ultramarinus – beyond the sea

HK Island

TAI TAM COUNTRY PARK (大潭郊野公園), Hong Kong

Occupying about one fifth of area of Hong Kong Island, Tai Tam Country Park is one of the more accessible hiking destinations in the city.  The park is famous for its four reservoirs.  Built in 1888, 1904, 1907 and 1917 respectively, the Tai Tam Upper Reservoir (大潭上水塘), Tai Tam Byewash Reservoir (大潭副水塘), Tai Tam Intermediate Reservoir (大潭中水塘) and Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir (大潭篤水塘) served as the major water sources for Hong Kong Island in the early 20th century.  These reservoirs are surrounded by a series of green hills, including Mount Parker (柏架山), Mount Butler (畢拿山), Violet Hill (紫羅蘭山), and Jardine’s Lookout (渣甸山).  A series of hiking trails wind through the hills and pass by the reservoirs, making the country park a popular hiking destination in Hong Kong.

DSC_8917One of the trailheads begins at Mount Parker Road, at a densely populated area of Quarry Bay and just a stone throw away from Taikoo Place, a busy business district in East Hong Kong Island.

DSC_8922 The country park provides a decent view for the adjacent residential developments.  Built in 1989, the five 34-level towers of Mount Parker Lodge (康景花園) present some of the most typical private residential developments for the city’s middle class.

DSC_8924Looking over to Taikoo Place, the 69-storey One Island East Tower rises above the densed residential neighbourhood of Quarry Bay.

DSC_8931.JPGOpposite to Quarry Bay and Taikoo Place, the second highest peak of Hong Kong Island, Mount Parker, is marked by the observatory station.

DSC_8934To the south we were treated with the scenery of Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir and Tai Tam Bay.

DSC_8936As we reached the lookout of Mount Butler, we were treated with the view of Quarry Bay, Taikoo Place and the distant Kai Tak runway and East Kowloon.

DSC_8941A series of four water bodies make up the group of Tai Tam Reservoirs.

DSC_8943Looking west we could see the silhouette of Wanchai and Central in the haze.

DSC_8957Completed in late 1980s, the 18-tower Hong Kong Parkview (陽明山莊) is a luxurious residential and service apartment complex right by the country park.

DSC_8958We walked from the lookout of Mount Butler down to Wong Nai Chung Gap.

DSC_8959Soon we came to a lookout over Tai Tam Reservoir.

DSC_8964Looking northwest through Wong Nai Chung Gap (黃泥涌峽), the valley in the middle of Hong Kong Island, we could see the International Commerce Centre (ICC) and East Tsim Sha Tsui across Victoria Harbour.

DSC_7192Constructed between 1883 to 1888, the Reservoir Dam and Valve House of Tai Tam Upper Reservoir (大潭上水塘) were among the first phase of reservoir construction in Tai Tam.

DSC_7169The original dam was 30.5m high and 122m long, connected to a network that brought water through tunnels and aqueducts all the way to Central.

DSC_8974On our way down to Wong Nai Chung Gap (黃泥涌峽), we passed by a former granite quarry.

DSC_8970The old quarry is now occupied by the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Depot where the police deals with explosives.

DSC_8985Hong Kong Parkview (陽明山莊) is famous of its surrounding scenic views, and also its occasional break-ins.

DSC_8992We exited the country park near Wong Nai Chung Gap.  So we came to the historic Wong Nai Chung Reservoir (黃泥涌水塘).  Built in 1889 as Hong Kong’s third reservoir, Wong Nai Chung Reservoir has been used as a boat park for 30 years from 1986 to 2017.

DSC_8997Wong Nai Chung Reservoir is one of the six pre-war reservoir groups in the city.


MULTIFACETED URBAN LIVING, North Point (北角), Hong Kong

Thanks to various influxes of immigrants from Mainland China in the 20th century, North Point (北角) was listed on the Guinness Book of Records as the most densely populated place in the world at the end of the 1960’s .  Today this may not be the case anymore, but this old neighborhood in northeast Hong Kong Island remains complex and bustling with life.  While many urban spaces in the area have gone through dramatic transformations in recent years, a number of vintage buildings and old streets remain.  From the foot of Braemar Hill (寶馬山) to the Island Eastern Corridor (東區走廊) along Victoria Harbour, and from the 100-feet-wide thoroughfare of King’s Road (英皇道) to the narrow market street of Chun Yeung Street (春秧街), North Point is always teeming with life.  Take a stroll through its old neighborhoods is like meandering through traces of Hong Kong’s urban and social evolution from the early 20th century to the contemporary moment.

