Reminiscences: Life in Hong Kong's Built Heritage
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Medical Care


Once I caught dysentery when staying in my uncle’s home in Yau Ma Tei, my uncle took me to the traditional Chinese medicine clinic at Kwong Wah Hospital, managed by Tung Wah Group of Hospitals (TWGHs). I remember that the lobby of the hospital was similar to our ancestral halls in Kam Tin because it also had grey brick walls and a tiled roof, so I immediately felt at home.

TWGHs not only cared for the sick, but also the deceased. I recall that my dad had a friend working in Southeast Asia, who died there unfortunately. His body was temporarily stored in the Tung Wah Coffin Home while awaiting repatriation to his birthplace for burial. My dad took me to the coffin home to pay tribute to his old friend. That was the first time I had ever set foot in a coffin home for temporary storage of coffins and bones!

Kwong Wah Hospital

Completed in 1911, Kwong Wah Hospital was founded by local Chinese leaders and the directors of Tung Wah Hospital. It was the Kowloon branch of Tung Wah Hospital. A massive redevelopment of the Kwong Wah Hospital took place in 1958, but the main hall, which has rich Chinese architectural style, was preserved. The main hall was subsequently converted into Tung Wah Museum, collecting and displaying the archives and artefacts of Tung Wah Group of Hospitals (Tung Wah Hospital, Kwong Wah Hosptial and Tung Wah Eastern Hospital amalgamated in 1931 into the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals).

Tung Wah Coffin Home

The Tung Wah Coffin Home was established by Tung Wah Hospital in 1899. It is a temporary coffins and bones depository for the deceased overseas Chinese and local residents awaiting transfer to their birthplace. The Tung Wah Coffin Home comprises a complex of mixed style buildings constructed in various periods of time. It is the only coffin home still in use in Hong Kong today.

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Every day, I used to go to school by tram. I got on a tram at Johnston Road in Wan Chai and got off at Des Voeux Road West, locally referred to as “salted fish market”. Then I walked along Eastern Street up the ramp and along High Street to get to school. I still remember the huge granite blocks on the exterior walls of the Medical Staff Quarters of the Government Civil Hospital on High Street, which created an appearance of strength and magnificence.

My siblings and I also had some connections with the Government Civil Hospital because we all had to get our smallpox vaccination there. The vaccine was manufactured in Bacteriological Institute and then dispatched to different hospitals. My mom recalled taking my siblings and me to the hospital by tram to get the vaccinations. When we were sick or even caught a fever, my mom would also take us to the hospital to consult a doctor.

Old Mental Hospital (Medical Staff Quarters of the Government Civil Hospital)

Originally, this building housed the Medical Staff Quarters of the Government Civil Hospital. The quarters was completed in 1892 and later converted into the female wards of the Mental Hospital in 1939. In 1998, it was redeveloped into the Sai Ying Pun Community Complex. Its rusticated granite facade in early Baroque architectural style has been preserved. The building is commonly named as the “Mental Hospital” or the “High Street Haunted House”.

Old Pathological Institute (Bacteriological Institute)

Built in 1905, this was Hong Kong’s first bacteriological institute. The headquarters of the institute (later renamed Pathological Institute) was relocated in 1960, but the building was still used for vaccine development until the 1970s. It was turned into the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences in 1995. Its Edwardian architectural style with parapet walls decorated with a Dutch gable and obelisk-shaped finials is rare in Hong Kong.

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  • Kwong Wah Hospital

  • The main hall of the then Kwong Wah Hospital

  • The main hall of Tung Wah Museum

  • The main entrance gateway of Tung Wah Coffin Home