It’s 1955, and my father is disembarking at Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour (22° 17’9.54″ N 114° 10’15.02″ E) having just arrived from Southampton, England as part of his National Service. Dad, however, had another agenda upon his arrival; “I wanted to travel and see the world,” he told me, reminiscing on one of our Skype chats. “When enlisting they asked me if I wanted to go abroad, I said yes.” In those days it was almost unimaginable for someone his age to travel abroad, let alone to Asia. “They were exciting times,” he smiled.
Sixty-three years later, I arrived in Hong Kong on a red-eye flight with my husband and Buffy, our Arabian cat! Following two unbelievable years in Beijing, we headed south to the “Fragrant Harbour,” known as Hong Kong. I was excited about waking up in yet another country to explore, photograph, and discover hidden gems. However, what inspired me more was that I would stand in the exact places he had once been as a young man of 20.
His story begins in Kowloon based at The Gun Club Barracks, and a short distance from Nathan Road – notorious for traders, bars, and restaurants of every kind. A place he frequented often. He recounted stories from The Parisian Grill and Jimmy’s Kitchen (22.2812° N, 114.1563° E) a colonial icon, still serving food today and where I now sit re-telling this story.
Upon leaving the barracks, Jimmy’s Kitchen was where he met his partner-in-crime; fellow officer and lifelong friend, Dave Smith from Watford. These two inseparable red-heads stood out like sore thumbs and spent the next two years traversing the bars and dance halls of Hong Kong together.
Fun at first, but it was a different side of Hong Kong that stole his heart. The side people rarely see and one that drew us both in:
Hong Kong’s rural Hinterland: The New Territories
“People only read about places like this,” said my dad. “Where you saw villagers at work on the fields in curious headdresses, wearing traditional clothes, wide-brimmed hats and often barefoot.”
The people and place captivated him, and it was mutual. They were friendly and sincere and he, with his mop of auburn hair and sociable manner, had intrigued them. Consequently, it was here that he spent his time and took most of his photos.
I have always loved this part of Hong Kong. Its natural beauty and expansive views in stark contrast to the concrete, glass jungle. Moreover, no more so than Tai Mo Shan; Hong Kong’s highest peak and the first on my list of places to ‘revisit.’ Its wild and rugged summit offers 360-degree breathtaking views of the New Territories and South China, and a photographer’s dream.
He took the most unforgettable photos here, some on foot, and others on the back of Dave’s motorbike, revealing the occasional wing mirror. I hoped to capture something similar with my camera phone. “Make sure you take enough supplies,” he’d warn me, meaning food, water, and a first-aid kit. However, I had another, modern-day consideration; battery power. It would take eight hours to complete the trip, and I’d need my Skysurfer Power Bank and Chimera Multi-Cable to get me through the day.
Tai Mo Shan
(translation: Big Hat Mountain) 957m above sea level. (22°24’31.9″N 114°08’16.6″E)
Following the same route he took, I set off; stopping at vantage points to compare his pictures of the same views; his natural sense of curiosity apparent. I visualize him looking out and wonder what he had thought as I hold up my phone to try to emulate it. I forward the picture to him, and to my amazement after 63 years he still recognizes the mountain ridge. It’s a memorable moment for both of us.
Ancient villages still provide traditional tea houses and hearty dim sum.
Later, I descend into the remote village of Chuen Lung, unaffected by time. A tea house on the roadside looks too good to pass up (22° 23’42.2″ N 114° 06’30.8″ E). With a faded Coca-Cola banner outside it appears modest, but the lure of yum cha (brunch) is too strong. Overloud chatter I’m told to collect a bowl, chopsticks, and help myself.
As I tuck into my har gau dim sum, tofu pudding, and a Tsing Tao beer, I can’t help but wonder how many others have ended up here. It might not have existed in the 50s, but it’s still been here over 40 years, and I’m not surprised. These quaint, traditional eateries have always stood the test of time.
We all travel for different reasons and in different ways.
By retracing dad’s steps, I’ve discovered a rare side of Hong Kong and come to understand this country from a different perspective-his.
Today, I cross the road to Jimmy’s Kitchen, where it all started. I gaze at its rough stone walls, carpeted floors, and leather chairs. I imagine a crowd of young men in uniform sat drinking beer, laughing, and sharing stories. I order the same dish and look out of the same window as my dad. How different the view must have been then. With streets full of rickshaws and market traders instead of taxis and department stores.
I open my laptop, connect my phone, download my photos with my Chimera and begin writing. I feel a sense of accomplishment, and although I’ve never been here before, a sense of familiarity, as a tuck into my roast dinner and Jimmy’s infamous Baked Alaska.
Abi is fascinated by people and passionate about places. She’s carved a career for herself without walls by teaching English and writing about the nuances of travel, enchanting readers with personal anecdotes, and experiences from far-flung places.