Hong Kong’s Other Peak

Cheung Chau Peak

Cheung Chau Peak

Cheung Chau is one of my favourite bits of Hong Kong, but only recently have I strayed outside of its warren of small streets between the beach and harbour and up into the hill just south of town. Earlier this summer, after climbing up a long set of stairs at the end of a narrow lane, I was surprised to come across a long, winding footpath, lined by comfortable-looking houses with large balconies and lush gardens, called the Peak Road. It seemed like a deliberate reference the Hong Kong’s more famous Victoria Peak, the one where houses sell for tens of millions of dollars and the colonial elite built an exclusive hideaway for itself in the days of British control.

Turns out that the Cheung Chau Peak was indeed a small-scale replica of the original Peak. Back in 1898, when Britain gained control of the New Territories and Hong Kong’s outlying islands, Cheung Chau was home to a community of fishermen that lived in boats just offshore and a collection of shopowners who lived on the island and traded with them. When the British took control, Hong Kong’s European elite saw Cheung Chau as a good holiday spot, so they began building vacation homes on the fringes of town, where craggy bluffs give way to sweeping ocean views. In 1919, a year after non-Europeans were excluded by law from living on Victoria Peak, a similar law was passed for Cheung Chau. Both Peaks became the exclusive domain of white people.

Racial restrictions were lifted in 1946. I’m not entirely sure who lives on the Peak Road today — maybe a mix of commuters, weekenders and people who rarely leave Cheung Chau. It’s a nice place with beautiful houses and an atmosphere unlike anywhere else I’ve been in Hong Kong. Forest swallows the south end of the road, just after it meanders past a large housing estate. Walking north for ten minutes takes you past old villas, postwar duplexes and modern village houses, until you reach the north end of the road, next to the post office and police station, where it splits off into a number of small tributaries that work their way into the centre of town. At night, the only sounds are the buzz of cicadas and the hum of air conditioners; every so often, someone will glide past silently on their bike, zig-zagging around the frogs that occasionally hop into the middle of the path.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Tuesday August 11 2009at 01:08 am , filed under Asia Pacific, History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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