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SUNDAY MORNING

Rant: Harbour grudges

Andrew Dembina

 

As phrases with off-putting connotations go, "the dark side" must rank pretty highly. In this town, of course, it's used to refer to that huge part of urban Hong Kong - Kowloon - that's not on Hong Kong Island. One hears it bandied about often enough by newcomers but they're only taking their cue from others whose ignorance is less excusable. Let's face it - there are many Hong Kong Island dwellers, of various ethnicities, who assume a sense of superiority when using the term.

I first became aware of it in 1995, when introducing myself as the newbie on the staff of a small magazine based in Western district. When I used the K-word, to tell my new colleagues where I was living, their noses visibly turned upwards. Two of them were Hong Kong-raised Caucasians, and lived in Repulse Bay and Happy Valley; the third, a British-schooled ethnic Chinese, lived with family in Mid-Levels. "Oh, the dark side - I could never live there," offered one, to echoes from the other two. The irony that our own work address was, at the time, as "gritty" as any on Kowloon seemed lost on them.

A friend who used to live island-side with her Southeast Asian parents tells me she was banned from visiting Kowloon in the late 1980s and early 90s. Maybe it appeared bleaker to some - when I first lived peninsula-side, in 1992, I revelled in its unpresumptuous earthiness. The Kowloon Walled City was certainly "dark" in many ways but did the entire surrounding area really merit its reputation for decrepit lawlessness? No way.

Of course, for some islanders the shorthand is more to do with Kowloon not being one of their normal habitats. Which only further highlights its laziness: it's hardly difficult to get across the harbour.

 

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