ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Hong Kong

STREET ART, Central-Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

For 50 years, lampposts, electrical boxes, concrete pillars, pavements, benches, planters, and retaining walls on the streets of Hong Kong could be seen as one large canvas for the “King of Kowloon” (九龍皇帝) to leave his unique calligraphy works. Sometimes, he wrote to proclaim his ancestral land ownership of the Kowloon Peninsula before the British rule, while at other times he would write about his family. Seen by many as acts of a crazy man, the “King of Kowloon” or Tsang Tsou Choi (曾灶財) was probably the most well known graffiti artist the city had seen in the 20th century. Fined by the government numerous times, insulted by neighbours, and even disowned by his own family, Tsang Tsou Choi was mocked by Hong Kong for decades. Whenever his calligraphy was washed or painted over by the authorities, he would restore the works right after. His works were largely seen as public nuisance until the 1990’s, when local artists, fashion designers, art directors, interior designers, furniture makers, graphic designers, musicians began to use Tsang’s unique calligraphy on design products. In his final years, Tsang’s works finally began to gain public recognition with successful shows both in Hong Kong and abroad, including the Venice Biennale in 2003, and even went for auctions at the Sotheby’s.

A decade after Tsang’s death (2007), street art in Hong Kong has already entered a new chapter. Far from the vibrancy and sophistication of London’s or New York’s, street art is nonetheless much widely accepted and welcomed by the public in Hong Kong nowadays. In recent years, the city has been frequented by international street artists, such as Invader from France, who has secretly put up his iconic pixelated 8-bit video game images all over the city. In December 2019, the popular show “Banksy: Genius or Vandal?” arrived in Hong Kong and created quite a stir on the social media. The free spirit, unique artistic expression, cool character, coupled with satirical imagery, political controversy, and social criticism of street art have been welcomed by the young generations, especially in the era of social media when everybody has something to say and share.

In Hong Kong, one of the most popular areas to see interesting street art is Central-Sheung Wan (中上環). Thanks to HKwalls, the non-profit organization who has been organizing annual street art festival since 2014, several neighbourhoods in Hong Kong have already become hotspots showcasing the talents of local and international artists. In their debut year of 2014, HKwalls paired artists with properties owners in Sheung Wan and successfully added 17 street murals in the neighborhood, then another 50+ works in Sheung Wan and Stanley Market in the following year. The event moved to Sham Shui Po in 2016, Wong Chuk Hang in 2017, then returned to Central and Western District in 2018 before moving on to Wanchai (2019) and Sai Kung (2021). HKwalls has successfully brought in great artistic talents from all over the world to Hong Kong, transformed the urban scenery of old neighborhoods, and raised public appreciation of street art to a whole new level.

For a city well known of its quick, dramatic and relentless urban changes, the impermanent and transient beauty of street art suit perfectly to echo the ephemeral spirit of Hong Kong. Here if you see an interesting street art, you better document it right away. Next time around, the mural may be gone forever.

Most of the street art by Tsang Tsou Choi (曾灶財) did not survive. After public outcry, the government finally agreed to preserve the last few remaining works by the King of Kowloon (九龍皇帝), including the one at the Star Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀). [Star Ferry Terminal, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Renowned French undercover artist Invader has left his marks in 79 cities worldwide, including Hong Kong. [Forecourt of Harbour City Mall, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
In December 2019, the Banksy show came to Hong Kong and was quite a hit among the younger generation. [A mock up of Banksy studio at the “Banksy: Genius or Vandal?” show, Kowloon Bay, 2019]
Often referred to as the Instagram Wall, local artist Alex Croft created one of the most photographed street art in the city. Depicting the fast disappearing tenement apartments on Graham Street, the famous mural stands proudly across the street from GOD (Goods Of Desire), a local lifestyle store that was one of the first design business to incorporate Hong Kong street art into merchandises. [Junction of Graham Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
Renowned British street artist Dan Kitchener participated in the annual street art festival by HKwalls in 2018. Kitchener often takes inspirations from urban sceneries of Tokyo and Hong Kong to create his works, which appear in many cities in Europe, Asia and North America. [Junction of Graham Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
Kitchener’s murals often depict imaginary urban scenery inspired by a fix of streets scenes from Hong Kong and Tokyo. [Junction of Hiller Street and Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan, 2020]
For the show Street Art Challenge on Insight TV, British artists Dan Kitchener and Charles Williams created this wall mural with a juxtaposition of a natural and an urban scene, and a Chinese message saying “don’t let it go to waste.” [Junction of Elgin Street and Caine Road, Central, 2020]
In Sheung Wan, Tank Lane (水池巷) is one of the best spot to check out graffiti art. Brazilian artist Alex Senna was another street art superstar participated in HKwalls 2018. Appeared in many cities around the world, his black and white (and different shades of grey) human figures depict various scenarios of human life, and are often open for interpretation. [Junction of Tank Lane and Bridges Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Known as the King of Graffiti in his home country, South Korean artist Xeva (Yoo Seung-baik) painted a multifaceted Bruce Lee for HKwalls 2015. Xera often collaborates with different commercial brands in both Korea and abroad. [Tank Lane, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Further down Tank Lane from Xeva’s Bruce Lee is another eye-catching piece, a stylish woman face painted by Hopare from France for HKWalls 2015. [Tank Lane, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Well known for his deconstructed pop icons from Mickey Mouse and the Simpsons in America to the Astro Boy and Dragon Ball characters of Japanese anime, LA based Matt Gondek has also left a melting Mickey Mouse (and also Donald Duck) in Sheung Wan. [Junction of Tank Lane and Lower Lascar Row, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Apart from Tank Lane, the nearby Water Lane (水巷) and the lane between Upper Station Street and Sai Street are also the must-sees for street art lovers. [Lane between Upper Station Street and Sai Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Begins from a traditional Chinese landscape painting, then evolves into geometric shapes and ends with a dragon head, artist WEST & Megic from Foshan of China made this long mural for HKwalls 2018. [Lane between Upper Station Street and Sai Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Detail of the dragon head made by WEST & Megic. [Lane between Upper Station and Sai Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
From billboards to planes, British artist 45RPM from Bristol is a multi-disciplinary artist who has collaborated with many international brands. He has also left his mark in Sheung Wan for HKwalls 2018. [Water Lane, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Since 2015, Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto (Vhils) has been making street art in Hong Kong. Known as “Scratching the Surface projects”, one of his signature art creation methods is to remove paint and plaster from the wall to expose the concrete inside. [Sai Street and Water Lane, Sheung Wan, 2020]
At Water Lane, the 2014 HKwalls mural by Stern Rockwell and 4GET from New York creates a big contrast to the adjacent historical shrine for a local deity. [Near junction of Water Lane and Tai Ping Shan Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Danish artist Christian Storm made this eye-catching koi fish mural for HKwalls 2018. Recently, the mural has been replaced by a new painting depicting a large rhino. [Junction of Shing Wong Street and Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In SoHo, Barcelona artist Cinta Vidal Agullo created this Inception-like mural for a wine cellar/bar as part of HKwalls 2018. [Junction of Aberdeen and Staunton Street, Central, 2019]
La Bouffe, a French resturant, Seoul Brothers, a Korean restaurant and Yuk Yip, a dai pai dong street eatery commissioned a French artist to create this mural in the street corner where the three businesses are located. [Junction of Elgin Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
Local artist KristopherH created this 6-face animal for La Cabane Bistro and wine cellar to capture the attention of pedestrians. [Junction of Shin Hing Street and Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The same wall of La Cabane has been repainted recently with a treasure map also by KristopherH and calligraphy by Woodnink. [Junction of Shin Hing Street and Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Japanese celebrity Shingo Katori (香取慎吾) has created this mural underneath the Central-Mid Levels Escalator in 2018. [Junction of Shelley Street and Hollywood Road, 2020]
One street down from Hollywood Road, locally based French artist Elsa Jean de Dieu painted this delightful mural for Bedu, a cosy Middle Eastern restaurant popular with expats. [Junction of Gough and Shing Hing Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Also by Elsa Jean de Dieu, this laughing woman outside Uma Nota restaurant has become an icon for SoHo. [Junction of Peel Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
For HKwalls 2018, Elsa Jean de Dieu is also responsible for a large mural next to the shop of Lush, the British cosmetics retailer. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, 2020]
Local artist Joe Yiu and his team of Creative Master Group has created this large mural at the popular tourist attraction of historical Pottinger Street. [Junction of Pottinger Street and Wellington Street, Central, 2020]
Sometimes, a surprised encounter of an anonymous graffiti art is more delightful than purposefully checking out a large scale mural commissioned by a certain business. This “ET nun” caught my eye when I walked pass the in one afternoon. [Near Lan Kwai Fong Amphitheatre, Central, 2021]

