My poor old noddle is currently buzzing with all sorts of intriguing notions. I’ll explain what sparked this off in a moment, but first let me briefly summarize the kaleidoscope of thoughts that are bouncing boisterously around my brain. First, we have The Maze Runner by the aptly named James Dashner. This involves a group of youngsters who find themselves in the center of an ever-changing labyrinth trying to find their way out. This led me to recollect the neo-noir science fiction movie Dark City, which involves people living in an anachronistic city where nobody seems to realize that it is always night. Each “day,” when midnight arrives, the people fall into a mysterious slumber, the city is rearranged (buildings change their shapes, roads alter their paths…) and everyone’s identities and memories are transformed. Sad to relate, relatively few people I know seem to be aware of this film, but I feel it’s woefully underrated and well worth watching.
An aerial photo of the Kowloon Walled City taken in 1989 (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: Ian Lambot/Wikipedia)
Next, I started thinking about various city-related tales, including the two classics: Cities in Flight by James Blish and City by Clifford D. Simak. Also, I can’t get the desolate abandoned city of the ancient world of Charn from The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis out of my mind; similarly, for the haunting city located in the Neitherlands as described in The Magicians by Lev Grossman. And let’s not forget the horrors lurking beneath the vast abandoned city of stone in H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. All of which returns us to the causation of my city-based cognitions, which was my running across the entry for the Kowloon Walled City on the Wikipedia. As you may recall — and as was admirably depicted in Tai Pan by James Clavell — Hong Kong (in the form of Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, and the New Territories) was “leased” (in the loosest sense of the word) from Qing China by the United Kingdom in 1898 for 99 years. Originally a Chinese military fort, the Walled City’s population increased dramatically following the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II. By 1990, the Walled City is thought to have contained around 50,000 residents within its 2.6-hectare (6.4-acre) borders.
An aerial photo of the Kowloon Walled City Park (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: Wpcpey/Wikipedia)
From the 1950s to the 1970s, this metropolis was controlled by local triads and had high rates of prostitution, gambling, and drug abuse. Eventually, in 1987, the Hong Kong government announced plans to demolish the whole thing. After an arduous eviction process, demolition began in 1993 and was completed in 1994. Now, the area formally occupied by the city has been transformed into the Kowloon Walled City Park. Take another look at the photograph of the original Walled City. I don’t know about you, but I can easily envisage this sort of enclave in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future. To an outsider, it would be an incomprehensible labyrinth, but if you grew up there as a kid you would know every inch of the place. I can easily imagine being around 12 years old and rambunctiously roaming the city with my friends. In a strange way — remembering that I never actually got to see it in the flesh (had I known of its existence, I would have tried to arrange a visit the two times I was in Hong Kong circa the mid-1980s) — I’m sort of sorry that the Kowloon Walled City is no more. How about you? Do you have any city-related thoughts you’d care to share with the rest of us?