Family Lines

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Tag: Hong Kong

It’s time

Ripped and torn burgundy plastic wallet.

What is this?

What is this ratty, ripped and torn burgundy thing? It’s my wallet. Well, the wallet where I keep my credit and debit cards. The writing on the front and back of the plastic folio has faded and the pockets inside are split open. I’ve tried taping the sides together but it’s no use. It’s time to let it go.

I’ve had the wallet for almost 20 years. I use it almost daily and every time I use it, I remember where I got it: South Korea. I was there teaching English in the late 90s. I was living in Taejon (spelled Daejong now), and I did my banking in the same building as the school. Very convenient!

Kookmin Bank card. Typically, I only used the ATM in the lobby of the Kookmin Bank but one day I had to ask a question at a teller’s desk. I walked in and a man in a suit waved me over to him.

“You run!” he said to me. “I see you. You run.”

I did run. I loved jogging the streets of Taejon and going up the River, lake, stream written in Korean. steep, narrow hills or down to the wide level pathways near the river. I always ran by myself and it was time to review my day or think about what to do later. I never knew someone was coming along with me.

“Yes, I run,” I said to man.

He picked something up from his desk and handed it to me with both hands.

“For you.”

It was a burgundy shiny plastic folio with the Kookmin’s logo displayed on the front. It was the same on the back. It was both functional and nice and the present made me smile. It was an act of kindness that was unexpected and appreciated.

Kamsamnida,” I said, thanking the man.

Since that day, I’ve almost never been without my wallet. Since that day, whenever I reach for it, I think of Taejon. No matter what. Nevertheless, my wallet is more of a sieve now. (Insert bank account joke here.) Nothing stays in its pockets and anyway, I bought a new one in Hong Kong in the spring. It’s time to say to “annyeong” to the old wallet. Even though it will no longer hold my cards, I’ll hold my memories.

Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence

Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence. The site is a former fort named Lei Yue Mun.

The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence is fascinating. Despite what the British said when they arrived in Hong Kong many years ago, the island is not just a pile of uninhabited rocks. There’s a lot of history here. Hong Kong has been settled for 30,000 years and ruled by many dynasties and fought over many times.

One of the harbour views from the Museum of Coastal Defence.

One of the harbour views from the Museum of Coastal Defence.

A former fort (Lei Yue Mun), the Museum of Coastal Defence is perched high up a hill. From the top, there’s a great view of Victoria Harbour. (We took an elevator to the top, we didn’t walk.) Lei Yue Mun used to refer to a narrow harbour channel.

64-pounder RML (Rifle, Muzzle Loading) gun.

64-pounder RML (Rifle, Muzzle Loading) gun.

Walking off the elevator and onto a paved path, the first thing we came across was a 64-pounder RML (Rifle, Muzzle Loading) gun. It’s a piece of British artillery and fired a 64-pound projectile. It was first put into service in the British Colonies in 1864.

Rammer, worm and sponge.

Rammer, worm and sponge.

We stopped in the Central Battery: Underground Magazine on our way towards the museum building. Ammunition for a 64-pounder RML gun was stored in here. Now the display is the rammer, worm and sponge used to fire the gun. The rammer pushed a cloth cartridge and shell down the barrel. The worm removed debris after the gun was fired and the sponge extinguished any smouldering pieces of cloth so the gun was ready to be reloaded.

25–Pounder Mark II Field gun.

25–Pounder Mark II Field gun.

25–Pounder Mark II Field gun: one of the most famous pieces of Second World War artillery. The gun was used in mid-1940s. The gun and its ammunition trailer could be hooked to a vehicle and moved easily.

Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence storyboards.

Once in the museum, there are exhibit rooms of various periods. In each gallery, the history of the battles that went on during that time is told via artifacts, drawings, photos, video and storyboards.

inside of Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

inside of Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

As a coastal city, Hong Kong has had its share of fights: from the Ming Dynasty, through the First and Second Opium Wars, to the Battle of Hong Kong during the Second World War. Lei Yue Mun Fort was built by the British in 1887 and became an important battlefield in 1941.

Gold brocade Qing armour.

Gold brocade Qing armour

Gold brocade Qing armour. The armour was made with gold thread, layers of cotton padding  and gilded studs. Qing Dynasty was in place from 1644–1842.

Bow but I forgot to take the photo of the arrow.

Bow but I forgot to take the photo of the arrow.

Early rifle.

Early rifle.

Another view of Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

Another view of Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

Opium Wars

Britain wanted China’s tea, silk and porcelain in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries. China wasn’t interested in trading with Britain because it had nothing China wanted. But opium was a form of payment that the two decided would work. (China used it medicinally for stress then.) So opium was brought to Hong Kong from India (British-occupied Bengal) by the Brits for exchange. However, there became a surplus of opium and it became a problem. In 1821, the Qing government banned it and started the First Opium War between the Qing Dynasty and the British.