DSC_6683The Island Eastern Corridor (東區走廊) marks the northern boundary of North Point along the waterfront of Victoria Harbour.  Opened in various phases during the 1980’s, the Island Eastern Corridor is a viaduct expressway built along the Victoria Harbour from Causeway Bay to Chai Wan.

DSC_6682Many dislike the idea of having an elevated expressway along the waterfront.  Proposals are being made to enhance the pedestrian experience along the harbour by introducing a seaside promenade.

DSC_6664Many people walk out to the pile caps of Island Eastern Corridor to take in the panoramic view of Victoria Harbour, Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and Kowloon Bay.

IMG_0447Quite often during the week, the pile caps of Island Eastern Corridor serve as ideal platforms for leisure fishing.

DSC_6686Perched above the sloped street of Kai Yuen Street (繼園街) is a peaceful neighborhood of old tenement houses, or tong lau (唐樓).

DSC_6691Isolated from the bustling life of North Point below, the tranquility of the Kai Yuen Street neighborhood is a rarity in the area.  Like most of Hong Kong, this hidden neighborhood is changing fast with several 30+ storey apartments are under construction at lower Kai Yuen Street.

DSC_6693Throughout the years, the peaceful ambience of Kai Yuen Street has attracted a number of celebrities, including author Eileen Chang (張愛玲) and painter Zhang Daqian (張大千).

DSC_6697Down at King’s Road (英皇道) in the heart of North Point, the Sunbeam Theatre (新光戲院) has been around since 1972 as the primary venue for Cantonese opera.  It was established by the Shanghainese emigrants who came to Hong Kong after the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

DSC_6702The protruding signage of the Sunbeam Theatre (新光戲院) is an iconic feature on the King’s Road (英皇道), a 100 ft wide vehicular road built in honour of  the Silver Jubilee of King George V of Britain in 1935.  Another feature on the King’s Road is undoubtedly the Hong Kong tramway, one of the earliest public transportation in the city since 1904.

DSC_6748A few blocks away from Sunbeam stands another historical building, the State Theatre (皇都戲院).  Its original functions are long gone.  In recent months, the State Theater is caught between the controversy of demolition/ preservation.

DSC_6750Converted from a former Clubhouse of the Royal Yacht Club, the Oil Art Space (油街實現) is a community art centre.

DSC_6751Built in 1908, the building served as the Clubhouse of Royal Yacht Club until 1938, when the building lost its waterfront location after numerous land reclamation.

DSC_6709There are a number of street markets remain in Hong Kong.  The one in North Point stretches along two narrow streets: stalls selling dry merchandises on Marble Road Market (馬寶道), and fresh produces, meat and seafood on Chun Yeung Street (春秧街).

DSC_6885Chun Yeung Street Market (春秧街) is the most interesting street in North Point.  Also known as Little Shanghai and Little Fujian, the street market has a high concentration of immigrants from the Mainland since the mid 20th century.

DSC_6889In late afternoon and early evening, Chun Yeung Street is full of life.

DSC_6891DSC_6897There is so much going on on Chun Yeung Street. While one side of the street is busy with grocery shoppers, the other side is packed with stalls selling clothing and toys.

DSC_6912The most iconic scenery of Chun Yeung Street Market is the moving tram along the street centre.  Since 1953, trams have been running through the Chun Yeung Street Market.  To remind pedestrians of the approaching tram, the tram drivers often make the iconic “ding ding” horn whiling driving through the market.

DSC_6926The tram terminus “North Point” is located at the end of the Chun Yeung Street Market.  Despite slower than other means of transportation, taking the tram remains one of the best ways to explore North Point.

 


BRIEF TASTE OF MOUNTAIN AND SEA, Pottinger Peak (砵甸乍山) to Shek O (石澳), Hong Kong

When we are short of time but still want to have a brief getaway from the city of Hong Kong, we often hop on a bus to Siu Sai Wan (小西灣), a relatively new residential district at the eastern end of Hong Kong Island for a short hike over Pottinger Peak to the cozy surfing beach of Big Wave Bay (大浪灣) and Shek O (石澳).  The hike takes a little over an hour, and is relatively simple, involving two sections of stepped path, one going up the Pottinger Peak and one descending down to the beach.  No matter how many times we have walked this route, it was always a pleasant surprise to reach the top of the Pottinger Peak and have the first glimpse of the turquoise water south of Hong Kong Island.