HONG KONG PARK (香港公園), Central / Admiralty (中環/金鐘), Hong Kong

In 1890, a golden bell was installed at the main building of Wellington Barracks (威靈頓兵房), one of the three military barracks (the other two being Victoria and Murray Barracks) located between the business districts of Central (中環) and Wanchai (灣仔). The golden bell became a landmark and eventually led to the naming of the area, Kam Chung (金鐘), which literally means “golden bells”. The former naval dockyard known as Admiralty Dock gave the area its English name, Admiralty. For over 120 years, the military barracks had been a major obstruction for urban development, creating a bottleneck between Central and Wanchai. This situation remained for much of the colonial era until the late 1970’s, when the governor has finally convinced the military department to release the land. Demolition of the barracks began in late 1970’s and gave way to a series of developments that make up the present Admiralty: High Court, Government Offices, metro station, transport interchange, various commercial towers, the Asia Society complex, the luxurious retail and hotel complex known as Pacific Place, and the 8-hectare Hong Kong Park on the lower slope of Victoria Peak.

Hong Kong Park occupies much of the former Victoria Barracks (域多利兵房). During construction, a number of historical buildings were preserved, including the Flagstaff House, Cassels Block, Wavell House, and Rawlinson House. The park design respected the natural topography of the site, maintaining a naturalistic setting for all to enjoy. Opened in 1991, Hong Kong Park was an instant hit for Hong Kongers. Combining the natural context and heritage buildings with the new water features, wide range of landscape elements, amphitheatre, lookout tower, large conservatory, and Southeast Asia’s largest aviary, the park has ensured that there would always be something to suit everyone’s taste. A combined visit to the nearby Zoological and Botanical Gardens would satisfy the desire of anyone who desires for a moment of tranquility in the heart of Hong Kong’s business district.

