All aboard for a tram ride into Hong Kong's past

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 June, 2014, 3:41am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 June, 2014, 3:41am

As the antique tram trundled along the timeworn route from Sai Wan to Causeway Bay, Joseph Ting Sun-pao transported his fellow passengers back to days long gone.

Back to a time before covered markets, and further still, to when Hongkongers caught their supper in the canal running through the city.

Ting, a history professor at Chinese University, was hosting the tram tour to kick-start the Hong Kong Book Fair's Cultural July festival - which this year coincides with the 110th anniversary of the city's tram system.

In Sheung Wan, Ting pointed towards the marketplace.

According to Ting, the original market was shambolic because the government had neglected to run it properly and contracted it out to private businessmen.

"The markets were not purpose-built," said Ting, a former chief curator of the Museum of History.

"People living in the area each took stuff out to sell … and it naturally became a market. Then the government built a covered area for them to conduct their business."

In Wan Chai, as the tram passed Canal Road East on its way towards Causeway Bay in the sweltering heat, he paused to explain the name of the road, and noted how before the area became urbanised a canal had run through it. That was before the 1920s, said Ting, when water flowed from the Wong Nai Chung river through to Happy Valley.

"People used to fish here," Ting said. "It was so beautiful - there weren't that many people so the area wasn't as polluted."

The tram tour was the first of 170 activities organised by the Trade and Development Council as part of Cultural July.

Hong Kong Tramways will also be holding a series of events throughout the month, while the book fair will feature talks by authors from mainland China, Japan, France, Taiwan and the United States. The book fair runs from July 16 to 22 at the Convention and Exhibition Centre.