A tale of China

‘A fragrant harbour called Hong Kong’

The backside of the relative modern postcard tells: a typical Hong Kong street scene. Very characteristic indeed but despite it a historical view. Neither the buildings nor the signs but the tram and still equipped with a trailer.
Double deck tramcars; a phenomena in Southeast Asia and simply traced back to the British who ruled the place until it was returned to China in 1997 as a special administrative region. The first opium war in 1839-42 made it possible to create a colonial stronghold, starting with Hong Kong Island only but later extend to Kowloon and the New Territories.
The trams are still riding up and down the isle between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan though stripped till the frame and rebuild. Cars of the Hong Tramways Ltd. for long were a remarkable mode of transportation far before a system called Mass Transit Railway with underground and lines above came to existence (today a network of 211.6 km). The tram is there for the short distance; one, two or a few stops more in the dense build narrow space available near the water rim. The inland of the isle is mountainous; a funicular named: Peak Tram goes to the top. It’s not only the number of stops people want to travel so are the tramcars close behind each other, traffic conditions make it almost impossible to run on schedule. The exploitation is taken over by Veolia, from origin French company but lately a global player in public transportation services, the world is getting smaller by the day.

In the shadow of far-off days

Since 1898 the famous ferries of the Star line connect the central part of Hong Kong with Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon. Next to the jetty once the station (open in 1916) was situated and from 1921 with a clock tower as a famous landmark.
All trains were departing exact on time.
In 1975 the station closed and reopened as an integrated complex further down the water edge, only the tower survived and tries to keep the memory on the past alive. Every arrival remains a dream, a reverie frozen in time and never departing. In thoughts I am standing behind a closed unmistakable English style level crossing barrier. A locomotive full in steam has just left the yard with a row of robust coaches on its way to Guangzhou but with a lot of time in the portmanteau till every wanted destination in Europe of course by changing trains on certain stations. From Beijing to Moscow the window would be the same and so the landscape looking at especially during harsh wintertime’s. Snow as far as the eyes could see. A full week and if you were not rich enough to book a special first class compartment for you alone or with beloved one, the journey could have ended in a state of being bored. Unless you made a few stopovers and enjoyed the Russian way of life outside the train.
Between the two big wars this must have been the ultimate adventure. If one could travel in time this railway terminal would be the final destination to fulfil any desire, a presumed romantic way of movement confirmed by reality. A tarnished memory and even one I do not have only dreaming about. It’s the tower with here clock; a sharp contrast midst constructions without any clue that right on the spot once the place of departure for long journeys was situated.
Back to the tram for a while and again the terminus Shau Kei Wan with rail around a vivid square. One side accommodate a market on the other McDonald’s, an excellent spot for a panorama view from the first floor. Tramcars go gentle squeezing through the loop, behind glass it dies away like an old picture but no signs of wear and tear.

Kowloon; the old station with next to it the jetty of the Star ferry

The Clock Tower after the station was demolished.

The Kowloon Canton Railway at Tai Po Market station before te MTR was build. This building now accomodate a railway museum.


About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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