In 1888, the same year when Peak Tram began operating up the slope of Victoria Peak, “Kowloon Ferry Company” was also established for managing the first regular steamboat services between Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island. Soon, the company expanded to a fleet of four ferries, and was renamed to “Star Ferry Co Ltd” (天星小輪), the name that is still in use today. Named by National Geographic Traveler as one of the “50 Places of a Lifetime” and topping the list of “Top Ten Most Exciting Ferry Rides” by the Society of American Travel Writers, it is no doubt that Hong Kong’s Star Ferry has been on the radar of international travelers for quite some time. For about HK$4 (US$ 0.50), anyone can enjoy a moment of peace crossing Victoria Harbour. In the past century, as a series of land reclamations have shortened the distance between Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island, piers in Central and Wanchai have been moved numerous times, and ferry rides across the Harbour have become shorter. No matter how short the ride has become, the star ferry experience still offers some of the most rewarding views of Hong Kong’s skyline. To have a moment of relaxation, we always prefer taking the ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side when time allows. The ride is particular lovely at sunset and night.
In 1888, Indian Parsee businessman Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala established Kowloon Ferry Company and operated the first regular ferry service between Hong Kong and Kowloon, taking bread, cargo and passengers with his steamboat Morning Star. In 1890, three more boats, Evening Star, Guiding Star and Rising Star joined the service. Upon retirement, Mithaiwala sold his ferries and company to another British-Indian businessman Sir Paul Chater’s (遮打), one of the first business mogul who was responsible and involved in establishing many large corporations in Hong Kong, including Hongkong Land (置地), Hongkong Electric (港燈), Dairy Farm (牛奶公司), Kowloon Wharf (九龍倉), etc. In the 20th century, the fleet of Star Ferry continued to grow as different generations of ferry piers were erected in Central, Wanchai and Tsim Sha Tsui. Today, the Star Ferry has eight boats in total, with an average age of 58 years old. Since the completion of Cross-Harbour Tunnel in 1972 and the Harbour crossing Mass Transit Railway (MTR) in February 1980, Star Ferry is no longer the main means of public transportation between Hong Kong and Kowloon. It does, however, carry a sense of history and collective memory of the bygone era. For both locals and tourists, the ferry also offers arguably the best way to enjoy the skyline of Hong Kong. Taking the MTR or driving through the Cross Harbour Tunnel, one can hardly notice the famous harbour.
In 2014, local film Dot 2 Dot (點對點) was screened in the Hong Kong International Film Festival. The film was often described as low key, low budget and slow paced love story to the city. Amos Wong’s film explores the history and identity of Hong Kong through the encounter of a graffiti artist and a Mandarin teacher. It begins with the Mandarin teacher, newly arrived from Mainland China, discovering mysterious graffiti composed of dots at every metro station in Hong Kong. She is able to decode the graffiti by connecting the dots into meaningful imagery related to the local history of the particular neighborhood. She then comes up with her own graffiti and engages the unknown graffiti artist in a battle of graffiti riddles. It turns out that the graffiti artist is actually one of her students, who himself is a professional designer returned to Hong Kong from Canada. The movie follows both characters to explore different neighborhoods, including the quest to check out the boundary stones of the former Victoria City (維多利亞城). At the end of the film, the teacher finally realizes the true identity of the graffiti artist after visiting the westernmost boundary stone in Kennedy Town (堅尼地城). The story ends with them enjoying the peaceful sunset together at Kennedy Town ‘s praya.
Considered the capital of the former British Colony, Victoria City at the northern shore of Hong Kong island was the city’s first urban settlement. Victoria City was defined by the four “wans” (四環) or districts: Sai Wan (西環), Sheung Wan (上環), Chung Wan (中環), and Ha Wan (下環) or present’s day Wanchai. In 1903, the government erected seven stones to mark the boundary of Victoria City. The city soon expanded beyond the boundary limits and the stones became obsolete. Measured 98cm in height, tapered at the top and marked with the inscription “City Boundary 1903”, these historical boundary stones are mostly forgotten, except for history buffs who occasionally check on these urban artifacts and share their photos on the Internet. Six out of seven boundary stones survive to the present day, except the one at Magazine Gap Road in the Mid-Levels that was negligently removed by retaining wall contractors in 2007. For the remaining six boundary stones, it is possible to visit them all in a 5-6 hour hike. The hike offers hikers an interesting opportunity to walk around the old city centre, from the waterfront of Kennedy Town, halfway up the Victoria Peak and down to the Happy Valley Racecourses to the east.
The fire dragon dance happened over three consecutive nights in the Tai Hang neighborhood. On the night of the Mid Autumn Festival, and the second night of Tai Hang Fire Dragon celebration, the performance would take place in both Tai Hang and Victoria Park, where the annual lantern festival was held. After the fire dragon performers left Tai Hang for Victoria Park, the residents and local business owners in Tai Hang continued their celebration by taking over the streets in small groups, doing barbecue, having a few rounds of beer, playing with glow sticks and lanterns, and mingling with neighbors and new acquaintances under the flickering candle light.
