ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “military

FAIR WINDS AND FOLLOWING SEAS: Goodbye Fenwick Pier (分域碼頭), Wan Chai (灣仔), Hong Kong

Earlier version of Fenwick Pier and the Servicemen’s Guides Association at the waterfront of Gloucester Road, with the Royal Navy Dockyard in Admiralty at the back. [Photographed in 1962, wikimedia commons, public domain]

On 2 February 2022, we had our final visit to Gia Trattoria Italiana, an Italian restaurant at Fenwick Pier in Wan Chai. Two months have passed, and we have already missed their Bistecca alla Fiorentina, lobster pasta, and all the delightful moments we spent at the restaurant. A few days after our February visit, the restaurant was closed for good, as the government decided to terminate the lease of Fenwick Pier. The pier was set for demolition and the site would be redeveloped into a fire-station. A little out of the way from the closest MTR station, the 4-storey pier building looked a little worn out, with paint peeling off here and there. Occupying a small piece of land less than 150m inland from the new Wan Chai Harbourfront, the utilitarian box structure probably wouldn’t be missed if it was just an ordinary building. But Fenwick Pier was no ordinary building. For two months before returning the closing the pier, people flocked to Fenwick Pier to photograph and bid farewell to this remnant from the colonial times. The nostalgic visitors even formed a queue outside the gate in the midst of pandemic. For the latter half of 20th Century, Hong Kong was the first port of call in Asia for many American seamen and navy personnel, while Fenwick Pier served like the arrival gateway in the city. The pier fulfilled its duty till the very end, offering foreign sailors and seamen free guidebooks, free local sim cards, transportation shuttles, tourist information, shops and services such as tailoring, hairdressing, souvenirs, etc. Local Hongkongers could also join the pier membership right at the door, so that they could enjoy the facilities in the complex. Fenwick Pier offered locals a “taste of America” from fast food to fine dining, and foreign seamen a place where they could enjoy products and services that defined the concept of East meets West.

While 2022 marks the end for Fenwick Pier, and its NGO operator, the Servicemen’s Guides Association (SGA – 香港軍人輔導會), the story began in 1953 with a humble information desk on the sidewalk next to Fenwick Street to serve the arriving American military sailors during the Korean War. Later on, the SGA was granted by the colonial government a small piece of land to establish the Fenwick Pier. The pier was moved and rebuilt a few times due to typhoon damages and land reclamation, until 1970 when the current building was erected. In 1994, Fleet Arcade (海軍商場), the 4-storey shopping centre, was founded serving mainly visiting sailors. As incoming vessels have significantly declined since 1997 and the pier became landlocked in 2016 due to land reclamation, the final demise for the pier was almost certain. At its peak, the pier received almost 100 vessels with 97,000 visitors a year. Wan Chai, the area where Fenwick Pier stood, was the official hub for all foreign sailors. Restaurants, bars, strip clubs and all sort of entertainment businesses flourished in Wan Chai, during the golden age of Fenwick Pier. After receiving 1.26 million sailors in 69 years, Fenwick Pier was finally sealed off by the government, and officially became an important piece of history for Hong Kong.

Nothing fancy about the decor of Gia Trattoria Italiana, but the decent food and harbour views made the restaurant our favorite Italian restaurant in the city. [2022]
With buffet appetizer an dessert, the restaurant was a popular place for weekend brunch. [2022]
Cheese is always important for any Italian restaurant. [2022]
The once open harbour views have been lost due to recent reclamation. [2022]
The tasty Bistecca alla Fiorentina was perfect for sharing. [2021]

***

Fenwick Pier just before permanently closing for demolition. [2022]
Windows of Gia Trattoria Italiana and the main signage of the pier. [2021]
Entrance gate of Fenwick Pier across the street from Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. [2021]
The tree at the forecourt has grown to as tall as the building itself. [2021]
Towering behind the complex, the International Financial Centre (IFC) reminded visitors how close Fenwick Pier actually was from the central business district. [2021]
The exterior facades of Fenwick Pier looked a little worn out from the corrosive marine air. [2022]
The lobby of Fenwick Pier was rather low key. [2021]
With the decorations from 1990’s, stepping in the Fenwick Pier was like stepping back in time. [2021]
Despite vessels were no longer coming, colours of the interiors reminded visitors the marine identity of the complex. [2021]
The sailor wall art was one of the most eye-catching thing in the lobby of Fenwick Pier. [2021]
The entire building of Fenwick Pier was filled with a causal ambience, like a North American school building. [2021]
Many visitors loved to take selfies at the old rickshaw and the former Mac Donald’s seating from 1990’s. [2021]
Coat of arms plaques of marine related organisations lined up on walls and columns on the ground floor of Fenwick Pier. [2021]
As numbers of foreign sailors declined in recent years, the heyday of the Fleet Arcade felt like a distant past. [2022]
Bespoke tailoring was one of the most popular services at Fleet Arcade in the good old days. [2022]
11 February 2022 was the official last day for Fenwick Pier before being closed off by the government. [2021]

