Slow Hong Kong: A Pause in the Heart of Central

Walk slowly up the length of Battery Path.
Leave behind the noise, the crowds, the traffic of Queen’s Road.

This pedestrian path takes its name from the Murray Battery, built by the British upon their arrival in 1841 to protect the seat of the colonial government. It was named after Sir George Murray, Master General of the Ordnance. 

Merge with the pedestrians spilling out of the footbridge that links the Standard Chartered Bank to your path, greeted ceremoniously by a banyan.

Struggle to imagine that Battery Path once lead to the port of Victoria City.
Notice the HSBC Building behind the banyan greenery and bring yourself back to the present.

This futuristic building, conceived by Sir Norman Foster in 1985, was the most expensive office tower in the world at the time – HK$5.2 billion. It respects the principles of feng shui, which guided the placement of the escalators and the installation of two bronze lions at the entrance. 

Remark on the two cranes situated on the building’s summit and how they recall canons pointed towards the Bank of China Tower to counterbalance the negative energy it is said to emit.

Admire the courageous few who join you from the stone steps linking Queen’s Road with Battery Path.

Imagine rickshaws ascending the slope until the 1960s.
And the protesters who came to demonstrate when the government had its seat here on Government Hill, split between three wings, until it moved to Tamar in 2011.

The government offices are now occupied by the Department of Justice. 

Arrive at the pretty redbrick house with green shutters, whose appearance has not changed since 1917. Marvel at the diversity of its successive occupants.

Sir Henry Pottinger (1842-43)
The imperial consul of Russia (1860s)
The taipans of Augustine Heard & Co. (1870s)
Les Missions Étrangères de Paris, which renovated the building and gave it their name (1915-41); they installed a chapel whose cupola is visible.
The Japanese army (1941-45)
The provisional government of Hong Kong (1945-46)
The Education Bureau (1953-67)
The Victoria District Court (1968-78)
The Government Information Services Department (1987-97)
and finally, the Court of Final Appeal (1997-2015)

Ask yourself: after governors, Russian consuls, taipans, French priests, Japanese military, judges – who will have the chance to occupy this pretty house?

Rehabilitation work is planned to house organisations in the legal field. 

Turn towards St. John’s Cathedral and admire its resplendent yellow façade.

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Evangelist is the oldest Anglican cathedral in Asia, completed in 1849 after two years of work, in the English Decorated Gothic style dating back to the 13th century. 

This space is the only plot of land in Hong Kong that enjoys freehold ownership.

Soak up the peaceful atmosphere of this gathering place. Of course, only when the renovation work around the cathedral takes a break.

Enter the cathedral. Appreciate the air circulated by vans suspended from the beams of wood that stretch across the ceiling.

Listen to the organist going through her paces. Admire the Hakka fishers represented on the stained glass windows of the north wing.

Ask yourself what the even-keeled Anglican priests think of their successive neighbours, those who were forced to let the Japanese use their cathedral as a clubhouse from 1941 to 1945.

Leave and pay a visit to the bookstore located in the annex.

Go and order a coffee in The Nest, a charming counter nestled in the cathedral gardens, which helps handicapped people enter the workforce.

Drink your coffee in Cheung Kok Park, a perfectly maintained little green space, a private park with the atmosphere of a public garden, which since 1999 has adorned the corporate headquarters of the wealthy Li Ka-shing.

Observe the busy office workers passing through the park with their nose in their smartphones.
They have no idea you can read the name of every tree that embellishes the park.

Hear the bell of St. John’s remind you that time is passing.
Feel the freshness of the droplets that escape from the waterfalls.
Notice a squirrel.
Watch the reflection of the clouds passing by the windows of the Cheung Kong Center.
And leave, lightheartedly, through one of the footbridges that crosses Garden Road.

Relive the experience later in the evening, when the path becomes more mysterious under the orange light of colonial lampposts. The HSBC building takes on the air of a spaceship, promising you a journey of another sort.

Translated from the French by Christopher DeWolf.

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