From 1840’s to 1979, the Victoria Barracks was the most prominent military base on Hong along Island. [Victoria Barracks, Photography by William Pryor Floyd, Image courtesy of Vacher-Hilditch Collection, University of Bristol, Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 1868]
Situated between Central and Wanchai, the military barracks in Admiralty poses an obstruction for urban development for over 120 years, until 1970’s when the royal army finally agreed to relocate to the seaside Tamar military base and release the barrack lands for urban developments. [Photo of the Victoria Barracks, Public Domain, 1870’s]
One of the main park entrances lies next to the Victoria Peak Tram terminal at Cotton Tree Drive (紅綿道). [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2017]
Beyond the Cotton Tree Drive park entrance, a grand stair featuring a water cascade leads visitors further up to the lily pond, heritage buildings and other park facilities. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Built in early 1900’s, the Wavell House is an example of Edwardian Classical Revival architecture in Hong Kong. Today, it is used as an education centre for the aviary. [Wavell House, Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Built in 1900’s, the three-storey Cassels Block was one of the officer residences in the former Victoria Barracks. After the site was handed over in 1979, Cassels Block was preserved and converted it into the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre (香港視覺藝術中心) in 1992. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Built in 1846, the preserved Flagstaff House is the oldest surviving Western building in Hong Kong. The Greek Revival building has long been the residence of the Commander of British force. Today, it houses the Museum of Teaware (茶具文物館). [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
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Adjacent to the Museum of Teaware stands it’s new wing. It is used to display antiques and house a tea shop. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The water feature near the Supreme Court Road entrance has long been a popular selfie spot since early 1990’s. I. M. Pei’s Bank of China Headquarters stands prominently at the back. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Full of Koi fish, turtles and frogs, the lily pond is often considered as the central focal point in Hong Kong Park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The pond is one of best place to photograph Paul Rudolph‘s Lippo Centre, the twin towers at the heart of modern Admiralty. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
An artificial waterfall and classical balustrade create a harmonic garden scenery at the heart of the park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Like many parks in Hong Kong, the artificial pond has become a place for irresponsible pet owners to abandon their turtles. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
With a backdrop of luxurious apartments and the Victoria Peak, the Edward Youde Aviary (尤德觀鳥園) stands in the midst of lush green woodlands in the Hong Kong Park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The Edward Youde Aviary (尤德觀鳥園) is the largest aviary in Southeast Asia. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Inside Edward Youde Aviary, a system of elevated boardwalk lead visitors into a artificial forest setting where exotic birds mainly from Indonesia live freely within the enclosure. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
The aviary is home to a number of exotic birds from Southeast Asia. Critically endangered, it is believed that fewer than 100 Bali starling living are living in the wild. [Two Bali starling hopped around the feeding area over the wooden balustrade, Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Just a short walk from Admiralty station, most bird photography enthusiasts can easily carry their telephoto lens to the aviary at Hong Kong Park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Pheasants can also be found in the aviary. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Red lory is one of the many colourful birds found in the aviary. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
The Olympic Square features an 880 people amphitheatre. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
The “Fighting SARS Memorial Architectural Scene” is erected to commemorate the frontline healthcare workers who lose their lives in the SARS epidemic in 2003. The installation features bronze busts of eight sacrificed medical workers carved by artist artist Chu Tat-shing. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
105 steps will take visitors up to the Vantage Point for a panoramic view of the park and beyond. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The Vantage Point offers a great lookout to the surrounding urban scenery of Admiralty and Central. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Looking over Admiralty, the 5 star hotels above Pacific Place, Government Offices, and Lippo Centre line behind Hong Kong Park and its 1400 sq.m Forsgate Conservatory. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Further west of Lippo Centre, the former Tamar Royal Navy base, Bank of America, Bank of China and Citibank Tower complete the skyline of Admiralty. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Right across Cotton Tree Road stands the beautiful Murray Hotel, a well known adaptive reuse project by Norman Foster. Built in 1969, the 27-storey government building was successfully converted into a 5-star hotel and opened in 2018. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]

ZOOLOGICAL & BOTANICAL GARDENS (兵頭花園), Central (中環), Hong Kong

Famous for its restless and often stressful urban living, sparing the time to take a walk in the park can be a luxury for many Hong Kongers. In fact, many may not even notice the existence of parks and gardens in the business district of Hong Kong. Behind the towering skyscrapers of Central (中環), a rather hidden 5.6 hectares area on the slope of Victoria Peak stands the oldest public park in Hong Kong. Long before the city was promoted as a shopping paradise, or a foodie haven of Michelin star restaurants, or a recreational hub of amusement parks and vibrant nightlife, or an exotic destination of subtropical beaches and seaside hiking trails, Hong Kong Botanical Gardens (香港植物公園) was one of the primary tourist attractions in the Victoria City. Founded in 1864 and completely opened to the public in 1871, the gardens was established in times when botanical gardens were founded by colonial powers in different locations around the world. The Hong Kong Botanical Gardens was used by the British as a regional hub to study plant species collected from the Far East before transferring back to the Kew Gardens in England, or before planting at other areas in Hong Kong.

Bounded by Garden Road (花園道), Robinson Road (羅便臣道), Glenealy (己連拿利) and Upper Albert Road (上亞厘畢道) in the Mid-Levels (半山), Hong Kong Botanical Gardens is often referred to as Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) by the locals. Literally means “Head of Soldiers” Garden, “Bing Tau Fa Yuen” references to the former Governor’s House built at the Garden’s location. In 1975, the official name of the Gardens was changed to Hong Kong Zoological & Botanical Gardens (香港動植物公園), as a result to the growing collection of display animals. Despite initial researches of botanical science (which led to the founding of Hong Kong Herbarium in 1878) at the Gardens, most people would remember the Gardens as a place to check out animals and floral displays. Though the history of how the Gardens had played a role in botanic research for tree planting on the Hong Kong Island shall always be remembered. After all, transforming Hong Kong Island from a barren and rocky island with no forests, no trees and only grass in the 19th century (resulted from centuries of reckless deforestation) into the relatively lush green metropolis that we see today was no small feat.

Situated right across from my primary school, Bing Tau Fa Yuen is an essential part of my childhood memories. Going to Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) to check out the howler monkeys, orangutans, peacocks and even jaguars was a small after-school treat for me as a child. Every spring, Azalea (杜鵑花) would flourish across the park, attracting a large crowd to take selfies. Many years have gone by and the neighborhood has significantly transformed since my childhood’s time. Though the annual blossom at Bing Tau Fa Yuen is one of the few things that could remain unchanged throughout the years.

