Tag Archives: LCSD

You’re history! (Like a beat-up car!): Hong Kong Museum Of History review

‘The History Museum perpetuates the myth that Hong Kong has no culture by providing a sterile and clinical retelling of Hong Kong’s rich past.’

History geek boyfriend (shown above) on Hong Kong’s History Museum

This review of Hong Kong’s Museum Of History was a long time coming. You may have seen my review of their special exhibition The Evergreen Classic: Transformation Of The Qipao but I actually managed to check out their main exhibition, The Hong Kong Story, twice in the space of two weeks. Not through scholarly enthusiasm but on a trip with my kindergarten class and again, when my boyfriend and I showed up a month early for aforementioned qipao exhibition – and I’m afraid that I wasn’t too impressed.

The Hong Kong Story contains a lot of what I brand ‘fake history’ – lots of replicas and not many authentic artefacts. It traces Hong Kong from its beginnings as a barely-populated jungle filled with tigers (apparently) through its time as a British colony via displays about traditional Chinese folk culture before reaching modern-day HK. But given it opts for building replicas of trams, boats, fishermen, puppets, a tower of buns, schools, banks and practically everything else you can think of, the true authentic visceral sense of history is forsaken. Most of your information is gleaned from reading the placards beside each replica (or listening to your audio guide!) and looking at blown-up reprinted old photographs, meaning that you’re not really getting that much of a different experience from reading a history textbook, except you’re getting to stretch your legs and battle snap-happy visitors in the process.

In my opinion, the most riveting part of Hong Kong’s history is wartime and the Japanese occupation – parts which are dealt with much more effectively and movingly in the Museum Of Coastal Defence, which at least has some genuine bullet-strewn walls, cannons, caponniers and torpedoes to make for a more well-rounded experience (plus there’s currently the amazing Escape To Wai Chow exhibition – check out the full review here).

Elsewhere, it’s only interesting to those who have absolutely no working knowledge of Hong Kong’s history and given the plastic-ness of most of the exhibits, it doesn’t really reward repeated visits – although obviously I overdid it a bit! It’s certainly not an essential tourist stop nor, speaking from experience, is it much fun for very young visitors.

My photos illustrate the few parts that, not being too bothered by models of Neanderthals making fire in prehistoric HK, I actually did find interesting. And oh dear, déjà vu, it includes some vintage calendar prints of girls wearing qi pao. Moving on…

This is the interior of one of HK’s oldest traditional Chinese medicine shops. A REAL interior, not a fake replica. When it closed its doors for the last time, the LCSD managed to procure its décor and stick it in the history museum. There’s also an audio recording from the shop’s owner (plus English translation!). It’s interesting because it feels real and what with Hong Kong’s record in demolishing sites of historical interest, the sort of thing the government should be doing much more of. You’ll find it in a street filled with less interesting replicas of other early Hong Kong shops.

Social history inevitably has a lot more to offer than a plastic model. The section on Hong Kong’s early schooling system has glass cases filled with old exercise books and report cards. and, if you can decipher the spidery handwriting, being basically quite nosy is always absorbing!

I know it might sound like my bugbear, having gone on about it at other tourist destinations (like the Museum Of Coastal Defence and the Botanical Gardens), but the eating facilities here would be the laughing stock of any Western cultural hotspot. The Museum Of History’s school cafeteria may be cheap, clean and offer an abundance of chicken wings, but it could be so much more. Flogging a mix of instant noodles and junk food (not in one dish… although I wouldn’t put it past them), it mostly serves as a last resort or for people looking for somewhere quiet where they can crab free Wifi for as long as possible. It did, however, have beautiful lamps made to look like birdcages.

Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by having “real history” in practically every back garden in the UK, but I found the Hong Kong Museum Of History’s Hong Kong Story exhibition rather uninspiring. I’d rather pick up a history book from Page One and hop across the way to the Science Museum, which is a LOT more fun. And hopefully you’ll believe me when I say that I’ll review that museum very soon – i.e. sometime before 2012, fingers crossed!

The Hong Kong Story, Hong Kong Museum of History, 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Kowloon, 2724 9042.

Opening hours: Monday, Wednesday- Saturday, 10am-6pm, Sunday and Public Holiday 10am-7pm, closed Tuesdays. Admission $10 (free on Wednesdays). For further details, visit their website here.

