ultramarinus – beyond the sea

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THE BEAUTY OF CONTRADICTIONS, Kowloon Bay (九龍灣), Kowloon, Hong Kong

Between the former manufacturing powerhouse Kwun Tong (觀塘) and the old Kai Tak Airport (啟德機場) lies a vast piece of reclaimed land that is neither bustling nor world famous like its neighbours.   Yet, without this piece of in-between place where the MTR established its headquarters and Kowloon Motor Bus built its largest depot, and where dozens of industrial complexes, cargo centres and godowns called it home, Kai Tak could hardly become the world’s busiest cargo airport, and Hong Kong would lack its essential heart to keep things running.  Reclaimed from the waters of Kowloon Bay in the 1970’s, the district of Kowloon Bay had served as an industrial and logistic centre packed with airplane hangars and cargo storage to support the neighboring airport.  On 6th of July 1998, after Kai Tak Airport closed for good, the destiny of Kowloon Bay fell into the unknown.  In 2001, signals for a new direction for Kowloon Bay began as the district’s designated zoning changed from industrial to business.  A bold statement of the new urban vision emerged in 2007 when the eye-catching MegaBox opened its doors. Capturing the eye from far and near, the red structure instantly became the district’s new icon.  With the city’s first IMAX theatre and largest skating rink, MegaBox is probably Hong Kong’s largest shopping mall.  Since then, industrial complexes and cargo centres were gradually replaced by commercial towers around MegaBox, turning the heart of Kowloon Bay into a mixed-use neighborhood.  Zero Carbon Building opened its door in 2012 across Mega Box as Hong Kong’s first ever carbon neutral architecture. The ZCB signifies another new vision for Kowloon Bay towards a sustainable future.  But the story of revitalizing Kowloon Bay is much more complicated than erecting new structures. Urban redevelopment is not a simple matter of replacing concrete buildings with glassy structures, or overriding an old dream with a new vision. Whether the new developments can attract enough business demands or sustain economic downturns is yet to be seen. And in what way can the creative and efficient spirits of the industrial past perpetuate in the reinvented Kowloon Bay, creating a unique identity for this ever-changing neighborhood?

Thanks to work projects and a good friend who works in the area, we visit Kowloon Bay regularly in the past few years, and have witnessed its evolution like a time-lapse video.  Today, depending on who you ask, some may say that Kowloon Bay is still an industrial hub of Hong Kong, while others may say it is a core business centre of Kowloon East.  Among the cluster of sleek commercial towers, dozens of old industrial blocks packed with small companies and startup businesses are still going strong.  The oddity of seeing multi-level drum ramps of cargo centre standing side by side to glassy office towers, or walking from a wide arterial road designed for trucks and trailers into a network of lush green pedestrian paths catered for healthy jogging often intrigue us. These somewhat contradicting experience in a changing neighborhood offers an interesting urban scenery and a transient beauty.  It is a picture that celebrates the convergence of distinct planning visions, contrasting ambiences, and conflicting visual identities that may seem odd at the first glance.  Yet, the beauty of finding diversity, ambiguity, equilibrium and even contradictions would eventually creep in, especially when seeing the juxtaposition and layering of distinct architecture somehow complementing each other, or the mingling of people in different professions at the same public square.  Singular and segregated zoning was largely a product of industrialization when polluting and noisy industries were separated from residential and commercial centres.  In many cities, especially in North America, highways and railways were often used to demarcate the boundaries of different zones.  As heavy industries shifted away from city centres in recent decades just like the case of Kowloon Bay, many former industrial buildings have become a venue of opportunities for young startups.  Together with financial institutions, restaurants, retail, and other small businesses, these small entrepreneurs would form a diverse urban ecosystem and a multifaceted community.  Would there be room in the revitalization of Kowloon Bay that some industrial components can be retained and reach a harmonic relationship with the new commercial establishments? There is still much more to be seen in the coming years.

