One part of Hong Kong I have always been fascinated by is the mystery of the Kowloon Walled City. I had been intending to explore it for quite some time, so when the opportunity to be guided around the area by a Hong Kong historian (Jason Wordie) presented itself I jumped at the chance.
Starting at Lok Fu MTR we were shown the evolution of public high rise housing pioneered in Hong Kong before heading to Hau Wong Temple to learn about its relationship with the original Kowloon Walled City and Mandarin scholars. We got to see the last navigation marker for the old Kai Tak airport approach – a fading checkerboard painted onto the face of a cliff. As Jason, our historian pointed out, such a shame that no one has stepped up to preserve this part of Hong Kong, as the Kai Tak airport was infamous for its unique approach requirements.
From there we explored the beautiful park that has now replaced the once ambiguous and seedy shanty town that was the walled city (and one of the largest Heroin producing drug dens in the world) in the 1980′s. We stopped at various locations to give us a fascinating history into the evolution and change that occured in the walled city and what it would have been like in times past.
The Kowloon Walled City was a part of China – a mere city block – wholly contained within Hong Kong. It has a history of law – starting out as a fort dating back centuries. The city evolved into a squatter settlement in the late 1800’s and went downhill from there becoming notorious for crime, drugs and prostitution – a city of lawlessness.
The Kowloon Walled City Park exists as part of an agreement that no financial gain by either Hong Kong or China be made on this piece of land. The park itself is a beautiful example of a well thought out chinese influenced garden. I found it to be quite a relaxing location far removed from the dirty makeshift high rises that once harbored murderers, drug dealers and prostitutes. It is now a sanctuary surrounded by the hustle and bustle of modern Kowloon.
One of the only parts of the original walled city to be preserved was the yamen (magistracy compound) fortunate enough to survive all incarnations of the walled city as it was never built over, respected as a legacy to China even by the criminals and thugs. Other interesting artifacts such as cannons and the south gate stones were also on display here. Sadly all the original walls were removed using prisoner of war labour during the World War 2 Japanese occupation of Hong Kong to be used for reclamation to expand Kai Tak airport.
The walk ended at Sung Wong Toi – one of the most important chinese artifacts in Hong Kong. It too had a fascinating history as to how it ended up where it now stands – somewhat neglected, its significance buried in the past. It was once atop a great boulder overlooking the old Kai Tak Airport but was a casualty of war as the boulder was quarried to reclaim land. All that remains is this block, placed at the end of the old runway, stained by the jet fuel of planes that once buzzed overhead every two minutes. The old airport is now closed and this artifact forgotten. such a shame.
If you ever get the chance, go and explore the area of the old Kowloon Walled City. With or without a historian it is an amazing insight into Hong Kong both past and present and well worth the trek to the ‘dark side’.