Over coffee, Bernadette Tsui, former Associate Vice-President of the University, and Cheng Po-hung, acclaimed city historian, shared memories and studied pictures with Donald, discussing the significance of Hong Kong Island’s most westerly neighbourhood.
Cheng is known for both his extensive knowledge of the city’s history and for his vast collection of books, old pictures, postcards, coins, banknotes, and stamps that feature Hong Kong through past decades and centuries. Gathered around a number of photography books, the three reminisced about time spent in this area that isn’t quite the South Side but also isn’t Mid-levels; a combination that appeals to many, making it a desirable place to live for locals and expats alike, typical of Hong Kong’s cosmopolitan character.
Recalling moving to the nearby estate Chi Fu Fa Yuen after getting married in the 1970’s, Cheng explained that at that time the West end of the Island hadn’t yet captured the public’s imagination, as the transport infrastructure was lacking. But this area that was previously the heart of the Island’s dairy farming industry, soon gained appeal, with both this and the Wah Fu Estate on the other side of Pok Fu Lam Village becoming aspirational places to live, given their incredible sunset views over Sandy and Telegraph Bays.
“There were still cow sheds dotted around the area when I moved here,” noted Cheng. “So much so, the students back then held barn dances,” added Bernadette, explaining that they brought in hay for decoration, and dressed up as cowboys for the occasion.
However, for over a hundred years, every now and then there has been talk of relocating the campus. “As early as the 1920’s, Sir Shouson Chow suggested moving HKU, to get it away from the ‘bad influence of the nearby red-light district in Shek Tong Tsui’,” remarked historian Cheng.
“And even during the turn of the century there floated suggestions like relocating to Shek Kong or other sites in the New Territories with much larger piece of land, but that would have undermined the culture and heritage of the university, so the idea was rejected,” added Bernadette.
It’s clear that the campus and its surroundings are a vital part of Hong Kong life and heritage. The century-old Main Building has served as a backdrop to many Hong Kong movies like Lust, Caution; City of Glass; Starry is the Night. HKU is an established stop for tourists keen to experience a slice of Hong Kong history; its Edwardian Baroque-style architecture being one of the few buildings to have survived intact, benefitting from day-to-day use by students and teachers that keeps it relevant and animated.
“It’s a place that Hong Kong can be very proud of. The knowledge and cultural vibrancy that takes place here makes it an important asset for the city,” noted Donald Choi who has also taught at HKU. “And with this setting of Pok Fu Lam and its nature as well as convenience, it makes it a very desirable place to live and work.”