Hong Kong Botanical Garden and the slope of Victoria Peak in the 19th century. [Album of Hongkong Canton Macao Amoy Foochow, photograph by George Ernest Morrison, 1870’s, Public Domain]
Today, behind Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Victoria Peak is almost completely concealed by highrise residential towers. [Junction of Garden Road and Upper Albert Road, 2021]
The subtropical climate of Hong Kong is suitable for a wide range of trees and plants to flourish. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens near Glenealy, 2020]
At the Glenealy entrance, the roughly 100 year old White Jade Orchid Tree (Michelia x alba 白蘭樹) is about 34m tall. It is one of the tallest trees in Hong Kong. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens near Glenealy Entrance, 2021]
Beyond the Gardens and Upper Albert Road, the business district of Central is just a stone throw away. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens at Upper Albert Road, 2021]
Renamed as Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, the park is also well known for its animals, including monkeys, apes, birds, and reptiles. The renowned Siu Fa, a jaguar who lived in the Gardens for 20 years until her death in 2008, was the last big cat kept at the park. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
With the spatial limitation of the Gardens, keeping large mammals such as the Bornean Orangutans is controversial. As awareness of animal welfare has risen in recent years, let’s hope the authority and zookeepers would soon shift their efforts from confining exotic animals to conserving local wildlife and natural ecosystem. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
There are also a number of cages of birds on display, including a small group of American Flamingo. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Apart from animals and birds, the Gardens is much more popular for its seasonal flower blossoms. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Different types of Azalea (杜鵑) blossoms transform the Gardens into a colourful paradise in March. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Different species of Hibiscus (大红花) can be found all over the Gardens. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Commonly known as pinkball, Scarlet Dombeya (吊芙蓉) is a highlight at the Gardens in early April. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
It’s just flowers everywhere in spring at the botanical garden. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Native to South America, the Red-veined Abutilon or Red-vein Chinese-lantern is commonly used in horticulture. The flowers are also edible, raw or cooked. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Every visitors love the Scarlet Flame Bean or Brownea coccinea. Native to Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, Scarlet Flame Beans are now cultivated in many tropical countries. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Late March and early April is the best time to check out the Scarlet Flame Bean. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Away from the flower beds and bird cages, an old stone wall tree stands quietly near Robinson Road. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Built in 1866, the Pavilion between the Fountain and the bird cages is the oldest structure in the Gardens. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
Even if one is not after the flowers or animals, Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) is a great place to just sit down, relax, and do nothing. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The centerpiece of the Gardens is undoubtedly the Fountain. The fountain that we see today is the 5th generation that was erected in 2010. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Built in 1868, the first generation fountain was a landmark and a well known tourist attraction of Colonial Hong Kong. The Victoria Harbour and Governor House once dominated the view behind the fountain of the Botanical Garden. [Photo by Lai Afong, 1860-1880, public domain]
The Fountain was once a well known landmark of Hong Kong frequented by tourists. [Old postcard of the Fountain, copyright expired, 1900’s]
Sometimes, art installations would be set up at the Fountain Terrace, such as this bamboo structure designed by architects Impromptu Projects from Macau [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The Fountain has become a peaceful landmark in the Mid Levels. Original fountain was built in 1864, and has been altered subsequently with the last renovation in 2010. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
Spring is the best season to visit the Gardens due to the annual blossoms of Azalea (杜鵑花). [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
At the heart of the Gardens, a grand stair lead visitors from the fountain to the statue of King George VI. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Sculpted by Gilbert Ledward, the bronze statue of King George VI, father of the Queen Elizabeth II, was constructed to commemorate the centennial of the British Colonial Hong Kong. The statue was commissioned in 1939 and erected at the Gardens in 1958 after disruption from WWII. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
A greenhouse near Garden Road is home to a number of dedicated plants. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Erected in 1928, the Memorial Arch was dedicated to the Chinese who lost their lives during WWI. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The 100-year-old Stone pillars mark the entrance of the Gardens. [Upper Albert Road entrance, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The same old stone pillars marked the park entrance 120 years ago in this photo. [Old postcard, copyright expired, 1900’s]
Across from the entrance stone pillars stands the former Governor’s House and the skyline of Central. [Upper Albert Road entrance, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The former Govrenor House now stands silently across the street from the Gardens. [Upper Albert Road, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]

STONE WALL TREES (石牆樹), Central-Western District (中西區), Hong Kong

Entangling roots stretch across the surface of granite walls might remind people of the Ta Prohm Temple at Angkor Wat instead of the city of Hong Kong. Commonly known as “Stone Wall Trees” (石牆樹), the urban scenery of Chinese Banyan (Ficus microcarpa 細葉榕) enrooted on historical granite walls is a unique scene in Hong Kong, especially in Central-Western District where the heart of the old Victoria City was located. In 1841 when the British first landed in Hong Kong, the bare, rocky and hilly terrain of the island posed a huge challenge for establishing a settlement. Apart from land reclamation along the coast, the British also create habitable land by constructing flat terraces on the slope of Victoria Peak (Tai Ping Shan 太平山). From the mid 19th century onwards, local granite was used to construct retaining walls for the terrace constructions. To make the relatively bare island more habitable, trees were planted across the city to provide shade and visual interest. Many foreign tree species from other British colonies such as India and Australia were brought to Hong Kong. Due to its suitability to the local climate and ability to grow rapidly, Chinese Banyan (細葉榕) were widely planted. From these banyan trees, birds and bats ate the figs and spread the seeds all over the city, and into stone joints of the retaining walls. This led to the birth of the stone wall trees.

In 1996, scholar C.Y. Jim found 1275 trees with 30 or so species on about 505 stone walls. Ficus Microcarpa or Chinese Banyan is the most common type of stone wall trees. With hardly any soil to clinch into, these banyans take the wall as their host and spread their intertwining roots on the stone surfaces. After 50 to 100 years, these banyans gradually mature into shading crowns that we see today. Many of these old stone wall trees have survived to the present day, especially in Central – Western District which contains the city’s largest concentration of stone wall trees. The emergence of stone wall trees in Hong Kong, however, was no coincidence. Perfect climate conditions, suitable stone wall surface, and some good fortune of surviving the WWII when many old trees were cut down by the Japanese for timber, all played a part in the story of stone wall trees. After WWII, stone was soon replaced by concrete for retaining wall construction. Concrete walls left little room for new trees to enroot themselves by chance. After a few generations, the resilient stone wall trees have become iconic features for various old neighbourhoods.

Despite over a century serving to improve the micro-climate of the city, cultural and ecological significance of the stone wall trees have gone unnoticed until the recent two decades. In light of the government’s intention to demolish the former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) and its iconic stone wall trees in 2005, the local resident group “Central and Western Concern Group” was formed to fight for preserving the stone wall trees as well as the heritage building. Not only has their effort succeeded in convincing the government to preserve the PMQ, they have also increased the public awareness of the stone wall trees. In 2007, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) decided to relocate a proposed exit for the new Kennedy Town Station in order to preserve the stone wall trees at Forbes Street. The admirable effort decisively preserved the largest concentration of stone wall trees in Hong Kong. Though not all cases were success stories. In 2015, five 150-year old stone wall banyans at Bonham Road were fell sneakily overnight, just because one of their neighbouring trees toppled some time ago due to heavy rain. In name of public safety, the five healthy trees were cut down before the arrival of a potential typhoon. No detailed study was made before the decision, and that particular typhoon didn’t even come close enough to pose any thread. The hasty action of the government led to a huge loss for the community and sparked public outcry. More and more people become aware that there is an urgent need to develop a strategic plan for protecting these unique urban stone wall trees before it is too late.

