Wednesday, September 13, 2006
From Middle Kingdom to Star Ferry Pier 從集古村到天星碼頭
From Middle Kingdom to Star Ferry Pier
Two months ago when I was taking a friend to the Ocean Park, I discovered that the famous "Middle Kingdom", the portion of the park that featured the re-creations of ancient China, was gone. The construction of some new feature programs targeting the mainland visitors was on the way. I remember the days when I visited the Ocean Park as a kid : the eye-catching ancient Chinese buildings with red walls and green roofs as well as the beautiful miniature garden in the Middle Kingdom were always very attractive and a big "wow!" to me, though I knew very well that they were just film-like "studio sets". Not surprising, as I set my eyes on the rubble of the demolished buildings, I did not really feel pity for it.
On the other side of the island, the old Star Ferry Pier which has been standing at the waterfront of the Central Hong Kong for nearly 50 years will soon be demolished. My parents used to take me for the ferry rides across the harbour when I was young, and I still do so from time to time when I need to travel between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui. Like me, the pier and its clock tower are already a familiar sight to many Hong Kong citizens young and old. The mechanical clock of the tower, the only functioning one left in Hong Kong, was made by the same manufacturer that built the famous Big Ben of Westminster in London. The chime of the clock is actually quite beautiful, although for those who get so used to it may not feel anything special about it. As part of the reclamation project, the government had decided to relocate the ferry pier and to have the old pier building and its clock tower knock down. It was rather sad to hear the news, just like knowing that an old friend will soon be lost forever.
The main reason for deciding not to preserve the old pier building nor its clock tower by the government is that they are not old enough–at the age of 49, they are still 1 year short to meet the minimum requirement for being considered as local heritage or historical site, and rule is rule. I am no expert of architectural art, but still educated enough to know that the old Star Ferry Pier building is a classic and one of the few remaining examples of Modernist architecture (which emphasizes function, attempts to provide for specific needs rather than imitate nature) in Hong Kong. It has been standing in the heart of the city for half a century, and has certainly become part of the modern history of Hong Kong. Maybe when Modernism itself becomes history decades later, there will be no representative building of that period around, thanks to the stereotyped thinking of our present government. To consider whether an object is worth preserving, historical value, its uniqueness and representivity are not the only things that need to be taken into account There is also an significant element called the Collective Memory, the good and sweet time treasured and shared dearly by Hong Kong's civil society. The second half of the 20th century, especially the 60's and 70's, was the beginning of the era of Hong Kong's rapid economic growth, a time of which many Hong Kong citizens remembered dearly and well. If we have to pick an architectural style that can serve as the best reminder of this period, the Modernist Star Ferry building is obviously a much better candidate. It is very sad to see the destruction of such precious collective memory on the hands of the stubborn decision-makers.
On the other hand, the brand new Star Ferry Pier - a rather odd "historical" building in Victorian style - has just been completed as a replacement to the old one. The new pier is a theme park re-creation of a historical building of which most Hong Kong citizens have no memory, some fake antiques as unrealistic as the Middle Kingdom of the Ocean Park – and they don't even bother to imitate the details and the interior structure! Who will be really interested in such second-rate imitation with just a classical looking shell? Not the Hong Kong citizens, nor will the overseas visitors–they probably find the gateway of the Chinatown at home more interesting.
An experienced and visionary antique expert can see the value of a not-too-old but nevertheless unique and classic object, and will even start collecting it when the cost is still low. However, there are still someone that would prefer the gorgeous and brand new stage costume to the faded but finest antique silk embroidery passed down from grandma. The important value of antiquities comes from the real history behind them, and not the fake antique-looking decoration that being placed on them. I thought that is something simple enough for anyone to understand - maybe not so for the officers and experts in the urban planning and building departments.