Kowloon Bay was once a natural bay in Victoria Harbour stretches between Hung Hom (紅磡) and Kwun Tong (觀塘). Today, the name mainly refers to the mixed-use district of Kowloon Bay between Kai Tak and Kwun Tong, and its MTR station.
Opened in 1979, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is the major public transportation system in Hong Kong. With 10 lines, 167 stations, over five million trips per workday and a 99.9% on-time rate, the MTR is an essential piece of jigsaw of the Hong Kong story. Home to MTR’s headquarters and largest train depot, Kowloon Bay has always played behind the scenes for the city’s operations. [2022]
Completed in 1983 on top of the MTR train depot and station, Telford Gardens (德福花園) contains 41 towers and 4,992 apartments units. This combination of public transportation and housing estate has become an essential and common development model in Hong Kong that also help to fund the expansion of the MTR. [2022]
Linking Kwun Tong with Kai Tak and passing by Kowloon Bay along the way, Wai Yip Street (偉業街) played a pivotal role in connecting the industrial areas of Kowloon East and the former Kai Tak Aiport. [2022]
Established in 1986, the largest bus depot of Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB) maintained buses that operating in Kowloon East and Sai Kung, and also all airport buses during the years of Kai Tak Airport. [2022]
A quiet pedestrian street leading towards the bus depot of KMB. [2022]
It’s hard to imagine that some of these sleepy buildings are so crucial for maintaining the dynamic pulse of Hong Kong. [2022]
It is not uncommon for an utilitarian industrial block in Kowloon Bay, such as Hope Sea Industrial Centre (富洋工業中心), to use vivid colours to distinct itself from surrounding buildings, whose height are similar due to planning restricts dated back to the Kai Tak Airport years. [2022]
Home to exhibition halls, conference facilities, sport facilities, retail, cinema, and headquarters of a local TV station, Kowloonbay International Trade & Exhibition Centre (九龍灣國際展貿中心) is another remnant from the twilight years of Kai Tak Airport. [2021]
Many industrial buildings in Kowloon Bay, such as Pacific Trade Centre (太平洋貿易中心), has become a mixed-use building for office and industrial uses. [2022]
With less windows and sturdy walls, many industrial blocks in Kowloon Bay stand like a small fort structure occupying entire street block, including Po Lung Centre (寳隆中心). [2022]
Built in 1983, Sunshine Kowloon Bay Cargo Centre (三湘九龍灣貨運中心) was erected in the heydays of Kai Tak Airport. [2022]
With a prominent drum ramp, cargo trucks can go all the way up to the roof of Sunshine Kowloon Bay Cargo Centre. [2022]
The curved building form of Sunshine Kowloon Bay Cargo Centre 三湘九龍灣貨運中心 (1983), Water Supplies Department Kowloon East Regional Building 水務署九龍東區大樓 (2000), and the Quayside 海濱匯 (2019) echo each other despite their distinct functions and construction time. [2022]
Nicknamed the “cake”, the 1984 constructed Dah Chong Hong (大昌行), a conglomerate with a wide range of businesses from car sales to cosmetic, food, logistics, etc, appears in contrast to the lush green podium facade of China Construction Bank Centre (2011). [2022]
Probably constructed in late 1970’s, the airplane-like Footbridge KF38 belongs to the original phase of Kowloon Bay development, when the primary goal was to construct an efficient industrial and logistic hub. Today, commercial towers and the red MegaBox have gradually replaced the original industrial skyline and dominate the view from the bridge. [2015]
Hardly anyone would refer to the footbridge as KF38. Since 2007, the bridge has appeared in multiple MTVs and movies, including the 2010 popular romantic comedy Love in a Puff (志明與春嬌). Today, the bridge is commonly called Jimmy Bridge (志明橋), named after the main character in the movie. Today, Jimmy Bridge remains as the most popular and Instagrammable attraction in Kowloon Bay. [2020]
Today, the skyline of Kowloon Bay is dominated by glassy towers and the red MegaBox, one of the largest shopping centre in Hong Kong. [2015]
With its vivid colour, MegaBox has been the icon of Kowloon Bay since 2007. [2022]
Across the street from MegaBox, the Zero Carbon Park and its Zero Carbon Building has become the heart of Kowloon Bay in recent years. [2022]
The ZCP offers a leisure public space for both the office and industrial workers of Kowloon Bay. [2022]
Godowns, cargo centres and hazard storage once dominated the southeastern end of Kowloon Bay where it meets Ngau Tau Kok (牛頭角) and Kwun Tong Typhoon Shelter (觀塘避風塘). [2015]
Beyond Kwun Tong Promenade and Kwun Tong Bypass stand the interconnected towers of The Quayside (海濱匯), a recently built office and retail complex in Kowloon Bay. [2019]
The extensive use of shading fins on the curtain wall of the Quayside greatly contribute to the building’s sustainable design standards, interior comfort and long term energy saving. [2019]
Apart from offices for industrial and commercial companies, cultural exhibitions have been introduced to Kowloon Bay, including a Banksy exhibition in 2019 held at FTLife Tower (富通中心). [2019]
The Brahma Shrine (四面佛) at Goldin Financial Global Centre (高銀金融國際中心) signifies the arrival of spiritual elements in Kowloon Bay. [2022]
In the shadow of Kowloon Bay’s commercial towers, Yip On Factory Estate (業安工廠大廈) stand stubbornly against the change of time for four decades. [2022]
Despite fully packed with tenants, Yip On Factory Estate have been scheduled for demolition by the end of 2022. [2020]
News emerged that the two blocks of Yip On Factory Estate would be replaced by new public housing. Given there aren’t much supporting facilities such as grocery shops in central Kowloon Bay, introducing housing development at the heart of the formal industrial district could be a challenge. [2022]
The utilitarian and honest appearance of the old industrial buildings contrasts to the sleek and glassy commercial towers of Kowloon Bay. [2022]
We would likely miss the boldness and horizontality of old industrial buildings in Kowloon Bay. [2022]

BEYOND THE CROWDS, Kwun Tong (觀塘), Kowloon, Hong Kong

Apartment blocks mushroom in clusters north of Kwun Tong’s MTR viaduct all the way to the slopes of Sau Mau Ping and Lam Tin, where stone quarries once dominated the skyline of Kowloon East. With 59,000 persons per square kilometre (2016), Kwun Tong is the most densely populated district in Hong Kong. Since the first public housing was erected in late 1950’s, Kwun Tong has become home to many public housing estates: Ngau Tau Kok (牛頭角邨), Lam Tin (藍田邨), Sau Mau Ping (秀茂坪邨), just to name a few. At the neighborhood centre lies Yue Man Square (裕民坊), the former commercial heart, and Shui Wo Street Market (瑞和街街市), the bustling street market that fascinates me every time I walk by the area. While Shui Wo Street Market remains as busy as decades ago, the original Yue Man Square is all but gone, giving way to new shopping malls and glassy towers. Beyond the vibrancy, noises, and dust, I was surprised to find pockets of breathing spaces beyond the crowded streets of Kwun Tong while exploring the area. Be it a decades old temple that was left untouched and hidden from plain sight throughout all these years of urban transformations, or forgotten reservoir structures that were left for decay in a lush green ravine, these peaceful corners have been serving as peaceful “backyards” for local residents, and any curious outsider who chooses to explore Kwun Tong beyond its shopping malls.

Surrounded by apartment blocks of Tsui Ping Estate (翠屏邨) and several school compounds, traditional Tai Wong Yeh Temple (大王爺廟) sits on a slope that is invisible from the streets below. Meandering between groups of school kids and elderly at the covered plazas of Tsui Ping Estate just minutes ago, entering the tranquil temple complex felt like going into an hidden retreat. During my brief visit, I was the only visitor and was free to wander around the temple complex all by myself. Clustered over a slope on three terraces, the complex was erected in 1958 as a replacement of an earlier temple in Lok Fu. I took my time to check out the colouful wall reliefs around the temple. Reliefs of a tiger and dragon particularly captured my attention. They may not be the most exquisite artworks found in galleries, but nevertheless they are valuable relics of the old Kwun Tong, from a time when skillful mural artisans were much more common.

