From its urban beginnings, Hong Kong was a Tale of Two Cities, symbolically divided – geographically, socially and, to an extent, economically – by Victoria Harbour. Whether one hailed from “Hong Kong side” or “Kowloon side” significantly shaped how one lived one’s life. “Are you married, or do you live in Kowloon?” is a question said to have often been directed at young European males by established residents. Like any urban myth, this time-worn period memoir standard has been endlessly regurgitated. As with everything in Hong Kong, parallel lives existed, and it was not unknown for lifelong residents to go many years without crossing to the other side of the harbour. This geographical bifurcation remains largely in place today; for plenty of Hong Kong Island dwellers, Kowloon is just somewhere to pass through as quickly as possible on the way to and from the airport. Certain types of resident Westerner habitually refer to Kowloon as “The Dark Side” – whatever this dopey-sounding cliché is purported to mean – and tediously repeat the tired label to newcomers. Cantonese slang reinforces this ignorant view – “crossing the seas” refers to going under the harbour; a telling metaphor for attitudes to place. Much the same bias applies to residents from the other side of the harbour. Insular mentalities had some basis when islands really were just that, but the mindset is inexplicable – actually, inexcusable – in the days of multiple cross-harbour tunnels, MTR lines and thundering expressways that swiftly and efficiently channel commuters in every direction, right across Hong Kong, all day and most of the night. Mental distance caused by relatively minor physical separations has always led to enclosed mindsets in Hong Kong. Between the fall of Canton to the Japanese in late 1938, and the Japanese invasion of the colony in December 1941, a curious unreality existed among many urban dwellers . Swathes of rugged mountains and lightly populated rural districts separated the frontier with China and the outskirts of Kowloon, and a three-hour drive from Hong Kong Island, the border – then – seemed impossibly remote. Complacency was inevitable when the distances between potentially hostile forces and a lightly defended urban area seemed greater than they actually were. This made the speed with which Japanese forces reached the urban areas all the more shocking. China and all that lurks there – as later generations tended to forget – is not as far away as some choose to think. Along with the harbour itself, vehicular ferries were the great population divider; these slow, double-ended diesel vessels that plied the harbour from Central to Jordan Road marked the socio-economic distinction between those who had the means to afford a car – and thus, greater mobility across Hong Kong – and those who did not. For those reliant on public transport, longer distances – especially as suburban Kowloon gradually petered out into industrial and then agricultural areas – simply meant lesser appeal. The 1950s narrowed separation, with discussions for a bridge – never built – that eventually morphed into planning for a tunnel. Construction started in 1969 and, when the Cross-Harbour Tunnel opened in 1972, formerly significant divisions were transformed into a 10-minute drive in good traffic conditions. Hong Kong-Kowloon distinctions have steadily diminished with the passage of time. But a lingering legacy remains; for some New Town dwellers, an excursion into the harbour area to enjoy the Christmas and Lunar New Year’s light displays is their only visit into “the city” for the entire year.