DSC_2899The trail begins in Siu Sai Wan (小西灣), a residential neighborhood at the eastern tip of Hong Kong Island.

DSC_2917Looking north during the ascend to the Pottinger Peak, the Victoria Harbour outside of Junk Bay (將軍澳) is busy with cruise ships and boats of all sorts.

DSC_2919Looking down from the uphill trail, the residential area of Siu Sai Wan looks quite densely populated.

DSC_2924 croppedWatching beautiful butterflies hopping between flowers is a pure delight.

DSC_2931Looking south from Pottinger Peak, the peninsula of Shek O and Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲) lie right ahead.

DSC_2933A ruined shelter on Pottinger Peak has been used as a temporary shrine.

DSC_2934It seems that the temporary shrine is dedicated to Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.

DSC_2936Walking ahead, one can clearly see that much of the seaside land between the Big Wave Bay and Big Wave Bay.

DSC_2944On the downhill route, there are several Camellia trees (茶花) by the trail. 

DSC_2947The stepped path continues to the hill adjacent to the Big Wave Bay.  The noise of the crowds and public announcement from speakers can be heard long before we reach the beach.

DSC_2948.JPGBig Wave Bay (大浪灣) is a decent little beach at the southeast of Hong Kong Island.

DSC_2949The natural rock formations around the area of Big Wave Bay are quite interesting.

DSC_2955Though the beach can get a little crowded during summer weekends.  For the rest of year, it’s popular for surfers.

DSC_2967Some prefer to stay away from the crowds on a rocky slope near a BBQ site.

DSC_2985For families, small streams out to the sea can be an interesting playground with small fish and seaside creatures.

DSC_7696About half an hour of walk south of Big Wave Bay, there is a Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲), a tied island linked to the mainland of Shek O Village by a tombolo.  On the tombolo, a narrow blue bridge is built for pedestrians who wish to visit Tai Tau Chau.  The area is popular for couples taking wedding photos.

DSC_8048At one side of the tombolo, a peaceful tidal pool acts like a perfect mirror.  The colours of the rocks around the pool reveal the varying water level from time to time.

DSC_7698The coastal granite of Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲) are quite interesting after so many years of natural erosion and carving by the waves.

DSC_7740Despite the occasionally scary waves at this part of Hong Kong, many still brave the danger and climb onto the uneven coastal rocks for wedding photos.

DSC_7816The waves at Tai Tau Chau are beautiful but also terrifying sometimes.

DSC_7885Like the Geoparks in Sai Kung and Northeast New Territories, the coastal rocks at Tai Tau Chau are quite unique.

DSC_8856Just a stone throw from Tai Tau Chau lies the bigger beach of Shek O, a really popular outdoor destination for city dwellers of Hong Kong.

 


OCEAN PARK (海洋公園), Hong Kong

With 7.6 million admission recorded for year 2013-14, Hong Kong’s Ocean Park is considered to be the biggest theme park in Asia.  Since 1977, the Ocean Park had been attracting locals and tourists with its amazing aquariums, zoological facilities, amusement rides, shows and entertainment attractions.  With 91.5 hectares of land, the site is defined by two main areas: Waterfront and Summit, separated by the lush green hills of Nam Long Shan.

It has been 19 years since we last visited Ocean Park.  A revisit of the park after two decades was quite interesting for us.  In the old days, the park was renowned for its amusement rides, and shows of dolphins, sea lions and the orca named Miss Hoi Wai (海威小姐); today there are exotic animals and more cool amusement rides but Miss Hoi Wai was long gone.  Back then, the park served mainly the local Hong Kongers; now over half of the visitors are from mainland China.  As awareness of wildlife conservation grew in recent years, the park has also included educational interpretation for visitors.  However, as documentaries like The Cove and Blackfish which reveal the cruel reality of marine theme parks, visiting a place like the Ocean Park has become a controversial matter. There are increasing concerns over keeping wild animals in captivity while advocating wildlife conservation through its funded programs and educational interpretation throughout the park

We spent the entire day wandering around Ocean Park, first at the lower Waterfront area checking out the splendid underwater world of the Grand Aquarium and the rare mammals including giant pandas, red panda and golden snub-hosed monkey from the Chinese Province of Sichuan pavilion and the Giant Panda Adventure pavilion.  We then took a short cable car ride over Nam Long Shan to arrive at the Summit Area, where the distant scenery of Deep Water Bay and Aberdeen were equally impressive.  Up on the Summit, amusement rides and wildlife exhibitions scattered upon several platform levels.  We managed to see a number of wildlife exhibits before dusk, ranging from marine animals like jellyfish and sharks; freshwater fish like Yangtze sturgeons and Amazonian pirarucu; penguins, seals and walrus from the Arctic and Antarctic, etc.  We took the relatively new Ocean Express funicular back down to the Waterfront area, where we made a brief visit to the children friendly Whiskers Harbour and enjoyed the last moments of the Symbio, a show that featured a 360 degree water screen, lighting effects and fireworks at the Lagoon by the  park’s main entrance.

