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All About Kowloon

“Nine dragons”, “the unknown, “the other side”…These are just a few of the many nicknames people have for Kowloon – the peninsular part of Hong Kong located across Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Island. Named for its distinctive nine peaks – the nine dragons or 九龍 – in the early colonial days, Kowloon was basically a wilderness, used by the British for tiger-hunting expeditions (yes, there used to be tigers in Hong Kong; no, they are not here anymore).

In 1911, a census determined Kowloon’s population to be just over 7,000 inhabitants; a figure which would change dramatically over the coming decades as war, politics and famine changed the fortunes of millions of people, many of whom streamed into Hong Kong during the 1950s and 60s. The 2011 Kowloon census recorded 2,108,419 inhabitants – a staggering 28,700 per cent increase in just 100 years.

In the early days, Hong Kong Island was the residential area of choice for the city’s growing group of politicians, experts and elite members of the business community. They lived in large homes scattered around The Peak, Happy Valley and southern areas of the island. Kowloon, on the other hand, had developed a reputation for being the home of the poor and downtrodden, a landing point for refugees seeking a better life and a haven for ne’er-do-wells and organised crime…certainly not a location for premium properties housing titans of industry at that time.

Sir Elly Kadoorie and Mr J.P. Braga had an entirely different vision in mind for Kowloon. In 1931, they purchased a bare hillside at the junction of Argyle Street and Waterloo Road measuring about 1.3 million square feet for a sum of HK$326,000. Here, they began building “a modern residential suburb, with fine wide roads and modern up-to-date cottages of a garden city type”. Over the next five years, The Kadoorie Estate took shape, rising like a green jewel above the noise and sprawl of gritty Kowloon.
Today, it is Kowloon which rises above Kadoorie Avenue, its high-rise residential and commercial towers sometimes visible above the tops of the many trees. The Estate remains a leafy residential suburb, a peaceful green island in a busy city; but rather then being removed and isolated from modern Kowloon, today’s residents embrace the many amenities and opportunities it offers.

When chatting with residents of The Estate about Kowloon, the concept of convenience frequently comes up: “it’s just down the hill”; “everything you need is right there”; “only a couple of minutes away”; “everything about the location is so convenient!” Schools, shopping streets and malls, countless leisure and dining opportunities, medical and dental services…literally anything one requires or desires is within walking distance of The Kadoorie Estate.

These feelings exist across the spectrum: parents gush over how convenient the location is for their school-age children, the children themselves are apparently thrilled with the ease of access to fun fashion, electronics and knick-knack shops, pet owners are delighted at the neighbourhood’s space and walkability, high-powered executives praise the speed at which one can get to and from the office.
While the spacious luxury properties and gardens of The Estate are nothing like the immediate surrounding districts of Mongkok and Kowloon City, there is a strong, nature-based connection to other easily-accessible parts of Kowloon. The quiet peace of tropical vegetation and birds can be found just a few kilometres away in Lion Rock Country Park, while plenty of walking trails and open spaces lie close by in all directions: wherever you go, if you know where to find them, urban parks, ornamental gardens, waterfront trails and open areas where children and pets can run free are all waiting.
Of course, some of Kowloon’s gritty vibrancy still remains, embodied in the thriving neon-lit markets and outdoor eating areas of Yau Ma Tei and Jordan; the Mongkok buildings teeming with tiny stalls where almost anything under the sun can be found: clothes, accessories, jewellery, toys, electronics, collectibles and so much more; in the energetic nightlife and thousands of bars and restaurants that span the rainbow – from unpolished street-level holes-in-the-wall to five-star world-famous icons of luxury perched high in the sky.

This juxtaposition of calm and crazy, of restfulness and adrenaline, is far from a liability for residents of The Kadoorie Estate. On the contrary, it is what makes them love living here even more. Once they have experienced it, this “proximity to everything” is hard to give up. It is truly the best of both worlds: peace, tranquillity, and luxury living located next door to one of the busiest, coolest, most alive places on the planet.