Why Does That Building in Repulse Bay Have a Hole in It?
This is Hong Kong trivia 101, the kind of fact you trot out to impress newcomers to the city. Yes—it’s for feng shui purposes, to allow the “dragon” on the mountain to pass through towards the sea. But here’s the truth: the current Repulse Bay development is a boring building compared to what once stood in its place—the Repulse Bay Hotel.
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For once upon a time, from 1920-1982, the Repulse Bay Hotel was the city’s finest resort: A refined, colonial escape from the stuffy city. Guests included Noël Coward, Marlon Brando and Peter Sellers, while the hotel became the romantic backdrop to Hollywood spectaculars such as “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.”
Ernest Hemingway was a guest in the 1940s with his wife Martha Gellhorn, when the two arrived in Asia to report on the war in China. The hotel’s Bamboo Bar may be no more, but the Verandah restaurant lives on with a touch of that colonial gentility. You can still imagine Hemingway hanging out under the high ceilings, calling for another martini or three. In fact—you can do it yourself.
One of the most notable appearances of this Hong Kong institution is in Eileen Chang’s novella “Love in a Fallen City,” set mainly in the Repulse Bay Hotel around the time of the fall of Hong Kong to the Japanese in World War II. Chang’s description of the approach to Repulse Bay holds up wonderfully:
“Cliffs of yellow-and-red soil flanked the road, while ravines opened up on either side to reveal dense green forest or aquamarine sea. As they approached Repulse Bay, the cliffs and trees grew gentler and more inviting. Returning picnickers swept past them in cars filled with flowers, the sound of scattered laughter fading in the wind.”
Catch the 6X to the Southside today, 70 years later, and the experience is much the same.
The Repulse Bay Hotel was demolished in 1982, after 62 years of operation, to make room for all-new luxury apartments. The latter-day Repulse Bay complex sits awkwardly on top of the replica colonial-style buildings beneath, the feng shui hole far less of an icon of Hong Kong identity than the buildings that once stood in their place. Next time someone asks about the feng shui dragon, tell them about the Repulse Bay Hotel instead.