HMS Friday: Repulse Bay, Hong Kong

by Mark Lukach

Repulse Bay is a swank area of Hong Kong. The beaches are popular during the hot summer, and the coastline is dotted with luxury apartments.

One of those apartments has a giant hole built into it.

The hole is 8 apartments tall, and 4 apartments wide. It is obviously no accident.

The legend has been distorted, but it all deals with a dragon. According to tradition, a dragon lives in the hills above Repulse Bay, and every evening it enjoys watching the sunset over the waters. It also sneaks down from out of the hills to bathe in the water and even drink from it. When the new apartment building was planned, many wondered how the dragon would react with its view and access route blocked?

So what did they do? They built a huge hole for the dragon, so it can continue to enjoy the view and have easy passage to the water.

Incredible. This reminds me of the tradition in many American skyscrapers to not include a 13th floor, and just skip from 12 to 14, except that it is way, way cooler.This column is dedicated to the weird history of the ocean and to its many surviving myths. We’ve covered nautical tattoos, various bizarre accidents, and even the odd friendship between man and dolphin, but there is something about this building that feels special. That special quality does not necessarily lie in the myth itself. OK cool, a dragon lives in a hill and likes to swim in the ocean, awesome and all, but I saw How To Tame Your Dragon and so I’m really not that impressed.

What is so fascinating is the incredible power of this particular myth. Where else in the modern world have luxury buildings been so obviously adapted to conform to mythology?

Apparently, it was esteemed feng shui teachers who were the most worried about the dragon, and they were the ones who lobbied the hardest to have the hole built into the building when it was constructed in the 1960s. In that regard, the power might actually lie not in the myth itself, but in the cultural and religious emphasis on feng shui at the time.

If that is the case, it harkens to the much larger question of religion as a codification of mythology, which is a good one to conside. Joseph Campbell, the brilliant man behind The Power of Myth, spent an entire TV series arguing over the universality of myths, and had no problem comparing religions with superstitions to draw out their similarities. We call the Ancient Greek religious stories “myths,” but contemporaneous Judeo-Christian accounts of floods, temples built towards heaven, and the parting of the ocean as part of “religion.” Myth and religion have a complex relationship, inseparable from each other, but at the same time fiercely defined as separate by their adherents.

It’s easier to romanticize myths, because it feels like a pandering to the childish imagination that dwells within us. Oh, so the big hole in the building is for a dragon? How cute.

Religion, by comparison, seems much more stern and foreboding, and for those who actually believe in the dragon, the reasoning is far less cute, and much more a matter of existential survival.

If you look at the evolution of religion over time, monotheism has clearly become dominant over polytheism, certainly in global popularity. And that has greatly impacted the way we view abnormalities in the ocean. Because of the popular ascendancy of monotheism throughout history, and the decline of polytheism, stories about the ocean have mostly been relegated to the world of myths. If there is only One God, then there is no specific god of the sea, since the One God is god of all, and so any time we talk about funky, quasi-religious ocean stories, they are mostly always called myths.

As such, our romantic dragon, who likes long walks on the beach and sunsets over the sparkling ocean horizon, is cutely packaged up as a myth.

In this cauldron of religion and myth, we end up with a fancy, modern apartment building in Hong Kong, with “an exceptionally high occupancy and very high rents,” and a gigantic hole built into it.

*via goldershop, wikipedia, flickr*

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