North of Lok Wah Estate (樂華邨), lush green Jordan Valley (佐敦谷) wraps along the northern boundary of Kwun Tung. It is at Jordan Valley that the 648,541 (2016) Kwun Tong residents can cool themselves off at a 1.7 hectare swimming compound, hike in forested trails, picnic on park lawns, exercise in public playgrounds and ball courts, under the shadow of the majestic Kowloon Peak (飛鵝山). What fascinates me is that much of these pleasant green spaces and recreational facilities were once occupied by 16 blocks of social housing apartments known as Jordan Valley Estate (佐敦谷邨). In 1990’s, the former colonial government decided to tear down the housing estate and replace it with the much needed public recreational facilities of Kwun Tong. This was the only time in Hong Kong where a public housing estate was torn down and not replaced by taller apartment blocks. Perched above Jordan Valley, a red running track awaits anyone who is willing to hike up to the secret getaway of Kwun Tong High Level Service Reservoir Playground (觀塘上配水庫遊樂場). Attracted by photos of the running track against the dramatic backdrop of a ruined reservoir wall and Kowloon Peak, I braved the summer heat to climb up the hill for the relatively little-known scenery. On the way up, I passed by the main dam of the former Jordan Valley Reservoir, a decommissioned facility that once supplied Kwun Tong with seawater for flushing. Completed in 1960, the reservoir ceased operations in early 1980’s and was subsequently filled up. Today, apart from elderly residents or the few who come to exercise at the dam or running track, hardly anyone knows about the reservoir remnants. Without much documentation about its history, memories of the former Jordan Valley Reservoir are actually fading fast.

From Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, the skyline of Kwun Tong and Lam Tin is dominated by layers of highrise buildings. [2015]
Visible from Kwun Tong MTR Station, the decades old Garden Estate (花園大廈) awaits for its turn of urban renewal. [2022]
First completed in late 1950’s, Garden Estate (花園大廈) was the first public housing in Kwun Tong. [2022]
Garden Estate (花園大廈) was built to house industrial workers of Kwun Tong, which was Hong Kong’s first planned satellite town in 1950’s and 1960’s. [2022]
The main street market, Shui Wo Street Market (瑞和街街市), remains as lively as ever. [2022]
Apart from the shopping malls, commercial and industrial areas, Shui Wo Street Market is the place in Kwun Tong to experience its crowds. [2022]
From traditional cooking ingredients to paper lanterns for Mid Autumn Festival, Shui Wo Street Market offers a wide range of traditional merchandises for the community. [2022]
Decades old stationery shop and toy stores at Shui Wo Street Market are children’s favorites. [2022]
From Shui Wo Street Market, the newly completed curtain wall apartments can be seen as prominent replacements of the former commercial centre of Yue Man Square (裕民坊). [2022]

***

It is such a contrasting experience to step into the complex of Tai Wong Yeh Temple (大王爺廟) from the busy streets of Kwun Tong. [2021]
The complex was built upon three main terraces. [2021]
Tai Wong Yeh Temple (大王爺廟) is quite well maintained. [2021]
I was particularly interested on the wall reliefs at Tai Wong Yeh Temple (大王爺廟). [2021]
With the fine details and beautiful shadows, the dragon is perhaps the most eye-catching relief of them all. [2021]
Built on the site of the former Jordan Valley Estate (佐敦谷邨), the 1.7 hectare swimming compound at Jordan Valley has become an essential public facility in Kwun Tong. [2022]
From the main dam of the former Jordan Valley Reservoir, the lush Jordan Valley appears like a green lung for Kwun Tong. [2022]
A part of the former reservoir is still used for water filtration and distribution. [2022]
The main dam of the former Jordan Valley Reservoir has become an exercise spot for the community. [2022]
Traces of the former reservoir is still visible at the former main dam. [2022]
Further uphill from the main dam brought me to Kwun Tong High Level Service Reservoir Playground, where remnants of the former water facilities can still be found. [2022]
Remnant of the former reservoir includes a dramatic ruined stone wall behind the running track. [2022]
Perched high above the surrounding residential developments, the running track is a secret getaway for Kwun Tong residents. [2022]
It is not an easy climb in summer to reach the running track from the adjacent neighborhoods. [2022]
But views of the majestic Kowloon Peak (飛鵝山) is more than rewarding for the sweaty climb. [2022]

SECOND LIFE OF AN INDUSTRIAL TOWN, Kwun Tong (觀塘), Kowloon, Hong Kong

We weren’t that familiar with Kwun Tong (觀塘), a major industrial district and former satellite town in East Kowloon, until recent years when work brought me to the district a couple of times. Witnessing the dramatic makeover of Kowloon East into the Hong Kong’s newest business district was like watching a time-lapse video of factory blocks being torn down and replaced by glassy towers.  Work has also gave me the opportunity to learn about the new master plan of Kowloon East, which encompasses the former industrial districts of Kwun Tong, Kowloon Bay, and Kai Tak, including the land strip point out into Victoria Harbour that once served as the runway of Kai Tak Airport. Referred as CBD 2.0 (Central Business District 2) by Energizing Kowloon East Office (EKEO), the government has high hopes in reshaping Kowloon East and its waterfront into a vibrant and highly livable neighborhood that serves as an alternative to Central, Wan Chai and Quarry Bay. Inaugurated in 2012, EKEO is the government body that oversees urban revitalization of Kowloon East with the new master plan and various different pedestrian enhancement projects. One of the first major projects by EKEO is Kwun Tong Promenade (觀塘海濱花園), a narrow strip of land between the elevated Kwun Tong Bypass and the waterfront along Kwun Tong Typhoon Shelter (觀塘避風塘). Formerly a cargo working area, the promenade was completed and opened in two stages, first in 2010 and then 2015, and has soon become the most popular public space in Kwun Tong.

