Several years ago I stumbled upon Martin Booth’s memoir, Golden Boy (Picador, 2004), also known as Gweilo (Doubleday, 2004) in the UK–about his boyhood in Hong Kong.
As a young boy, Booth lived in the Fourseas Hotel and roamed the streets of Kowloon on his own in the early 1950s. As soon as I finished the book, I started it again, devouring each page for a second time.
Booth’s Fourseas (left) was charming, mysterious, and strict. It stood on Waterloo Road, a street I was familiar with for a few reasons.
I volunteered in 1990 and 1991 at a Vietnamese refugee camp near Waterloo Road.
When I returned to Hong Kong in 1994, I stayed at the YMCA on Waterloo Road for a few nights. (A couple years later, I swam laps in their pool before work each morning.)
In 1996, I found a job near Waterloo Road and celebrated my first day of work with my lovely boss (I’m not being sarcastic) and co-editors at the upscale dim sum restaurant at the Metropole Hotel (right) on Waterloo Road.
I returned to the Metropole several times with colleagues for the Western buffet. And the Metropole’s cake shop was the only place in Kowloon where I could buy a pie for special occasions. (Few people I knew owned ovens in Hong Kong.)
But then in 2003 (when I was already back in the US), the Metropole made international news after a mainland doctor infected with the SARS virus stayed there and transmitted it to other hotel guests who then flew to Canada, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
When I read in the New Yorker about the Metropole’s role in early days of SARS transmission, my heart sunk. Of all the gin joints, right?
The name has since been changed to the Metropark Hotel, but as far as I know, the structure hasn’t changed.
So back to Booth’s memoir and the Fourseas Hotel. I always pictured the Fourseas on a quiet stretch of Waterloo Road, closer to suburban-like Kowloon Tong. But it wasn’t until last year, when browsing Gwulo.com, that I came across something that gave me a jolt.
The Metropole stood on the site of the former Fourseas Hotel.