Why does that build­ing in Repulse Bay have a hole in it?

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This is Hong Kong trivia 101, the kind of fact you trot out to im­press new­com­ers to the city. Yes—it’s for feng shui pur­poses, to al­low the “dragon” on the moun­tain to pass through to­wards the sea. But here’s the truth: the cur­rent Repulse Bay de­vel­op­ment is a bor­ing build­ing com­pared to what once stood in its place—the Repulse Bay Ho­tel.

For once upon a time, from 1920-1982, the Repulse Bay Ho­tel was the city’s finest re­sort: A re­fined, colo­nial es­cape from the stuffy city. Guests in­cluded Noël Cow­ard, Mar­lon Brando and Peter Sell­ers, while the ho­tel be­came the ro­man­tic back­drop to Hol­ly­wood spec­tac­u­lars such as

“Love is a Many Splen­dored Thing.”

Ernest Hem­ing­way was a guest in the 1940s with his wife Martha Gell­horn, when the two ar­rived in Asia to re­port on the war in China. The ho­tel’s Bam­boo Bar may be no more, but the Ve­ran­dah restau­rant lives on with a touch of that colo­nial gen­til­ity. You can still imag­ine Hem­ing­way hang­ing out un­der the high ceil­ings, call­ing for an­other mar­tini or three. In fact—you can do it your­self.

One of the most no­table ap­pear­ances of this Hong

Kong in­sti­tu­tion is in Eileen Chang’s novella “Love in a Fallen City,” set mainly in the Repulse Bay Ho­tel around the time of the fall of Hong Kong to the Ja­panese in World War II. Chang’s de­scrip­tion of the ap­proach to Repulse Bay holds up won­der­fully:

“Cliffs of yel­low-and-red soil flanked the road, while ravines opened up on ei­ther side to re­veal dense green for­est or aqua­ma­rine sea. As they ap­proached Repulse Bay, the cliffs and trees grew gen­tler and more invit­ing. Re­turn­ing pic­nick­ers swept past them in cars filled with flow­ers, the sound of scat­tered laugh­ter fad­ing in the wind.”

Catch the 6X to the South­side to­day, 70 years later, and the ex­pe­ri­ence is much the same.

The Repulse Bay Ho­tel was de­mol­ished in 1982, af­ter 62 years of op­er­a­tion, to make room for all-new lux­ury apart­ments. The lat­ter-day Repulse Bay com­plex sits awk­wardly on top of the replica colo­nial-style build­ings be­neath, the feng shui hole far less of an icon of Hong Kong iden­tity than the build­ings that once stood in their place. Next time some­one asks about the feng shui dragon, tell them about the Repulse Bay Ho­tel in­stead.

The old Repulse Bay Ho­tel

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