We are missing out on a golden opportunity to sell the city, historians say

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 May, 2010, 12:00am

What do Michael Hutchence, the late lead singer of INXS, Ho Chi Minh and Philippine revolutionary Jose Rizal have in common?

Well, they all lived in Hong Kong - Australian singer-songwriter Hutchence as a teenager in Repulse Bay and Mosque Street before becoming famous. Ho was arrested by the British while he was here and Rizal was a doctor before returning to the Philippines where he was executed in 1898. But walking around Hong Kong, the only indication of any of these men is a plaque to Rizal in the Mid-Levels.

Local historians Tony Banham and Dr Dan Waters feel that's a shame and that Hong Kong is missing out on a golden opportunity to sell the city. Both would like to see a series of plaques and trails to guide the local visitor and tourist around.

'Most visitors coming here expect it to be a concrete jungle and most of the time that's all we give them,' Banham said. 'There are so many aspects of Hong Kong that we do a very poor job of using to our advantage. What a huge number of eccentric, interesting and remarkable people have passed through and left their influence behind.'

On Waters' wish list is a plaque at the Hung Shing Temple in Wan Chai to mark how the sea used to lap at its doors and often flood the building before reclamation began in the mid-19th century.

He would also like to see a plaque in Broadcast Drive in Kowloon Tong to commemorate where outspoken Commercial Radio host Lam Bun was burned to death in his car during the riots of 1967.

'Hong Kong has possibly the most diverse history in the region, yet we hide it,' Banham said. A system of trails and plaques, he said, would attract tourists as Hong Kong loses its position as purely a shopping centre. 'Tourists are becoming more sophisticated. They want more than Disney and shopping.'

The Tourism Board said it had promoted the city's history and culture through its Kaleidoscope programmes. Its trails include one honouring Dr Sun Yat-sen and also the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail which shows the defence of Hong Kong during the second world war.

But Banham would like to see a much more integrated approach. His speciality is the defence of Hong Kong after the Japanese invasion in December 1941. 'There's very little to show in Hong Kong where battles were fought, where thousands of civilians died.

'Take, for example, the North Point prisoner of war camp - where several thousand POWs passed through and some perished along the way. There's a park and a nice sitting out area where I can guarantee that the locals, let alone the tourists, don't know what happened at that spot.'

Then there is the Legislative Council building, where in the basement a number of those working for the British were interrogated and tortured.

'You don't want any topic like this to dominate Hong Kong,' Banham said. 'But this is such a bustling city that I think it's just a quiet few moments as you think about what happened at this spot. I don't think it hurts to think a bit more deeply.

'The bravery of the Chinese agents who fought in Hong Kong against the Japanese on behalf of the allies, that's something that you would think should be memorialised. Yet aside from their graves in Stanley I don't know of any memorial at all. I know there is some sort of memorial in Sai Kung but that's a bit remote. I'm very in favour of having memorials where people can see them.'

Waters and Banham also suggest Hong Kong's film industry could be showcased by indicating where some famous movies were shot. For example, a plaque at Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui or up the escalator in Central to show where award-winning actors Faye Wong and Tony Leung Chiu-wai starred in Chungking Express in 1994.

Or a whole variety of shopping centres where Jackie Chan has kicked out windows and swung from balconies all in the name of getting the baddie.

Perhaps a plaque at the Star Ferry for both The World of Suzie Wong and Love is a Many Splendoured Thing.

Banham believes a whole list of colourful eccentric and gifted people should have their moment of fame as someone glances down to read their plaque. For example, E. R. Belilios, the foremost opium trader in the former British colony used to commute on a camel from Mid-Levels to Central, until his camel jumped off a cliff.