Further inland from Kwun Tong Promenade lies the industrial area. From government salt ponds centuries ago to a designed landfill in 1925 and later oil depot of Shell Company, Kwun Tong was considered a back-of-house area until 1954, when massive land reclamation took place to construct the city’s first industrial estates, whereas hilly areas further inland were designated for residential developments. Centered around the commercial complex Yue Man Square (裕民坊), Kwun Tong soon became one of the two first satellite towns and industrial hubs in Hong Kong along with Tsuen Wan (荃灣) in Kowloon West. Since then, Kwun Tong flourished along with the boom of manufacturing industries, including textiles, clothing, toys, watches, plastics, etc. As costs of labour and rents grew exponentially in 1980’s and 1990’s, many factories were relocated to other parts of Asia and China. With the decline of industries, Kwun Tong was in need to reinvent itself with a new vision and identity. In recent two decades, urban revitalization has come in various forms, from replacing old factories with new commercial buildings, to retrofitting the old industrial blocks into mixed use complexes, offering affordable spaces for all sorts of small businesses, from restaurants to offices, gyms to recreational venues, retail to workshops. Despite the major makeover, traces and memories of its industrial past remain as a crucial component for the identity of Kwun Tong.

The elevated MTR metro line bisects Kwun Tong into two halves: the residential area on the hills to the north and the industrial and commercial area to the south. As the former town centre of Kwun Tong, known as the Yue Man Square (裕民坊) area, began demolition in the past decade, Hong Kong’s largest urban redevelopment officially began. [2022]
Kwun Tong MTR Station serves as the main transportation hub of the district. Kwun Tong Station was the terminus of the original Kwun Tong Line which began operations in 1979. [2022]
In central Kwun Tong, decades old industrial blocks still make up a large part of the district’s skyline. [2021]
Before emergence of the MTR in 1979, bus loads of workers arrived in Kwun Tong every morning to work at the factories. [2021]
Many industrial blocks in Kwun Tong have been converted into other uses. The multi-block Camel Paint Building (駱駝漆大廈) has become a huge outlet shopping centre. [2021]
It is impossible to tell from outside that the Camel Paint Building is a popular shopping destination for discounted cosmetics, clothing, wine, crafted beer, restaurants, etc. [2021]
Hidden on the 11th floor of an industrial building, Twenty One From Eight (廿一由八) is one of many hidden gems in Kwun Tong. The shop is a custom wood furniture maker. [2021]
Apart from custom wood furniture, Twenty One From Eight (廿一由八) also doubles as a popular cafe. [2021]
Down on street level, street art was brought into the alleys between industrial blocks. Once crowded with factory workers, these lanes are now popular with young people taking selfies. [2021]
Alley street art in Kwun Tong. [2021]
At Kwun Tong waterfront, the ferry pier was once an important transportation hub along Victoria Harbour. Beyond the pier, the apartment blocks of Laguna City (麗港城) occupied the former oil depot of the Shell Company. [2015]
While the pier receives ferry passengers from Hong Kong Island, the elevated highway Kwun Tong Bypass serves as the major vehicular route in Kowloon East. [2020]
Just like other piers along Victoria Harbour, Kwun Tong Pier also offers a sense of peace for the city dwellers. [2020]
From Kwun Tong Pier, Kai Tak Cruise Terminal (啟德郵輪碼頭) at the tip of former Kai Tak Airport runway is just a stone’s throw away. [2020]
Occupying the former cargo loading waterfront, the promenade along Kwun Tong Typhoon Shelter is teem with life. [2019]
The elevated Kwun Tong Bypass provides shelter for a portion of the promenade space below. [2020]
Running is probably the most popular activity at Kwun Tong Promenade. [2020]
People love to chill out by the Kwun Tong Typhoon Shelter at sunset. [2019]
From skateboard parks to outdoor eateries and cafes, how to utilize the space below an elevated highway is a common challenge for many cities around the world. [2020]
Kowloon Flour Mills (九龍麵粉廠) is probably the most iconic building along Kwun Tong waterfront. [2020]
Opened in 1966 and still in operations today, Kowloon Flour Mills is the last surviving flour mill in Hong Kong. [2020]
The vertical signage written in Chinese calligraphy was a work by Au Kin Kung 區建公 (1887 – 1971), a renowned calligrapher who pioneered the use of Beiwei Calligraphy Style (北魏體) for Chinese signage around the city. [2020]
As more commercial buildings emerged in Kwun Tong’s skyline, preserving the iconic Kowloon Flour Mills is an essential gesture to maintain connections with the collective memories of the neighborhood. [2015]

IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME, Cha Kwo Ling (茶果嶺), Hong Kong

This summer, the Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage (CACHE) has organized a number of guided walks in Cha Kwo Ling, hosted a small exhibition at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, and published Travelling through Cha Kwo Ling – A Memoir of the Urban Village, a free publication that documents the oral history of villagers who have spent decades in Hong Kong’s last quarry community. These personal recollections might seem fragmentary, but once pieced together they form a comprehensive set of living memories for a place pretty much frozen in time for the past few decades. The fact that Cha Kwo Ling has been able to evade bulldozers all these years was quite remarkable, especially when the adjacent Kwun Tong (觀塘), a former industrial district and Hong Kong’s most densely populated area (57,250 persons per sq.km as of 2014), has gone through series of major makeovers since 1990’s. One of the main reasons why villagers prefer not to rebuild or renovate their squatter homes was because they never knew when the government would arrive to lock down their homes. Decades have past, Cha Kwo Ling gradually becomes a special place in Hong Kong where aura of the 60’s and 70’s still rules, allowing contemporary visitors to have a sense of the village’s heyday, when granite and Kaolin clay mining were major industries in East Kowloon.

