At police history exhibition, former superintendent recalls boatpeople refugee centre

Memories of boatpeople's plight among those shared during exhibition marking force's 170 years

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 June, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 June, 2014, 4:48am

For retired police superintendent Raymond Mak Kwai-sing, the order to take down the Vietnamese refugee centre on Man Yee Road, Sai Kung - a place he had helped build - was a defining moment in his career.

It was one of the stories Mak, now 61, who joined what was then the Royal Hong Kong Police in 1980, shared at an exhibition at one of the city's oldest police stations in celebration of the force's 170-year history.

For the task, he wore a green police uniform from the late 19th century. With its bamboo-knitted pointed hat, the wearers were nicknamed "big head, green shirt". It also featured white socks and black cloth shoes.

Mak, whose career spanned nearly 30 years, said the force - now known as the Hong Kong Police Force - had changed a lot since its earliest days.

"Police officers now are better educated in general, but the public's expectations have also grown higher," he said. There needed to be more communication and interaction between the people and the police to create better understanding, he added.

Of the Man Yee Vietnamese refugee camp, Mak said: "I saw it go from a flat piece of cleared land to having 7,000 Vietnamese boatpeople move in."

Opened in 1989, it was the only refugee camp and centre for the boatpeople solely managed and run by the police.

During the riots in refugee camps across the city in 1994 and 1995, Mak was part of the police tactical team tasked with going back to that same camp to clamp down on the violence.

"It was a complicated feeling, having to be part of the destruction of something you've helped build," Mak said. "There were so many Vietnamese refugees who just wanted to get along, make a living peacefully - it was just a small group who acted radical."

Mak had 18 postings throughout his career, and retired six years ago. He now chairs the Hong Kong Police Old Comrades' Association.

This year is also an end of an era, as the police are set to return the old Wan Chai station - known as "No 2 Police Station" and located at 123 Gloucester Road - to the government. A classic colonial building, when the station opened in 1932 it was right on the waterfront.

While it has been given grade-three heritage status, it is still not known what is to become of one of Hong Kong's oldest police stations once the police vacate the building at the end of June.

The first police unit formed in 1841 was made up of British and Indian ex-military men. Today, however, it is hard to get into the police as an ethnic minority, said Sabina, a 23-year-old visitor to the exhibition.

She described herself as a Himalayan who grew up in Hong Kong and speaks fluent Cantonese. "But I don't write Chinese well, and I'm afraid I won't get in because of that," she said.

The police force became official in 1844, and it received its "Royal" title from Queen Elizabeth in 1969. In 1951, it employed its first woman officer.

The exhibition started yesterday and is running for three weekends from 10am to 6pm.

Apart from snippets of history, there are also plenty of interesting items on display, including police motorcycles.

The 500cc BSA model was used by the British Army during the second world war and the Hong Kong police in the 1940s and 1950s, and the 305cc Honda was used in the 1960s. Visitors can also take a close look at the force's latest electric motorcycle.