Built in 1922, Yaumatei Police Station is a neoclassical Edwardian Free Style. That's what the experts say. The place had a colonial feel to it, with vaulted ceilings, plus dark and menacing cells. The central courtyard gave over to a car park, once served as a parade area for inspections.
From December 1980, this is the centre of my life. As part of Yaumatei District, our sister station is Tsim Sha Tsui. This is co-located with the Marine Police Headquarters at the tip of the Kowloon peninsula.
The district headquarters occupied the first floor. The District Commander and his support staff sit isolated from the mayhem below. The divisional team, including me, had offices on the ground floor.
That included the Report Room, cell-block, armoury and assorted offices. Going ‘upstairs’ was rare except to receive a bollocking or for the monthly meeting. Up there, the refined atmosphere cuts away from the daily hubbub of an operational police station. The noise retreated as you climbed the stair into whitewashed corridors. Large plants gave the feel of a colonial hotel.
One ground floor room always sticks in my memory. The CID Daai Fong. This means 'big room'. As the name suggests, it belonged to the CID guys. This room was the pivot of their world.
A part communal office, gathering place and holding area for suspects. Handcuffed, squatting on the floor, often with expressions of dejection written across their faces. Dominating the Daai Fong was a huge alter housing Guan Di (關帝). A symbol of ‘Uprightness’, ‘Loyalty’, ‘Trust’, ‘Courage’ and most important Yi Qi (義氣). This is loyalty to the brotherhood. Guan Di is a protector. Elsewhere, I'll talk about the origins of Guan Di worship and the insight this gives to police culture.
My first encounter with the Daai Fong was overpowering. As I entered the immediate impression was one of awe. 10 odd handcuffed prisoners squatted, sullen, silent under the watchful gaze of Guan Di. Low lighting can't break through the ladened smoky air. Detectives busy themselves.
Fingerprinting and statement are taken, with an ever-present cigarette hanging from the lips. A bark of instruction. A prisoner would rise and shuffle over to sign a statement. He'd get a cigarette if he was lucky or clip around the head if not.
The presence of uniforms, no matter their rank, was never welcome. CID didn't want us around. I learnt it was prudent to keep away in case you saw something you’d rather not see.
Yaumatei means sesame oil field, which hints at the farming history of the area. But this was now long gone, as latter-day Yaumati is dense urban. It's a heady mix. High-rise residential, old tenements, hospitals, shops, department stores, theatres, day and night markets.
Jammed in are nightclubs, brothels, restaurants and light industry near the typhoon shelter. Yaumatei has everything from the wealthiest citizens to low-life drug addicts making a living on the fringes.
Nathan Road cuts through the heart of Yaumati. It runs south to north. While Jordan Road does the same going east to west. The population swells during the day as workers flooded in.
At night, people came to eat, shop, buy sex and party. This all made for an interesting policing challenge.
Yaumati has its own population of old-time addicts; heroin users and a few opium junkies. The nightclubs brought with them other drugs, which was cannabis in those days. The era of ecstasy and ketamine was some time off. In any case, alcohol-fueled most of the partying and trouble.
I’m now expected to get to grips with this.