A particularly colonial couple of days have been spent treading in Annie’s footsteps and following up a mission from Bexhill Museum. Arriving in Hong Kong the weather and landscape has become more tropical, a balmy 27 degrees and beautiful flowering plants make my time here feel more like I’m on holiday.
Annie does not write very much about her time here, it was only a brief stay of a couple of days, a visit to Government House could not be replicated unfortunately, but she does talk in some detail of her trip to the races:
“We were puzzled to imagine where, on this rocky, hilly island there could possibly be found a piece of ground flat enough for a race-course. But the mystery was solved when we reached a lovely little valley, about two miles from the town, where we found a very fair course, about the size of that at Chester, but not so dangerous. The grand stand is a picturesque object, with its thatched roof, verandahs, and sun-blinds. the interior, too, looks comfortably arranged, and certainly contains the most luxurious basket chairs one could possibly desire. There are a lawn and paddock attached, and very good temporary stables, over many of which are private stands and tiffin rooms…” (from Voyage on the Sunbeam, 1876-77).
A great fire some years ago saw off the thatched roof and the race track has been modernised over the years, but The Happy Valley Racecourse remains a key attraction of Hong Kong Island. Visiting there last night it continues to be a site with great atmosphere (albeit a somewhat altered view since Annie’s arrival) surrounded by tower blocks and skyscrapers, lights flashing and glittering in the night’s sky. Most of that which is flat ground today has in fact been reclaimed from the sea. Annie’s Hong Kong (or Victoria) was entirely mountainous, at least three main roads and streets in between have been built in the last 20 years alone, so Victoria Harbour remains, albeit a bit further out to sea than it was in 1877.
The complex social and political history of Hong Kong has left it with a mixture of British and Chinese characteristics, and many traces of colonialism remain (despite post boxes being painted green). Another link with Bexhill is the statue of Queen Victoria which was made in Pimlico by a founder of the museum, and which I was duly sent to look for on my arrival. She has had quite an eventful time having been relocated from Statue Square, painted red as an act of protest by a local artist, and finally placed at the entrance of Victoria Park, for what I hope is a more restful place to remain. Some time was spent searching the park without success, works were being done along the harbour side and I feared she had again been removed. In a final attempt I eventually resorted to showing people pictures of the statue from ‘google’ on my ipad, in asking if they knew it, and helpfully being pointed in the right direction. Delight at her discovery, this did little to make me feel I was integrating terribly well.