With a crown stretching over 28m, the Rubber Fig at Lugard Road on the peak of Tai Ping Shan is a popular attraction for selfies. Origin from India and Malaysia, Rubber Fig (Ficus elastica, 印度榕) were planted in Hong Kong to provide shade during the colonial era. [Lugard Road (盧吉道), The Peak (太平山), 2021]
The aerial roots of Chinese Banyan may look out of place in the city. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
An old Chinese Banyan is a great shade provider. [Hollywood Road Park, (荷李活道公園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2020]
The old Chinese Banyans in Blake Garden define the tranquil character of Po Hing Fong in PoHo, Sheung Wan. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2020]
The odd gesture of the Chinese Banyan in Blake Garden is said to be resulted from a typhoon. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
With a crown spread of 28m, the enormous Chinese Banyan in Blake Garden stands like a giant. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Chinese Banyan is native in China, tropical Asia and Australia. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Chinese Banyan is very versatile and can enroot in a wide range of urban setting, including manmade slopes in the city. [Victoria Road, Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), 2020]
Quite a number of Chinese Banyans have become stone wall trees. [Tank Lane (水池巷), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Stone wall trees form a unique urban scenery in the Central Western District in Hong Kong. [Between Bonham (般咸道) and Hospital Road (醫院道), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
All residents in the Central Western District are used to having the stone wall trees around. [High Street (高街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
Stone wall trees are great to provide shade along narrow sidewalk where there is absolutely no room for tree planting. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
The entangling roots is part of the urban scenery. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
Wherever there is retaining wall and terraced alleyway, there would be stone wall trees. [Tai Pak Terrace (太白臺), Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), 2020]
In many occasions, the stone wall tree is inseparable with the history and heritage of the stone wall itself. Built in 1850, this stone wall has supported the terrace for the Anglican Bishop’s House and the old St. Paul’s College for 170 years. [Ficus virens (大葉榕) at the Bishop House and St. Paul College, Lower Albert Road (下亞厘畢道), Central, 2021]
Local efforts to save the stone wall trees at the former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) in 2005 have raised public awareness on preservation of heritage buildings and old trees. [Stone wall trees and retaining wall of the PMQ along Hollywood Road (荷李活道), Central, 2020]
In 2015, five 155-year old stone wall trees at Bonham Road (般咸道) were sneakily cut down by the government in midnight. The move has sparked public outcry, especially from the immediately neighborhood. Since then, new branches have emerged from the tree stumps, once again providing shade for the bus stop below. [Junction of Centre Street and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Inflected by fungus Phellinus noxius, a prominent stone wall tree over Hospital Road (醫院道) has been diagnosed with Brown Root Rot Disease. The tree is now at risk of structural deterioration and failure. [Near the junction of Hospital Road and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Manmade structural supports have been installed recently to secure the inflected stone wall tree. [Near the junction of Hospital Road and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
The 27 banyan trees at Forbes Street (科士街) is one the largest groups of stone wall trees in Hong Kong. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
In 2007, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) decided to relocate a proposed station exit in order to preserve the stone wall trees at Forbes Street. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
The penetrating ability of their roots make Chinese Banyans the perfect species to thrive on stone walls. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
Built in the 1890’s, some say the Chinese Banyans at Forbes Street were planted intentionally to strengthen the stone retaining wall. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
Another well known cluster of stone wall trees is found at King George V Memorial Park (佐治五世紀念公園) in Sai Ying Pun (西營盤). [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
King George V Memorial Park is located across the street from Tsan Yuk Hospital The park’s retaining walls is famous for the stone wall trees. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Built in 1936, King George V Memorial Park was built following the death of King George V of Britain. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
35 stone wall trees lined along the retaining walls of King George V Memorial Park. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
With a football pitch, childcare centre and seating areas, the park is a popular destination in Sai Ying Pun. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The atmospheric park entrance is a popular spot for film shooting. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The Chinese Banyans provide pleasant shade for the exercise terraces along Hospital Road. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
After 85 years, the metal plaque is almost covered by the banyan roots at King George V Memorial Park. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]

NoHo & SoHo, Central – Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

Linking a number of tourist attractions like Tai Kwun, PMQ and Man Mo Temple, Hollywood Road is always popular for tourists in Hong Kong. While tourists come for the historical attractions, many locals, on the other hand, come to Hollywood Road for food and drinks. South of Hollywood Road, the narrow Staunton Street (士丹頓街) was once home to wet market vendors, trading offices, family-run stores and small Buddhist convents (庵堂). In fact, Staunton Street was once nicknamed the Street of Buddhist Nuns (師姑街). After the Central – Mid Levels Escalators opened to the public in 1993 and brought an influx of pedestrians from the business district downhill, Staunton Street and the adjacent Elgin Street(伊利近街) have quietly undergone a dramatic transformation. Expatriates started to move into the area. Old shops and Buddhist convents were gradually replaced by bars, pubs, restaurants, comedy clubs, cafes, and wine shops. In 1996, Thomas Goetz, a restaurant owner from Elgin Street, came up with the acronym “SoHo” (蘇豪) for this new entertainment and dining area of Central, referring to the location “South of Hollywood Road”. From then on, the Staunton Street that I used to go as a child to get fresh grocery and pay ritualistic respect to my grandfather at a small Buddhist convent has silently disappeared. Today, SoHo would remain sleepy most of the day, and then bursts into life after sunset. The yell of market vendors and pungent incense smoke have been replaced by causal giggles and laughter, and the smell of beer.

