In Hong Kong over New Year’s, I hopped on board one of the island’s incredibly cheap streetcars and randomly rode from Central, the bustling business center of the city, to the quieter but still absurdly developed alcove of Happy Valley. The district is best known for its racecourse, which (not being a fan of equestrian sports) I first learned about from James Clavell’s very fun novel Noble House.
The name “Happy Valley” comes from the area’s use as a burial ground during the early days of the colony. As was the case in many tropical colonies (see Guns, Germs and Steel), the hot climate and marshy terrain of the island were quite incompatible with the Europeans moving in, and the resulting waves of diseases made Happy Valley one of the most populous areas of Hong Kong (if you’re counting corpses).
Even today, the cemeteries of Happy Valley are its most prominent and unique feature, next to the famous racecourse which is literally right across the street.
One of the more fascinating parts of the cemetery is the Muslim section, which happened to be open as I walked past. The headstones, dating from throughout Hong Kong’s history, are written in varying combinations of Arabic, Chinese and English.
The Muslim cemetery occupies a number of slopes wrapped around a hill, which makes it an excellent vantage point for viewing the lower, flatter Catholic cemetery below. Another case of awesome real estate wasted on dead people.