Main: Tai Ping Shing Street; bottom right: Xin Xin gallery
I often feel blessed to have lived in different cities around the world, which I believe helps me to be open minded about different cultures and people. Yet I have always felt like an outsider ( not always by choice), and never felt that I belong anywhere. In the past, I have tried to conform and ‘fit in’ but failed miserably; over time I learned to use my ‘outsider’ identity to observe the world and have never felt more comfortable and happier.
As an outsider, you have a slightly different perspective from the locals and sometimes pick up on what they miss or take for granted. As an ex-resident and regular visitor of Hong Kong, I may not have the comprehensive or ‘insider’ knowledge but I can share from an outsider’s point of view of a city full of chaos, contradictions and surprises:
Top left: Gough Street; Main: Hollywood Road; Bottom left: Dried food on Hollywood Road; bottom right: An old style grocery/ convenient store
Sheung Wan is a fascinating historical part of Hong Kong and has become ‘hip’ in recent years with new restaurants, galleries and independent shops opening constantly. Luckily, many old buildings and shops still stand, and the ‘old’ and ‘new’ seem to mix well together. The area is quieter than the nearby bustling Central with many slopes, narrow alleys and streets, making it an interesting area to stroll around. Dr Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail covers part of Central and Sheung Wan, so it is a good starting point ( even though most of the original sites are no longer there anymore).
Pak Tsz Lane Park is unlikely to be high on most tourists’ sightseeing lists, but it is a $40 million urban regeneration project that has won the HKILA Silver Award 2012 for its landscape design. The park is like an oasis ‘hidden’ in between buildings and can be accessed via a few narrow alleyways, which can be easily missed as well.
Top left: Dr Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail; Top right and main: Pak Tsz Lane park
Opened in 2012, the park was designed by Ronald Lu & Partners commemorating the anti-Qing Dynasty revolutionary societies and their members who took part in the 1911 Chinese Revolution. Pak Tsz Lane was home to Furen Literary Society and a meeting place for the revolutionists ( because it is well-hidden and with many escape routes), and it was also where one of them, Yeung Kui-wan was eventually assassinated.
It was great to see elderly from the local community using this park as a ‘hang-out’, but probably more would benefit from it if they are aware of its existence!
Wing Lee Street is unqiue for two reasons: 1. It is the last remaining street in Hong Kong that is lined entirely with 1950s tong lau ( Chinese-style tenement buildings built in the late 19th century to the 1960s). 2. It was saved from demolition/ redevelopment after a series of protests and a plea from the filmmakers of the award-winning film, Echoes of the Rainbow ( which was filmed on this street).
Since then, Urban Renewal Authority has renovated several buildings which it acquired and has engaged the Hong Kong Arts Centre to run an artist-in-residence programme. Currently, there is also a small exhibition centre where visitors can learn about the history of the street and the conservation project. Interestingly, there are still some old tenants who are living in the rather ‘slummy’ buildings, which makes the street looks slightly inconsistent but more interesting!
Built in 1847, Man Mo Temple ( No.126) is a famous Daoist temple and tourist attraction on Hollywood Road. And not far from it, there is a less well-known but equally fascinating Kwong Fook I Tsz inside Pak Sing temple ( 42 Tai Ping Shan St). Built in 1851, the Kwong Fook I Tsz houses about 3,000 ancestral tablets of the poor/ homeless deceased Mainland Chinese who died without relatives during the plague in 1894.
Top left: Kwong Fook I Tsz; Main: Man Mo Temple
Hollywood Road used to be known for antiques and vintage shops, but in recent years, many new independent shops started appearing in the area. Around Gough Street and Tai Ping Shan Street, there are several design shops including the popular furniture and lifestyle shop, Homeless ( 29 Gough Street) which opened its flagship shop here in 2005.
In 2011, the conceptual store Konzepp ( 50 Tung Street) opened its doors, focusing on design-driven objects with a communal space for artist and designers to collaborate. Since then, it has opened more shops in the area focusing on fashion and accessories.
Nearby, there are also the multi-use space and lifestyle store, Zixag ( 40 Sai St.), AboDe design store ( 32-34 Tai Ping Shan St) and the ceramic tableware brand, Loveramics (37 Tung St). For those ( like me) who can’t stand soulless shopping malls and boring chained stores, this area provides a different kind of shopping experience and with more unique products available.