Oral history of villagers records stories of Cha Kwo Ling from a bygone era, many objects in Cha Kwo Ling, be it a set of rusty metal shutters, a stone stele with fading inscriptions, or an abandoned animal cage, can still be found today, representing tangible evidences for the villagers’ stories. If these objects can speak, what would they say about the urban village and its generations of inhabitants? These silent artefacts would probably be gone in two years’ time, along with the squatter homes, community stores, small tea shops, narrow alleys, etc. Before their disappearance, we did a small walk in Cha Kwo Ling and photo documented the village scenery. Once Cha Kwo Ling is gone, former villagers and anyone who is interested in the city’s urban transformations would sadly mourn the loss of these precious artefacts. Here are objects that caught our eyes during our two recent visits.

A notice board of Cha Kwo Ling Village Fraternity Association (茶果嶺鄉民聯誼會) listed out this year’s donors to the village’s Tin Hau Temple. [2022]
Near the village entrance, a corrugated metal wall is decorated with several columns of license plates. (2022)
Notices and posters for the village are being put up on walls of a few houses along the main alley. [2022]
Fire and water were the biggest enemies for the shanty houses in Cha Kwo Ling. Traces of previous fire and water damages can still be seen today. [2022]
A large mural depicting community celebrations of Tin Hau’s birthday. [2022]
Tropical plants root themselves on the wall of a former clay factory. [2021]
Built with Cha Kwo Ling’s granite blocks in 1951, the tiny St. Mark’s Lutheran Church also offered kindergarten and primary education in the early days. As the village population dwindled, the school has long ceased operation. The historical building would probably be demolished and even forgotten in the near future. [2022]
Many villagers have already moved out of Cha Kwo Ling, leaving behind a government’s notice on the door. [2022]
Home of Kei Lun or Qilin Dance Troupe (茶果嶺麒麟隊), is a traditional organization specialized in qilin dances performed during festivals. Like lion dance to resemble lion, qilin is a legendary creature that is also known as Chinese unicorn. [2022]
Traditional metallic mailboxes are still widely used in the village. [2022]
Established in 1950’s, Ming Tak Primary School was in operations for two decades until mid 1970’s, along with the rise and fall of the children population in the village. Half a century has past, somehow the old school sign is still visible in Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Wing Wah Eatery (榮華冰室) has been a prominent fixture in Cha Kwo Ling since 1960’s. It was a well known venue for local filmmakers, artists and photographers. [2022]
In Wing Wah Eatery, everything seems to be frozen in time, including the colour faded posters on the wall. [2022]
At CACHE’s exhibition, a red textile with guest signatures was on display, marking the opening of Wing Wah Eatery back in 1960’s. [2022]
With it name hollow cut into the metal, the shop shutter of Wing Wah Restaurant has been around for decades. Designed to allow natural ventilation back in the 50’s and 60’s, these traditional shutters only exist at the shopfront of decades old shops nowadays. [2022]
Some metal shutters are badly deteriorated in the village. [2022]
At the small open space where villagers used to gather and socialize, the metal shutter of Wai Kee should be part of the collective memories of many Cha Kwo Ling villagers. [2022]
Cha Kwo Ling might look chaotic to some, but for many photographers, the visual complexity makes the village is a delightful destination for exploration. [2022]
In its heyday, Cha Kwo Ling was a thriving urban village with inhabitants of various generations. Today, many villagers and their kids have moved out to other parts of the city. [2022]
A stone stele with faded inscriptions documents donor names for a bridge repair in the village. [2022]
In the old days, a wildlife lover moved to Hong Kong from Guangzhou. He had a number of big cats, bear and elephant and tried to convince the colonial government to establish a zoo in Hong Kong. Used as storage of the old animal cages can still be found in Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Five rows of mailboxes near Tin Hau Temple reveal a collective living environment back in the old days. [2022]
Recently renovated, the door panels of Tin Hau Temple have been beautifully preserved. Hope that the temple can be saved after the redevelopment of Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]

THE LAST URBAN VILLAGE, Cha Kwo Ling (茶果嶺), Kowloon, Hong Kong

On 21 September 1989, the city’s second harbour tunnel Eastern Harbour Crossing (東區海底隧道) officially opened between Quarry Bay of Hong Kong Island and Cha Kwo Ling of Kowloon. Cha Kwo Ling (茶果嶺), a lush green hill in East Kowloon, was once home to about 10,000 villagers in its heyday, when granite quarrying was a major industry in Hong Kong. Sitting below the green hill facing the harbour, the Hakka village of Cha Kwo Ling has a 400+ years of history, thriving long before this part of Kowloon and the New Territories were leased to Britain in 1899. In the 19th century, Cha Kwo Ling and three other mining villages in East Kowloon, namely Ngau Tau Kok (牛頭角), Sai Tso Wan (晒草灣), and Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門), were administered as the Four Hills of Kowloon (九龍四山), each had its own leader who would report directly to the Qing government office at Kowloon Walled City. After becoming part of the British colony, the four mining villages continued to flourish as a collective community with shared schools, community facilities and temple. Similar to many neighborhoods in Hong Kong, Cha Kwo Ling saw an influx of newcomers from Mainland China during mid 20th century. Stone quarrying at Cha Kwo Ling ceased after 1967, when the government no longer licensed permits for industries using explosives. Apart from granite stones, Kaolin clay mining was also a major industry in the village. The white Kaolin clay is used in a wide range of products, from ceramics, toothpaste, cosmetics, paint, industrial insulation, paper, etc.

