Alan Teh Leam Seng follows the footsteps of Dr Sun Yat Sen and his fellow comrades who played a key role in the run-up to the 1911 Chinese Revolution
"PMQ? What is that place?" I ask my friend Sidney Luk quizzically as we exit the Sheung Wan MTR Station in Hong Kong.
When told the acronym stands for Police Married Quarters, my intrigue deepens. I cannot, even in my wildest dreams, understand why Sidney wants to allocate the best part of the afternoon to a place that used to be home to members of the Hong Kong Police Force and their respective families.
Almost immediately, my mind starts conjuring images of a gaudy, colonial building with long narrow corridors. Not expecting anything interesting to see, my better judgment would have thought that a 30-minute walkabout to be more than sufficient.
Sidney must have noticed my reservations. He reassures me that the afternoon will be well spent and promised that we can move on to the next item on our itinerary should the place prove to be anything but interesting.
We reach PMQ in just a few minutes and my perception of the place changes as soon as we walk past the white gate. Looking at the ultra modern set up and crowds of young people, I would never have guessed its past had Sidney not told me earlier. Today, PMQ is the place for young local designers to establish their budding careers.
Spaces that once housed family units in the past have been retained, reinforced, refurbished and upgraded. They have now become new homes to design and creative studios that showcase ingenuity and intellectual ideas of the industrious Hong Kong artisans. Shops and offices for nurturing talent and lodging for visiting designers can also be found here.
Consisting of two identical blocks with seven stories each, PMQ organises numerous programmes and events dedicated to the arts every month. In the past, the blocks were named Stauton and Hollywood in honour of the two major roads bordering the site. Today, they are simply called Block A and Block B. All the galleries, exhibitions, music performances and design talks here are free of charge and open to the public from 7am to 11pm daily.
Those interested are advised to check the often revised calendar of events for the list of workshops which are held to encourage visitors to have a hand-on experience of the arts. It is of interest to note that invited artists from all over the world often display their work here as well.
We begin our visit by checking out the spacious 1,000sq m central courtyard which is home to a continuous string of events and exhibitions throughout the year.
The largest was Panda-mania in 2014 when PMQ was officially launched. Some 1,600 paper pandas were exhibited in this huge open space to help raise awareness for these endangered mammals as well as garner support for the preservation of the environment.
Organised by the World Wildlife Fund Hong Kong, the massive international event has helped set the stage for PMQ to become one of the major art centres in Hong Kong.
Venturing indoors, Sidney and I spend more than an hour checking out some 100 design and creative enterprises established in PMQ. Around half the tenants are in the fashion and household product design sectors with the rest in creative design categories such as fashion accessories, food, furniture, jewellery and watches.
We spend the most time at Bathe to Basics, located at unit S403 in Block A. Sidney and I are lucky as we arrive just in time to witness the popular soap-making class. Workshop participants start their session with a brief history of soap-making and the chemistry behind these natural cleansers before moving on to make their own using the cold-process technique. Among the various ingredients used to make the natural soaps are shea butter, coconut oil, olive oil and natural essential oils.
FOLLOWING DR SUN’S TRAIL
"Are we done here?" I ask Sidney as we head back to the ground floor courtyard. Shaking his head, Sidney gestures towards a nearby sign which says "Dr Sun Yat Sen Historical Trail". Then, Sidney starts to regale me with intriguing tales that predate PMQ's existence.
I listen in awe as my friend tells me that PMQ sits on a very important historical site between Aberdeen Street, Staunton Street, Hollywood Road and Shing Wong Street. This place was originally the ground's of the Queen's College, which was built in 1889. The college was the first government school in Hong Kong that provided western education to the public at the upper primary and secondary levels.
After suffering severe damage during World War II, the college was demolished and the site was repurposed as quarters for married junior policemen in 1951. In November 2010, the Government of HKSAR announced the revitalisation of the former quarters into PMQ.
While tracing the 15 important sites in the historical trail, I learn about Dr Sun's prominent role in modern Chinese history. He is renowned as the father of the Chinese revolutions of the last century and one of the founders of the Republic of China. This Dr Sun Yat-Sen Historical Trail was established to commemorate the formative years he spent in Hong Kong and also to highlight his historical legacy and achievements.
