Across the city, pockets of once populated places lie dormant and forgotten. Time Out Hong Kong and HK Urbex sweep away the creepers and dust to unveil their secrets. By Billy Clarke
Tat Tak school
Reputedly one of Hong Kong's most haunted sites, all that remains of this old school is a crumbling shell
Tat Tak School was originally based in the centuries-old Yu Kiu ancestral hall in Ping Shan, Yuen Long (now a declared monument). After occupying that space between 1931 and 1961, the school then moved to its current location in 1974 and operated fuss free for many years. When the facility closed in early 1998, however, the rumour was that the school mistress had committed suicide by hanging herself in the girls' toilet while wearing a red dress, thus leaving behind a lingering red-clothed spirit – the source of many paranormal sightings over the years. In 2001, a group of students went to explore the school but they ended up hysterically and emotionally disturbed when one of the girls tried to strangle herself and bit another boy trying to help her. The village in which the school is located also has a history of tragedy, with local residents killed and buried in the area after resisting British efforts to evict them from their land. It has been said that a large number of villagers were massacred in 1941 during the Japanese occupation, with their remains buried in graves built into the hillside next to the school. Nowadays the battered site is nothing more than a beautiful wreck of broken windows, withering chalkboards and rooms without doors, which sits permanently guarded behind locked rusty gates.
The Mouldering Military Barracks
A massive complex of crumbling military structures, now engulfed by the talons of nature
Dating back to the 50s, this quiescent cluster of structures in the northern reaches of the territory was once a busy base camp for the British army. Being close to the China border, the remote site provided them with plenty of space for drill trainings and was a prime spot for border patrol. There was also a strong presence of Gurkha soldiers at the camp during this time, with Nepalese soldiers having served on the front lines of almost every British Army conflict over the past 20 decades. For this reason, the site boasts a unique, geometric Nepalese Hindu temple, which has been declared a monument. Dedicated to Shiva, the god of destruction in Hinduism, the colourfully-toned hexagonal building has five entrances, resembling a lotus flower. In the early 90s the barracks were slightly recommissioned for the Police Dog Unit (PDU) who assisted in policing the border area. After the handover in 1997, the compound was ceded to the PLA who used it occasionally for noisy military exercises, much to the annoyance of nearby residents. For now though, these uninhabited, degenerating edifices give the area a commanding sense of place.
The Defunct Private Hospital
Medical equipment gathers dust in this forgotten facility, which once carried out 60 percent of the city's abortions
Formerly one of Hong Kong's most affordable providers of cheap private care, this medical facility in Central has now been left to rot desolately after it closed down in 2012 following a rent dispute. In an attempt to help doctors fleeing the Mainland, the Anglican Church provided the land to set up the hospital in 1966, so these practitioners from over the border could continue their practices. For the next 46 years the multi-floored medical facility provided low cost health services to Hongkongers who would struggle to afford private care elsewhere. Up to 6,000 abortions were performed a year here, making it the largest provider of childbirth terminations in the city. This all came to a melancholy end when a dispute over the tenancy broke out in 2009, with hospital bosses informed they would have to make way for an $800 million museum and gallery, which still has yet to materialise. Although the church denied suggestions the popular abortion services were part of the motive for the redevelopment, the hospital did expose the inadequacy of pregnancy termination services and sex education in the city. The 80-bed hospital also performed outpatient procedures and surgery, and after the court ruling ordered them to shut their doors they had to sell most of the medical equipment. What they could not flog now lies scattered across the dark vacant spaces of the building, eroding silently.
The 'White House' Compound
Political prisoners were once held and interrogated in these unmarked buildings on the west of the island
Built in the 1950s, this complex of low-storey buildings in Pok Fu Lam was reportedly a recreational club for the Royal Engineers Regiment when it first opened. But it was only a few years before the Special Branch of the Royal Police renovated the complex in order to hold Taiwanese spies caught smuggling explosives to the Mainland across the Taiwan Strait, during the height of tensions in the mid 1950s. During the 1967 riots in Hong Kong there were public uprisings driven by the Cultural Revolution over the border. The compound subsequently became a site where political prisoners were incarcerated and interrogated – many high-profile people with ties to the Chinese Communist Party, including film industry personalities, were detained here. As the prisoners had important information the government needed, special agents often used hardcore measures to get the detainees to spill the beans, including drugs, hypnosis and psychological torture. After the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4 in 1989 it is also rumoured that democratic political refugees fleeing the Mainland were smuggled over secretly and given political debriefings here. Special Branch was terminated as the handover of 1997 drew near and the site has remained padlocked ever since, with the only visitors being unyielding Mother Nature and the occasional movie crew (parts of Ang Lee's Lust, Caution as well as Wong Kar-wai's 2046 were shot here).
The Ruined Resort
This botched resort venture is a quintessential lesson in how not to invest
Save for reality, this is easily Hong Kong's most surrealist feature. The bungled resort project, which opened in 2006, was the miscarried dream child of a Wan Chai bar owner. Picking a location way out in the middle of nowhere on a bay in Sai Kung, he had envisaged the place to be a secluded retreat that people would flock to on weekends to get away from the city. Like some kind of twist on The Island of Doctor Moreau, animatronic animals were bought and shipped in from Rainforest Café in Festival Walk and a swimming pool was built along with a bar. With no car access and limited pathways, private boats were set up to transport guests and the place operated momentarily. However, it was a little too far off the beaten track and the project ultimately failed, closing only a couple of years later. The owner abandoned the premises and left it to rot and to become the apocalyptical wonderland it is today. It currently somewhat resembles a theme park from a horror movie, with festering carcasses of fibreglass animals strewn across the property amid battered buildings and broken glass.
The former slaughterhouse is now an apocalyptic mix of oxidising machinery and dilapidating edifices
Although currently idle, guarded and fenced off from the world by high walls and barbed wire, this abattoir was once one of Hong Kong's busiest slaughterhouses. Established in 1969, the Cheung Sha Wan facility was responsible for massacring cows, pigs, and sheep daily until its closure in October 1999. The building does not possess any architectural merit and its bland appearance stands out from the modern urban jungle of shiny steel and concrete that now surrounds it. The structure has succumbed now to grittiness and decay, with sections of the colossal facility still connected via footbridge to an adjacent vegetable market that is still in operation today. In 1983, one of the water buffalos that was to be killed was described by workers to be crying and begging for its life. Workers were so taken aback by this that it was released and taken to Tsz Wan Shan where it lived out the rest of its years in Tsz Wan Kok temple until its death in 1994. The spirit of the buffalo reportedly visited a temple worker in a dream, proclaiming that it was an 'animal deity' and protector of Niu Lang – a mythical cow herder. When the abattoir closed, the government launched a pilot scheme to turn it into an arts compound, but that too also fell into demise – some artists complained that the facility gave off an unnervingly eerie atmosphere.