A Walk Through Kam Tin

Sometime in the late tenth century, a Sung Dynasty bureaucrat named Tang Hon-fat left his hometown of Pak Sha Village in Jiangxi province atook a trip south, to the coast of Guangdong. When he passed through the lush valley now known as Kam Tin, he was so taken by its natural beauty and the friendliness of its peasant inhabitants, he decided to move his entire family there. They arrived, ancestral bones in tow, in 973.

If Tang were to pass through Kam Tin in 2011, he might be less impressed. The mountains are still as beautiful as always, but the banana trees and farm fields of the valley have mostly given way to a haphazard collecton of houses, shacks and junkyards, none built with particular care or concern for the surrounding landscape. And if the people of Kam Tin were once known for their generosity, they lost it at some point during the millenium of pirate raids, dynastic upheaval and British annexation that has passed since Tang Hon-fat’s arrival. Visitors to Kam Tin’s ancient walled villages are more likely to encounter a cranky old woman demanding an entry fee than they are to be greeted with smiles.

Still, Kam Tin is one of Hong Kong’s most intriguing places, both for its centuries of history (documented with flourish by Sung Hok-pang in a 1973 paper for the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society) and its more recent development. In 1950, the Royal Air Force opened a base here, which housed a number of military families until the return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. (It was also used as a detention camp for Vietnamese refugees from the 1970s to 1992.) Today, the base is mostly disused, run by a single unit of the Peoples’ Liberation Army, whose soldiers are not allowed to leave the base. But the airfield still makes its presence felt through the large community of ex-Gurkhas — the Nepalese and Indian who formed their own regiments in the British Army — who have remained in the area.

Today, Kam Tin is a very un-Hong Kong part of town, with low-slung streets and nary a high-rise in sight. The area is actually an amalgamation of several rural villages, the gaps between which have been filled by light industry and ramshackle houses. Walking along the main drag, Kam Tin Road, is an odd experience. All of the Hong Kong high street staples are there: a post office, laundries, a public market, cha chaan teng — but the street is lined with a mismatched collection of single-story commercial buildings, a handful of modern three-storey buildings and the odd reminder of Kam Tin’s long history, like a stone village wall that rises unexpectedly across from the Wellcome supermarket.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday March 14 2011at 01:03 am , filed under Asia Pacific, Heritage and Preservation, History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Response to “A Walk Through Kam Tin”

  • Tom greenhowe says:

    I was stationed in Sek Kong camp in 1975 now occupied by PLA China, I can say at that time the lovely people of Kam Tin were so friendly that when you walked into the bars the locals bought you drinks.Times may have moved on and yes there maybe people without a smile to greet you in their local area but hey ho don’t you get the same in London and Edinburgh as to mention a few home cities. Kam Tin, Hong Kong still a fascinating place when I returned lately.