The Peak Tram is celebrating its 120th birthday.
Built to ease transport for colonial residents high on Victoria Peak, who previously hired sedan chairs for carriage up the steep, convoluted slopes by Chinese bearers (at a rate of 1 cent for two men for 15 minutes, or 8 cents for four men for one hour), Asia's first funicular railway, falling under the execrable Peak Reservation Ordinance, was available to local Chinese only if they were invited, and even then they had to sit in a separate waiting room. Chinese labourers making deliveries on the peak had to continue hauling goods by foot.
But that gets glossed over on the Peak Tram's web site. Instead it glories in its overall history:
The Peak Tram is arguably the most enduring emblem of Hong Kong's unique past. It has seen war, been featured on films and television and played host to numerous dignitaries. On May 30, 1888 Governor Sir George William des Voeux officiated at the inauguration of this important transport for the commuters on the Peak.
At that time, a ride in the first-class section up to the Peak cost 30 cents. The charge was 20 cents for second class and 10 cents for third class. The return trip was half the price. The Peak Tram, which was operated by coal-fired steam boilers then, ended up serving 600 passengers on its first day and about 150,000 in its first year.
Between 1908 and 1949, the first two seats were reserved for the use of the Governor of Hong Kong and were not released to other passengers until 2 minutes prior to departure time. A brass plaque on the back read: "This seat is reserved for His Excellency, the Governor."
But the sins of the past don't matter to Hong Kongers; they love the Peak Tram even more than the tourists. The proof is the enormous queue that formed for a 30-cent ride (the regular round-trip fare is HK$33) in spite of heavy rain and squally thunderstorms. The wait time was six hours.
It has a special place in their hearts, as it does in mine.