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Showing posts from March, 2013

A Walk in Hong Kong: From Wan Chai to Central

On Friday I had nothing special to do, so I decided to go to visit the Legislative Council. I went from Hang Hau to North Point, and then took the tram. But the tram was so slow, hot and crowded that I got off and went on foot. Then I realized how small Hong Kong Island actually is. I basically walked from North Point to Central, which seems a quite huge distance if you look at the map below, but it didn't take that long.   



I will write a few small posts about the things one can see in Central District, because there are many interesting sites, most of which are from the colonial era. As a matter of fact, among the modern skyscrapers it is possible to find many old buildings. They are, truth be told, just a small part of what was once the "pre-economic miracle" Hong Kong. The boom of the 1970s, the influx of immigrants from mainland China and the lack of space made  it necessary to tear down a lot of old buildings. 

Hong Kong has been called one the most vertical cities i…

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall - Taipei Highlights

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is one of Taipei's most famous and characteristic landmarks. The white structure with the blue roof may look like an edifice from old times, but in fact, it was built in 1980, five years after the death of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Guomindang and of the Republic of China from 1928 until 1975, which makes him one of the most important figures in Chinese history and longest-serving statesmen in the world.


Chiang's son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo, ordered the construction of the the memorial hall to honour his father. The hall is 70 metres tall and was built in Ming palace style. It is surrounded by a large park and by entry gates, and its architecture is full of classical symbols and inscriptions. This makes it one of the best examples of the neoclassical style of the Chiang era. It cost around 25 million US dollars (Logan / Hsu, p. 132).

Chiang is a controversial figure both in mainland China and in Taiwan. In mainland China, b…

Hong Kong's Struggle For Universal Suffrage

As the South China Morning Post reported today, Qiao Xiaoyang (喬曉陽), chairman of the Law Committee under the National People's Congress, said that discussions about a possible electoral reform in Hong Kong, which could lead to the establishment of a fully elected government, should not begin until the people of Hong Kong agree that those who confront the Beijing government cannot and shall not be allowed to govern the city (the Chinese text of Qiao Xiaoyang's speech can be found on the website of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong S.A.R.).
Pro-democracy forces within Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), are pushing for a reform of the electoral system before the coming chief executive elections in 2017.
According to Qiao Xiaoyang, Beijing would be willing to begin consultations over the election reforms only if two prerequisites were fulfilled: first, the reforms would have to be in line with Hong Kong's Basic Law and "…

The City of Darkness - Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong

"The Walled City did have a strange status and a peculiar life of its own: it was not governed by law. As a result, it had become a haven for illegal immigrants, criminals and vice of every kind." Jackie Pullinger










When one looks at the pictures of the Kowloon Walled City Park one can hardly imagine what was to be found in this very place less than two decades ago. Until the beginning of the 1990s some 40,000 residents lived within this 6.5-acre (0.026 km2) area, cramped in unhygienic, infested houses, built illegally by all sorts of people who, for whatever reason, chose to take refuge in that "city of darkness", as it was known in those days. 




Before being demolished in 1994, Kowloon Walled City was an enigmatic and appalling anomaly in this modern, wealthy metropolis. That compact mass of dilapidated, squalid houses stood in the middle of residential areas, like a mysterious, impenetrable fortress, governed by its own laws, dominated by criminal triads, inaccessible…

History of Hong Kong (Part I)

Hong Kong is a unique place. It was Britain's first and only direct colonial possession in China; and it was the last big British colony, the last remnant of the Empire that ruled a quarter of mankind. Under British administration, Hong Kong rose to become one of the richest, most exciting, and densely populated cities in the world. 


Yet it has always been a thoroughly Chinese city, in which East and West met, but didn't merge into one single people, one single civilization.
When Commodore Sir Gordon Bremer of the Royal Navy took possession of Hong Kong in the morning of 26 Januray 1841, in a place that is now known as Possession Point, the island of Hong Kong had nothing in common with the vibrant metropolis that we see today.
Dismissed by Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston (1784 – 1865) as ‘a barren island with hardly a house upon it’, Hong Kong was nothing more than a remote outpost of the Chinese Empire, a small island, home to less than 8,000 fishermen and farmers. Today, it …

Top 6 Unusual Things in Taiwan

1) People Wearing Surgical Masks
If you go out wearing a surgical mask in Europe you'll probably see people staring at you in panic, wondering whether you want to spread a mortal disease by mingling with healthy people instead of putting yourself into quarantine. 
Don't worry, it's not that in Taiwan millions of people have serious diseases. It's just a habit to wear surgical masks, and no one will think you're weird and no one will look at you if you wear one.
I don't know if the habit of wearing masks comes from Japan, or if it is a consequence of the SARS panic from a few years ago, which led East Asian countries to care more about public health in their overcrowded cities. Actually, wearing masks is not a recent phenomenon; I remember reading a book written in the 1930s about Japan, in which the author described a group of Japanese soldiers' wives in occupied Manchuria wearing surgical masks.
Definitely, East Asian people seem very concerned about their hea…

Danshui and Fort San Domingo - New Taipei City Highlights

Although I am in Hong Kong now, there are still a few places in Taiwan I would like to write about. One of them is Fort San Domingo in Danshui.
Danshui is a district in the Northeast part of New Taipei City. It used to be an urban township (淡水鎮; pinyin: Dànshuǐ Zhèn), until on 25 December 2010 the special municipality of New Taipei City was created (note). Practically, Danshui is still a sort of separate town, with around 130,000 inhabitants. 
History of Danshui
Before the Japanese took possession of Taiwan in 1895, Danshui was one of the cities most exposed to Western influence. There were two brief periods of colonial rule, first by the Spanish (1629-1641) and then by the Dutch (1641-1661) (note). Following the defeat of the Dutch, Taiwan was first ruled by the Cheng dynasty as a separate state, and then annexed to the Chinese Empire under the Qing dynasty, which in Taiwan lasted from 1684 to 1895 (see Davison 2003, chapters 2-4).
After the expulsion of the Dutch, Danshui was free from …