Out and about

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 February, 2011, 12:00am

One of Hong Kong Island's less frequented beaches, Chung Hom Kok offers magnificent views and relatively clean waters. Pleasant picnic sites and barbecue areas make this dramatically scenic, slightly out-of-the-way place a less-crowded alternative to the more popular spots.

Two gun batteries were built at Chung Hom Kok as part of a flurry of defence work undertaken in the late 1930s. The rounded shield of the No 2 battery remains, along with search-light positions and other structures cut along the rock face. These guns were put out of action by their crews shortly before being abandoned during the Japanese invasion, in December 1941.

The Cheshire Home hospital at Chung Hom Kok was built in 1961, on the site of the No 1 battery. The home is named after Leonard Cheshire, a second-world-war fighter ace and recipient of the Victoria Cross.

Cheshire was profoundly affected by his wartime experiences, which culminated in the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Nagasaki, which he witnessed as an official British observer. He founded a charity, to provide long-term care to those suffering permanent physical disabilities, which now operates worldwide. Another Cheshire Home facility, in Sha Tin, opened in 1991.

On the western side of Chung Hom Kok, Headland Road winds down to a magnificent white cliff-side villa - more Mediterranean than southern Chinese - which was once the home of AIG founder C.V. Starr. Also known as Neil Starr, the Californian-born self-made billionaire started the American International Group in Shanghai in 1919. An Office of Strategic Services (the OSS later became the CIA) operative during the Pacific war, a position that afforded closer-than-average insight into China's steadily deteriorating political situation, Starr astutely moved his businesses away from Shanghai in advance of the Communist takeover, in 1949.

As well as being a successful entrepreneur, Starr was a considerable public benefactor and philanthropist. A residential student hall at the University of Hong Kong (Starr Hall) is named after him. Starr also endowed a superb East Asian studies library at New York's Columbia University; let's hope one day some generous Hong Kong plutocrat helps endow a similar facility here.

Starkly bare, treeless concrete footpaths and general shabbiness detract from what should be one of Hong Kong's most delightful residential areas. Property prices in Chung Hom Kok are certainly high enough to warrant a living environment to match the magnificent vistas of sea and rocky coastline. But in Hong Kong, where civic responsibilities generally stop at one's own front door, especially for the wealthy and their own high-priced residences, this is an unrealistic expectation.