19 June 2021 marks the 160th anniversary of the birth of Philippine national hero José Rizal. Hong Kong and Southeast Asia are closely intertwined in many ways - one of which includes Rizal’s extensive stay in the city. Being an admirer of Rizal myself and stranded in the city for the time being, I set out on a pilgrimage in search of his footprints in Hong Kong.
Rizal is a man with many hats: writer, naturalist, and even engineer (in fact, my pursuit of all-roundedness might be partly influenced by him!). However, Rizal’s “main profession” is actually a doctor - ophthalmologist, to be exact. Between 1891 and 1892, Rizal practiced medicine at a clinic in Central.
Rizal is also a man with many homes: he stayed in Spain, Japan, Germany, and many other places. After publishing the sensational novel Noli Me Tángere in 1887, Rizal angered the colonial authorities and left for Hong Kong the year after. “They forced me to leave my own country,” he wrote in a letter to Austrian friend Ferdinand Blumentritt.
After a three year sojourn in Europe, Rizal went into a self-imposed exile in Hong Kong in 1891. This British outpost was Rizal’s final home until he returned to the Philippines and was eventually executed in 1896. Together with a friend from the Philippines, I visited two key spots in Central to pay tribute to Rizal.
2 Rednaxela Terrace - Rizal’s former residence
“Rednaxela” sounds like an exoitic name, but it is in fact the original owner’s name “Alexander” spelt backwards by mistake. Rizal lived here between December 1891 and June 1892, and his family moved in as well. Under the plaque we found a bouquet and paper sign commemorating the 160th birthday of Rizal.
Rednaxela is a long and steep climb from the main street as well as from Rizal’s clinic. This site is a condominium now and there is the Central–Mid-Levels escalator for pedestrians; but I wonder how fit Rizal must have been to commute back and forth from here on a daily basis.
5 D'Aguilar St - Rizal’s former clinic
Rizal’s clinic once stood at 5 D'Aguilar Street. A commemorative plaque can be found on the exterior of a mall called Century Square. Put up in 1997, it was the first Rizal commemorative plaque in Hong Kong. I have passed by this place so many times over the years, but it was only today that I discovered it - the plaque is above eye level so you would have to look upwards.
In addition to the two sites in Central, there is another Rizal plaque in Morrison Hill, Wan Chai, where the first Philippine flag was sewn. The former British colony has harboured many revolutionary figures from China’s Sun Yat-sen to Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh. While there is not much left to see of Rizal’s footprints in Hong Kong, it is important to recognize the city’s historic role in facilitating reformation in Southeast Asia and the wider Asian region