The Treaty of Nanjing ended the First Opium War. The treaty leaned heavily in favour of the British and China ceded Hong Kong. Britain later asked for China to renegotiate the treaty, legalizing the opium trade (among other things). That started some conflict.

The Chinese government seized a ship (The Arrow) flying the British flag and took it down. This happened near Canton on the mainland. That caused a lot of trouble and the U.S. got involved. Around the same time, France teamed up with Britain and together they attacked Canton (now Guangzhou) on the mainland. Russia joined the conflict as a British ally in the Second Opium War from 1856 to 1860.  Part of the Convention of Beijing ending the conflict included a perpetual lease over the Kowloon Peninsula for Britain.

Seized opium records.

Seized opium records.

Memorial records tallying how much opium was destroyed in 1839 by Commissioner Lin Zexu – about 1.2 million kilograms. Lin wrote Queen Victoria asking her to stop the opium trade. His message never reached her but it was published in the Times of London.

Opium trade wares:

Opium trade wares: 1. Pipe, 2. porcelain dispensers, 4. a ladle used in the preparation of opium.(Number 2 is a lamp.)

Kowloon Walled City.

Kowloon Walled City was demolished in the 1990s and now is a park. The Walled City started out as a salt outpost in the Song Dynasty (960–1279). Then it became part of fortifications against the British in 1847, followed by being handed over to the Brits in 1912 and then occupied by the Imperial Japanese forces in the Second World War. The Japanese army took parts of the wall down. After Japan left, the city became a haven for drugs and crime up until 1994.


Life of a British solider in the late 19th century. He shares a room with 30 men, hasn’t been home for years and it’s freaking hot and humid. He has to make his bed every day.

The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence was once the site of Lei Yue Mun, a fort.

The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence was once the site of Lei Yue Mun, a fort.

December 8-25, 1941 Battle for Hong Kong. Lei Yue Mun is the site of fierce fighting involving British Hong Kong troops as well as Canadian, British and Indian units against the Japanese Imperial Army. Japan was the aggressor and attacked Hong Kong without declaring war against the British Empire. Fighting took part all over Hong Kong, including Wong Nai Chung Gap

Captain Howard Bush, Winnipeg Grenadiers, quoted in Brereton Greenhous’ “C” Force to Hong Kong: A Canadian Catastrophe (1997), published by Dundurn Press – “The position was being fired upon from all sides. It might be compared with the lower part of a bowl, the enemy looking down and occupying the rim. The main road running through the position was cluttered for hundreds of feet each way with abandoned trucks and cars. The Japanese were using mortars and hand grenades quite heavily.”

Japan Imperial Army uniform.

Japan Imperial Army uniform.

The Imperial Japanese army struck on December 8, 1941 a few hours before the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. Japan started in Hong Kong with the shelling Kai Tak Airfield, razing it.

Japan Imperial Army uniform.

Japan Imperial Army uniform.

After 18 days of intense fighting, the order came from Britain to surrender. On the afternoon of Christmas Day 1941, Hong Kong surrendered to Japan.

From the memoirs of Tsui. Soon after the battle finished, Tsui would join the British Army Aid Group, smuggling supplies, information and personnel between occupied Hong Kong and Free China – “On Christmas Eve, I went to the Cathedral for midnight Mass. It was well attended. After Mass, I returned to my sister’s house at Mosque Street. Soon thereafter, rumours came our way through the bamboo wireless to the effect that the then Governor, Sir Mark Young, was about to broadcast a Surrender. I did not believe it at first, and I was not sure whether it was true or false. We noticed that the artillery bombardment seemed to have thinned down if not actually stopped. We went to bed quite peacefully that night. When we woke up early next morning, we heard a lot of noise. It was the noise of people. Yes hundreds of people […] looted the houses of the rich and the famous up at the Peak area or in the Upper Levels of May Road, or Conduit Road and above.”

Click here for more stories of people who lived through the surrender of Hong Kong to the Imperial Japanese army.

Japanese military officers at the Kowloon Docks Headquarters in 1942.

Japanese military officers at the Kowloon Docks Headquarters in 1942.

Japanese military officers at the Kowloon Docks Headquarters in 1942. Around 1,975 Canadian troops were sent to Hong Kong to help defend it. Their efforts were valiant but they surrendered to the Japanese Imperial Army. Seizing Hong Kong was the first major World War Two victory for Japan.

Prisoners of War (POWs).

Prisoners of War (POWs)

Prisoners of War (POWs)

Two Canadian battalions, the Royal Rifles and Winnipeg Grenadiers, were among the soldiers taken prisoner by the Japanese Imperial Army. Japan never ratified the 1929 Geneva Convention. The Convention laid out guidelines for POW treatment. Hong Kong POWs “lived” in horrendous conditions and were treated terribly.

