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ARCADES & TEMPLES, Nishiki Market (錦市場) & Teramachi Shopping Street (寺町通商店街), Kyoto, Japan

No matter in Rome, Buenos Aires or Hong Kong, taking morning walks is always one of our most enjoyable ways to appreciate a city. With an ever-present tranquility, elegance and otherworldliness, Kyoto is perfect for a morning stroll, especially to appreciate the beautiful tones of aged timber, indigo shingles and seasonal vegetation all under the crisp air of surrounding mountains. And what’s best to start a morning walk? For us, it’s a cup of good coffee. Tucked in a corner of an almost unnoticeable parking lot a block away from Nishiki Market (錦市場), a tiny coffee shop successfully captured our attention with its rich aroma and lovely ambience. Housed in an old machiya house, Weekenders Coffee provokes memories of a traditional kissaten (喫茶店) where writers and intellectuals in the old days gathered for a cup of tea or coffee. Opened since 2005, Weekenders was one of the first espresso shops in Kyoto. At Weekenders, a few customers may gather at the forecourt sipping coffee while resting the eyes upon a tiny Japanese garden. This was exactly what we did: sitting in front of the coffee shop at 7:30 in the morning, sniffing in fresh morning air and coffee aroma, and being enchanted with the pleasure of life.

At Nishiki Market, pickle vendors and fishmongers were busy setting up their stores. Laughter and giggles could be heard behind the counter of a tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) shop, where a team of staff were busy making omelettes for the day. It was still way too early to taste the food and shop for grocery at the iconic 400-year-old market. Unlike the crowded scenes during our 2016 visit, this time we almost had Nishiki all by ourselves. At the eastern end of where the market met Teramachi Shopping Street, we were once again attracted by the lanterns of Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine (錦天満宮) just like in 2016. Headed north from the shrine, we entered the arcade of Teramachi Shopping Street (寺町通商店街), a famous destination for both locals and tourists.

Literally means “Temple Town Street”, Teramachi (寺町通) has much more to offer than a covered arcade both sides flanked by shops. In 1590, 80 or so Buddhist temples from the area were relocated to Teramachi. It was Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉), the powerful daimyo (feudal lord) or de facto ruler of Japan, who ordered the move during Sengoku period (戦国時代) in the late 16th century. In the subsequent centuries, stores selling books, Buddhist rosaries, medicine, stationery, handicrafts and clothing flourished and gradually developed into the present arcades. Today, in the midst of shops, restaurants, and entertainment facilities, places of worship and even small graveyards maintain a strong presence at Teramachi, with temple entrances open right next to boutiques and stores. While most shops on Teramachi and the adjacent Shinkyogoku Shopping Street (新京極商店街) had yet opened for business, we took the opportunity to do some temple hopping while window shopping at the same time.

Hidden in a corner of a neighborhood parking lot, Weekenders Coffee offers great coffee in a traditional setting. [2022.12.27]
The coffee aroma goes well with the traditional machiya setting. [2022.12.27]
Weekenders Coffee is the perfect place to start the day. [2022.12.27]
The tiny forecourt has a certain zen quality that calms every customer. [2022.12.27]
A marvelous cup of latte to start our first full day in Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
After Weekenders, we walked over to Nishiki, the 400 year old market at the heart of Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
We came too early. Most shops at Nishiki Market had yet opened for business. [2022.12.27]
Staff at Miki Keiran (三木鶏卵) tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) shop were busy preparing omelettes for the day. [2022.12.27]
Unlike 2016’s visit, we didn’t eat or buy anything at Nishiki Market. [2022.12.27]
Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine (錦天満宮) marks the eastern end of Nishiki Market. [2022.12.27]
The lanterns of Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine forms a lovely gateway to the shrine compound. [2022.12.27]
Nade-ushi, the cow messenger associated with the deity of Tenjin, the god of scholarship, is proudly on display at Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine. [2022.12.27]
Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine is full of fine details and elegant offerings. [2022.12.27]
It was surprising to see red maple leaves were still around at the end of December. [2022.12.27]
From Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine, we turned north onto Teramachi Shopping Street. [2022.12.27]
Perhaps it was the cold weather, we were quite hungry as we walked. We stopped briefly at a local bakery chain store Pan-no-Tajima (パンの田島) for a quick breakfast before continuing our walk. [2022.12.27]
Along with the adjacent Shinkyogoku Shopping Street (新京極商店街), the covered arcade of Teramachi (寺町通) offers a wide range of merchandises, from clothing, books, souvenirs to religious goods. [2022.12.27]
The covered arcades also serve as a primary entertainment district for the younger generation. [2022.12.27]
Selfie backdrops for New Year celebration could be found at a number of spots in the shopping arcades. [2022.12.27]
Wandering at the shopping arcade in early morning when most shops were still shuttered offer us a quiet moment to admire the visual complexity of the retail district. [2022.12.27]
Literally means “Temple Town Street”, Teramachi (寺町通) is home to many temples and shrines since Toyotomi Hideyoshi relocated a large group of religious institutions into Downtown Kyoto four hundred years ago. [2022.12.27]
Thanks to the red banners, Eifuku-ji Temple (永福寺) and Takoyakushi-dō (蛸薬師堂) is one of many temples relocated to Teramachi Shopping Street 400 years ago. [2022.12.27]
Behind a few clothing stores we found the entrance of Seishin-in Temple (誠心院), and a cheerful selfie backdrop to welcome New Year visitors. [2022.12.27]
In such close proximity to the busy shopping arcades, it was a surprise to find a cemetery behind Seishin-in. [2022.12.27]
The cemetery at Seishin-in appeared like a tranquil backyard for the temple. [2022.12.27]
The triangular Rokkun Plaza (ろっくんプラザ) is a well known meeting point at the heart of the shopping arcades. [2022.12.27]

