Chapter 7 : Living on clouds
This chapter concerns Booths move to the Peak and contains the most locations referenced within a single chapter in the book, so bear with me.
The chapter starts off with a car trip to the new residence at Apartment 8, Block A, Mount Austin Mansions. The drive goes via the Yau Ma Tei vehicular ferry up to Magazine Gap before getting onto Mount Austin Road.
Various locations are observed and described including the Dairy Farm general store and the Peak Cafe, latter described as:
"...a low, red-roofed building that I had spotted as my father halted to change gear on our first visit...(and later in the chapter)...single storey stone building with a tiled roof, originally erected in 1901 as a shelter for the sedan chair and rickshaw coolies"
On an initial exploratory walk he describes a small stone building, next to some stone steps leading to a path crossing a stream, also a small stone bridge. This walk he later identifies as "Governers Walk" which led to views...
"Below me was a pale azure reservoir, Lamma Island across a narrow channel...To the west, beyond the next conical hill, were the distant islands of western Hong Kong and beyond them Lantau Island"
Whilst living here he attends the Peak School on Plunketts Road.
Some old china hands are mentioned here, who were interned at Stanley during the Japanese occupation. One of whom is identified as a Sammy Shields who now ran a dental practice from Star House in TST - but the Star House of 1953 was a "two storey building facing the Kowloon Star Ferry pier across the bus terminal"
He describes a journey to a fortune teller that involves the peak tram, making his way past the cathedral (probably St Johns) and by banks and shipping line offices, crossing Statue Square to the Star Ferry pier.
Xmas day 1953 and the Shek Kip Mei squatter area fire is seen by his mother from Mount Austin.
Exploring the peak area he describes digging for bullets a the rifle range where Lugard and Harlech Roads intersect. As well as taking the circular walk that can be done by following these roads to circumnavigate the peak.
With regard to the rifle range (where he found spent .303 shells) he notes that one day it was closed because a young girl had been found murdered there. Here is the news archive
He also describes an empty house on this route that was supposedly haunted by the ghosts of amahs raped and killed by the Japanese during the occupation.
From his vantage point up on the road he can see the "red-brick block of the Bowen Road military hospital"
Pinewood Battery is mentioned as an old haunt: "The concrete walls...were still decorated with their camouflage paint". This is also the location that he unearths the buried skeleton of a Japanese soldier, killed by vengeful locals after the Japanese surrender. The body was found about "twenty yards out from the concrete skirt"
Green Island is described as having "many red notices on the shore" stating that Hong Kong stored its explosives there.
He goes into depth about the Peak Tram describing the lower terminus on Garden Road "running alongside a nullah and the Helena May Institute". May Road was at the steepest point and "uphill from the May Road platform was a small signal box in which a man changed the points at the passing place".
Other Peak Tram anecdotes include when he and his mother were inadvertently on board the tram whilst a scene from "Soldier of Fortune" was being filmed on it - with the man himself, Clark Gable.
Back down by the harbour and he describes seeing a dead coolie floating under the Star Ferry pier, with a gaping wound in his back caused by a baling hook. It's not clear if this is HK or Kowloon side though.
His grandma visits and is taken to Tiger Balm Gardens, the "opulant mansion" and "exquisite white pagoda" are mentioned.
Central is also explored and the HSBC building, Statue Square (at that time you could park your car there) and the Law courts (now the Legislative Council building) with its domed roof. Blake Pier is also mentioned.
The HSBC lions are described as "Stephen and Stitt" (Stephen the one with his mouth open and Stitt with his paw shiny from lucky 'rubs'), pockmarked and bullet holed. Booth is also smitten by the cavernous interior of the HSBC banking hall. He describes it thus:
"The banking hall was vast...Huge, square, dark brown marble pillars hold up the ceiling - and what a ceiling it was: barrel vaulted and covered in a gargantuan mosaic. In the centre was an elaborate golden starburst set against an azure backdrop, around the sides was a multi-coloured frieze of figures engaged in all manner of Oriental and Occidental craftwork and industry."