Tai Po Market boys. | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Tai Po Market boys.

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Tai Po Market boys.

This photograph was almost certainly taken at the Tai Po Market railway station.  The boys had been playing football. Can anyone be recognised?   In 2020 they'll all be in their seventies.  Goodness knows where the boy's head at the front right has gone.  Many children liked to have their photographs taken but he might have been an exception and quickly ducked out of sight.

Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Wednesday, January 1, 1958


Thanks Andrew for posting yet another marvellous photograph from the distant past of TPM. Yes, the area was indeed by the old TPM railway station. In those days the station and train tracks were not enclosed and were accessible by all and sundry. The area was a headland that jutted out towards the “watercress fields”.  It still holds a special place in my memory, as it was part of my stomping ground when I was a lil‘ un’. That was the go-to place for me for kite flying and kite-fighting. We had kite lines that were coated with glass powder. When two lines crossed, one would try to cut the other boy’s line. The winner was the one whose kite remained airborne. But what I do remember most was that one special day when there were no other fliers around to bother me and the conditions were just perfect for flying. I remember letting the steady breeze taking the kite until it was merely a tiny little dot in the sky. It might have been up to maybe 2 km. away. I remember if I’d taken my eyes off it, it’d not have been easy trying to retrace that teensy-weensy speck in the sky as such a long distance meant that the line was no longer straight but the total weight of it all meant that it was drooping down towards the watercress fields before rising up again towards the sky, like some parabolic curve.   

As for the boys in the photo, yes, they were probably about my age in those days. I must admit I cannot remember ever seeing or meeting them. I have a feeling they might have been boys from another town or village outside TPM, just whiling their time away playing football. Local boys who played football regularly would know of better locations in TPM, as this high ground area wasn’t really suitable for playing football properly due to the lack of any fencing and numerous bumps and potholes. Either that was the case or my memory is playing up on me after some 60 years.  Cheers.

Hello again, PepePeter,

What a shame you were not there to be photographed!  As you rightly point out, the station and even the railway tracks were wide open for anyone to use - see my photograph of the woman carrying a large bale of hay or straw along the railway line at the station.  I don't think that the boys had been playing football on that particular spot but I have just found a very poor quality photograph (one of the over-developed ones) in my album that was taken by a pal of me handing out bananas to the same boys - we tried to give them something healthy rather than sweets or coins!  I shall now upload it to Gwulo simply to show that very close to where we were standing there was a level piece of ground where they had most likely been playing. It's in the middle background and it looks like some sort of playground. If we rule out that they were waiting for a train (very unlikley because of the relatively high cost of fares) the chances are that they were local boys, who had spotted us and came up to the station area to see what we were up to.

I loved your description of kite flying and the mini battles that ensued.  In England kite flying was never as popular as in Hong Kong but we enjoyed it when young.  I have a lasting memory of seeing several men flying much larger kites than we kids had near our village during the war.  I don't think that they actually fought with them - maybe they were hoping to down an enemy bomber!

Best wishes, Andrew

Tai Po Market bananas
Tai Po Market bananas, by Andrew Suddaby


Hi again, the mystery of the origins of the boys deepens. I’ve been reading a bit of Sherlock Holmes recently and his manner of deductive reasoning is kind of rubbing off on me, hahaha.

We can’t really rule out the possibility that they were on an outing, perhaps with a school, church, or an organisation maybe, and were waiting for their next train, which in those days would only run only once an hour, a time long enough for them to get bored and start to have an impromptu kick-about.

Secondly the train tickets were not that expensive. Even first or second class tickets to Kowloon were affordable by a lot of locals. It was just that the people tended to be thrifty with a view of not wanting to pay more than they had to getting from A to B.  And a third class ticket from TPM to Kowloon was not much more than 50 cents in those days, even less if they were going to Shatin or Fanling.

Also, to me they looked a bit too over-dressed for a proper game of football. If they were boys who lived in the TPM station neighbourhood, I don’t think they would have been wearing what they were wearing out kicking a football.

I think more clues may be had if we can determine the day of the week when the picture was taken.  Cheers.

