On the south side of Hong Kong Island lies Aberdeen, another part of Hong Kong where old and new reside in tandem. In the bustling harbour, skyscrapers loom over a fleet of ramshackle boats while luxury yachts stand at anchor nearby. During typhoons, boats cluster here for shelter.
Named after George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen, Aberdeen was the hub of the incense trade before the British arrived. Incense grown in the New Territories was sent to Aberdeen for export. It was also here that the British first arrived in Hong Kong.
Scores of boat dwellers from the Tanka and Hoklo clans from the mainland areas of Guangdong and Fujian lived in these waters, forbidden by law to live on land or marry land people. In 1963, about there were about 150,000 of these “boat people” here. Most now live in apartments, but there are still about 5,000 residents who live aboard boats in the harbour.
Climb aboard one of the many sampans, most operated by elderly Tanka and Hoklo women, for a tour. After a bit of haggling, you’ll be on your way through creaky junks, sampans and houseboats as well as giant trawlers and and upscale pleasure craft.
In the center of it all is the famous Jumbo Kingdom Floating Restaurant, an enormous, ornate structure fashioned after an imperial Chinese palace. The gaudy premises are a major tourist attraction, sort of like a Chinese style Planet Hollywood. Over 30 million people, including celebrities and royalty, have visited since the Jumbo Floating Restaurant opened in 1976.
Aberdeen has also been featured in a number of films and video games. Lara Croft, James Bond, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Jackie Chan have all experienced Aberdeen’s gritty ambiance.