Monday, 2 June 2014

Wai Bun Castle, Tai Wai

Hidden away in an obscure corner of Tai Wai is a small park. The park is no different from any other small park in Hong Kong - surrounded by concrete (in this case the Shing Mun Tunnel Road flyover) with a bit of greenery thrown in for good measure - it’s essentially a large HK-style "sitting out area" where lots of oldies gather to play chess and have a natter and possibly an illegal flutter. However, this park has a feature that is quite unique in Hong Kong (as far as I am aware, that is) and gives a little clue as to the prior use of the place.

Standing at the entrance is a rather splendid looking gatehouse - reminiscent of the sort of building that stands over the gates of ancient Chinese towns and cities. 

It's an odd thing to see in what is otherwise a run-of-the-mill piece of public space, so suffice to say my interest was piqued and a quick translation of a Wikipedia page gives us the following details...

The name of the place is Bo Ya Saan Jong (博雅山莊)which translates as something like: ‘learned villa’, although it was previously known as Mei Yuen Villa (梅苑別墅). For a time it was the location of a shark fin factory and boasted a total area of nearly 42,000 sq ft (wow! Imagine what a place like that would be worth in today’s money if it didn’t have a huge flyover sitting on top of it...kerching!).

In 1971 it was the holiday home of the infamous Lui Lok – a Hong Kong Police Sergeant involved in a massive corruption scandal. He was one of the “Four Great Sergeants” (along with Nan Kong, Ngan Hung and Hon Kwing-shum) who grew filthy rich off the back of widespread corruption in the HK police force through the sixties and seventies.

Lui Lok [Source: wiki]

Lui was the most notorious and earned himself the nickname “Godfather” but his activities eventually caught up with him. Although he retired a very rich man in 1968, he had to make a quick exit 5 years later and moved to Canada with his family when a crackdown on corruption started with the establishment of the I.C.A.C and the issue of arrest warrants. His was issued in 1976.

Of course he left behind his real-estate booty including Wai Bun Castle and a block in Sha Kau Wan Road (and many others). He died in May 2010 but it seems as though some sort of out-of-court settlement was reached long before in 1986 and the Govt took over his frozen assets.

The main house (no longer standing) included nine bedrooms (two en-suite) on the upper floor as well as a maid’s room, marbled corridor kitchen and storeroom on the lower. However it was all demolished when the Govt needed to build the flyover in the 1980′s and all that remains is the small, but ornate, building above the main gate.

You can see from the above shot how the flyover completely covers the grounds, and also why there was a need to demolish the main building. The area has been turned into a small sitting out area of the sort that can be found all over HK however this one has the added advantage of its own large concrete rain cover :-)

In the above shot we can see the other (smaller) entrance. I have no idea if the gateway is original but I believe the vast castle-like wall is, and it used to surround the whole estate. Anyway, in case you are interested, the story of the 4 Sergeants was made into a film in 1992 starring Simon Yam called The Powerful Four. Of course expect the usual liberty with the truth and lots of flying kicks and spraying bullets.

The picture below is from the Govt Archives. Sadly, since this post was first published several years ago, the original link to the photo has gone and I can't seem to find it again). Nevertheless, I've circled the old house on the lower right.

Note that this confirms the castle-like wall is original, but you can also see the main building which is quite long as well as the swimming pool (looks brand new here). The gatehouse is covered in scaffolding for this 1973 shot, and judging by the rest of the grounds I would say Mr Lok was still building/renovating. Shame he didn’t get long to enjoy it all. :-)

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