“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

The Opium Dens and Brothels of Belcher’s Street, Hong Kong – 1925

Posted: February 6th, 2015 | No Comments »

Reading Harry Hervey’s 1925 travelogue of his journeys through the Far East, Where Strange Gods Call, I thought his description of a Hong Kong opium den worth setting down. Hervey identifies the den as being ‘…at the end of a slinking alley near the grape-green lamps of Belcher Street (we can assume he means Belcher’s Street in Kennedy Town here). There are any number of alleys along that road, most between new buildings so Hervey’s alley is no more I suspect – anyway, here’s what he encountered….

‘The acrid air of the place stung my nostrils; and the soiled bunks, the dirty walls were cruelly drab. It wasn’t picturesquely evil; it was as colourless as naked lust; and it left in my brain a negative often developed and printed with tragic sharpness upon my imagination.

Of course, a glimpse of the brothels was included in this excursion. They, like the opium houses, were depressing, tawdry places, opening directly upon the street, with ornate scrolls on the walls and narrow curtained recesses. In each was an altar dedicated to the god of pleasure, and th air was rich with the mingled odours of incense and opium, alive with coiling drifts of blue smoke. The girls, some with spots of scarlet on their eyelids,wore the usual brocaded jackets and trousers. Chang explained, in his grandiose manner, that they were called loquiia, and their duties consisted, among other things, of singing and playing to patrons and filling their opium pipes….

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The view from Victoria Harbour towards Kennedy Town – early 1930s

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