Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Hong Kong, by Sir Cecil Clementi

Apologies for the late post today - Stefan and I drove back from a long day of meetings in Kuala Lumpur to Singapore on the North-South Highway (great road, can't complain) and just got in. Took us four hours, door-to-door. Along the way we say the gigantic KL-Sing buses that have deluxe airplane-type seating with movies etc. A good option if you'd rather not fly.

I thought I would share with you another poem, also garnered from Barbara-Sue White's book Hong Kong: Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth. This one is by a one-time Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Cecil Clementi. He was one of the Cadets that had studied the Chinese language and was totally conversant in Cantonese and other Chinese dialects (he even passed the Imperial exams!). It is alleged (but never proven) that so taken was he with literati habits that he sometimes went out on the town in his Chinese literati robes to visit his favorite Chinese brothel (which were still legal until the 1930s). What can be said for the man in his defense was that it was under his leadership that the female indentured servitude mui tsai system was severely restricted. For those of you who are keen hikers, Sir Cecil's Ride and Lady Clementi's Ride were named after the Governor and his wife. The poem (included amongst a collection of passionate love odes to his wife):
Lamp-bestarr'd and with the star-shine gleaming
From her midnight canopy or dreaming
Mirror'd in her fragrant, fair lagoon:
All her streets ablaze with sheen and shimmer;
All her fire-fly shipping-lights a-glimmer,
Flitting, flashing, curving past Kowloon:


Oh, to see her thus! Her hill-recesses
Bright with household glow that cheers and blesses
Weary men and guides them home to rest:
And the criss-cross strings of light ascending
Round the Peak, a-sparkle, circling, ending
Where the roadways touch the mountain-crest.

Ending? No! For human aspiration
Passes here to starry consummation,
Mountain-roads into the Milky Way.
Earth is strewn with Danae's golden dower.
Grandly here the Master Builder's power
Crowns the work of England in Cathay.
Aside from the clear male-England/female-Hong Kong subtext, passing to "starry consummation", it is sad to also imagine there was actually once a time when one could see the Milky Way from the Peak. As for the rest, today (and probably back in 1925 when Clementi wrote the poem) Hong Kong allows itself little pause for reflection, and even less for sentimentality. While many Hong Koners will admit the undeniable contributions Britain (the Scots may rightfully feel slighted by the reference to England) made to Hong Kong, particularly with its institutions, life goes ever on...

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