In 1980’s, the government put the second nail in Cha Kwo Ling’s coffin by tearing down a part of the village, including a former stone quarry, to make way for Eastern Harbour Crossing (東區海底隧道). A shrank Cha Kwo Ling continued to exist as a village of squatter houses somehow isolated from the surrounding urbanization. Since 2011, a number of government plans were released to replace Cha Kwo Ling village with a high density housing development. The 2021 plan gave the final verdict: erecting six residential towers at the Cha Kwo Ling site, and demolishing the existing village in two years’ time. As one of the last remaining urban village, Cha Kwo Ling has long been a unique place in Hong Kong where things seem to be frozen in time since decades ago, luring photographers and filmmakers seeking for a bygone Hong Kong, from a time when many poor were living in squatter homes but enjoying a strong community bonding. Cha Kwo Ling’s inevitable fate might long be sealed since granite quarrying ceased operations. Witnessing the final demise for one of Kowloon’s last remaining urban villages and anticipating yet another high density housing development that can be found all over the city is rather upsetting.

East of Kwun Tong Pier stands the cluster of residential towers of Laguna City (麗港城) estate, where the former quarry village Sai Tso Wan (晒草灣) and Shell oil depot used to be located. To the right of Laguna City stands the “new apartments” of Cha Kwo Ling. [2015]
The new apartments of Cha Kwo Ling were late additions in the 60’s and 70’s to the village of Cha Kwo Ling (hidden behind trees right of the apartment blocks). [2021]
Completed in early 1990’s, Laguna City (麗港城) is comprised of 38 residential towers and a wide range of community facilities from shopping centres to kindergartens and ball courts. The private estate was situated at Sai Tso Wan (晒草灣), home to one of the four quarry villages of Four Hills of Kowloon (九龍四山) and Shell’s former oil depot. [2021]
Cha Kwo Ling is one of the last remaining urban villages in Kowloon. [2022]
Colourful sheets on drying racks near village entrance. [2021]
At the entrance of Cha Kwo Ling village stands a small St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (路德會聖馬可堂). Built with local granite stones, the church is an early base for Lutheran Church in Hong Kong. [2022]
Ho Wa Lion Dance (壕華龍獅隊) was formed in 2015 by two youngsters who love the tradition. The NGO offers lion dance lessons for kids, and aimed to establish a museum to promote the tradition. [2021]
Vivid colours are often found in the village. [2022]
Wing Wah Restaurant (榮華冰室) is one of the two last remaining coffee houses still in business at Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Nothing seems to have changed in Wing Wah since 1960’s. Sixty years ago, the wooden tables and benches were secondhand furniture sourced by Mr. Ah Yeung, founder of the business. Today, his son (鏡叔) is putting great efforts to sustain the business. [2022]
Due to the lack of clarity on the village’s future, most villagers prefer not to invest money to renovate their homes. [2022]
Layers of rusting corrugated metals, cloths, nylon covers, scrap plywood boards, etc. are the most common facade materials for the squatter houses in Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
In the village, external walls of squatter houses are used for displaying community notices. [2021]
Cha Kwo Ling is a pleasant village for an aimless stroll, and it is not that easy for visitors to get lost. [2022]
A traditional store at the major village junction offers all kinds of drinks and snacks. Stores like this Tak Kee Chan must have witnessed much better days decades ago when school children were still around. [2022]
Many residents built their houses over village lanes, creating a number of covered alleys. [2022]
A setback area in front of a low rise apartment block was a gathering and children’s play area for Cha Kwo Ling villagers in the old days. [2022]
We bumped into several cats in Cha Kwo Ling during our brief visit. Hope that they could settle in a new home when the village is being demolished. [2022]
Metal roofs of squatter homes leave a narrow strip of sky over the alleys of Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Built in 1900 with local granite, Law Mansion (羅氏大屋) is one of the oldest surviving building in Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Antennas dominate the skyline of Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Proudly on display near Cha Kwo Ling Village Fraternity Association, the Hop Yee Lung (合義龍) Dragon Boat is over 60 years old. In its heyday, the boat would take 48 paddlers for the annual dragon boat race at Yaumatei Typhoon Shelter. A number of victories in the 1960’sand 1970’s gave the boat a legendary status in the village. The 20m long dragon boat took artisan Chan Yau (陳有) almost a year to build. [2021]
Built in 1956, Cha Kwo Ling Village Fraternity Association (茶果嶺鄉民聯誼會) is the main gathering and event place for villagers. In the old days, the association also offer charity meals to the poor during Lu Ban (鲁班, the patron saint for the construction industries) Patron’s Day. [2021]
Adjacent to Cha Kwo Ling Village Fraternity Association stands the former Four Hill School (四山公立學校, 1952-1993), a collective memory for many residents of East Kowloon. For years, the former school was home to a sport academy. The forecourt has been turned into a practice ground for golf. [2022]
The current Cha Kwo Ling Tin Hau Temple is dated to late 1940’s, as a replacement for an older temple that was built during the reign of Dao Guan (道光, 1821-1850) of Qing Dynasty. [2022]
Not a common practice for traditional temples, but building this Tin Hau Temple at Cha Kwo Ling with granite was a convenient choice, as the building stood right adjacent to the stone quarries. [2022]
The temple interior offers a distinctly spiritual ambience in the village of Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]

QUARRY BELOW DEVIL’S PEAK (魔鬼山), Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門), Kowloon, Hong Kong

At the east end of the Eight Mountains of Kowloon (九龍群山), dozens granite quarries had been around in the area of today’s Kwun Tong (觀塘) since late 18th century. Mostly operated by skillful Hakka workers from Guangdong, four of the largest quarry settlements, namely Cha Kwo Ling (茶果嶺), Ngau Tau Kok (牛頭角), Sai Tso Wan (晒草灣), and Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門), were collectively known as the Four Hills of Kowloon (九龍四山). Beside stone quarries, houses were constructed for the miners and their families, and piers were erected along the harbour to export the mined granite to other parts of Hong Kong, China, and even overseas to Japan and Europe. From granite stone in the 19th century to concrete aggregates in the 20th, stone quarrying was once a major industry in East Kowloon. Not until 1967 when the government banned the use of explosives at a time of social unrest that stone quarrying in Hong Kong had officially came to an end. Since then, many former quarries and worker villages have been built over and entirely erased from the urban context. In East Kowloon, not a trace of the historical quarries and worker settlements can be found in today’s Ngau Tau Kok and Sai Tso Wan. Two years from now, Cha Kwo Ling would also get wiped out from the map. With Victoria Harbour’s last stilted houses still standing along the shore, perhaps by reinventing itself as a tourist attraction and seafood designation that Lei Yue Mun may be spared from the fate of brutal demolition a little longer. Sitting across the harbour from Shau Kei Wan (筲箕灣), Lei Yue Mun and Cha Kwo Ling have long been seen as remote and accessible only by boat from Shau Kei Wan. In the latter half of 20th century, roads were finally built to connect Lei Yue Mun with Kwun Tong industrial town. With Lei Yue Mun’s affordable rent, seafood restaurants gradually found their way into Lei Yue Mun, transforming the former quarry settlement into a vibrant tourist destination. The former quarry and ruined structures have since become selfie backdrops for visitors.