Further away from the Central – Mid Levels Escalators and less than 150m northwest of the buzzing SoHo, Gough Street (歌賦街), Kau U Fong (九如坊) and Aberdeen Street (鴨巴甸街) offer a much more laid-back and tranquil ambience. Once home to family run shops and small printing presses, these sleepy back streets have become a hipper cousin of the nearby SoHo. Known as NoHo for “North of Hollywood Road”, this area is particular attractive to locals who come for the foodie scene: Chinese cuisine, dai pai dong dishes, beef brisket noodles, Japanese ramen, sushi, Western fine dining, unadon, Vietnamese pho, hand-drip cafes, bubble tea, chocolate, etc. Despite its abundance of dining options, the shops here remain small and peaceful. Compared to its noisier neighbour, NoHo is much more low key, as if deliberately staying away from the public limelight. Here visitors would enjoy a sense of discovery and intimacy that is hard to find anywhere else in Central.

Looking down from PMQ, the stepped Shin Hing Street (善慶街) marks one of the entrances into Gough Street from Hollywood Road. [Junction of Hollywood Road and Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
An old furniture store still occupies the corner of Hollywood Road and Shin Hing Street. [Top of Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Many love the tranquil and “European” feel of NoHo, which is a rarity in urban Hong Kong. [Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Art installation related to the history of Sun Yatsen, the Father of Modern China, has become a playground for children. [Junction of Shin Hing Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Before the pandemic, the steps of Shin Hing Street was often turned into a stepped seating and drinking area in the evening and during weekends. [Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
At Mee Lun Street (美輪街), a small ladder street just a few shops away from Shin Hing Street, a simple dai pai dong street eatery has been a pedestrian magnet for years. Opened in 1959, Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) dai pai dong is a big attraction in NoHo. Before the pandemic, there would always a long queue (mainly tourists and young couples) whenever the eatery is opened. [Junction of Mee Lun Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
One of the most famous dishes at Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) is tomato beef and egg noodles. [Junction of Mun Lun Street and Gough Street, NoHo,Sheung Wan, 2020]
Sasa the cat of Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) is a popular member of the Mun Lun Street neighbourhood. Without tourists during the pandemic, Sasa got a little more freedom to linger around. When the eatery is busy and all seats are taken, the owner would take Sasa back to their apartment nearby. [Junction of Mun Lun Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Kau Kee Beef Briskets(九記牛腩) is another tourist favourite in NoHo. Kau Kee’s business during the pandemic is greatly affected. [Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Apart from food, design shops such as Homeless offers another crucial aspect of urban living in Hong Kong. [Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
One street downhill from Gough Street, Kau U Fong (九如坊) offers another clusters of tranquil options for foodies. [Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
As chill as SoHo but with smaller crowds, that is the real beauty of NoHo. [Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In recent years, one of the most well known establishments in Kau U Fong is The Chairman (大班樓), a Michelin 1-star Chinese restaurant that uses mostly organic ingredients from small local suppliers and fishermen. [Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The most famous fish at The Chairman is undoubtedly steamed crab in aged Xiaoxing wine with Chan Village rice noodles. [The Chairman, Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Perpendicular to Gough Street and Kau U Fong is the sloped Aberdeen Street. Despite its slope, the street is also filled with new restaurants and cafes, including Tenkai, a Japanese fine dining restaurant specialized in tempura omakase. [Aberdeen Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Further downhill, the more causal Ode has also attracted a constant queue outside. The restaurant is specialized in ramen in sea bream fish broth. [Aberdeen Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The relatively new and sleek looking Aesop store at Gough / Aberdeen Street is a neat addition to the NoHo neighbourhood. [Junction of Aberdeen Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan,2020]

***

Near Hollywood Road, the vivid wall paintings at Graham Street remind visitors that we are now about to enter an interesting and fun neighbourhood. [Junction of Graham Street and Hollywood Road, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Since 1993, the world’s longest covered escalator system has brought tens of thousands of pedestrians up and down the slope of Central, from 34,000 daily usage in 1996 to about 85,000 in 2010. This influx of energy has directly contributed to the development of the SoHo District. [Junction of Shelley and Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
The Central – Mid Level Escalators was the unexpected driving force behind the creation of the entertainment district of SoHo in Central. [Junction of Shelley and Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Restaurants and bars cascade up along the escalator system of Shelley Street. [Shelley Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
Staunton has become the central axis of SoHo entertainment district. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Staunton Street ends at Old Bailey Street where Tai Kwun, the former Central Police Headquarters is situated. [Junction of Staunton and Shelley Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
A simple restaurant serving British food marks the eastern entrance of SoHo at Old Bailey Street. [Junction of Old Bailey and Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
From crafted beer to high end whiskey, sake, and wines, Staunton Street offers plenty of options to anyone looking for fun after work. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
A constant queue from morning till dusk, Bakehouse is the clear winner of SoHo during the Covid 19 pandemic. Operated by Grégoire Michaud, a renowned baker who has an impressive resume of work experiences in high end hotels and restaurants, the famous bakery has become an urban sensation in the past few years in Hong Kong. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
The former shops and Buddhist convents below old apartment blocks have been converted into restaurants and bars. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2021]
The ambience of Staunton Street would dramatically transformed as evening approaches. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2021]
One street further uphill from Staunton Street, Elgin Street is also at the heart of the bar hopping circuit of SoHo. [Elgin Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Like other old neighborhoods in Hong Kong, there is a deity shrine in SoHo that protects all in the community. [Junction of Staunton and Peel Street, Soho, Central, 2021]
Across from the shrine, a bar specialized in shesha water pipes has an interesting wall painting at its door. [Peel Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
During the Covid 19 pandemic, many bars and pubs were asked to temporarily close their doors. The restaurants remain opened have to follow strict regulations for number of customers per table, distance between seats, shorter opening times, stringent mechanical requirements for air changes, regular disinfection of spaces, etc. [Peel Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
SoHo is not all about fine dining and bar hopping. Other businesses such as custom tailor and second hand bookstore have also left their marks. [Flow Books, Hollywood Road, SoHo, Central, 2014]
The true beauty of SoHo is about how people with different backgrounds may come and mingle in a few small streets uphill from the business district of Central. [Flow Books, Hollywood Road, SoHo, Central, 2014]

VICTORIA PRISON (域多利監獄), Tai Kwun (大館), Central (中環), Hong Kong

The former Victoria Prison or Gaol is the third main component of the Tai Kwun Centre of Heritage and Arts. Built in August 1841, some say the prison was the first permanent Western architecture constructed in Hong Kong. It served as the city’s first prison until 2006, when the complex was decommissioned for good. Today, the prison halls are largely preserved as listed historical buildings. Some are opened to the public to showcase the history, while some are being converted into restaurants and bars. But it’s the Prison Yard, the tranquil courtyard in the midst of the prison compound that is the real gem. Under the shade of Frangipani and Candlenut trees, movable beach chairs are provided for relaxation. In the evening, the courtyard is dimly lit to maintain a peaceful ambience.

