Herbal tea and postboxes: a rich blend of heritage

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 July, 2006, 12:00am

The State Council has officially recognised herbal tea as part of China's national intangible cultural heritage. This acknowledges that herbal tea is more than just a beverage; it is the bearer of the wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine. It also reminds us that our precious heritage is embedded in our daily lives, even though it is sometimes so prosaic we are unaware of its unique value.

When it comes to preserving our cultural heritage, Hong Kong has long placed emphasis on tangible assets such as buildings. The government's criteria for preservation attaches great importance to historical and architectural merit, while playing down intangible values such as social importance to a community. This results in an almost exclusive emphasis on conspicuous monuments, to the exclusion of lesser architectural or historical buildings, even if they have played an important role in the life of local communities.

Take the example of Lee Tung Street in Wan Chai. An entire street of 1950s buildings and wedding-card businesses fondly remembered for its vibrancy and unique character will become a shopping, residential and commercial precinct because its historical and architectural value does not meet the government's stringent conservation criteria.

There is no provision in the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance for the protection of cultural heritage in intangible forms, such as traditional craftsmanship and social customs. Only a comprehensive approach will safeguard both our tangible and intangible heritage. The latter, being the soul of the first, is equally important, giving it its life and vivacity.

WONG SUK-HAR, Shau Kei Wan

Cartographic drawings of some of the city's historical buildings are on display at the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre until December. These documents are considered of important historical value.

Rather than merely being carted out for public viewing once in a while, however, it would have been nice if these documents had helped to conserve historical buildings. How sad it is to come across such buildings in historical records only to find, unsurprisingly, that they have long been demolished or - if they were lucky - turned into lifeless museums.

Thanks to economic imperatives and the scarcity of land in Hong Kong, preserving buildings has never been a high priority. In fact, though, they can co-exist with modern developments. In Liverpool, riverside Edwardian warehouses have been turned into classy apartments; in Shanghai, historical buildings on the Bund house restaurants, art galleries and boutiques. All we need to save historical buildings in Hong Kong is some flexibility in government policy and some innovation in planning.

WONG KIT, Taikoo Shing

After standing quietly on the corner of Pound Lane and Hollywood Road watching over changes in Hong Kong since the handover, one of the last two remaining postboxes of the colonial era was replaced this month - for no apparent reason.

As a taxpayer, I wonder why money was wasted on a new postbox when the old one served its purpose. Having been born in Hong Kong, I wonder why our government is so anxious to remove traces of our colonial past. I also wonder if it realises that the dumped postbox stood in a very meaningful location. It was here that the British landed 165 years ago, and from here that this small island became Hong Kong.

Can we please have our postbox back?