>Uncovering Places

I am fascinated with place names. Since I am a geographer, it is allowed.

I took a class in Roman archaeology as an undergraduate on a semester abroad in England. At our dig site the professor would tell us how the name of a field now, could tell you something about what took place there in Roman times (before 400 AD). Place names are echoes of the past, buried under centuries of history.

When I worked for the Houma tribe in Southern Louisiana my project involved establishing their early presence in the territory in which they now reside. In going through local present-day maps I found an “Indian Point.” I asked local people about this and they didn’t know why it was called Indian Point. I pursued the place name through old land records in the county courthouse. These records showed clearly that Houma tribal members owned land on that point, and in their present territory, much early that commonly thought. Place names do not lie–well at least not unless they are purposefully used to erase someone’s history. The Soviets were certainly good at that.

In Hong Kong I live in Kowloon Tong. There is also a Kwun Tong a few subway stops away. I finally asked someone what “tong” meant. They hadn’t really thought about it a great deal, but it meant “pond.” So I live in an area that once had a pond. Believe me, it is about as far from that now as anything could be! A huge, upscale mall sits in the middle of Kowloon Tong. The mall is called Festival Walk, but the meaning of the Chinese name for the mall is something like, “the little store next door.” It is really not fair that I miss all this meaning around me! And then there are the confused meanings when I think I should know what is going on. I was invited to a concert at City Hall. I couldn’t quite figure out why City Hall should have a concert auditorium, but eventually found out the building had nothing to do with local governance.

Two names that are littered across the Hong Kong landscape, especially in higher education, are Run Run Shaw and Jockey Club. Both City University and University of Hong Kong have Run Run Shaw libraries. Hong Kong Baptist has a Shaw Campus, Chinese University of Hong Kong has a college named Run Run Shaw. At Zhejian University in China there is a Run Run Shaw Hospital. It is never ending! DeVos and VanAndel don’t have anything over this Run Run Shaw person! Who is Run Run Shaw? He and his brother founded the South Seas Film studio in 1930 which later became Shaw studios, growing into a multi-billion dollar TV empire that is now one of the five largest in the world. He was knighted in 1977 and more recently established the Shaw Prize, for scientists in three areas not covered by the Nobel Prize–astronomy, math, and life and medical science. It is called the Nobel Prize of the East. Go Run Run!

I live in Jockey Club Hall. Yes, it is true. But not only is there a Jockey Club Hall at City University, there is one at almost every university. And then there are Jockey Club scholarships, social services agencies, etc. Is this a club of jockey’s? I don’t think of jockeys as being particularly wealthy or committed to phalanthropy. But Hong Kong natives ARE committed to horse racing! I’m told you have to experience one of the race tracks once. Well, maybe. But I did have to explore the meaning of the name of my apartment building. I’m still not quite sure what it is, but it seems that the Jockey Club is an organization that runs a horse-racing and gaming empire, but they have a charitable trust that gave HK$1.37 billion last year to some 100 charities. They must get money from individuals also because under the Living a Legacy on their website they say, “Death tends to be a taboo discussion topic in Chinese society, even though it’s something we all have to face eventually…” Go Jocky Club!

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