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens: Green there, done that

It’s a nice day, you’re unemployed and at a loose end. What to do that’s cheap, interesting and actually involves leaving the house? How about a trip to Hong Kong’s Zoological and Botanical Gardens?

Admittedly, now probably isn’t the best time of year to visit as most of the 1000 plus species of plants are no longer flowering. Yet given it was an absolutely beautiful summer’s day and I wasn’t sure if we’d be having any more of those this year, my boyfriend and I decided to make the trip to Central and have a calm and gentle stroll around.

Trek not helped by The Stairs To Nowhere. HK Planning Department Fail.

Of course, we forgot that beautiful summer’s day = getting hot and sweaty. Especially as it’s a bit of a trek to get there, much of it uphill, and one problem of an open-air park is that there isn’t a blast of cool air-conditioning to welcome you there! (I still think the LCSD is missing a trick by not making its museums and parks have proper restaurants and cafes. It’s something many places in England have done, making them destinations in their own right. But most places I’ve visited in HK make do with an amateur-run eaterie, akin to the school cafeteria, with plastic chairs, dishing up instant noodles – and that’s on a good day! HKZBG was no exception, sporting a few fast food kiosks. Given the number of young families and yummy mummies visiting, I think a beautiful café could make a killing here). However, it’s still a lovely place, especially since this spot of lush verdant greenery is nestled right in the heart of Central’s towering skyscrapers.

The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens is one of the oldest of its kind around the world, with construction starting in 1860, opening to the public in 1864. The pagoda inside is the oldest structure in the garden and there are a few other historical statues, like a bronze one of King George erected to commemorate the 100th anniversary of British colonial rule in HK and a memorial arch as you walk in dedicated to British and Chinese soldiers who died in the war. I was also surprised by how many animals there were, an eclectic bunch of simians, reptiles and around 400 exotically-plumaged birds.

But I was here because I missed green stuff. I missed plants. I missed grass. I missed trees and shrubs and my garden. I missed walking around in green spaces, breathing in fresh air and being a bit removed from the rumble of pollution and the smog of concrete. So most of my pictures are of that. Enjoy. (As ever, click to enlarge). And yes, I will be going back in Spring.

This plant was called mother-in-law’s tongue! *Insert mother-in-law joke here*

Some form of Heliconia, also known as ‘false bird-of-paradise’. You can see why! Birds-of-paradise were always my favourite house plant in Sims!

Another hibiscus – not HK’s national flower, but it might as well be.

I want to call these catkins. They might not be but whatever, it still reminded me of my Flower Fairies books.

The Education and Exhibition Centre currently houses a display of orchids. Most were fairly standard (or as standard as orchids ever can be!), like those at CWB’s Flower Market but these were unusually beautiful.

I thought these tree roots were amazing – like a labyrinth or a witch’s hand! Better than any modern art sculpture!

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Albany Road, Central, 2530 0154. Free admission. Fountain Terrace Garden (the fountain was closed when I visited!), open 6am to 10pm. Green House and Exhibition Centre, 6am-4pm. All other areas, 6am-7pm.

Get a bus or get the MTR to Pacific Place, Admiralty. Go up the escalators at the side by Grappas and Lane Crawford to Hong Kong Park and follow the signs to the HK Zoological and Botanical Gardens.

The Lodger: Hitchcock Retrospective @ HK Film Archive review

People say silence is golden but is this the case for cinema? I decided to put this theory to the test with The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, the first film and only silent one in the LCSD’s current Hitchcock retrospective.

Although it was Hitchcock’s third film, it is widely-regarded as the first “Hitchcock” film, setting in motion his signature style. Having never seen a silent movie in a cinema before, keen to see the beginnings of Hitchcock’s trademark thrillers and hardly breaking the bank at fifty bucks per ticket, I thought it would prove to be an interesting experience.

The Lodger is Hitch’s take on the Jack the Ripper story. A serial killer murders blonde women around foggy London on Tuesday nights, leaving a calling card of ‘The Avenger’. A witness describes him as having a scarf pulled up round his face – cue a mysterious stranger, complete with scarf pulled up round his face, arriving at a boarding house nearby i.e. the eponymous lodger (Ivor Novello). He soon gets friendly with Daisy, the pretty blonde daughter of the house, whilst skulking around the place and acting creepily enough to arouse the suspicions of anyone with eyes and a functioning mental capacity. Is he The Avenger? Will he kill Daisy? Will anyone tell him to tone down on the creepy front?

