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The Kowloon Kid

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Phil Brown's life begins in small town Australia — Maitland, NSW to be precise — but in 1963 his father Ted hankers to return to the Hong Kong of his childhood and to cash in on a construction boom in the burgeoning colony. Then under British rule, the world of Hong Kong is a truly fascinating place for gweilos or foreigners, both a colonial outpost and a region redolent wi Phil Brown's life begins in small town Australia — Maitland, NSW to be precise — but in 1963 his father Ted hankers to return to the Hong Kong of his childhood and to cash in on a construction boom in the burgeoning colony. Then under British rule, the world of Hong Kong is a truly fascinating place for gweilos or foreigners, both a colonial outpost and a region redolent with all the exoticism and contradictions of the Far East. The Brown’s home, in the garden suburb of Kowloon Tong, buzzes with characters: the family's amah, Ah Moy, frequent visitors such as the inscrutable Mr Lai, the spy-like Tony Parr, and family members such as Uncle Cyril. Not to mention the kid from across the road, Michael Hutchence. Combining recent visits to Hong Kong, where the author explores his childhood touchstones of the Kowloon Cricket Club, the beach at Shek O, the Peninsula Hong Kong and the bustling lanes of Kowloon, with an affectionate yet truly honest portrait of family, self and the 1960s The Kowloon Kid is an intimate and tender gem.


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Phil Brown's life begins in small town Australia — Maitland, NSW to be precise — but in 1963 his father Ted hankers to return to the Hong Kong of his childhood and to cash in on a construction boom in the burgeoning colony. Then under British rule, the world of Hong Kong is a truly fascinating place for gweilos or foreigners, both a colonial outpost and a region redolent wi Phil Brown's life begins in small town Australia — Maitland, NSW to be precise — but in 1963 his father Ted hankers to return to the Hong Kong of his childhood and to cash in on a construction boom in the burgeoning colony. Then under British rule, the world of Hong Kong is a truly fascinating place for gweilos or foreigners, both a colonial outpost and a region redolent with all the exoticism and contradictions of the Far East. The Brown’s home, in the garden suburb of Kowloon Tong, buzzes with characters: the family's amah, Ah Moy, frequent visitors such as the inscrutable Mr Lai, the spy-like Tony Parr, and family members such as Uncle Cyril. Not to mention the kid from across the road, Michael Hutchence. Combining recent visits to Hong Kong, where the author explores his childhood touchstones of the Kowloon Cricket Club, the beach at Shek O, the Peninsula Hong Kong and the bustling lanes of Kowloon, with an affectionate yet truly honest portrait of family, self and the 1960s The Kowloon Kid is an intimate and tender gem.

32 review for The Kowloon Kid

  1. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    I was keen to read this, thinking it could be another Gweilo: Memories Of A Hong Kong Childhood, one of my favourite memoirs of all time. It's not that, but clearly the potential comparisons weighed heavily on the author as he refers to it in the second half when he is writing about the famous-alumni list at his old high school: Martin Booth is there of course. He wrote the acclaimed Hong Kong memoir Gweilo, which I read with some trepidation. It's so revered that it nearly put me off writing my I was keen to read this, thinking it could be another Gweilo: Memories Of A Hong Kong Childhood, one of my favourite memoirs of all time. It's not that, but clearly the potential comparisons weighed heavily on the author as he refers to it in the second half when he is writing about the famous-alumni list at his old high school: Martin Booth is there of course. He wrote the acclaimed Hong Kong memoir Gweilo, which I read with some trepidation. It's so revered that it nearly put me off writing my own story. Nearly. So provided you come to this with lower expectations than I did, it could be an entertaining and illuminating look at 1960s colonial Hong Kong. Phil Brown is a newspaper man, and according to the author bio, a popular columnist is his Queensland paper. He certainly had an interesting childhood, so the material's there. However, this book didn't really gel for me - didn't take me on the ride I wanted it to. It's not the writing, I think it's the style, which may lend itself better to audio format. While the narrative is primarily linear, and the chapters are more or less cohesive around a particular theme, the anecdotes don't always flow. In fact 'anecdotes' is a misnomer - quite often a paragraph will be just one line, setting out the details of a memory, and then the next paragraph is onto something else. Some of the longer anecdotes peter out into nothing. My other issue was the repetition, with the author explaining the same point or detail over and over again, sometimes within the space of only a few pages. If listening to an audiobook I think these irritations could be overlooked, because they are more natural to oral storytelling. But overall it was entertaining enough. If you haven't read Gweilo, perhaps read this one first, then move up.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    All over the world, there are people on the other side of middle age, who enjoyed life in one or other of Britain's colonies during the Empire. Which as you know, occupied a vast swathe of the globe. (No, I'm not going to repeat the old clichés about maps coloured pink, or suns not setting). But there are a lot of people who lived in luxury not shared by their counterparts in the native population, and who may—or may not have—nostalgic memories of a lifestyle vastly different to wherever they end All over the world, there are people on the other side of middle age, who enjoyed life in one or other of Britain's colonies during the Empire. Which as you know, occupied a vast swathe of the globe. (No, I'm not going to repeat the old clichés about maps coloured pink, or suns not setting). But there are a lot of people who lived in luxury not shared by their counterparts in the native population, and who may—or may not have—nostalgic memories of a lifestyle vastly different to wherever they ended up after their colonial home gained independence. Whether they were in India during the Raj, or Malaysia, or Egypt in the Middle East, or any number of countries in Africa or the Caribbean, they tended to live beside but apart from the local culture. Like expats, but perhaps with an added sense of entitlement. Not always, I hasten to add. No one could accuse that George Orwell's Burmese Days (1934) of a sense of colonial entitlement. It was an exposé of corruption and bigotry, and a bitter portrayal of colonial society. Some who grew up in the colonies transitioned from their experience to an adult awareness of the issues that surround colonialism. In Oleander, Jacaranda (1994) Penelope Lively wrote vividly about her ashamed astonishment that as an adult she could not bear to witness the ubiquitous poverty and squalor in Egypt, but had never even noticed it as a child though it was all around her. "How did I not see it? she asked herself... OTOH June Porter wrote a memoir about her time swanning about in India during the Raj... it was called Can a Duck Swim? (2013), and you can see my thoughts about her insouciance here. The Kowloon Kid, a Hong Kong Childhood is interesting because so few authors tackle the mixed emotions arising from a colonial childhood. There must be thousands of them, not just from when the Colonial Office sent its staff out hither and yon. There were also families like Brown's who had commercial interests in the colonies as well. Brown's father had a construction business which did very well in postwar Hong Kong's boom, and presumably provided a lot of employment and contributed to development generally. So though born in Australia, Brown spent the formative years of his childhood in Kowloon from 1963 to 1969. Brown is a columnist for a lifestyle magazine and is Arts Editor of The Courier Mail in Queensland, so he has a breezy, entertaining style. Although the book is mostly about childhood fun and mischief and his growing anxiety about his father's drinking which burgeoned amid the social life of Hong Kong, he does also contend with the realities of colonial life. He notes, without being heavy-handed about it, that although he should, he knows next-to-nothing about their household staff, people who included his amah and the driver who were part of his daily life. And although he was only a child at the time, he alludes to a Communist uprising in 1967: On July 8, 1967 armed villagers from the People's Republic attacked a border police post at Sha Tau Kok, killing five policemen. Reports of uniformed people moving towards a major crossing point in force sent the colony into a panic. Britain's crack Nepalese troops, the Gurkha Rifles, led by Major General Ronald McAlister, ended the siege of the police station and protected the border throughout the troubles. They were tough. I know because we used to play their children at soccer and even the kids were tough. We doubled up our shin pads for those matches. (p.175) [Brown's light-hearted memoir is not the place for historical analysis, but I found myself wondering what China's motivation might have been. They could not seriously at that time have thought of taking on the British Empire, even though it was weakened after the war. This incident makes me think of the way China has responded to the current situation in Hong Kong by massing armed forces near the border. It conveys a clear message: look what we could do if we wanted to. We might not win, but we can make you feel very insecure, and over time, that might be enough to break you.] To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2019/09/13/t...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cass Moriarty

