Going to Bruce Lee’s house and other martial arts-related places was my priority throughout my trip in Hong Kong. I have always been a big fan of Bruce ever since the age of 17 and although the fire has mostly died down now, there was nothing more thrilling and satisfying than having the chance to Enter the Dragon’s lair. The house is located at 41 Cumberland Road, ensconced in a wealthy private neighbourhood.
Before we go on to what the house is now, it’d be good to know what it looked like back then. See this YouTube clip which I believe was taken a few days after Bruce’s death. EDIT: Also, see Bruce Lee Daily’s page for old photos.
I started my journey from my hotel in Yau Ma Tei; it was a trip by foot. While on the way I got a little lost (crappy Lonely Planet’s iPhone maps don’t have street names) and asked three people for directions, a security guard and two passers-by. The thing that struck me was the nonchalant ‘don’t know’ that all of them gave – they were obviously oblivious to the house’s location even though it was so nearby, and they didn’t care. It was sad, really.
I mean, their nation’s most symbolic idol is taken for granted. Bruce Lee, the man who created his unique Jeet Kune Do system, one of the first MMA pioneers, entered Hollywood through Enter the Dragon and paved the way for Asian actors to international superstardom…he’s now forgotten, just a statue and wax model and nothing more. I remember the inscription at Bruce’s wake, 藝海星沉’, which means ‘a star sinks in a sea of art’. How apt.
So after some time of self-help and navigation, I finally got there. The house as it is now is a sad, gloomy mix of brick white and mourning grey. I saw nothing about it that screamed Bruce Lee and to a passerby, he wouldn’t have noticed it either. The yellow sign welcomes you to a love hotel, and this is unfortunately the vile and degraded building that the house has descended into.
A janitor lady answered the knock with a question – why are you here? I told her quite directly that I wanted to look around the house as I’m a fan. She of course said a big ‘no’ and without thinking so much, I drew out some HKD from my wallet (equivalent to S$30/USD23) and offered her the bait. She too didn’t think too much, in fact she didn’t at all – immediately, the deal was closed, the door was opened and we both smiled at our win-win outcome. It was a euphoric dream come true when I stepped into the building!
The feeling was surreal, walking along the isles where the Master used to walk. I couldn’t really describe this feeling properly – it was a jumble of excitement, intrigue and also fear that I might encounter some wild shady things, though fortunately it turned out that there were only three of us inside, the bribed janitor, her colleague (another janitor) and me. But all the excitement soon turned into sadness, as the house’s original lively interior is gone and replaced by a hive of compartmentalised debauchery – the new owner inserted partition walls to create more rooms for more people to satisfy their vile desires.
I wonder what the Master would’ve said (or perhaps done if you get my drift) to that new owner, Mr Yu Panglin.
(To Mr Yu’s credit though, the interior looked rather new and well-maintained. Though it’s a dull yellow and white combination, I don’t remember seeing stains or seedy walls or tiles. Hotel-wise, I’m tempted to give a good rating..I wonder what the Master would’ve done to me if he knew about this..)
After going into several rooms (which all had a TV and a large bed equipped with a hotel dashboard containing switches that control electric appliances), I went into the most important room of all – the master bedroom. The most private place of Bruce and Linda’s lives.
The room itself didn’t stand out; it was like any other room except that it was larger in size. What truly caught my attention was actually the bathtub in its attached bathroom.
The bathtub didn’t need any detailed measurements to strike me that the real Bruce was so much shorter and tinier in real life. I had had a different impression all this while – on TV, movie Bruce looked so mighty, larger than life itself, his superior physique being the camera’s focus as he pulverised his opponents so effortlessly without a sweat. Yet the tub was damning evidence of the real Bruce’s shortcomings.
Now as I blog this entry, I recall what I had read from third party biographical accounts – Bruce was always trying to syphon all the attention and center it on himself, he was always trying to prove he was someone superior and way above others. Linda’s second husband, Tom Bleecker said that Bruce had a huge ego and it was exactly this that killed him. Davis Miller, a fan who authored a Bruce Lee book opines that Bruce had this insecurity that made him showy, dominating and extravagant. All these opinions seem to gel well with what I saw; the tiny tub seemed to re-create a tiny, insecure man who would go all out to be Number One, but maybe I’m just being prejudiced.
Some shots from outside the house, at the garden:
Some comparative shots of the then and now:
I left the place feeling satisfied that I did a tour of my own which was different from a conventional one – you know, the usual type where you join the masses to crowd a heavily marketed tourist destination. This one was different – I dived into the unknown like an archaeologist and emerged with some new information that I hadn’t previously seen in published articles. And I’m really glad to share it here.
My only regret, on retrospect, is that my S$30 bribe was too expensive – I think the janitor would’ve allowed me in at less than half the price.
As of the time I went to Bruce Lee’s house and at the time of writing of this post, it is not an official tourist destination and the government of Hong Kong has no plans to restore it as a museum, much to the disappointment of fans. In Oct 2012, it was widely circulated that there were plans for the owner to sell it with a possibility of a complete makeover. So visit it now before whatever that’s left of the original structure is forever lost.