I found The Lodger more interesting in terms of witnessing the start of Hitchcock’s development rather than a film in its own right, and there are plenty of distinctive Hitchcock motifs – the pursuit of an innocent man, the obsession with blondes, a bathroom scene, touches of humour, strong visuals and innovative shots – to keep the average film geek going. The opening close-up of a woman screaming as she is being murdered (back-lit to emphasise her halo of fair hair) is pure Hitchcock, whilst a clever shot that sees the nervous landlords look up at their shaking chandelier, dissolving to the Lodger’s feet pacing the floor above it (achieved by shooting his feet from under a glass floor) is unbearably tense. And if you thought that The Thomas Crown Affair is the ultimate in sexy chess scenes, there’s a really sensual one here albeit with a dangerous undercurrent about forty years early!

It was also interesting to see Ivor Novello, the actor and matinee idol, rather than just the long-forgotten name behind a prestigious song-writing award. He’s actually rather beautiful, with his feminine lips and milky pale skin set to glow, but he overacts to such an extent that his performance practically reaches the exhibition hall downstairs. He arrives on-screen looking and acting like Nosferatu and I haven’t seen an actor delight in being so obviously sinister since the audience burst out laughing at how weird (and seemingly talcum powder covered) the Cullen kids were in their first appearance in Twilight. There’s an ultra-magnified close-up of his kissing lips that may have had the swooning audience of the 20s reaching for their hankies in pleasure yet it’s just gigglingly uncomfortable nowadays.

Whilst Novello just about gets by on charm alone, I can’t say the same for the unsatisfying anticlimactic ending. Given Ivor Novello’s heartthrob status plus the fact that Hitch would surely never be so obvious, the Lodger’s innocence is never really in doubt (although Novello’s acting does suggest that he should have been sectioned along the way) but for us never to find out who The Avenger really was is a bit of a damp squib. Apparently, Novello’s popularity put the clappers on any earlier ideas Hitchcock had about making his identity a more ambiguous affair whilst right until the final shot, I was still hoping for a twist that would see Daisy’s jealous cop boyfriend or her dim father turn out to be the one wot dunnit. Instead we get a baying mob persecuting The Lodger (in an admittedly thrilling sequence that was the only part of the film to elicit an audibly excited response from the audience when I saw it) and a prolonged happy ending. There is only the sight of the ‘To-Night Golden Curls’ visual motif, flashing in the background as it has repeatedly throughout the film and The Avenger’s reign of terror, to provide a very slight ominous touch.

Seeing the film in complete silence meant that every other sound in the small cinema at Sai Wan Ho’s Film Archive was magnified – sadly, in my case, this meant the stomach rumblings of the old man nodding off next to me. Unlike black-and-white as opposed to colour films, or hand-drawn animation as opposed to CGI, I really felt that the lack of sound meant something vital was missing. It’s worth pointing out that even in 1927, the audience wouldn’t have been sitting in complete silence like we were – there would have been live musical accompaniment, with a score performed by a pianist during the film to heighten the moods depicted on-screen. This screening would have been undoubtedly improved had the LCSD thought to do the same – given the space constraints, at least a man on a Yamaha keyboard or, joking aside, a CD player using the score from DVD versions of the film could have been managed.

However, seeing The Lodger on the big screen is still worth fifty of your best Hong Kong dollars. As with most silent (and indeed Hitchcock) films, there is barely an ounce of fat on the film and it zips by at a brisk, eminently watchable pace. Having over 100 people gathered to watch a film over eighty years old and basking in the near enough complete silence, especially in frantic eternally-modernising Hong Kong, has a special charm all of its own.

6/10

The Hitchcock Retrospective, 10 September until 28 November 2010, comprises of 20 films shown twice at the Film Archive, Space Museum or Science Museum. Tickets cost $50 from www.urbtix.hk (worst ticketing website in the world, seems to have been built in the 90s).

Each film has two showings, with the season quite heavily biased towards Hitch’s earlier films (Rear Window and The Birds are two notable omissions), but seats are limited and many of the most famous ones have already sold out. All films are screened in English only, whilst a series of lectures ($80 each) are all conducted in Chinese!

Film Archive, 50 Lei King Road, Sai Wan Ho, 2739 2139. http://www.filmarchive.gov.hk