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Stories museums tell us

Editorial: The Museum of History in Kowloon has a permanent exhibition called The Story of Hong Kong. It is comprised of 8 galleries and more than 3,700 exhibits and it’s simply outstanding. The story begins 400 million years ago and ends on June 30, 1997 when Hong Kong was returned to China under the “One country, two systems” principle. They even display a newspaper clipping from the Toronto Star, one of ‘my’ newspapers, about the handover.

Many stories in the museum are lavishly told, such as the one about British warships that sailed into Hong Kong waters in 1841, raised the British flag, and proclaimed the occupation of the Island. And about the Brits who introduced opium into China and how opium addiction swept across the country like wildfire.

I almost walked by an exhibit called “A Million March, 1989”. It is very modest in comparison to the  other exhibits and its connection to the pro-democracy protest in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that resulted in the death and injury of many students is not obvious.

There are many entertaining stories and images as well. For instance, I learned that a Hoklo bride would be ferried to the groom’s home on ceremonial “dragon-boats” rowed by the groom’s married female relatives. And that Taoist priests entertained villagers during religious ceremonies with acrobatics, ghost stories and fire dancing.

Hong Kong is Asia’s ‘world city’ and it’s relatively easy to find some connection to both it and to this exhibition as a whole.

I found it tougher to embrace Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, and for a couple of days I wandered its streets without enthusiasm. That was until I came upon an exhibition on loan from the Aga Khan Museum called Architecture in Islamic Arts. For the first time I was able to understand the Islamic connection between artistic activity and religious devotion and so was pleased I’d made the stop.

Two very different museums, each with an intriguing story to tell, and both featured this month.

Jessica and I will soon be travelling, Jessica to Uganda and England, me to Sri Lanka and India. We’re equally unprepared, which seems to be our travel pattern. But I’m doing a little better than usual. I pick up my Indian visa today and still have plenty of time to get the Sri Lanka one and that’s most unlike me. My itinerary for Sri Lanka is almost ready although I still have to figure out how long I’ll stay at each place and where I’ll lay my head at night. I’m totally unsure of how I’ll get from place to place so if you have any suggestions please share them with me!

Jessica arrives in London after her stay in Africa and has 5 days on her own. She has no idea what she’ll do.  It’s cold in England in February, isn’t it? I suggest going to Cornwall, someone else proposed Bourges, France. What do you think?

We’ll post trip updates on twitter and Facebook and be back here in March. Until then…

Sylvia Fanjoy

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