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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 9 (January 1, 1934)


Hongkong by night.

Hongkong by night.

The Peak of Hongkong by night is something that will never be erased from my memory. In some respects The Peak is very like Mt. Victoria, Wellington. Imagine a huge hill, green by daylight, dotted on every side by bungalows, all lighted up, looking like clusters of elfin lights twinkling and glowing in the dark; a little train blinking its way up the curving Peak railway, like a huge glowworm to the summit; at the foot of the hills, tiny bays and fishing villages, with every kind of water craft riding at anchor, and on the other side Kowloon (China proper).

The name Kowloon will be familiar to most people who have seen the play “Mr. Wu,” where the house and garden of a rich Chinese merchant are pictured. There actually is a family of the name of Wu living at Kowloon, and occupying just such a home. Possibly that is why the play was barred from production in China.

The size and importance of a residence in China is measured by the roofs, as the houses of even the richest Chinese—and great wealth is quite common in China-never have more than one story, on a raised foundation approached by a flight of steps. Although not perhaps comfortable from a European standpoint, the home of the wealthy Chinese is furnished in great taste and luxury—chairs and tables deeply incrusted with pearl inlay on ebony, or teakwood, massive screens of great beauty, walls hung with rich embroidered silks, etc. No matter how modern he may be, the rich Chinese, when at home, usually wears his native costume and dresses, as do his womenfolk, in rich gorgeous brocades.

The women of Hongkong generally wear a fairly short pleated skirt, usually of some dark coloured heavy silk; over this a short Mandarin-shaped coat, sometimes of brocade matching the skirt, sometimes in contrasting colour; more often the effect was one of complete harmony. With this were stockings, and a little black embroidered heelless slippers. The hair, anyway of the young and unmarried, was worn in a straight, heavy fringe, over the forehead, parted in the centre and hung down the back in a plait, or coiled over either ear. In these coils were worn jewelled pins and ornaments of kingfisher feathers, the intrinsic value varying according to wealth and position. The Chinese woman does not wear a heterogeneous mass of jewellery, as does the Indian or Malay woman.

The men of South China wear long trousers of dull black silk, over which is worn a short spiral puttee of white; over this soft heelless shoes. Short blue brocaded Mandarin-shaped coats complete the costume, except in the case of those wearing uniforms when the coat alone denotes the calling. In the case of servants, the coat is usually white, made somewhat like a ship's steward's jacket. The head dress of the men around Hongkong and Canton is a padded cap, the crown made in six sections of dull black satin, finished at the edge by a stiff three-inch band, going slightly higher than the crown, finished in the top centre by an indented button, the colour of which varies according to rank. The coolie class dress much the same all over China, large round pagoda-shaped hats of straw, coarse cotton coolie coats with short white cotton trousers finishing well above the knees, and feet usually bare, or incased in sandals of thickly woven straw.

Hongkong is, as is well known, a British possession, and its harbour is one of the busiest page 24 in the Orient, filled with shipping of every kind, from the bristling gunboats of the British Navy, British liners, large Japanese and American passenger ships, to native craft of every description, including unwieldy Chinese junks, shaped somewhat like an old-fashioned galleon, built high in the stern, with the captain's seat on top like a glorified armchair; red lateen sails and two enormous eyes painted on the prow. Hongkong is very intriguing, with its mingling of East and West.

The pagodas of Southern China are very interesting, the tall hexagonal structures, with their many roofs of blue or green tiles, sometimes rising to a considerable height, are quite unlike the pagodas of Burma, with their gilded roofs edged with tiny tinkling bells, and often jewels.

I had the thrilling experience of being in Kowloon when a typhoon was raging, and never shall I forget it—gale force 123 miles an hour—this was in August, 1929. It raged for two hours, from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. I have always been glad that I was able to count the experience amongst my many experiences in the Far East. My last memories of China are of native sounds rising up from sampans as the good ship “Tilawa” steamed out of the harbour—diamond-like stars studding the clear blue heavens, the lights of The Peak scintillating as though to out-do the stars, one by one springing into glowing life, while over beyond Kowloon—the grim hills guarding the long lonely road winding away to the heart of China—and on the wharf the lonely weeping little figure of my amah, faithful Ah Lo.