As the MTR Corporation feels the heat over awarding a HK$6 billion contract to the mainland outfit that built defective subway trains for Singapore, we take a ride back in time with the trusty Hong Kong tram, which celebrates its 112th anniversary on July 31.
The very first issue of the South China Morning Post, published on November 6, 1903, announced that tracks had been laid between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan, adding “it is highly probable that the rickshaw will be forsaken for the tramcar”.
Early Post journalists, eager to report on the coming comforts of home, found the Chinese response to such “civilised” technologies a little too amusing.
“Ah Sam, what ting belong dis? No makee pull, no makee pushee, how fashun can makee run” (pidgin for “What is it? Nothing pushes or pulls it, how does it run?”), began the July 4, 1904 coverage of the first trial run. The article detailed the bewilderment of Chinese spectators who “squatted on the ground after the car had passed and looked at the spark that flew out under the car, trying to solve the mystery”.
The writer also speculated on how difficult it must have been for the Chinese conductors to learn the European names for all the parts of the tram and master “the gentle art of jumping from a moving car”.
The amusement continued with the tram’s first inspection. “The natives at Shau Kei Wan and along the route taken by the car were greatly astonished with this thing that moved along apparently of its own accord,” reported the Post on July 21, 1904.
Just two days later the joke was wearing thin when, after a trial run for the press, the Post reported: “Naturally, our aristocratic suburban neighbours in the Shau-ki-wan vicinity made much to do about the appearance of these yellow toast-racks that ran along without being pushed or pulled.”
Fortunately, these days sarcasm is reserved for certain sections of the paper, such as the cartoon strips and Post Magazine.