WINDING ARCHITECTURE & DESOLATE RUINS, Mount Davis (摩星嶺), Hong Kong

A day after the attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, Regimental Sergeant Major Enos Charles Ford at Hong Kong’s Fort Davis was woken up by the Japanese raid of Kai Tak across the harbour at 08:00, 8th of December 1941. Ford and his fellow gunners returned fire but the Japanese aircraft were out of range. The raid of Kai Tak officially pulled the curtain for the short but intense Battle of Hong Kong. At 269m tall, Mount Davis at the westernmost point of Hong Kong Island had been a major defensive facility for the city since the 1910’s. Five guns were mounted at different locations on the mount, and two were later relocated to Stanley. Jubilee Battery near the shore was later added to guard the coast below. During WWII, a force of about 50 gunners was stationed at the fort. Thanks to the diary of Regimental Sergeant Major Enos Charles Ford, a brief account of what had happened at one of the most bombarded spot in Hong Kong during WWII survived to the present. From 8th of December to the 24th, Fort Davis engaged in fierce battles with the Japanese and was under intense bombardment by both warships and aircraft. The gunners fought hard from the fort until Christmas Eve, when they were sent to Wanchai to fight as infantry in the last desperate attempt to fend off the enemy. The colony of Hong Kong surrendered on the Christmas Day of 1941, and the damaged Fort Davis fell in the Japanese hands two days later. After the war, the fort was used for a variety of military purposes until 1970’s, when the site was abandoned and gradually crumbled into ruins. Ever since, the ruins have become a hot spot for war games and ghost tours, certainly not a place for the faint hearted.

Below Mount Davis, the Jubilee Battery complex was converted into Victoria Detention Centre in 1961, before emptying out after the Chinese takeover in 1997. The abandoned Jubilee Battery was finally offered a second life in 2013, when University of Chicago becomes the new occupier of the site. The revitalization plan was met with a poetic response by the late Canadian architect Bing Thom (now Revery Architecture): a winding architecture perched over the hillside of Jubilee Battery overlooking Sulphur Channel and the western approach of the Victoria Harbour. Named as Francis and Rose Yuen Campus of the University of Chicago, the sleek architecture curves around a 75 year old flame tree, and floats above ground on slim pillars to minimize impact on the delicate coastal landscape and the heritage structures. Since inception in 2018, the Yuen Campus has become a popular place for watching the sunset. Its heritage interpretation centre offers visitors insights of the history of Mount Davis, and military history of the former colony.

Overlooking the Sulphur Channel, the ruined Jubilee Battery forms part of the interpretative court of the University of Chicago Yuen Campus. [2022]
Storage for artillery cartridges below the former gun platform at the Jubilee Battery. [2022]
Beyond the ruined battery structure stands the glassy campus building. The curving profile of the new architecture echoes with the historical structure. [2022]
The futuristic structure is raised over the former detention buildings nicknamed the “White House”. The historical buildings have been revitalized to house educational spaces and an interpretation centre (closed due to the pandemic). [2022]
The site of the campus is open to the public throughout the day. Referred to as the “Tree of Knowledge”, the 75-year old flame tree prominently stands on a raised platform (far left in photo), serving as a pivotal point for the building’s bending configuration. [2022]
A prominent stair bends at an opposite angle to the main building, creating an eye-catching feature at the outdoor court. [2022]
Circular benches work well with the curvilinear architecture. [2022]
Etched with the school logo, the centre of the drop-off appears seems to be the setting out point of the winding structure. [2022]

***

After checking out the Yuen Campus, it is worthwhile to do a short hike to check out the military ruins on Mount Davis behind the school.

