The Hong Kong I Knew: Scenes and Stories from a Childhood in Kowloon

$18.95

By Mark Isaac-Williams

Illustrated by Lucy Parris

Returning to Hong Kong in 1947 after the Japanese occupation, seven-year-old Mark Isaac-Williams had the whole of Kowloon as his playground. Billeted with his family in the once-grand but now dilapidated Peninsula hotel, his life was full of adventure – from the rooftop to the basement, he knew the hotel’s every inch.

Roller-skating and horseback riding in Kowloon’s streets and paddling in the hotel’s fountain were a child’s dream after the privations of war. From rickshaws to firecrackers and ladies with bound feet to the ever-present rat problem and smelly beancurd vendors, the mystique of Hong Kong in the 1940s and 50s is brought colourfully to life by Mark’s captivating and richly illustrated story.

The Hong Kong I Knew captures all the glory and quirkiness of a burgeoning east-meets-west colony at mid-century. Fizzing firecrackers, rickshaws in the rain, balusters of bamboo scaffolding – the charming illustrations and commentary are sure to inspire fond nostalgia for a bygone time.” — Claire Chao, author of Remembering Shanghai

SKU: 978-988-79639-5-0 Categories: , , , Tag:

Description

Returning to Hong Kong in 1947 after the Japanese occupation, seven-year-old Mark Isaac-Williams had the whole of Kowloon as his playground. Billeted with his family in the once-grand but now dilapidated Peninsula hotel, his life was full of adventure – from the rooftop to the basement, he knew the hotel’s every inch. Roller-skating and horseback riding in Kowloon’s streets and paddling in the hotel’s fountain were a child’s dream after the privations of war. From rickshaws to firecrackers and ladies with bound feet to the ever-present rat problem and smelly beancurd vendors, the mystique of Hong Kong in the 1940s and 50s is brought colourfully to life by Mark’s captivating and richly illustrated story.

REVIEWS

“Memories become more precious as we grow older. Our parents did take pictures of us growing up – not many, and I wish there were more. There was me on the swing in a small Tsim Sha Tsui playground with the Peninsula Hotel faintly in the background. There was me eating Dairy Farm ice cream with my brother on a rickshaw by the ferry terminal… and there were us siblings, with all our cousins, wearing our best New Year clothes, playing with firecrackers while our great-grandmother sat on a large rattan chair in her tiny bound feet, clapping and cheering us on…
We grew up on Boundary Street in Kowloon, and tofu fa (sweet beancurd) is still my favourite dessert today. When I finished reading The Hong Kong I Knew, my immediate desire was to read it all over again. Mark Isaac-Williams is a remarkable author. Thank you for the wonderful trip down memory lane!” — Mei Ling Ng, author, Diamond Matchmaker and Charter President, Rotary Club of Homantin Hill

The Hong Kong I Knew captures all the glory and quirkiness of a burgeoning east-meets-west colony at mid-century. Fizzing firecrackers, rickshaws in the rain, balusters of bamboo scaffolding – the charming illustrations and commentary are sure to inspire fond nostalgia for a bygone time.” — Claire Chao, author of Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels

“Mark Isaac-Williams’s The Hong Kong I Knew is a fascinating memoir of a lost time and place, the world of the Europeans in Asia in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.  Informative, charming and engaging, and written with a real love of Hong Kong and a keen eye, the author’s very particular and often quirky choices of topic and viewpoint (not least in his Sights and Scenes of Everyday Life) leave one with wonderfully clear images and feelings, ones which are also very evocative for me – my first experience of Hong Kong was as a very small boy in 1954.” — George Goulding, translator of a number of Nordic Noir and other Swedish authors

“Mark Isaac-Williams brings the reader back to his Kowloon childhood in this delightful story of adventure and change. Growing up mainly at the Peninsula Hotel, he and his friends sometimes got up to mischief by “borrowing” rickshaws or spending days with a visiting circus. These were the years when Hong Kong was rebuilding after WWII and absorbing millions of refugees from over the border, transforming a sleepy colonial outpost into one of the world’s most modern cities. And Isaac-Williams was witness to it all. Accompanied by gorgeous illustrations of bygone Hong Kong customs like removing coffins from homes on bamboo slides and transporting cars in ferries across the harbour, The Hong Kong I Knew records a Kowloon that has all but disappeared in the name of “progress”. — Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong

“Mark Isaac-Williams’s memoir of his childhood records Hong Kong as he knew it in the post-war years. Full of the colours and smells – and variety – of the territory at the time, it is a story that I can commend to all who love Hong Kong. I have vivid memories of Mark cherishing the orchids at Orchid Haven at KFBG. The same passion permeates this book. It is a good read!” — Dan Bradshaw, WWF-Hong Kong and Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden

“Mark’s memories of ‘old Hong Kong’ are a delightful and insightful glimpse of a time long past, in a rapidly changing part of the world. Anyone who lives, or has ever lived, in Hong Kong has a part of their heart here and will not be able to ignore the nostalgic tug that this account evokes – notwithstanding the challenges endured by the former colony and its inhabitants. Even for readers unfamiliar with Hong Kong, there is a taste here of the magic that once was and the spirit that endures through remembrance, all nicely captured by the author.” — Andrew McAulay, Chairperson, Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden

Additional information

Weight300 g
Dimensions216 × 216 mm
Pages

88

Binding

Paperback

Illustrations

32 colour illustrations

About the author

Mark Isaac-Williams was born in Hong Kong in 1939 and was evacuated to Australia with his mother as the threat of Japanese invasion grew. His father was a ship’s captain in the Chinese Maritime Customs Service and became a prisoner of war. Returning to Hong Kong at the age of seven, Mark has remained in the city for most of his life.
Immediately after the war, his family was billeted for five years in the Peninsula hotel, which had just been vacated by the Japanese Imperial Forces and was in terrible condition. Kowloon was then still largely undeveloped and it offered Mark an extraordinary playground for adventure and mischief. After secondary education in the UK, he returned to work for the Hong Kong government. He gained a degree in botany and specialised in the conservation of wild orchids, joining the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in 1979. Later, he trained as a botanical artist, recording wild orchids in watercolors. He has since returned to Kadoorie Farm where he worked until recently as the Artist in Residence.
His idea for this book was in part conceived from his artistry of the natural world and from his dismay at seeing so many everyday sights from his childhood gradually disappear in the race to build bigger and better. His was a childhood enjoyed at a unique period in Hong Kong’s history, and his recording of it in this way is an important contribution to the understanding of the territory’s life in the 1940s and 50s.
In 2015 Mark was awarded the Bourne Award in California for his botanical artwork, and in 2016, 2017 and 2018 he was awarded silver-gilt medals at the Royal Horticultural Society in London.