Rising 200m above Lei Yue Mun Village, the lush green Devil’s Peak (魔鬼山) offers visitors a pleasant lookout of the surrounding scenery. Long before the arrival of tourists, Devil’s Peak was a crucial military site overlooking Lei Yue Mun Channel and Victoria Harbour. Batteries and redoubts were built between 1900 and 1914 on the peak to guard the eastern gateway of Victoria Harbour. While Devil’s Peak has nothing to do with the Devil, the name does remind visitors that Lei Yue Mun was once home to notorious pirates, prompting the colonial government to name it Devil’s Peak. Today, remnants of the military structures have become popular attractions for tourists and war game players. For anyone willing to climb the stairs up Devil’s Peak would certainly be rewarded with a magnificent view of Victoria Harbour on one side and Junk Bay (將軍澳) on the other. It wasn’t the finest day when we climbed Devil’s Peak. But the hazy sunset over Victoria Harbour was still impressive, forcing us to make a brief stop to take in the scenery. Below the hill, we meandered through the narrow alleys of Sam Ka Tsuen Village (三家村), passed by the pebble beach and small lighthouse where contented sunset watchers were about to leave. Back at Sam Ka Tsuen Typhoon Shelter near the village entrance, neon signs of Gateway Cuisine (南大門), one of the village’s largest seafood restaurant, were lit up to welcome the first customers of a rather peaceful night.

During the pandemic, seafood restaurants at Sam Ka Tsuen Village of Lei Yue Mun suffered a dramatic drop of business. [2020]
Dozens of small boats occupied Sam Ka Tsuen Typhoon Shelter. [2020]
Adjacent to Sam Ka Tsuen Village, the concrete factory is about to be shut down to make way for new waterfront developments. [2020]
At Sam Ka Tsuen Village, fishing by Victoria Harbour is a popular pastime. [2020]
In recent decades, most people would associate Lei Yue Mun and Sam Ka Tsuen Village as a seafood destination. [2020]
For the younger generation, the pebble beach and lighthouse offer the best selfie spot during sunset. [2020]
Even if weather is not perfect, people would still enjoy themselves at the beach. [2017]
Due to its low terrain, Lei Yue Mun is prone to flooding during the typhoon season. [2017]
When weather is fine, Lei Yue Mun does offer a stretch of waterfront that is less crowded compared to other promenades at city centre. [2020]
Across Victoria Harbour lies the easternmost districts of Hong Kong Island, including Shau Kei Wan, Heng Fa Chuen, and Siu Sai Wan. [2020]
The former stone quarry and pier area have become a precious piece of outdoor space for all. [2020]
People come to the former quarry to take wedding or graduation photos, chat with friends, test out their drones, or just sit down and chill out in the sea breeze. [2020]
Behind Lei Yue Mun stands Devil’s Peak. Ruined military structures on Devil’s Peak include Devil’s Peak Redoubt, Gough Battery, Pottinger Battery, etc. [2020]
Despite the historical significance, the former military structures on Devil’s Peak are vulnerably exposed to vandalism. [2020]
On top of Devil’s Peak stands a redoubt complex. [2020]
Visitors love to find a quiet spot at Devil’s Peak Redoubt to chill out. [2020]
While Victoria Harbour dominates the scenery west of Devil’s Peak, on the east side lies Junk Bay (將軍澳), another hot spot for new residential developments where decades ago would be considered extremely remote. [2020]
Stretches between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, Lei Yue Mun Channel is the eastern gateway of Victoria Harbour and the narrowest gap between the island and peninsula. [2020]
Looking west from Devil’s Peak, Victoria Harbour and the distant city centre appears as silhouette in the haze. [2020]
Back down to Sam Ka Tsuen, the seafood restaurants are preparing to receive their first customers of the night. [2017]

EASTERN GATEWAY OF VICTORIA HARBOUR, Shau Kei Wan (筲箕灣), Hong Kong

As the tram turns into Shau Kei Wan Main Street East (筲箕灣東大街), all passengers are getting ready to hop off at Shau Kei Wan Tram Terminus, the easternmost tram stop in Hong Kong. Winding through Shau Kei Wan Main Street East where the original coastline used to be was like walking into an outdoor feast, with restaurants and eateries of all sorts lining on both sides. For some reasons, On Lee Noodle Soup (安利魚蛋粉麵) across the street from Tin Hau Temple (天后廟) is often the busiest. With so many options, it is often hard to pick a restaurant here. On the hill between Tin Hau Temple and Lei Yue Mun Park, thirteen blocks of 60-year social housing estate Ming Wah Dai Ha (明華大廈) awaits for their turn to be demolished and replaced by new highrise apartments. To the north, the foodie paradise Shau Kei Wan Main Street East abruptly ends as it reaches the overpass of Island Eastern Corridor. Beyond the elevated expressway, the view finally opens up to Victoria Harbour, where the reclaimed Aldrich Bay opens to Shau Kei Wan Typhoon Shelter (筲箕灣避風塘), one of the several last remaining typhoon shelters in Hong Kong. Outside the causeway, Victoria Harbour enters a narrow channel to the east, with a width at times no more than 500m. Known as Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門), the sea channel signifies the eastern end of Victoria Harbour.