The artillery batteries on Mount Davis was first constructed in 1911. Fort Davis was one of the most bombarded site by the Japanese during WWII. [F2 Gun at Mount Davis, taken probably in the mid 1930’s, Public Domain]
The artillery batteries on Mount Davis were damaged and decommissioned by the guarding force before Hong Kong surrendered to the Japanese on the Christmas Day of 1941. From then on, the structures gradually fell into ruins. [2022]
Incense offering at the ruins is perhaps a good reminder to causal hikers that precious lives have been lost 80 years ago on the mount for defending the city. [2022]
In the midst of dense vegetation, a deep trench leads to the former signal station. [2022]
Abandoned battery buildings can be found at various locations on Mount Davis. [2022]
With little regulations to protect the heritage structures, the ruined fort has become a popular place for war games. [2022].
The ruin’s desolate conditions and bloody history have inspired numerous urban myths and ghost stories. [2022]
Ghost stories of Fort Davis have cast a sense of mystery to the site. [2022]
Despite the ruined conditions, the battery structures on Mount Davis deserve high respect from every visitors for the history and memories of the war. [2022]

***

Descending Mount Davis at the right moment brought us back to the Yuen Campus just before sunset. [2022]
Facing west to the sea, the court of the Yuen Campus is an ideal place to watch sunset.
Many would just come to the campus for the sunset. [2022]
The glassy facade of the Yuen Campus reflects the distant Lamma Island to the southwest, while a cruise ship (probably empty) lingers in the Sulphur Channel during the pandemic. [2022]
Built in 2004 on the former battery platform, the Sunset Pavilion (日落觀瀾亭) adjacent to the Yuen Campus is popular for leisure fishing and sunset watching. [2022]
From the pavilion, the setting sun slowly descends behind the distant silhouette of Lantau Island. [2022]
Before the suspension of ferry between Macau and Hong Kong, the water of the Sulphur Channel and beyond was much busier. [2022]
Sitting on the coastal rocks to contemplate the setting sun offers a moment of meditation in this bustling metropolis. [2022]
The sun turns vivid orange as it lowers to the horizon. [2022]
Then just after a few minutes the orange sun has quietly slipped away. [2022]

OUR URBAN BACKYARD, Lung Fu Shan Country Park (龍虎山郊野公園), Central & Western District (中西區), Hong Kong

Well known for its skyscrapers, Hong Kong actually has another face of lush green hills and pristine beaches to counterbalance the overwhelming urbanity. In fact, out of 1092 sq.km, about three quarters of Hong Kong’s land area is countryside comprised of hills, woodlands and beaches. No matter from which district in the city, nature is never far way. In 1976, the Country Park Ordinance was passed to enforce nature conservation. Under the ordinance, 24 country parks (郊野公園) have been established so far, protecting about 440 sq.km of natural landscape. Across the city, many neighbourhoods are situated within close proximity from one of these country parks, where Hongkongers treat them as urban backyards for morning exercises, afternoon picnics or evening hikes. For us living in Central and Western District, our closest backyard is Lung Fu Shan Country Park on the hill right behind Hong Kong University. We sometimes thought of walking up Lung Fu Shan and the adjacent Victoria Peak to catch the first glimpse of morning sun over the famous Hong Kong skyline. This has yet happened, but we do occasional short hikes when weather permits. From our home, it is just several minutes of bus ride to the trailhead of the 2.75km Lung Fu Shan Trail. Between Victoria Peak (太平山) and Mount High West (西高山), Lung Fu Shan or Hill Above Belcher’s (龍虎山) is a 253m hill right above the main campus of Hong Kong University. In 1998, Lung Fu Shan Country Park was established to protect the small patch of forest around the hill. With just about 0.1% of the total area of all country parks, the city’s smallest country park is home to almost one third of all species of birds, butterflies, amphibians, reptiles and mammals found in Hong Kong. Given the park is situated at less than 30 minutes walking distance to the central business district, Lung Fu Shan is surprisingly valuable to the city’s biodiversity.

Before Lung Fu Shan Country Park was established, I visited the Pinewood Battery (松林炮台) on Lung Fu Shan with my parents several times. Completed in 1905 by the colonial government, the historical battery was heavily damaged during WWII. In the Battle of Hong Kong (December 1941), the battery was under rounds of air raids before it was abandoned on 15th of December 1941. In the 1980’s the military structures were pretty much lying in ruins. For me as a child, the ruined battery was a great place for picnic or to play hide and seek. 11 years after the establishment of Lung Fu Shan Country Park, the ruined structures were listed as Grade II historical buildings in 2009 and become one of the main features in the park. Display boards and a trail linking all the major structures are set up are provided on site to tell the story.

