History ticks among towers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 July, 2006, 12:00am

IIN the tall, small and ultra-modern city of Hong Kong, it is sometimes easy to overlook the tiny fragments of history that still survive today. Many of these were the most important and identifiable landmarks of their day.

The pier in Tsim Sha Tsui was such a place 100 years ago. In fact, it was the only arrival point for visitors to Hong Kong.

The Cultural Centre now dominates the landscape with its windowless walls onto one of the most dynamic harbour views in the world.

But it wasn't always like that. See the clock tower. It's now dwarfed by the buildings around it, but it used to be the tallest structure in Tsim Sha Tsui. It's all that is left of the Kowloon-Canton Railway building which was opened on October 1, 1910.

Imagine a time when people did not travel by aeroplane. The Wright brothers only made their first flight in 1908, so most long-distance transport was by steam train or boat.

There was a train that travelled all the way from London to Hong Kong. It must have been a very interesting trip at that time, although it was perhaps hot in places without overhead fans or air conditioning.

But there was a glamour to the building structures that doesn't exist in the modern glass construction of today. While the railway was opened in 1910, the station wasn't opened until 1916 as the first world war had held up supplies.

How tall is the clock tower?

It is 44 metres tall and has four clock faces. The use of a bell to tell the time was discontinued in 1950.

Is this all that is left of the railway station that provided the 'gateway to China'?

No, when the station terminus was demolished in 1978, despite quite a bit of public opposition, the bell from the clock tower was removed and is now displayed at Sha Tin Station. Six granite columns were also saved and put up again in 1983 in Tsim Sha Tsui East.

What else can I see there?

After you've had a look at the clock tower and the area along the waterfront, there's the Peninsula Hotel, across the road. The Peninsula was built in 1928 and its customers were those - in the early days - coming off the long-distance trains.

The hotel epitomises luxury and glamour and is a real example of a colonial-era hotel with huge fans in the ceiling, afternoon tea and a string quartet to entertain you.

Sneak a peek into the opulent inside of the lobby with its golden ceiling. The Peninsula has hosted many esteemed guests from royalty to politicians and film stars to musicians.

When the Peninsula first opened there was very little built around the railway station and along Salisbury Road. The Peninsula started life as a railway hotel.

Has the Peninsula Hotel's structure changed at all?

Yes, a tower was added at the back in 1994.

Anywhere to eat around there?

You can have afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel for the experience of it - but that's expensive, or you can wander back down to the Star Ferry and Ocean Terminal where there is a choice of fast-food outlets.