He arrived in Hong Kong at the tender age of 17. He spent the next nine years pursuing his secondary and tertiary education. During that time, he made numerous friends who shared his political persuasions and aspirations. The trail leads visitors to the places that are attributed to Dr Sun's commitment to strengthen his nation for the betterment of the people.
We leave PMQ and walk to the nearby Gough Street. The old shop Yang Yao Ji is one of the most instrumental places in Hong Kong that provided much inspiration for Dr Sun’s ideas. Dr Sun and his close friends, Chen Shaobai, Yang Heling and Yau Lit, met here regularly to talk freely about anti-Qing revolution. Known as the Four Desperados, the revolutionists soon garnered sufficient support to stage uprisings that eventually overthrew the Qing government in 1911.
The sites in Dr Sun Yat Sen Historical Trail are mainly concentrated around Hong Kong's Central and Western Districts. We end our walk that afternoon at Pak Tsz Lane Park located in a quiet square near the junction of Hollywood Road and Aberdeen Street. It is home to several interesting monuments celebrating the anti-Qing Dynasty activities of the Furen Literary Society and the Hong Kong chapter of the Revive China Society.
The historical significance of this place is amplified by the fact that it is very near to the Gage Street site where famous revolutionist Yang Quyun was assassinated by Qing Dynasty agents. Yang was the leader of the 1895 Guangzhou Uprising.
Sidney tells me that the reason the revolutionists chose this location was because it could be approached by several narrow lanes, all of which could turn into possible escape routes in case of raids by either the Qing agents or the then Hong Kong police.
Unfortunately, on that fateful day of Jan 10, 1901, Yang was caught off guard and was shot in the head and chest while tutoring students on the second floor of his home. Yang died from his wounds the following day and was buried in an unnamed tomb in the Happy Valley Cemetery.
The refurbishment of Pak Tsz Lane Park was directed and financed to a sum of HK$ 40 million (RM21 million) by the Hong Kong Urban Renewal Authority and was officially declared open in May 2012. Among the interesting items here is a bronze sculpture of a Western-dressed man cutting the braided queue of a Chinese dressed in traditional Manchu clothes.
Many Chinese during Dr Sun's time saw the queue as a physical expression of submission as well as a sign of repression by the Qing officials. As such, the process of removing the queue was advocated by the revolutionists as an overt gesture of rebellion against the Qing rule. This trend began in earnest in the late 1890s and by 1911 it quickly became an integral act to political revolution and a distinctive symbol of liberation.
DR SUN’S CONNECTION
On our way back to the MTR station, I take the opportunity to tell Sidney about Dr Sun's connection with Malaysia. The leader of the successful 1911 Chinese revolution visited Kuala Lumpur. Seremban and Ipoh during his first visit on July 17, 1906. The venues were chosen as they were the largest mining towns in Malaya at that time and thus had the highest concentration of wealthy Chinese.
A large number of these rich merchants were sympathetic to Dr Sun's calls for political change in China. In Kuala Lumpur, for example, Dr Sun met many like-minded tycoons such as Loke Chow Thye and Too Nam. The latter had taught Dr Sun when both their paths crossed earlier in Honolulu.
I manage to slip in an interesting anecdote just before our train to Kowloon arrived. During that visit, Dr Sun addressed a largely working class audience at a Sultan Street cinema hall in Kuala Lumpur. That meeting turned out to be the largest gathering Dr Sun had ever addressed in Southeast Asia.
The afternoon had indeed turned out to be an eye-opener for me. Apart from viewing works of enterprising designers at PMQ, I also thank Sidney for the chance to relate historical events in Hong Kong that were also connected to Malaysia. The world is indeed a very small place.
S614, Block A,
35 Aberdeen Street,
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2870-2335
HOW TO GET THERE
Take MTR Sheung Wan Station Exit E1. Turn right to Des Voeux Road Central, then turn right to Gilman’s Bazaar. Go straight towards Queen’s Road Central. Walk along Aberdeen Street for seven minutes to reach PMQ.
Pictures by Alan Teh Leam Seng