On one visit to Hong Kong in the late 1970’s I ran into a friend from the clothing firm Espirit at the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon. He was Peter Buckley, later CEO of European Espirit. He invited me to the local guest house. I went with my girlfriend, Carole. I knew the place would be crawling with clothing models, and it was.
We arrived after lunch. After hanging around for a few hours, Peter mentioned the Forbidden City in Kowloon. Peter had heard that it was a square block that neither the British nor the Chinese lay claim to and therefore was a truly outlaw world. He said no foreigner was known to have come out alive.
I wanted to see and explore it. Peter joined me along with my girl friend and two gorgeous clothing models who were staying at the house.
We walked half way around the Forbidden City block and finally found a tiny entrance that opened into a small narrow passage way. We were told over 33,000 people lived here. Some parts of the building were 16 stories high.
The passageway was three feet wide and seven feet high with fetid sewer pipes hanging from the ceiling.
The floor was slimy. Big rats ran away from us in every direction. Most of them did.
I have a good memory for directions. I could remember our route in the maze for about 20 minutes. Peter took over for the next fifteen minutes. The passage-way stayed below ground level with iron gates that had stairs going up every 30 feet. We passed iron gated rooms every five feet, lighted with men playing card games, doing other gambling games and smoking hash. There were many rooms with racks of people doing opium. There were occasionally rooms under construction with heavy beams holding up the ceiling but no obvious use of architecture or engineering.
After 35 minutes we decided not to take a chance on getting lost in the maze forever and having the women sold off. Fortunately within five minutes we saw a shortcut that opened to the outside that was evident from the inside but had not been visible to us when we were walking around the outside.
Outlaw city....I've never forgotten it. The photo above is where we were. A good set of photos is found here. Its gone now.
Can you imagine a city without any architecture, law or governance? It existed.