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.