    Author, poet, travel writer and memoirist Phil Brown has often written about his life, but his latest book The Kowloon Kid (Transit Lounge 2019) is a special account in that it depicts a time of upheaval and coming of age amidst a place of great beauty and contradictions. From 1963 to 1970, as Brown grew into adolescence, he and his family lived in Hong Kong, then under British rule. His father was in the construction business and there was plenty of building going on in the burgeoning colony. H Author, poet, travel writer and memoirist Phil Brown has often written about his life, but his latest book The Kowloon Kid (Transit Lounge 2019) is a special account in that it depicts a time of upheaval and coming of age amidst a place of great beauty and contradictions. From 1963 to 1970, as Brown grew into adolescence, he and his family lived in Hong Kong, then under British rule. His father was in the construction business and there was plenty of building going on in the burgeoning colony. His family hung out at famous institutions such as The Peninsula Hotel and the Kowloon Cricket Club, and lived across the road from Michael Hutchence, of INXS fame. Narrated in Brown’s distinctive voice, The Kowloon Kid tells of childhood scrapes and misadventures; memorable teachers and relatives; a family friend who may or may not have been a spy; a chain of amahs and other family servants; places and events indelibly marked on his memory; and particular incidents or settings that have remained a touchstone for him long after he left Kowloon. He intersperses this account with recollections of more recent trips to Hong Kong with his wife and son, often visiting the same locations; sometimes able to reproduce the familiar tastes and smells and sights of his childhood, but frequently finding his memories replaced by the encroaching developments and technologies of this modern and bustling society. This memoir is a fascinating examination of his own family history, a poem to the exotic beauty and strangeness of Hong Kong past, and an interrogation of the current cultural and socio-political climate. Full of nostalgia for days gone by and an era past, this is a humorous, self-deprecating and poignant portrait of the twin threads of family and place, and how they have been braided together over time.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

    This was fun. I am sorry that I didn't see the colonial side of Hong Kong but I lived there for 15 years after handover and my daughter was born there. I enjoyed the pseudo Bill Bryson style and the anecdotes. I can totally relate to his notions that Hong Kong is home; it gets you like that. Glad I picked this up at the Brisbane Writers Festival. That festival is always worth a look.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Indulgent, repetitive, you'll often find the same comment repeated 4 pages later. If you like sharp, insightful, and vivid autobios this is not be the book for you - it certainly wasn't for me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David

  7. 4 out of 5

    Carol-Ann Gravestock

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alana

  9. 5 out of 5

    Charmaine Mok

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Duffell

  11. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

  12. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  13. 4 out of 5

    Travis

  14. 4 out of 5

    Trisha

  15. 4 out of 5

    Julie

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  17. 5 out of 5

    David

  18. 5 out of 5

    AlexKhay

  19. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Murtha

  20. 4 out of 5

    Diane in Australia

  21. 4 out of 5

    Stefan Schenk

  22. 4 out of 5

    McPhaul M.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Téa Leoni

  24. 4 out of 5

    Priya

  25. 5 out of 5

    Olivia

  26. 4 out of 5

    Serap Ören

  27. 5 out of 5

    Memoriesandsuch

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sachin Kapoor

  29. 5 out of 5

    Angel

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea O

  31. 5 out of 5

    Gianluca

  32. 4 out of 5

    Gina

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