26 October 2016
Former Gurkhas contributed in building many of Hong Kong's stunning structures such as skyscrapers and Tsing Ma Bridge. Photo: HKEJ
Former Gurkhas contributed in building many of Hong Kong's stunning structures such as skyscrapers and Tsing Ma Bridge. Photo: HKEJ

The unsung heroes who built Hong Kong

Who built our skyscrapers, bridges, tunnels and all the other stunning structures that help make Hong Kong such a modern metropolis?

If I pose this question to all Hongkongers, I suspect most will come up with an obvious answer: our businessmen, architects, engineers or the government. If I say “not so fast”, will you be surprised?

The key to the right answer to this question can be found in the question itself: I am asking for the actual builder, not who commissioned, designed or paid for it.

Without workers, these construction projects will never be realized. 

It is their blood, sweat and labor that made all this happen, but their contributions are hardly mentioned while the owner and the architect take all the credit for these magnificent structures.

Hong Kong has skyscrapers, bridges and tunnels that have become architectural and engineering wonders of the modern world.

But we hardly know who actually built them, let alone appreciate them.

But had it not been for those brave people, we could have faced great difficulty in turning such ambitious projects into reality; Hong Kong could have suffered or have been left behind in the march to modernity.

They were none other than the brave Gurkhas and their children who succeeded them in building the city’s towering monuments of prosperity and progress.

The Gurkhas did not only safeguard Hong Kong’s porous borderline since the mid-sixties until the early nineties but also controlled the heavy influxes of illegal immigrants escaping hardships in communist China.

The problems involving the influx of illegal immigrants in the late seventies and early eighties were so serious and prevalent that the British had to recruit more Gurkhas; three waves of Gurkhas were recruited in 1980.

Yours truly was one of them. There was not one border in Hong Kong where I had not been posted at night and I survived the ordeal to be able to tell the story.

The Gurkhas also helped build the Vietnamese refugee camps around Hong Kong and handled them, helped clear the debris and roads after typhoons, guarded and escorted VIPs, and assisted the city’s disciplinary services whenever necessary.

Most importantly, the Gurkhas took the sole responsibility of protecting Hong Kong from outside threats so ordinary people could sleep soundly at night.

After 1997, the Gurkhas were tossed back to Nepal like used tissue paper. Only 3,000 out of the 10,000-strong contingent were taken back to Britain, and the rest had to fend for themselves.

And yet, the Gurkhas’ contributions to Hong Kong didn’t stop there. The children of the former Gurkha soldiers came to Hong Kong and contributed a great deal to the city’s safety and prosperity.

Although most of them have been working in labor-intensive industries like construction, their contributions have been very significant.

Had it not been for the brave Gurkhas’ children, the construction of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers, Tsing Ma Bridge and other tunnels would have been hard to build, if not impossible.

And I don’t need any proof for that, or get endorsement from the construction company involved.

You know why? Because I have friends and relatives who actually worked there.

Hong Kong has many ethnic minorities and they all contributed in their own special way.

But as far as the Gurkhas are concerned, their contributions are undoubtedly the best and Hong Kong should always remember that.

For that reason alone, they certainly deserve special treatment from Hong Kong. 

But given the present situation in Hong Kong, I won’t bet on it.

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Gurkhas are not only brave in battle but also have no fear of heights, making them ideal workers at construction sites. Photo: Tim I Gurung

EJ Insight contributor

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