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July 24, 2008

History 101

You know Lan Kwai Fong like the back of your hand and can navigate Wyndham Street in your sleep (or a drunken stupor!).  But what can you tell us of Hong Kong’s remaining 1920’s tenements or 19th century opium trade? In a city as fast paced and quick changing as Hong Kong you have to take advantage of the rare chance to step back in time whenever you can.  We know you were never a fan of summer school, but it’s time you brushed up a bit on your HK history…

Lesson 1: Historical Talks with Jason Wordie
From organized crime to prostitution to illicit drug trade, famed local historian Jason Wordie has a summer line-up that would rival any HBO TV series.  On August 20th, in “Flower Boats and Working Girls,” he will explore life in Hong Kong in the mid 1800’s to early 1900’s when it was estimated that one in four Chinese women in the colony were prostitutes. On August 26, in “The Smoke of Heaven,” Jason will discuss the role played by opium in Hong Kong since before the establishment of the British colony as well as the striking economic, legal and moral parallels that exist between the 19th century opium trade and the 21st century tobacco industry.  On August 27, learn about the true history and role of the Heaven and Earth Societies (aka Triads) from the Manchu period to the Republican era to modern day in “Triad Societies of Hong Kong.”  (August 20th, 26th and 27th, YWCA, 3/F, 1 MacDonnell Road, Central, 3476 1340, http://www.esmdywca.org.hk )

Lesson 2: The Blue House
With new restaurants and bars opening every week, Wan Chai is set to be the next SoHo, but before we jump into the future, take a look into the past at The Blue House. Located at the site of the district’s first hospital from the 1870’s, the building was rebuilt as a four-storey balcony-style tenement in the 1920’s and painted bright blue, the only color available, during a 1950’s renovation. One of the few remaining buildings of its kind, The Blue House is now home to the Wan Chai Livelihood Museum, which organizes regular tours to explore different facets of the district’s history. (The Blue House, 74 Stone Nullah Lane, Wan Chai, 2835 4376)

Lesson 3: Our Life in West Kowloon II
Next time you head to Sham Shui Po to stock up on reels of fabric and ribbons, take a detour to Kwelin Street and be rewarded with a rare glimpse into the area’s culture. Organised by the non-profit Society for Community Organization (SoCO) along with 10 local artists and over 200 local residents, Our Life in West Kowloon II uses photographs, video recordings, installations and documented history to depict the varied lifestyles of the residents of Sham Shui Po. Your guided tour will begin on the first floor, which focuses on the area’s shops including photographs and blueprints, take you upstairs to view the living areas including some remaining partition flats in the building and an installation of an actual cage home. Lastly, you will be led to the top floor, a reflection room where, among other things, you can take in the fleeting glory of this historic building, which will be demolished in late August.  (Until August 10, Our Life in West Kowloon Part II, Wed-Sun, 55-57 Kwelin Street, Sham Shui Po, 2725 3165, http://www.soco.org.hk )

Lesson 4: Picture This Gallery
Calling all bookworms!  Picture This Gallery, already renowned for its amazing selection of maps, prints and vintage posters is holding a unique exhibition and special sale entitled “A Selection of Rare Antiquarian Books.” Visit the gallery to view works on history and travel in Hong Kong, China and the Far East including atlases, sketches, maritime journals and even Mahjong how-to’s.  A special treat for literary buffs of all ages is a collection of 19th and 20th century literature, poetry and children’s books including 1st editions of classics such as Sleeping Beauty, The Little Prince and Eloise, some even with personal notes from their original owners.   All works can be viewed and purchased online, however we recommend checking out the gallery for a firsthand trip down memory lane. (Until August 8th, Picture This, Suite 603B, 9 Queen’s Road and Shop 212, Prince’s Building, 2525 2820, http://www.picturethiscollection.com )

You always had a thing for your history teacher…now’s your chance to really make the grade!



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