In the Victoria Park, visitors packed the football fields to attend the lantern festival, taking photos in front of the large lantern displays. At the other side of the park, families, children, couples and friends gathered in small groups on the grass field, having picnic, playing with lanterns, and marveling at this year’s super full moon (tradition of Mid Autumn Festival since ancient times).
Despite the fact that there were thousands of people celebrating together on the green field, there was a sense of tranquility in the dark embraced by the soft light from candles and colourful glow lights.
Every year during the Mid Autumn Festival, three consecutive nights of fire dragon dance illuminates the streets of Tai Hang, a residential neighborhood near the shopping and entertainment district of Causeway Bay. For 136 years, the fire dragon dance has been an annual local ritual since 1880, originating at a time when Tai Hang was a Hakka fishing village. Local legend has it that there was a year when Tai Hang was hit by typhoon and plague. In order to tackle the plague, a soothsayer suggested to organize the fire dragon dance for three nights during the Mid Autumn Festival. The villagers did what was told. After the dance, the plague miraculously receded. Since then, the fire dragon dance has continued year after year into modern days, and gradually evolved into a renowned event organized by the Tai Hang Residents’ Welfare Association, attracting spectators from all over the city.
The fire dragon dance is mainly performed on Wun Sha Street (the main street in Tai Hang), and paraded through a number of streets and lanes in the neighborhood, including Lily Street where the historical Lily Temple (Lin Fa Kung -蓮花宮) is located.
Going to a flower fair (花市) or new year fair (年宵) on the Lunar New Year’s Eve is a common tradition in Hong Kong. Among all flower fairs in the city, the one at Victoria Park 維園 in Causeway Bay is the biggest and busiest. Nowadays, all sorts of merchandises are being sold in the flower fair, from fresh flowers to traditional snacks, classic New Year’s gifts to trendy toys, and just about anything that may make one laugh. Never mind the crowd. The later it gets into the night the more fairgoers flock into the park. It’s the joyful atmosphere, the sense of participation and the feel of being jammed in the mass that draws friends, families and couples to visit the fair every year. It is the prelude of Spring holiday, and the biggest party in Hong Kong to welcome the lunar new year. Floral colour was the first thing that caught the eyes of fairgoers when entering the park. Peach blossom has always been the most iconic flower of the Chinese New Year. Other than peach, water narcissus, pussy willows, lilies, and orchids were among people’s favorites. New Year Fruits might look funny but its golden colour made it a delightful New Year’s decoration at home. Shoppers often compared prices and the qualities of flowers from one vendor to another. Traditional snacks and sweets attracted both tourists and local visitors. The fair get much busier as the clock edged closer to midnight. In recent years, the Lunar New Year’s Fair at Victoria Park has become a testing ground for young entrepreneurs and amateur designers, many of whom are students from universities or secondary schools. Stuff toy and cushions are common in the fair. Young vendors make their best effort to capture fairgoers’ attention. Popular slang in Cantonese inspired a whole lot of fair merchandises. Some vendors positioned themselves in the middle of the aisle to advertise their booths. To stand out among the vendors was not an easy task. Among all the new merchandise this year, the cola-like stuff toys with trendy slogans made the news by walking the thin ice of copyright infringement. Other than young vendors, many politicians and political parties also had booths set up in the fair. Some politicians made new year couplets as free gifts for supporters. Satirical merchandises targeting the chief executive of Hong Kong CY Leung could be found throughout the fair. Merchandise related to the Umbrella Movement (Occupy Central) reminded us the delicate political situation of Hong Kong in recent months. Other politically charged merchandise include the inflated fence (related to the protests of Umbrella Movement) and the thick toast (related to a recent conflict between the locals and visitors from Mainland China). Many merchandise reflected a considerable level of disapproval of the current government. Nonetheless, most fairgoers did put aside their political differences and anguish in order to enjoy a night of joy. The fair at Victoria Park lasted until dawn of the Lunar New Year’s Day.
June Fourth. A quarter of a century on, a solemn candlelight vigil is held at this very night in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park every year since 1989. Hong Kong and Macau are the only places in China where citizens can openly commemorate the June 4th Incident. This year, over 180,000 people participated in the event, the biggest crowd ever.
It was a night with fine weather. Songs were sung. Rallies were shouted. Tears were shed. Symbolic rituals were held. Age of participants ranging from under 10 to well over 80, a diverse crowd came together for the purpose of rectifying the June Fourth Incident and rallying for democracy and freedom. That evening, 180,000 candles flickered in the summer breeze, lit up the six football pitches of Victoria Park into a sea of light.
Before the event, pro-democratic rallies and banners lined up along the main routes leading to the entrance of Victoria Park in Causeway Bay.
A replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue was erected in the centre of the venue.
A democratic activist held up a 1989’s newspaper while speaking out to the audience.
The slogans “Rectify the June Fourth Incident” and “Fight till the End” were put up as the stage’s backdrop.
The crowd was peaceful and solemn throughout the night of commemoration.The last slide on the stage: “See you next year at Victoria Park”.
Departing crowd lined up to photograph the Goddess of Democracy statue.
The leaving crowd and pro-democratic groups packed the streets near Victoria Park.