Despite fishery is no longer a dominant industry, the typhoon shelter is nonetheless full of boats. Right by the typhoon shelter, a historical temple known as Tam Kung Temple (譚公廟) reminds visitors that Shau Kei Wan was once a prosperous fishing village under the protection of sea deities such as Tam Kung (譚公) and Tin Hau (天后). That was exactly what the British found at Shau Kei Wan in 1841: storm shelter, fishing village, shrines of sea gods, and lots of fishing boats. Continuing east on Tam Kung Temple Road, a dozen or so small shipyards stand in between the sea and the road. These shops now serve mainly yachts for wealthy customers. Next to the row of shipyards, a monumental concrete shuttle lift tower appears out of nowhere against a lush green hill. The once essential fortification hill overlooking the harbour where guns were mounted and soldiers were stationed has been transformed into Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense (香港海防博物館). Preserving military structures dated back to 1887, the museum is perhaps the most ideal place in the city to learn about the defense of colonial Hong Kong and Victoria Harbour. At both Kowloon and Hong Kong side of Lei Yue Mun Channel, numerous defensive structures were erected at places including Devil’s Peak (魔鬼山) at Lei Yue Mun in Kowloon, the hilltop Lyemun Barracks (now Lei Yue Mun Park) overlooking Shau Kei Wan, and the former hill fortifications at Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense signified the crucial roles Lei Yue Mun played to protect Victoria Harbour. Out of all the military sites, perhaps the most interesting one is the former Torpedo Station (舊魚雷發射站). It was quite a shock to see an old torpedo on display in a vaulted cave right by the sea.

Aldrich Bay and Shau Kei Wan sit right below Lyemun Barracks on the hill overlooking Lei Yue Mun Channel. Across the channel, Devil’s Peak offers another strategic defensive point at the eastern gateway of Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken by G. Warren Swire in 1927, Courtesy of G. Warren Swire Collections. University of Bristol (www.hpcbristol.net), (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0)]
Between 65 – 67 storey high, the five residential towers of Grand Promenade (嘉亨灣) are the tallest structures in Shau Kei Wan. [2017]
From a sleepy fishing village to a densely populated neighborhood, Shau Kei Wan has gone through drastic transformations in the past century. [2022]
The former Lyemun Barracks (now Lei Yue Mun Park) was once a strategic station to guard the eastern gateway of Victoria Harbour. [2022]
After WWII, flocks of refugees from Mainland China came to Hong Kong. A large group settled in slums on the hills of Shau Kei Wan. In the 1950’s, the government decided to erect a range of public housing to resolve the issue, leading to the construction of social housing Ming Wah Dai Ha (明華大廈). Today, the original thirteen blocks of Ming Wah Dai Ha are scheduled for demolition and redevelopment. [2022]
The original Ming Wah Dai Ha from the 1960’s was relatively low dense. [2019]
Below Ming Wah Dai Ha, the vibrant Kam Wa Street Market is one of the last several remaining street markets in Hong Kong Island. [2019]
After a long journey from the west side of the island, the tram enters the terminus of Shau Kei Wan. [2019]
From street vendors to noodles and Japanese restaurants, Shau Kei Wan Main Street East (筲箕灣東大街) is one of the famous foodie destinations in Hong Kong Island. [2022]
Despite the decline of fishery, Shau Kei Wan Typhoon Shelter is still fully packed with boats of all sorts. [2020]
Many neighbourhoods on Hong Kong Island lie in close proximity to the harbourfront. At Shau Kei Wan, the waterfront promenade extends all the way to Sai Wan Ho and Quarry Bay to the west. [2020]
Adjacent to the typhoon shelter, Tam Kung Temple stands as a silent reminder of the local history as a fishing village. [2020]
Since 1905, Tam Kung Sin Shing Temple (譚公仙聖廟) has been reconstructed a few times. [2020]
Today, the temple remains popular for the local neighbourhood. [2020]
The numbers of incense and lanterns reveal how popular the temple remains. [2020]
A miniature display of dragon boat in the temple. [2020]
Near Tam Kung Temple, a row of small shipyards have been around for decades. [2020]
Dozen or so of small shipyards at Tam Kung Temple Road. [2020]
Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense (香港海防博物館) is a surprising interest museum that covers the military history of Victoria Harbour during the colonial period. [2020]
Below the museum, a trail leads to the waterfront where Victoria Harbour enters the narrow Lei Yue Mun Channel. [2016]
Across the channel, Devil’s Peak and the neighborhood of Lei Yue Mun is only a few hundred meters away. [2016]
Behind the pleasant harbour scenery, the preserved former Torpedo Station (舊魚雷發射站) is an interesting surprise that we didn’t know of before the museum visit. [2016]
From the museum hill, we could have a close encounter with the causeway of Shau Kei Wan Typhoon Shelter. [2016]
Looking east to Shau Kei Wan Typhoon Shelter. [2016]
The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense and its hill as seen from the harbour. [2017]
Beyond the hill of Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense lies Heng Fa Villa (杏花園), another modern housing estate right by the eastern exit of Lei Yue Mun Channel. [2020]
Overlooking the exit of Lei Yue Mun Channel, Heng Fa Villa enjoys open sea views. Due to its close proximity to the open sea, the estate is prone to weather impacts during the typhoon season. [2020]
From Heng Fa Villa, East Kowloon, Lion Rock and Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s highest mountain, can be seen in a clear day. [2020]
Leaving Victoria Harbour and Lei Yue Mun Channel behind, boats heading east would enter Junk Bay and the open waters of South China Sea beyond. [2021]

From the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Kennedy Town to Shau Kei Wan, we have loosely follow Victoria Harbour along the north shore of Hong Kong Island in the last few months. Next we will cross the harbour to the Kowloon side.