Tai Kwun is restored police station compound in Central consisting of the Central Police Station, Central Magistracy, and Victoria Prison.
As I’m sure many people were, I was quite amazed by how large the police compound was, how clean it was, how neatly restored and designed it was.
I was also a little disappointed. Taken aback. There are infographics, and there are interactive displays that are entertaining and well designed and easy to read, but there’s no grit. There’s no dirt, no grime. Everything is factual. Objective. Neat. The history that the brick walls and paved walkways once had were wiped clean to make way for newly paved asphalt and steel and brick. It didn’t seem like a space that once held criminals. (And there’s something ironic about the gentrification of a space that was once meant for the ‘lowest class’ of people in Hong Kong. )
Perhaps it’s an odd desire, but I wanted to feel unsettled. I wanted to feel the history of the place, the sounds of the prison and the station, the afterimage left by the people who once walked its halls. I felt the prison’s history most strongly in the preserved mortuary, a room closed off to visitors except for the small viewing window. The air is heavier there, its history more palpable, and there are no spaces for selfies.
I look at Tai Kwun, and I see a pattern. It happens all over Hong Kong. The rewriting of histories. The modernisation and rebuilding of existing structures, the destruction of ones deemed too old or unrefined. The designers of Tai Kwun have done their best to renovate this structure and pay homage to its past residents. It shows in the various booklets and informational signs that give context to the space. But somehow Tai Kwun is lacking a bit of heart, a bit of soul. Perhaps it’s too early to judge, but either way I’ll be watching.