尖沙咀一夜 | One Night in Tsim Sha Tsui
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 6:53pm on 24th January 2018
Caption: Church service atop Tsim Sha Tsui’s Signal Hill
(Please scroll down for English version)
- 「康和里是其中一條在尖沙咀消失的街道。我記得1950年代時，那裡有一間酒吧，名叫『The Sportman’s Arms』。」
- 而（很可能是半開玩笑地說）：「我從姐姐口中得到有力的證據， The Ship Inn 就在蘭宮酒店對面。而Waltzing Matilda酒吧則在The Ship Inn對面。它的東主是一位名叫Bill Ellis的英國人，是一位海員，與本地女孩Lily Wong結了婚，兩人開設了無上裝酒吧，而且相當成功。」|
One Night in Tsim Sha Tsui
by John Batten
The narrow mattress lay on a roughly constructed wooden platform, intentionally higher than the usual bed height; under there, I suppose, there was just enough space for a stored suitcase. Apart from a few square feet at the entrance the only other free floor space in this small room was under that bed. Hedged between the postage-stamp sized bathroom and the bedroom’s other walls, the bed was exactly of coffin proportions. It was similar to some of the worst divided-flat spaces I have seen, and not much better than Hong Kong’s notorious cage-homes which, courtesy of the Society of Community Organization I have visited. This, however, was a cheap room in a ‘licensed guest house’.
On the spur of the moment I had decided to stay a night in Tsim Sha Tsui. I wanted a holiday-in-Hong Kong; it was an entirely spontaneous decision and I only took a toothbrush and a change of clothes with me. Arriving in Tsim Sha Tsui at 7pm on a Saturday night left me with scant choice of affordable accommodation. I had not booked anything online and did not wish to spend much time walking around looking for a room. Chungking Mansions with its many guest houses was the obvious place to search for a vacancy.
So, I did exactly as when I first arrived in Hong Kong twenty-five years ago. Chungking Mansions’ lobby was crowded with Africans, mainlanders, and restaurant and hotel touts – I ignored them all. I remembered to avoid Blocks A and B with their long elevator queues. Starting on one of Block C’s higher floors, I knocked on doors looking at different guest houses. Many guest houses were full or their doors were closed with a sign indicating a reception desk many floors away. As backpackers appreciate, seeing a budget hotel room or guest house before paying is wise. The internet, however, has even disrupted the simple efficiency of checking-out hotel rooms (Does the water run? Does the fan work? Are the sheets clean? etc – internet listings are silent on these questions). Convenient it maybe, but online hotel booking sites have resulted in opaque pricing, dubious endorsements and destroy the opportunity for face-to-face negotiations. However, despite trying my see-first approach, I still had to accept the poor quality room on offer – it was simply not a buyer’s night. Saturdays in Tsim Sha Tsui are just too busy with tourists looking for a room.
I have promised myself to stay overnight in a different Hong Kong district every month over the next year. Staying overnight and awaking in the early morning gives a new experience of a place. For many years, I had rarely spent much time in Tsim Sha Tsui as I disliked the new, huge redevelopments, the loss of street stalls in narrow alleys, and being forced to use underground passageways because of the dominance of cars in an area that should be a pleasure to walk around. Two rare victories for pedestrians were seen last year; the reinstatement of the pedestrian crossing in front of The Peninsula Hotel and government backtracking to give management rights of the entire Tsim Sha Tsui harbour waterfront to the property developer, New World Development. These were worthy victories for common sense by urban planning activists.
It is oft-forgotten that Tsim Sha Tsui has long been Hong Kong’s most cosmopolitan district. The old Kowloon Station was the very last railway station on the long-haul, via Siberia and China, from Europe. The Peninsula Hotel and many other hotels were located there because of the railway line – and the ‘Star’ Ferry, the major transportation hub before the MTRC and Cross-Harbour tunnel opened. Kowloon Park was military land, housing British army troops in their barracks. And foreigners lived throughout Kowloon: Stonecutters Island, Choi Hung, Kowloon Tong, and on the slopes below Lion Rock. Tsim Sha Tsui was the place to go because of its transportation links and late-night entertainment area, especially after the ‘Star’ Ferry stopped for the night.
Tsim Sha Tsui also became one of Asia’s major post-war shopping and tourist destinations because of Hong Kong’s free-port status, as one of the rest-and-recreation places for troops during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and with the availability in the 1970s of cheap intercontinental air flights.
Memories from that era can be read on internet chat groups – this is a typical conversation capturing the area’s mix of cultures and activities:
- “One of the streets that disappeared from TST is Cornwall Avenue. I remember a bar there, ‘The Sportman’s Arms’ in the 1950s”
- “I know the street. We stayed in the Astor Hotel.”
- “Charming little street with a couple of old banyan trees. A Shanghai noodle place, Yat Pun Heung was just under a tree.”
- “You could be referring to 'Chian Lee Heung', cause Yat Bun Heung was located on Kimberley St, near Carnavon Road.”
- “How does a road disappear?”
- “The Astor Hotel was owned by Mr Kwei Hua San, a well-known Fujianese.”
- and (probably said tongue-in-cheek), “I have it on good authority from my sister that The Ship Inn was across from the Astor Hotel. Also, the Waltzing Matilda Bar was across from The Ship Inn. It was owned by an Englishman, Bill Ellis, a seafarer who married a local girl, Lily Wong. Together, they later opened a topless bar which was very successful.”
On Sunday morning I walked to the top of Signal Hill and a Filipino church service was in progress. Away from the bustle of the streets below, this was another endearing Tsim Sha Tsui’s activity.
This opinion piece was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly on 6 January 2018