You're right, Peter. Trying to work out what went on 62 years ago is a bit like playing at Sherlock Holmes or more recenlty, Poirot. I hadm't realised that train travel was so accessible, so the boys could have travelled in from somewhere and were, as you say just hanging about waiting for the train.  However:

Your suggestion that the day of the week might give us a clue was a good one.  A few years ago, I transcribed all the letters that my parents had kept onto my computer.  Fairly recently I had it printed and I have just checked to see whether that trip was mentioned.  It was.  During a spot of leave a few friends and I caught the train into the New Territories.  That was on Tuesday, 7th January 1958, so the boys would presumably have been at school that day. My letter says that we travelled by train to Shatin, spent some time at the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas and then caught another train to Tai Po Market.  There, we looked for a cafe to get some food but decided not to eat as the cafe we saw didn't look very clean - my friends were not as adventurous as I was. So, I bought a huge bunch of bananas.  We shared them with the boys and took the photographs.  My guess is that by then it would have been some time in the late afternoon and that the boys had just left school.  We must thave been killng time before catching the next train back to Kowloon.  I think that they were locals.  That's possibly what happened. ...

Thank you pepePeter, for sharing your memories about kite-flying.  I also enjoyed kite-flying in the 1950s on roof-top of my home on Boundary and Ki Lung street junction.  Not an expert on aerodynamics,  I always wonder why most the the unbalanced kites I flew spin in clockwise direction.  There were the odd ones that spin counter-clockwise.  If I leave it alone, the continuous spinning would eventually drop the kite to the ground.  So to keep it from dropping, you may remember we would pull the string back at the exact moment the kite starts to aim upward.  But this would be tiring after a while.  Or, we would let go the string at the exact mement the kite starts to spin, but we would soon run out of string.

There is a solution, you may also recall, that we would bend slightly the left half of the cross piece bamboo in the same same direction of its curvature, the idea is to weaken it to reduce the uplift force acting on it, so that it would not spin clockwise.

"Mar-Ly" are graceful in the sky, the bigger the better.  Their horizontal cross piece have a curve at both ends and they I believe enable us to navigate more to the left and to the right.  "Go-Junk" cost less, it tends to move faster, so we need timely reaction to control it.

Kite-flying never ceases to amaze me, they are our companion in the sky connected by a string.

Regards,  Peter   


Yes Peter, about flying kites, I used to get the impression that by attaching a tail to the kite it would tend to add a bit more stability to it.  Hence on that memorable occasion I have no doubt that my kite definitely had had a tail added to it. 

That was a very memorable day for me as everything was perfect including crucially the wind direction. The westerly breeze was blowing my kite out and away over Tolo Harbour.  Imagine over 2000 metres of line flying off the reel like crazy.  I remember the tension was there in the line but when the kite was getting further and further away the line started to sag (my school geometry tells me that it was at an angle of declination). It was a bit surreal, me sitting on the edge of that high ground next to the railway station, kite up there a long way away in the distance, almost invisible against a clear blue sky, and yet the pull on the reel was not upwards, but slightly downwards. I remember it well. 

A few years ago, I came across a movie call ‘The Kite Runner’ (2007) in which children were flying and fighting kites. When the main character had his line cut, the ‘kite runner’ would be chasing it to retrieve it. But in this movie the production crew clearly had not much experience of flying kites. In one scene, when the kite descended from the sky practically into the hands of the ‘Kite Runner’, there was not any bit of string attached to it, not a sausage. In all my years of kite flying never had I seen a kite that had its line cut had not at least a few feet of string still attached.  There you go!  


Hi both Peters,

I don't think that kite fighting existed in England.  People here were probably too risk averse.  How far along the string did the coating of sharp glass extend?  Would that now be deemed too dangerous for children to use?  I recall in 1958 being amazed at the ferocity of the Chinese fireworks, especially the small marble sized clay ones.  We bought them in wooden boxes with the fireworks (more like small grenades) nestling in sawdust.  It's a wonder people were not blinded by the bits of clay flying all over the place when the fireworks were thrown onto concrete.  And the strings of fireworks still set off at various celebrations would never have been allowed in England. Andrew 

