Out and about
There's more to Happy Valley than its racecourse. Jason Wordie finds evidence of Hong Kong's eclectic history buried in the reclaimed malarial swamp.
Home to one of the world's most famous racecourses but otherwise little-visited, Happy Valley deserves some exploration. The area's original village - Wong Nai Chung - has become Village Road; no trace of this early hamlet can be found but the original wong nai chung (yellow mud stream) still runs through concrete culverts and underground drains and out into Victoria Harbour; Causeway Bay's Canal Road marks the exit point.
In the early years of British rule, deaths from fever were commonplace; the name Happy Valley is a British Army reference to a burial place - 'Jack's been posted to Happy Valley.' Another Happy Valley, which also contains a large cemetery, can be found in Aden, on the south coast of Yemen.
Happy Valley's religious cemeteries contain the graves of Muslims, Roman Catholics, Jews and Parsees. The Colonial Cemetery, established in 1845, was originally intended for Protestants but gradually it was used for anyone without their own religious or communal burial ground. Numerous Russian Orthodox memorials can be seen - reminders of the once-sizeable Russian community here - as well as several pre-war Japanese graves; many of which contain the remains of female prostitutes brought in to work in local brothels. Several 19th century naval and regimental memorials were defaced recently by shoddy, poorly supervised 'restoration' work.
Horse races were first held at Happy Valley in 1846 and the Hong Kong Jockey Club was established in 1884. The only organisation with which you can place a legal wager in Hong Kong, the Jockey Club's turnover is a staggering HK$700 million on an average race night at Happy Valley.
Tung Lin Kok Yuen, the Buddhist institute and girls' school on Shan Kwong Road is a magnificent but sadly rare surviving example of Republican-era Chinese architectural styles. Built by Lady Clara Hotung, a Buddhist who devoted the last years of her life to the institution, the complex opened in 1935. Public access is allowed one day each year, on Vesak - Buddha's birthday, which falls on May 2 this year - and the complex merits a visit. An elaborate ancestral hall upstairs is dedicated to members of the Hotung family.
Happy Valley has always been a solidly middle-class residential area. Until recent decades the middle class in Hong Kong was numerically tiny. The tramlines were extended into Happy Valley in 1904 to provide a convenient commuter service and trams remain a popular, if slow, mode of transport.