FIRST GETAWAY SINCE THE PANDEMIC, Kyoto (京都) and Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), Japan. 2022.12.26 – 2023.01.01

After returning from Sri Lanka in December 2019, we never thought it would be another three years before we could travel again. Haven’t traveled for such a long time, it almost felt a little surreal when we went online to purchase the plane tickets. In fact, our trip was a rather ad-hoc decision made less than ten days before departure. To resume traveling after Covid, Japan was an intuitive choice for us, where cities are clean, people friendly, and the food fantastic. A revisit to Kyoto was always in our mind since our last visit in 2016. Kyoto is such an amazing city where we can wander around aimlessly from dawn till dusk, just to take in the rich history, seasonal colours, and serene ambience. Apart from Kyoto, we picked Kinosaki Onsen, a hot spring town 2.5 hours train ride away, as a side trip. After booking one of the last Kinosaki ryokan rooms available online, buying a new suitcase (we threw out the old one during the pandemic), and uploading our vaccination papers to the Japanese authorities, we could finally think about what to do in Kyoto. The planning turned out not as easy as we thought, since many attractions, museums, shops and restaurants would be closed around the New Year. On the other hand, staying in Kyoto for the New Year to witness their traditional celebrations could be a unique and remarkable experience.

After hosting our best friend for dinner at our apartment on Christmas Day, we left for the airport before dawn on Boxing Day. Hong Kong International Airport was full of outbound travelers like us, who were desperate to fly out the city as soon as the Covid restrictions were relaxed. We were overwhelmed by joy and excitement as soon as we boarded the plane. Didn’t recall we have ever got so excited just to look out the window and watch the plane lifting off. After three hours of flying, our plane made a turn over the mouth of Yoshino River (吉野川) and Tokushima (徳島), and gradually descended over the waters of Wakayama Bay (和歌山湾) and Osaka Bay (大阪湾) towards Kansai Airport. Several minutes later, our plane gently touched down onto the tarmac runway, signifying our return to Japan after 3.5 years. Despite the additional Covid related procedures, our arrival at Kansai Airport was rather smooth and hassle free. After picking up the JR rail passes and topping up our old ICOCA cards, we hopped on the Haruka Express train bounded for Kyoto Station (京都駅).

Evening had already fallen upon by the time we arrived in Kyoto. Under the glazed canopy, the splendid station atrium was teeming with rush hour travelers. We found our way to Shijo Karasuma (四条烏丸), checked in at our hotel, and immediately headed out to look for a restaurant (as we had skipped lunch on the plane). In Downtown Kyoto, we were spoiled with dining options. Before eating, we stopped by a small shop selling traditional Kyoto pickles or Tsukemono (漬物), a regional household delicacy dated back to the pre refrigeration years. All kinds of local vegetables pickled in salt, soya sauce, vinegar, or miso, and packed in lovely wrapping. It was impossible to resist and we ended up getting some to bring home. For dinner, we picked a cozy izakaya with a decent menu of deep fried Kyoto snacks. Fried shrimps and beef skewers topped with sea urchin, all washed down with sips of local sake. What a perfect treat to make us forget about the pandemic misery and officially kick start our short Kyoto vacation.

We arrived at Hong Kong International Airport after sunrise. [2022.12.26]
It was exciting to resume traveling after three years of pandemic. [2022.12.26]
Our plane made a turn over Yoshino River and Tokushima before descending to Osaka Bay and Kansai International Airport. [2022.12.26]
The JR office at Kansai Airport is often the first site where foreign travelers would visit. [2022.12.26]
By the time we hopped on a Kyoto bounded Haruka Express train, the sun was already setting. [2022.12.26]
Kyoto Station was teemed with pedestrians when we arrived in the evening. [2022.12.26]
Outside the station, the 131m-Kyoto Tower stood proudly as the tallest structure in the city. [2022.12.26]
The inner streets of Shijo Karasuma were full of lovely machiya (町家), traditional wooden houses with ground floor shops and upper residences. [2022.12.26]
Housed in machiya, small shops or restaurants in Downtown Kyoto were cozy and warm. [2022.12.26]
Before dinner, we stopped by Eirakuya (永楽屋室町店) to shop for traditional Kyoto pickles or Tsukemono (漬物) and Japanese confections. (2022.12.26)
We ended up picking an izakaya serving deep fried snacks for dinner. [2022.12.26]
The deep fried snacks went perfectly well with sake and beer. [2022.12.26]
Our hotel blended in well with the surrounding machiya houses. [2022.12.26]
A lush green courtyard sat silently as the centerpiece of our hotel lobby. [2022.12.26]
During breakfast time, our hotel restaurant was quite popular among local Japanese. [2022.12.27]
Just a stone throw away from our hotel, Karasuma Dori (烏丸通り) is the main north south thoroughfare in Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
A morning stroll around the neighbourhood of Shijo Karasuma brought us face to face with many machiya houses. [2022.12.27]
Since Kyoto was spared from bombing during WWII, many machiya houses survive till the present day. [2022.12.27]
Other than traditional houses, minimalist modern buildings dotted around Shijo Karasuma as well. [2022.12.27]
Interesting buildings include this office block near our hotel. [2022.12.27]
But what caught our eyes in most cases were always the timber machiya houses of Kyoto. [2022.12.27]

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]