Monday, August 31, 2009

“Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can...” -Sarah Caldwell

Post by: Beth
*Note: Gear up.. It's a long one..

Our time here in Hong Kong is wrapping up shortly, and there's still so much we want to see and do! We are doing our best to cram as much in as possible, in hopes we won't leave behind too many experiences undiscovered. One of the things on my list of "must do's" was to visit Hong Kong Correctional Services Museum, located in the town of Stanley. The museum is closed during some weekends, so 2 friends and I hopped on a bus on a Tuesday, intent on enjoying the ride to Stanley and our visit to the museum facilities.

The bus ride to the peninsula of Stanley is honestly one of my favorite parts of visiting Stanley. Double decker buses present the chance to sit up really high and look over all the traffic, offering views you can't get from street level.

Bear with me a bit on the photo quality.. We're in a moving, top-heavy vehicle, with a thick pane of glass between us and the sights. :) Here is the view as we start our ascent out of the city, into the hills and mountains of residential areas, followed by the bays and beaches of Hong Kong's southeastern portion of the island.

After about 35-40 minutes, the landscape and waterfront views let us know we've arrived in Stanley:

We'd decided to take a stroll along Stanley Main Street... Megha had never been to Stanley before (she's even newer to HK than I!), so I was eager for her to see the area, and it'd be a great place for us to grab lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants before our museum tour began:

We picked a restaurant called Spiaggia, which was mostly Italian fare. At the end, the nice owner helped us get a cab, spoke in Cantonese to give directions to the taxi driver, and sent us on our way with a nice "Come back and see us!"

After lunch and an uneventful, brief cab ride, we got to the whole reason behind the trip: The Correctional Museum, which is located next to the Staff Training Institute (Stanley Prison is a maximum security prison and employs over 800 staff and offices).

We stepped inside, and one of the first we laid eyes on was THIS monstrosity:

, right?? Not the smoothest transition ever from the bright, carefree outside world of a breezy Stanley beach day, but sometimes Asia just isn't known for playing around. This lovely device is an apparatus known as a "flogging stand," and was used for corporal punishment in the old days. For a century, flogging was used as a form of discipline in China's jails, with other popular disciplines including turning a very heavy crank for 12 hours straight, and beatings with a whip called "cat-of-nine tails." Pleasant, yes?

I'd read of and was very excited about the mock cells featured on the 2nd story of the museum. Sure enough, a quick climb up the stairs awarded us with two replicated cells, one even housing a life-size prisoner statue to give a sense of the proportions of the tiny cell.

Many cells are equipped with sinks and toilets, but if you're one of the unlucky inmates not afforded these luxuries, you may end up with a room like this 2nd one, shown below. The red and yellow buckets in the bottom picture? The yellow one is for your drinking water. The red one is where you must go to the bathroom if you wake up in the middle of the night and have to go. In the morning, when the full staff of guards is back and activities begin, you empty your bathroom bucket, and refill your water bucket.

Equally exciting was the chance to see a mock gallows- the wooden frame used for execution by hanging. Legal execution was never very common in Hong Kong, but it was a regular sentence passed down by the courts for murder, kidnapping leading to death, and piracy. Executions usually took place at dawn, and prisoners in the six cells of the "H" block (Condemned block) knew what was coming. They requested a final meal, which was cooked and delivered to their cells. Visits from chaplains were common to the condemned men, offering counseling during their final hours. The final moments came quickly; into the cell came the hangman, to shackle the prisoner with leather thongs. He would then be helped the few final steps into the execution chamber, where the knotted noose was placed around his neck and a canvas hood slipped over his head. The chaplain murmured a few (hopefully) consoling words, the hangman pulled the lever, the trapdoor clanged open, and the criminal dropped 8 to 10 feet. The knot of the noose behind his ear was pulled sharply by the prisoner's weight at the end of the drop, breaking the neck and causing instant death. A few minutes later, the prison doctor would examine the body and pronounce life extinct.

The last executions at the prison took place in 1966 (2 prisoners hanged), and in 1996, the condemned block and execution chamber were demolished to make way for the new Stanley Prison hospital.

So this is history and was really interesting for me to learn about, but of course, that explanation of the inner workings of the execution chamber was a bit harsh, so it wasn't long after this section towards the end of the tour that we were more than happy to get back outside to the lighthearted world we'd deserted upon entering the museum. We still had a fun bus ride back to the city center after all, and I wasted no time in whipping out the camera and capturing the views on the way back. Just look how pretty... (Again, excuse the photo quality. :) )

I even spied this cool graveyard on the way back, and luckily the bus stopped at a red light at the perfect moment, so I could snap some photos from the top deck of the bus.

Neat, huh? :) I liked it. So all in all, a really good day.. We laughed, learned, and took lots of photos. One more thing off the list of my "must do's." Hopefully we'll have some more to share with you soon! Thanks for reading!


Laura said...

Very neat! I love stuff like that!

Jenny said...

Wow! Hard to believe that a prison with such a vast history could be in such a beautiful place! I wish you could have gotten off the bus at the cemetery. It looked like a great photo op.