At either end of the Prison Yard, renowned architect Herzog de Meuron has left their mark by erecting two cubic structures that appear to be floating in mid air above the prison walls. Serving as a theatre, one of the cubic structure is known as JC Cube. The other cube, named JC Contemporary, is a sleek looking museum of contemporary art. Beneath the JC Cube lies the stepped plaza Laundry Steps, where movie screening and live performances would regularly be held. Echoing the brick and stone masonry of the heritage structures, the cast aluminium facade of the cubic structures offer a dramatic contrast between the old and new.

If the Parade Ground courtyard at the lower platform is reserved for the vibrancy of retail and dining activities, the Prison Yard at the upper platform is all about the venues for cultural exhibitions and performances. While the Central Police Headquarters on Hollywood Road and Central Magistracy on Arbuthnot Road were all about establishing an authoritative image to the public, the unpretentious buildings of the Victoria Prison, which have been walled off from the city ever since 1841, offers the perfect setting for contemporary culture and architecture to establish a new identity for the compound. Converting the cold prison blocks into a welcoming urban oasis has so far proven to be successful.

Earlier versions of Victoria Prison have long gone, including the one with a radial plan dated to 1858. [Photo: University of Bristol – Historical Photographs of China reference number: NA16-009. Image from an album in The National Archives. 1860’s]
Today, the JC Contemporary cantilevers over the granite walls of Victoria Prison and red brick facades of the Central Police Headquarters along Old Bailey Street. [Tai Kwun at junction of Old Bailey Street and Staunton Street, Central, 2021]
At the junction of Old Bailey Street and Chancery Lane, the Blue Gate (now painted green) marks the main entrance of Victoria Prison. From my childhood home just a dozen of steps away, my curiosity would explode whenever a police truck arrived with new prison inmates. Back in the 1980’s, the prison was actually used as a transit and repatriation centre for Vietnamese refugees. [Blue Gate of Victoria Prison at junction of Old Bailey Street and Chancery Lane, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The southern extent of Victoria Prison is bounded by the granite wall along Chancery Lane. [Prison wall at Chancery Lane, Central, 2021]
I remember most walls of the Victoria Prison were topped with glass pieces when I was a child. Today, only a small amount of glass is left. [Former prison wall at Chancery Lane, Central, 2021]
The JC Cube overhangs beyond the prison wall along Arbuthnot Road. [Tai Kwun at Arbuthnot Road, Central, 2021]
From Central Magistracy, a small chapel decorated with wall paintings marks the entrance vestibule into the former Victoria Prison. [Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
Herzog de Meuron chose a cladding design contrasting to the heritage masonry buildings for the new cubic buildings. [Former Victoria Prison, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The Victoria Prison was damaged during WWII, and has gone through extensive restoration after the war. [Hall B, Victoria Prison, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Hong Kong was declared a port of first asylum for Vietnamese refugees. The prison was used as a transit and repatriation centre. [Former Victoria Prison, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The Victoria Prison has imprisoned all kinds of people in its 165 years of history, including some well known figures such as Vietnamese revolutionary and politician Ho Chi Minh. [Former prison hall, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
One of the prison buildings was used to showcase projections of Chinese and Italian sword fighting techniques as part of the Way of the Sword: Warrior Traditions in China and Italy exhibition. [Former prison hall, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The Laundry Steps serves as a connection point between the platform of Central Magistracy and Prison Yard. [Laundry Steps, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
Beneath the JC Cube is Laundry Steps, a welcoming stepped plaza designated for live performances. [Laundry Steps, Tai Kwun, Central, 2020]
The Laundry Steps is a great place for movie screening. [Laundry Steps, Tai Kwun, Central, 2020]
During the pandemic, beach chairs were removed from the Prison Yard. Only the Frangipani and Candlenut trees remain as the main features of the courtyard. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
Live performances would occasionally be held at the Prison Yard. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
Built in 1913, and modified in 1931 and 1948, Hall F was considered to have less historical value compared to other buildings in the compound. Left of Hall F is the passageway leading to the Blue Gate. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
Built in 1858, the 3-storey D Hall of former Victoria Prison is the oldest surviving structure in Tai Kwun. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
The first floor of D Hall was once used as a hospital and psychiatric ward, while the second floor housed youth detainees. Today, the ground floor is converted into a causal restaurant managed by a NGO. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2020]
Design by Herzog de Meuron, a cast aluminium cladding system made from recycled vehicle wheels in Australia is used for the outer skin of JC Contemporary and JC Cube. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The slit of glazing reveals the spiral stair up to the exhibition floors of the JC Contemporary. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
A minimalist base of concrete and glass lifts the JC Contemporary up beyond the prison wall. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The spiral staircase in the JC Contemporary is a popular selfie spot today. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
Wet Feet_Dry Feet:Borders and Games by Belgian artist Francis Aly was one of the many exhibitions hosted at the JC Contemporary recently. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, March 2021]
The small Artist’s Book Library on the second floor of JC Contemporary is a pleasant place to take a break. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]

CENTRAL POLICE HEADQUARTERS & MAGISTRACY, Tai Kwun (大館), Central (中環), Hong Kong

In the business district of Hong Kong, it is always an uphill battle to preserve a heritage building against the power of urban development. The former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) is a rare exception, and so as the former Central Police Station Compound just a few blocks down Hollywood Road. In the past two years, the most exciting new attraction in Hong Kong has to be Tai Kwun (大館). Consisted of 16 heritage buildings, 2 courtyards and 2 new structures, Tai Kwun is the the largest heritage and art compound in the city. Literally means “big station” in Chinese, “Tai Kwun” refers to how people used to call this former police compound over a century ago. Today, Tai Kwun is home to art and history exhibitions, outdoor performances, a 200-seat auditorium, design shops, restaurants and bars. Perhaps everyone acknowledges that there isn’t much old Hong Kong left to see nowadays, that’s why Tai Kwun has become an instant hit on Instagram and made it onto Time magazine’s list of World Greatest Places when the compound first opened to the public in 2018.