Yes Andrew, the glass powder coated kite strings were available in a lot of toy shops in HK. They were sold in various lengths. My whole reel would just be all glass coated. To be honest they didn’t feel that sharp to the touch. They were not sharp enough to cut through skin unless you deliberately ran it on the skin for a long long time. This reminds of a critical scene from ‘The Mountain’, a 1956 movie where Spencer Tracy held desperately onto the safety rope while it was rapidly sliding through his bare hands as the heavy object tied at the end was falling downhill (can’t remember whether the object he was trying to save was Robert Wagner, his on-screen brother or the injured Indian woman passenger from the plane that crashed on the mountain). That the rope that was coming out of his grip started to turn red, still gives me shivers when I think about it. Anyway I suppose if the said kite strings were to be viewed under a powerful microscope, you might then be able to see some jagged glass fragments. At one time, I even tried to make my own ‘glass powder’ string. It was quite a complicated process. First I had to grind up the glass. Then I had to buy a special fish glue that I had to boil and mix with the ground glass. Then the liquid mixture was put into a paper cup with a small hole on either side with the uncoated string passing through it. All in all, I think I made a total mess. I made the mistake of thinking the more glass on the string the better the weapon! I was totally wrong. It didn’t do the job. The string had just lumps of glass here and there. Eventually I gave up and just bought the whole caboodle from the shops.  Cheers

At least you tried - which is what it's all about for a youngster!  Any thoughts about the fireworks?

Hi Peter and Andrew, my earlier reply about spinning kites is misleading, my apology.

When left alone, a balanced kite stays pointing upward in the wind, like tiny stationary dot in the sky as you described. Under certain conditions, it will spin. For example, when we let out more line continuously, either during kite fighting or when we want it to go higher. Most kites will spin but in very small circle, about two cycles per second. Some balanced kite do not spin during kite fight, they oscillate left and right as we let out more line. When the line tension increases and stabilizes, these kites will stop spinning.

An unbalanced kite can spin also, and can make big (radius 50 feet or bigger) circles which is problematic because, if not navigated correctly, it would eventually hit the ground, or roof. Hence a paper tail solution! For each new kite I fly, I let out 100~150 feet to test it, and would bring it back to correct the imbalance. The longer the line is out, the more difficult it is in bringing back an unbalanced kite.

On a clear day with blue sky, you can see your white string all the way up to the kite, graceful curvature caused by gravity and wind drag.

From my experience in kite fighting, the line going out has an advantage over the line coming back, the former travels faster, and line tension might be also a factor. Secondly, the line on the top has an advantage. Thirdly, you also have an advantage when you first navigate your kite upwind before you land your line on the other line. This way, when both of you let out the line, your line not only rides on the other line, but also your kite is moving downwind such that it is, in theory at least, essentially sliding on the same spot of the other line.

Yes, I remember those hot sunny days when we made glass powder string on roof top, and the fish glue that comes in sheets. To avoid repeating the earlier mess, I place the string spool completely submerged in my hot glass-power-glue concoction, then reel the string up to the kite spool through my thumb and index finger to remove lumps and beads. It was too hot to touch at first, but after a few minutes, the production would begin. Next, I "go fly a kite" taking with it the entire length to dry, another tiny dot in the sky.

From hot to cold - I have also watched the movie "The Mountain" Its Chinese title is 雪領風雲, but I am not certain, after many years, about the second word, perhaps you can confirm.

Regards, Peter

Yes, the title was 雪嶺風雲


Yes, regarding firecrackers in HK, especially during the Chinese New Year, I used to enjoy mucking about with them. By the time they were banned in 1967, I’d already left HK some 3 years. So the ban never affected me in this respect.

I know exactly the type of marble size clay firework that you’d bought. I used to call them ‘地雷which means ‘landmine’. You’d throw them and they’d go off on impact against a hard surface. Or we used to place them in the middle of the road and they’d explode when a car went over them.

I also remember a really wicked deed I did on one or two occasions, when I was only about 8, was using firecrackers to startle people. We would curl the fuse of a medium size firecracker around and pretty close to the lit-up tip of a joss stick, and placed the contraption next to the curb of the pavement outside the ‘Four Happiness’ Restaurant on Kwong Fuk Road, where the pavement was quite wide. And we would just sit under the restaurant wall, waiting for it to go off. More often than not, it would explode just when a passer-by was walking past. I saw a few people jumping out of their skins because of the sudden loud bang. We would smirk or giggle among ourselves in a kind of childish schadenfreude. Surprisingly, none of those who were startled or shocked by the loud bang never even looked our way. Maybe it was because we were just little kids; we were kind of invisible or irreproachable in people’s eyes in those days.  



After all these years guilty secrets emerge.  The clay 'landmines' cannot have been the normal type of firework with a fuse.  Does anyone know what they contained?  That they were sold in beds of sawdust and were so easily detonated by impact suggests that they might even have contained something like nitroglycerin!  Happy(?) days.