Top left: Homeless; top right: Aesop; Main: Konzepp; Middle left: Zixag; Bottom left: Loveramics; Bottom middle: Abode design
For those who don’t want to pay high prices for designed products, Wing Kut Street ( lies between Des Voeux Road Central and Queen’s Road Central) is a vibrant street that is lined with shops specialising in costume jewellery ( wholesale and retail) and stalls selling low-cost fashion. You can also find one of Hong Kong’s oldest record shop, Percival Records ( No. 35) here which specialises in classical music.
Top left: Wing Kut Street; top right: a street stall at the bottom of Aberdeen street selling miniature food models; Main: A very cool junk shop on Tai Ping Shan Street; Bottom left: an interior decorating stall on Gough Street; Bottom right: a printer stall
For a city which is dominated by two coffee chains: Starbucks and Pacific Coffee, it is hard to find decent independent coffee shops for a real taste of coffee. Luckily, as coffee became more popular in recent years, ( thanks to the influence from Taipei’s coffee culture and Hong Kong TV actor Moses Chan, who is a coffee lover and has made tv programmes and published books on coffee) more coffee shops are popping up here and there.
Cafe Loisl ( 8A Tai On Terrace) is a cafe that specialises in Austrian fare such as Wiener Schnitzel, Viennese coffees and apple strudels. Its European style setting and ambience will make you forget that you are in Hong Kong!
On Tai Ping Shan Street, there is a tiny home-style cafe called Homei ( 22-24A) which is also a cute place for coffee, milk tea and cakes and sandwiches.
Left & middle: Cafe Loisl; Right Homei
This is not a food blog, so I don’t want to rate restaurants here, but I want to list a few places that the locals are fond of:
Lin Heung Lau Tea House ( 77 Wellington Street) is an old institute since 1926, serving traditional dim sum from trolleys in an unpretentious and nostalgic setting.
Kau Kee ( 21 Gough Street) is another institute with 90 years of history ( way before the street became hip!) and it is particularly famous for its beef brisket ( with or without noodles) in clear broth or curry soup.
Sing Heung Yuen ( 2 Mei Lun Street) – I have never eaten at this Dai Pai Dong before, but I can tell its popularity by the constant long queues here. If you are up for a real taste of local, then this is THE place!
Shugetsu ( 5 Gough Street) – Not exactly ‘local’ ( it serves ramen) but it is very popular with the locals as you can always see queues outside of this narrow Japanese ramen joint.
Kong Chai Kee ( 2 Kau U Fong Road) is one of my favourite places for Chiu Chow style fish balls ( or a quick lunch). This restaurant is small and often quite busy, but it is cheap and serves good quality fish balls.
For Kee ( Shop J-K., 200 Hollywood Road) is a Hong Kong style restaurant famous for its pork chop with rice and Hong Kong style milk tea.
Top left: For Kee restaurant; top middle: ramen at Shugetsu; bottom left: Lemon King on Wing Kut Street; bottom middle: Won ton & shrimp dumplings ho fan at Mak An Kee; bottom right: fish ball ho fan at Kong Chai Kee
Mak An Kee/ Chung Kee ( 37 Wing Kut St) is a less well-known won ton noodle restaurant tucked away on Wing Kut Street but its owner’s father is actually the founder of the famous ( and pricier) won ton institute, Mak’s noodles. The portions here are bigger than Mak’s but the quality is equally good, and it is definitely less ‘flashy’.
Lemon King ( a street stall on Wing Kut Street) is a traditional Chinese snack stall that is well-known for its preserved lemon and liquorice snack. The founder has been selling from its wooden trolley here for over 30 years, and now it is run by his son and was finally granted a permanent licence here in 2008. It is loved by the locals not only for nostalgic reasons but also for its high quality products.
Chan Yee Chai ( 176D Queen’s Rd) is another traditional homemade biscuits and snacks shop has been around since 1927 and it is particularly popular with Japanese tourists.
The architecture in this area is interesting because there are many historical buildings and tong lau esp. along Ladder Street…
Top left: Part of the Ladder Street; Bottom left: The Church of Christ in China China Congregational Church, Bridges Street; bottom right: Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong, Bridges Street.
Street art/ graffiti
Graffiti is common to find in Hong Kong and Sheung Wan seems to be a popular place for graffiti and street art.