“So, you are the man who arrested Suzie Wong?” that was my opening gambit in the conversation with Peter Man, the top cop, civil servant and writer, on meeting him for dinner in a Chinese Restaurant in North Point, while the venerable Uncle Ray was looking down at us, from the other side of the table.
Peter Mann, born in 1953, has released a quaint autobiographical book, detailing all the steps taken by this late offspring of empire builders to become a humane and caring civil servant in Hong Kong.
The title of his book is “Sheriff of Wan Chai. How an Englishman helped govern Hong Kong in its last decades, as a British colony” published by Blacksmith Books, founded and run by the pertinacious Pete Spurrier.
Peter’s book is very well written and highly readable. It is a mix of personal experiences and history: a good choice, because readers who are unfamiliar with contemporary history of China and Hong Kong may get lost in it.
Some of his personal experiences made me laugh at their candor but also left me wanting to know more. For instance, even if I have been a resident of Hong Kong for the past 35 years, I did not know that the Connaught Centre, headquarters of Jardine Matheson in Central was known in Chinese as the “the building of the thousand arse holes” but we are left wandering if it is because of the people working inside or because of the porthole style windows… I met a couple of people who had offices in that building and, indeed, they fall into the category.
As they say, the most difficult thing to do about living in China is not to write a book about it. And there have been several books published in the past years by Westerners who had come to stay here, but did not really settle down (some of them clearly fall into the category mocked by locals as: ‘fail elsewhere, try Hong Kong’). Some of the above-mentioned people, out of personal vanity, were authors of memoirs written to impress their folks about the oddities of the fragrant Chinese but they soon bore the readers because they tend to be the story, rather than being part of the story.
This book by Peter Mann does not fall into such a trap. Not only it is instructive and well documented, it is also something deep, charged with emotions and love, a work which will remain close to the readers’ hearts forever.
In Hong Kong Peter Mann found his new life: he is now a devoted Buddhist and vegetarian and here he met his wife, Zoe. He is committed, and he is here to stay, physically and mentally.
Ah, and what about my accusation of arresting Suzie? Peter’s answer is: “No, I protected Suzie Wong, I did not arrest her. I protected her from drunken sailors, ruffians and drug dealers.”
Peter Mann Sheriff of Wan Chai. How an Englishman helped govern Hong Kong in its last decades, as a British colony Blacksmith Books Hong Kong 2017. USD 17.95 ISBN 978-988-13765-6-5