Off duty on Saturdays, we could choose to take the train or be trucked to Kowloon for an afternoon and early evening out in Hong Kong or Kowloon. When by train, we would reach the station at Sheung Shui by walking and balancing on the low narrow turf walls dividing the paddy fields, in which Hakka women might be spreading night soil from buckets hung from yokes across their shoulders.
With still remaining elements of wartime rationing left behind in the UK, it was a treat to enjoy a British mixed grill at the servicemens’ club on the Victoria Island shore of Hong Kong to sampling Chinese food, entirely unfamiliar before the arrival to the UK in the 1960’s of restaurants serving exotic food from the Indian sub-continent and the Far East. Stalls in Hong Kong alleyways gave off the heavy scent of duck fat, inducing queasiness and not a pleasing anticipation as now arises with experience and very pleasurable on visits to China and Malaysia years later. Culinary experimentation was uncommon and rarely sought by young servicemen. There was then no extensive background of Chinese restaurants in the UK except in London and Liverpool, and only one in all Edinburgh and that with a doubtful although probably unfair reputation.
On the slopes of the hills above Kowloon was a tumble of shacks built by Chinese who after the Japanese retreat had crossed the border from China proper, rebuilding the colony’s population fallen to as few as 500,000 during the Japanese occupation, but trebling in the five years following. Most structures seemed little more substantial than packing cases. The colony’s administration appeared relaxed as Chinese came over the border from the new People’s Republic. Reporting swimmers coming across the border river when on duty at the observation post on Crest Hill, Hong Kong Police arrived but seemed little interested and with no intent to take the incursion as of any seriousness.
A fortuitous and pleasant break for me from military duties came with a week on leave to the Servicemen’s Club in Victoria on Hong Kong Island. The week was won by rare success from a raffle amongst all members of the unit at Lo Wu. The week allowed me not only the pleasure of eating better than at the camp, but it allowed exploration of Hong Kong at more leisure than allowed on fleeting trips on Saturdays.
Rising up the Peak on Victoria Island by the old funicular railway, the summit was then still wholly accessible and uncluttered with today’s telecommunication masts. The summit then gave a wide view of the great scattered array of junks, steamships, occasional warships and the Kowloon ferry on the great Bay below. A memorable day of the week was taking a journey across the island to Repulse Bay to swim in water of absolute clarity; looking down perhaps 18ft to sand below, I have never before or since had such an experience of seemingly floating and swimming in air rather than water.