Sketch of the Stanley Internment Camp.

Sketch of the Stanley Internment Camp by J. E. Richardson. Japan apologized to Canadian Veterans in 2011. However, some didn’t accept it.

POW notebook.

POW notebook. Around 9,000 POW were interned in camps around Hong Kong.

A letter from Jaroslav Krofta to a loved one.

A letter from Jaroslav Krofta to a loved one, 1944. He tells her he doesn’t need any clothing and glad to hear she’s ok.

Take care, you are the only one I have.

Sources: and


The pulse of Hong Kong

View of Hong Kong from Mid Levels.

View of Hong Kong from Mid Levels.

“Can you get to Vancouver on Friday?” texted my friend late Wednesday night. “I can get you to from Hong Kong from there.”



“Sure!” I said, from Calgary. One perk of being self-employed is that I can work from anywhere, any time, 70 per cent of the time.

Two days later, on Friday April 28, I started the voyage west, waaaay west. I landed Saturday night and was immediately whisked away by my long-time friend Digger and her husband, VC, to an 80s dance party. It was a lot of fun grooving to the tunes of my youth. (Am I old?) The action didn’t stop there. I was constantly on the move seeing the Hong Kong sights and eating the Hong Kong delights.

Hong Kong was incredibly different from what I had imagined it to be. I thought it would be one massive city with tall buildings everywhere, traffic honking all the time and people crowding the streets. However, it is not like that.

The city pulses and breathes along with the waves surrounding it. It’s a city of energy and is always awake. There’s a lot of steel and skyline made up of many skyscrapers that are surrounded by lush green hills. There are hiking trails and beaches and quiet spots right in the city. The weather was fantastic and a little bit humid and a little bit hot: not super moist and suffocating. My friends took me to Repulse Bay and I swam in the China Sea. The next day, we hiked the MacLehose Trail, a trail that crosses the New Territories, and played Frisbee on Tai Long Wan beach. I swam here too and kicked something large and soft under the water.

“There have been shark attacks here,” said VC and we quickly kicked to shore.

After an afternoon of surf and sun, we took a boat back to where we had left the car. I think bull riders at the Stampede get gentler rides. Let’s just say the ups were up and the downs were very hard downs. Nevertheless, it was a good way to get the sand off your towel and get a facial scrub at the same time.

From boats to buses, I took the #15 to Victoria Peak almost every day. The peak is an incredible look off over of the city and harbour from the top of Mount Austin – if the fog, humidity and smog don’t drift over the view out of the view. Before vehicles wound their way up the steep road, residents who lived at the top used sedan chairs – chairs that had poles on each side that people used to lift and carry up hill. That would be one tough hike for the porters.

Besides the bus, you can also take your own car or a taxi or the train. When you arrive at the peak, there are two malls and many places to eat and get out of the heat. I didn’t mind the warm temperatures (around 27 C) and humidity after surviving a cold and dry Calgary winter. 

The summit is great for getting the blood pumping to the legs after a long flight (although the dancing from the night before was good for that too.) The walk I did was mainly Harlech Road, a paved and flat loop that goes around the peak. Early in the morning, the path is used by runners and dogs and their walkers. Later in the morning, the path is full of tourists. (I was one of them on my first day.) The loop is about 3.5 km and took me an hour to complete.

One day, I went off the beaten path … and into the path of a wild boar. Some seniors warned me about the big pig and while I didn’t see it, I could hear it crashing through the forest. Another time, I took Plantation Road and saw some amazing houses. The peak is known for being at the top of the luxury real estate market. 

Hong Kong is renowned for its food and I sampled a lot, thanks to Digger and VC. We went to hotspots like Little Bao (bao is a steamed bun) and Ho Lee Fook (which means “good fortune for your mouth”). Both places had fresh and interesting cuisine that I had never tasted before. From Fish Tempura (fish in a bao) and Prawn Toast and Okonomiyaki – it was all spectacular. 

For a more traditional experience, we went for dim sum at Maxims. It was my first time for dim sum and it was amazing.

Maxims is in city hall and constantly full on Sundays, when we decided to go for brunch. But there’s an app that lets you get a number and wait at home instead of waiting in line. But I’ll wait in line all day for Maxims now that I know what dim sum takes like. Why haven’t I had dim sum before? I don’t know. It’s just nothing I’ve ever thought about.

Servers walk around with trolley full of mouth-watering treats. Some servers are nicer than others but the glares are part of the charm. There are hundreds of dishes to choose from and we only had about nine of them. It was filling and delicious.

Next week I’ll tell you my shopping stories. Oh goodies.

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