People who lived there were always loyal to each other. In the Walled City, the sunshine always followed the rain.

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In Hong Kong, you’re never too far from a skyscraper.

Our trip to Hong Kong feels like decades ago now – now that work has taken over again, and we’re slowly getting back to the usual routine (although that will soon go to pot as we’re hoping to add a kitten to the family any day now!), but I wanted to share some photos from my trip.

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These photos are from a visit I made to see the site of Kowloon Walled City, now taking up part of a beautiful and peaceful city park in Kowloon.

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When my boyfriend first told me about the Walled City, I thought he was making fun of me, as it just sounded like a complete fabrication – something invented for the movies, a movie that most likely stars Jean Claude Van Damme. (In fact I wasn’t far off the mark, as in the JCVD classic Bloodsport, the Walled City makes the perfect setting for a martial arts tournament.)

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Kowloon Walled City was originally a Chinese military fort, and when the New Territories   were leased to Britain for 99 years in 1898, the agreement excluded the Walled City. At the time, it had a population of around 700 people, but this increased massively during World War 2, when Japanese forces occupied Hong Kong. After Japan’s surrender, China announced its intent to reclaim its rights to the Walled City, resulting in a large influx of refugees looking to take advantage of Chinese protection. By 1947 there were 2,000 squatters in the City. Permanent buildings soon followed, and by 1971 there were around 10,000 people occupying just over 2,000 dwellings in the city.

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This cannon harks back to the original purpose of the Walled City, as a fort.

On several occasions, the British government tried to clear the city – but each time the residents managed to stave it off, threatening to create a diplomatic incident – reasoning that the city was part of China, not Hong Kong. From 1948, the British adopted a largely “hands-off” policy, and with no government enforcement from the Chinese or the British save for a few raids by the Hong Kong Police, the Walled City became a haven for crime and drugs – largely ruled by the organised crime syndicates known as Triads. Opium dens, heroin stands, brothels and dog restaurants all multiplied in the ’50s and ’60s, with police usually turning a blind eye. In Cantonese, it was known as the City of Darkness. The city became a hotbed of criminal activity.

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Full disclosure – I didn’t travel back in time to take this photo, or the one below – it’s just a photo of a photo in the exhibition in the park, showing how the site used to look.

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Hong Kong flats – not known for their generous floorspace.

a population density of over 3m people per square mile (compared to Manhattan, with a paltry population density of arounand in January of that year, the Hong Kong government announced plans to demolish the Walled City. Demolition began in March 1993, and the site reopened as Kowloon Walled City Park in December 1995.

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The park is a beautiful place to visit, and tucked away next to the larger Carpenter Road Park (I almost walked right past it, even though I knew I was in the right place!). There’s a great exhibition in the park showing pictures and video of how it used to be, well worth a visit. The original Yamen (office and residence of government officials) is still there, fully restored, as well as some models and graphics of the city. But even for just a peaceful escape from the city, this park is a must-see if you’re in Hong Kong for any length of time.

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It really is a fascinating place to read about, and despite its obvious dark side, Hong Kong residents do seem to talk about it with some affection – read this South China Morning Post article, written on the 20th anniversary of the City’s demolition for more information. That article includes this fantastic graphic showing a typical building in the city:

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For some more pictures showing what life was like in the Walled City in its hey day, I recommend checking out Greg Giraud’s pictures, who spent five years meeting and photographing its residents. A couple of my favourites are below:

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Rooftop 04 EG

Today’s quote is from Ida Shum, a former resident of the Walled City, and taken from this SCMP article.

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