The story of Tai Kwun dates as far back as 1841, the year when the British first set foot in Hong Kong. On the slope of Tai Ping Shan in Central, Captain William Caine who also served as Chief Magistrate and Head of Police and Gaol chose the current site bounded by Hollywood Road (荷李活道), Old Bailey Street (奧卑利街), Chancery Lane (贊善里) and Arbuthnot Road (亞畢諾道) to build the city’s first prison, police station and magistracy office all in one compound. Expansions and alterations of the splendid compound gradually establish the authority of the colonial police force upon the public. Most buildings were erected before 1925, despite expansions and alterations continued to transform Tai Kwun well into 1950’s. For 160 years the compound served as Central’s law enforcement hub until 2006 when the compound was finally decommissioned. In 2007, conceptualization of the Tai Kwun revitalization project began to take shape. Construction and conservation work began in 2011 and took 8 years to complete. After spending HKD 3.7 billion from the Hong Kong Jockey Club charity trust, Tai Kwun finally opened its doors in May 2018.

As a child having lived for a decade at the intersection of Old Bailey Street and Chancery Lane just 10m away from the Blue Gate of Victoria Prison, entering the walled compound that has been off limits to the public for the last 160 years has been quite special to me. I used to walk past the prison along Chancery Lane and imagine what might lie on the other side of the high stone wall topped with pieces of broken glass. As the revitalized Tai Kwun unveiled its mysterious face, my childhood curiosity has finally been fed. It is delightful for me to see that Tai Kwun has been carefully preserved, restored and everyone, including me, can finally see, touch and enjoy whatever that are taking place at both sides of the prison walls.

The compound is defined by three main groups of buildings: Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. Buildings of the Police Station cluster around the Parade Ground courtyard at the lower platform, while the prison structures stand around the Prison Yard at the upper platform. The beautiful Magistracy building is situated in between at the middle platform. [Visitor centre display shows the three areas of Tai Kwun: Police Station in blue, Magistracy in orange, and the Prison in yellow, 2021]
A pedestrian footbridge links up Tai Kwun with the Central – Mid Levels Escalator. [Junction of Old Bailey Street and Hollywood Road, 2020]
The once tranquil Old Bailey Street has seen its streetscape dramatically developed into a welcoming pub scene. [Tai Kwun at seen from Old Bailey Street, 2020]
The Central Police Headquarters building along Hollywood Road is seen as the poster child of the compound. [Tai Kwun as seen from Hollywood Road, 2021]
From Hollywood Road, a sloped lane leads visitors up to the Parade Ground courtyard. [Tai Kwun as seen from Hollywood Road, 2021]
No longer in use, the front entrance of the Central Police Headquarters on Hollywood Road reveals the colonial power of the British government. [Tai Kwun at Hollywood Road, 2021]
Classical style was used in to impose a powerful image upon the public. The Central Police Headquarters was the first attempt by the colonial police force to establish its authority to the city. [Tai Kwun as seen from Hollywood Road, 2021]
Designed by British architect Leslie Owen Ross, the Central Police Headquarters represented the authority of law and order with classical motifs such as fluted columns and lion decorations. [Tai Kwun as seen from Hollywood Road, 2021]
The former inspector residences define the corner of Arbuthnot Road and Hollywood Road. [Junction of Hollywood and Arbuthnot Road, 2021]
Built in 1914, the Central Magistracy stands as the most prominent structure on Arbuthnot Road. Just like Central Police Headquarters, the court house adopted a classical approach to establish its powerful image to the public. [Near junction of Hollywood and Arbuthnot Road, 2021]
The year 1914 was clearly marked on the keystone of the Central Magistracy. [Near junction of Hollywood and Arbuthnot Road, 2021]
Canton red bricks were used extensively for Central Magistracy and Central Police Headquarters. [Arbuthnot Road, 2021]
Inside the compound, an arched doorway divided the Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. [Outside Central Magistracy, Tai Kwun, 2020]
The decorative entrance of the Central Magistracy is carefully preserved. [Central Magistracy, Tai Kwun, 2021]
The entrance of the Central Magistracy is now a hot spot for taking selfies. [Central Magistracy, Tai Kwun, 2021]
At the former Central Police Headquarters, the Parade Ground courtyard served as the main event and parade space for the colonial police force. Now, it has become the main event space for Tai Kwun Heritage and Arts Compound. [Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2019]
Standing at the west side of Parade Ground is the former Armoury building. Now, it has become a bar popular with tourists and expatriates. [Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2018]
The Parade Ground is also a designated spot for setting up large Christmas trees in Central. [Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2020]
During the Covid 19 pandemic, public performances are occasionally held depending on the temporary regulations during the time. Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2019]
During weekends, performances at Parade Ground are often catered for families and kids. [Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2021]
Inside the Central Police Headquarters, fluted columns and decorative mouldings filled the space with a strong colonial setting. [Interior of Central Police Headquarters, Tai Kwun, 2020]
Iron stair railing and floor tiles are preserved inside thee Central Police Headquarters. The building is now used to house heritage display, temporary exhibitions, restaurants and shops. [Interior of Central Police Headquarters, Tai Kwun, 2020]
In 2018, the first exhibition at Central Police Headquarters focused on old businesses in the surrounding neighbourhood. [Interior of Central Police Headquarters, Tai Kwun, 2018]
Footbridges at each level connect the Police Station area with the Victoria Prison. [Tai Kwun, 2021]
During Chinese New Year, the alleyway separating the Ventral Police Headquarters and the Victoria Prison would be filled with red lanterns. [Tai Kwun, 2020]