters. This was built in 1881 for the Marine Police and it has a fine view of the harbour where the Marine police could sit on the balconies and see all the shipping that came into or out of the harbour.
In true Hong Kong style, it has been done up by private enterprise and is now a hotel with just 10 rooms (or rather ‘individually hand-crafted suites) and five restaurants (or rather ‘dining and entertainments venues’). It is known as 1881 Heritage and there is a very elaborate shopping centre in the front
But if you build a new shopping centre in front of a grand Victorian building, what you put at the centre of the plaza in front?
Well, part of the answer is this splendidly restored coach
But the coach is not enough. Beside it there are two rather splendid bunnies made out of greenery — I didn’t investigate carefully to see whether the greenery was plastic or not. But they looked – well I can’t really say they looked splendid, but I couldn’t help being fascinated by all the effort that has been put into making a conservation spectacular into a commercial success
The crucial centre of marine activity however was this signal station, below. Every day the ball was hoisted to the top of the pole, and at one o’clock precisely it was dropped, so that all the ships in the harbour would see it and set their chronometers by it. There had previously been a gun, but sound travels too slowly to enable the chronometers to be set accurately.
Note behind it the dreadful new Cultural Centre, huge and windowless, even though it has the prime position with superb views over the harbour and Hong Kong itself
And here is Nathan Road, the main road leading from the harbour, and the principal shopping centre – said to be the glitziest shopping centre in the world. It was laid out by the Governor, Sir Matthew Nathan in 1904, and was long known as Nathan’s Folly because it was so little used, but now Nathan has the last laugh.
And finally we returned to the Hong Kong Island. In the foreground below is one of the gaily coloured ferries, and on Hong Kong island one can see the second highest skyscraper in Hong Kong, the International Finance Centre tower number two. In the background is the Peak, the famous mountain at the centre of Hong Kong Island
This is the end of my account of Kowloon. Our next stop was Australia.