• Fri
  • Oct 24, 2014
  • Updated: 6:04am

Seas of change

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 June, 2006, 12:00am
 

USUally when we hear about Hong Kong's past, we are told that, in the mid-19th century, the city was little more than a few small but thriving fishing villages.


We may also hear about the waterfall at Aberdeen and that the deep harbour was discovered by sailors carrying silk and porcelain to other parts of Asia.


Victoria Harbour and the passages that surround it was the catalyst which made Hong Kong a thriving shipping centre. Its history is celebrated today by the Hong Kong Maritime Museum.


Situated in Murray Hous in Stanley and an historic building in its own right, the museum tells Hong Kong's story in two parts going back a lot farther than 150 years.


The 'older' part focuses on life more than 2,000 years ago as it tells the story of the early Chinese junks which travelled thousands of kilometres.


You can learn about the eunuch general who took huge fleets of junks on exploratory voyages. There are also silk screens and models of ships to add colour to the historic tale.


Loads of models? Sounds boring.


Far from it. This is not a stare-at-it in glass cases kind of museum.


There are costumes, beautiful, detailed silk tapestries, maps, and even a gun from an officer of the East India Company. When you have had enough of the ancient stuff, cross over to the modern, via a blown-up photograph dating back to 1911. The detail on it is fantastic.


You can look at Victoria Harbour and see steam ships and the original waterfront where only a handful of the majestic colonial buildings remain. This includes the former Supreme Court, which is now the Legislative Council.


So what's the modern stuff, then?


This side is more fun because you can play interactive games. The museum is privately owned and was financed by shipping families. Some of Hong Kong's shipping families, that of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. These families' container ship businesses, and those that have now also moved into ports and container terminals, dwarf the businesses of others around the world.


When people heard that the museum was being set up last year, people from the shipping industry sent all sorts of items and artifacts. For example, the museum has the steering mechanism and the bridge instruments from a dismantled container ship.


With the help of computer simulation visitors can now steer a container ship into port and park it at a berth. If you like you can ignore the rules, and just crash it into other boats around the harbour.


Then there's another rather tricky game where you have to control a crane putting containers onto a ship. If you get it wrong, and the boat capsizes. There is also a big-screen video showcasing Hong Kong's ship-building industry.


In the first half of last century it was a major employer in Hong Kong. There were big shipbuilding yards in Kowloon and elsewhere, but this industry began to flag as the boats became larger.


Built in the 1840s, Murray House was one of the first buildings built by British colonial Hong Kong.


Where can I get something to eat and drink?


You can buy snacks in the modern shopping centre in the plaza in front of Murray House.


Hong Kong Maritime Museum


G/F, Murray House, Stanley Plaza, Stanley, Hong Kong


Tel: 2813 2322 www.hkmaritimemuseum.org


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