On a fine Friday afternoon, we decided to drop by Lung Fu Shan Environmental Education Centre near the park entrance at Kotewall Road (旭龢道). Operated by Environmental Protection Department and University of Hong Kong, the small interpretation centre housed in a listed historical bungalow just a stone throw away from Hong Kong University was a pleasant surprise. Built in 1890, the 131-year bungalow was home for the watchman who protected the adjacent Pokfulam Filter Beds, the facility used to filter drinking water for Pokfulam Reservoir nearby. The former watchman’s residence is now converted into the visitor centre of Lung Fu Shan Country Park, welcoming anyone who wishes to know more about the ecology and biodiversity of the area. Apart from insect specimens and wildlife photographs, we were particularly interested in the videos interviewing the former residents of the bungalow complex, who were occupying the three historical houses in the complex until 1996. At the centre, we had a delightful chat with the staff there and picked up The Pulse of Nature – Mid-Levels West, a book of writings, illustrations and photographs that offers a variety of perspectives that explores the natural context of Mid-Levels West around Lung Fu Shan.

Covering an area of about 47 hectares, Lung Fu Shan Country Park is the smallest country park in Hong Kong. [2021]
Lung Fu Shan situated on the hill above the residential neighbourhoods of Mid Levels West. [2021]
A carpet of green moss cover the retaining slopes along the path. [2021]
When looking closer, there is so much interesting details along Lung Fu Shan Trail. [2021]
The shell of a beetle like insect captured my attention. [2021]
110 species of butterflies have been recorded in Lung Fu Shan Country Park.
It is delightful to follow the butterflies wandering along the trail. [2021]
In the small country park, there have been 130 species of birds recorded. [2021]
Red billed blue magpie is a large and aggressive bird found in Hong Kong. Its long tail is a recognizable feature. [2021]
Wild flowers are common all year round in the park. [2021]
At Pinewood Battery, artificial hideouts were constructed for soldiers to rest. [2021]
Retaining structures and cabins as hideouts. [2021]
At the Pinewood Battery, a raised structure was once used for military observations. [2021]
Seven decades have passed since Pinewood Battery was stationed with soldiers. [2021]
Another elevated structure was once the control room of the battery. [2021]
The ruins are overgrown with lush green climbers and shrubs. [2021]
There were two anti aircraft gun platforms in Pinewood Battery. [2021]
The Lung Fu Shan Environmental Education Centre is housed in a 131-year bungalow. [2021]
The former swimming pool of the complex has been converted into a pond to demonstrate the local freshwater ecosystem. [2021]
The small garden of the complex has been planted with local species. [2021]
Inside the bungalow, photographs and specimens of local wildlife are on display. [2021]
Skin of a snake has been found on the eaves of one of the three houses in the complex. [2021]
Historical drawings of the watchman house. [2021]
Photos of the former residents of the bungalow complex. [2021]
The fireplace in the bungalow is decorated with drawings painted by the former residents. [2021]

HONG KONG PARK (香港公園), Central / Admiralty (中環/金鐘), Hong Kong

In 1890, a golden bell was installed at the main building of Wellington Barracks (威靈頓兵房), one of the three military barracks (the other two being Victoria and Murray Barracks) located between the business districts of Central (中環) and Wanchai (灣仔). The golden bell became a landmark and eventually led to the naming of the area, Kam Chung (金鐘), which literally means “golden bells”. The former naval dockyard known as Admiralty Dock gave the area its English name, Admiralty. For over 120 years, the military barracks had been a major obstruction for urban development, creating a bottleneck between Central and Wanchai. This situation remained for much of the colonial era until the late 1970’s, when the governor has finally convinced the military department to release the land. Demolition of the barracks began in late 1970’s and gave way to a series of developments that make up the present Admiralty: High Court, Government Offices, metro station, transport interchange, various commercial towers, the Asia Society complex, the luxurious retail and hotel complex known as Pacific Place, and the 8-hectare Hong Kong Park on the lower slope of Victoria Peak.

Hong Kong Park occupies much of the former Victoria Barracks (域多利兵房). During construction, a number of historical buildings were preserved, including the Flagstaff House, Cassels Block, Wavell House, and Rawlinson House. The park design respected the natural topography of the site, maintaining a naturalistic setting for all to enjoy. Opened in 1991, Hong Kong Park was an instant hit for Hong Kongers. Combining the natural context and heritage buildings with the new water features, wide range of landscape elements, amphitheatre, lookout tower, large conservatory, and Southeast Asia’s largest aviary, the park has ensured that there would always be something to suit everyone’s taste. A combined visit to the nearby Zoological and Botanical Gardens would satisfy the desire of anyone who desires for a moment of tranquility in the heart of Hong Kong’s business district.

From 1840’s to 1979, the Victoria Barracks was the most prominent military base on Hong along Island. [Victoria Barracks, Photography by William Pryor Floyd, Image courtesy of Vacher-Hilditch Collection, University of Bristol, Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 1868]
Situated between Central and Wanchai, the military barracks in Admiralty poses an obstruction for urban development for over 120 years, until 1970’s when the royal army finally agreed to relocate to the seaside Tamar military base and release the barrack lands for urban developments. [Photo of the Victoria Barracks, Public Domain, 1870’s]
One of the main park entrances lies next to the Victoria Peak Tram terminal at Cotton Tree Drive (紅綿道). [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2017]
Beyond the Cotton Tree Drive park entrance, a grand stair featuring a water cascade leads visitors further up to the lily pond, heritage buildings and other park facilities. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Built in early 1900’s, the Wavell House is an example of Edwardian Classical Revival architecture in Hong Kong. Today, it is used as an education centre for the aviary. [Wavell House, Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Built in 1900’s, the three-storey Cassels Block was one of the officer residences in the former Victoria Barracks. After the site was handed over in 1979, Cassels Block was preserved and converted it into the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre (香港視覺藝術中心) in 1992. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Built in 1846, the preserved Flagstaff House is the oldest surviving Western building in Hong Kong. The Greek Revival building has long been the residence of the Commander of British force. Today, it houses the Museum of Teaware (茶具文物館). [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
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Adjacent to the Museum of Teaware stands it’s new wing. It is used to display antiques and house a tea shop. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The water feature near the Supreme Court Road entrance has long been a popular selfie spot since early 1990’s. I. M. Pei’s Bank of China Headquarters stands prominently at the back. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Full of Koi fish, turtles and frogs, the lily pond is often considered as the central focal point in Hong Kong Park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The pond is one of best place to photograph Paul Rudolph‘s Lippo Centre, the twin towers at the heart of modern Admiralty. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
An artificial waterfall and classical balustrade create a harmonic garden scenery at the heart of the park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Like many parks in Hong Kong, the artificial pond has become a place for irresponsible pet owners to abandon their turtles. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
With a backdrop of luxurious apartments and the Victoria Peak, the Edward Youde Aviary (尤德觀鳥園) stands in the midst of lush green woodlands in the Hong Kong Park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The Edward Youde Aviary (尤德觀鳥園) is the largest aviary in Southeast Asia. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Inside Edward Youde Aviary, a system of elevated boardwalk lead visitors into a artificial forest setting where exotic birds mainly from Indonesia live freely within the enclosure. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
The aviary is home to a number of exotic birds from Southeast Asia. Critically endangered, it is believed that fewer than 100 Bali starling living are living in the wild. [Two Bali starling hopped around the feeding area over the wooden balustrade, Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Just a short walk from Admiralty station, most bird photography enthusiasts can easily carry their telephoto lens to the aviary at Hong Kong Park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Pheasants can also be found in the aviary. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Red lory is one of the many colourful birds found in the aviary. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
The Olympic Square features an 880 people amphitheatre. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
The “Fighting SARS Memorial Architectural Scene” is erected to commemorate the frontline healthcare workers who lose their lives in the SARS epidemic in 2003. The installation features bronze busts of eight sacrificed medical workers carved by artist artist Chu Tat-shing. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
105 steps will take visitors up to the Vantage Point for a panoramic view of the park and beyond. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The Vantage Point offers a great lookout to the surrounding urban scenery of Admiralty and Central. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Looking over Admiralty, the 5 star hotels above Pacific Place, Government Offices, and Lippo Centre line behind Hong Kong Park and its 1400 sq.m Forsgate Conservatory. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Further west of Lippo Centre, the former Tamar Royal Navy base, Bank of America, Bank of China and Citibank Tower complete the skyline of Admiralty. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Right across Cotton Tree Road stands the beautiful Murray Hotel, a well known adaptive reuse project by Norman Foster. Built in 1969, the 27-storey government building was successfully converted into a 5-star hotel and opened in 2018. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]