As we exited Ocean Park, we passed by the near completed MTR station.  After new features have been added in recent years, Ocean Park is soon to go through another phase of transformations: first will come the convenience of the subway station, and second the highly anticipated Tai Shue Wan Water World, projected to be completed in 2018, almost two decades since the last water park closed its doors.  Surviving through difficult economic times and competition from Hong Kong Disneyland Park, the ever-changing Ocean Park proved its resilience and ambitions.  In 2012, it received the Swedish Applause Award, a highly regarded international prize in the theme park industry.

3A Bathed in mysterious blue light, schools of silvery fishes swim in circles in a multi-storey glass cylindrical tank.  It is visually impressive and attracts all visitors’ attention at the Grand Aquarium designed by architect Frank Gehry.

2Red panda and giant panda at the Giant Panda Adventure pavilion.

3BThe cable car which links the Waterfront and Summit areas is an attraction by itself.  The relaxing 15 minutes ride offers spectacular views of Deep Water Bay and South China Sea.

4The Sea Jelly Spectacular pavilion display over 1000 sea jellies.

1Splendid jellyfish glows under the special lighting.

5Visitors walking through the glass tunnel while a rare Chinese sturgeon swims by in front.

6“I’m FINished with fins” – A smart slogan to request people to refrain from consuming shark fins.  Such education is crucial in Hong Kong where shark fin soup is still a luxurious delicacy in the banquet menu, even though there is increasing awareness among the younger generation.  Years ago documentary such as Sharkwater has already explained the devastating consequences to the marine ecosystem on earth as the result of massive demand and consumption of shark fins

7Close encounter with sharks at the Shark Mystique.  Sharks are one of those animals often got misunderstood.

8Amazonian pirarucu in the Rainforest Pavilion.  These giant freshwater fish can grow up to 4.5m long.

9Pacific walrus at the Polar Adventure pavilion.

10The South Pole Spectacular pavilion features king penguins, southern rockhopper penguins and gentoo penguins.

11Amusement rides are popular attractions at the Summit, including the “Hair Raiser”roller-coaster.

12Partial view of the Summit area.

13At Pacific Pier pavilion, a curious sea lion interacts with a spectator by following the visitor’s hand motions on the other side of the glass.

14Ap Lei Chau, Ap Lei Pai and Lamma Island at dusk.

15[left] a moon hanging above the Ocean Park Tower with slowly rotating viewing platform; and [right[ a seahorse decoration at the Ocean Express funicular station.

16“Whirly Bird” chair ride beyond the Ocean Express funicular station.

17Trampoline performance.

18[left] Cable cars bring visitors back to the Waterfront area from the Summit area in the evening when approaching closing time; [right] the light decoration of a small ferris wheel lit up in the evening at Whiskers Harbour.

19When the kids’ zone Whiskers Harbour left alone without kids.

20 A wooden horse of a carousel in Whiskers Harbour.

21 Water, fire, light and fireworks are the main components of the 360° water screen show Symbio.


TAI HANG FIRE DRAGON, Hong Kong (Part 2 of 2)

The fire dragon dance happened over three consecutive nights in the Tai Hang neighborhood.  On the night of the Mid Autumn Festival, and the second night of Tai Hang Fire Dragon celebration, the performance would take place in both Tai Hang and Victoria Park, where the annual lantern festival was held.  After the fire dragon performers left Tai Hang for Victoria Park, the residents and local business owners in Tai Hang continued their celebration by taking over the streets in small groups, doing barbecue, having a few rounds of beer, playing with glow sticks and lanterns, and mingling with neighbors and new acquaintances under the flickering candle light.

In the Victoria Park, visitors packed the football fields to attend the lantern festival, taking photos in front of the large lantern displays.  At the other side of the park, families, children, couples and friends gathered in small groups on the grass field, having picnic, playing with lanterns, and marveling at this year’s super full moon (tradition of Mid Autumn Festival since ancient times).

1After the fire dragon dance was over in Tai Hang, Wun Sha Street, the main street in the neighborhood, was left quiet again.

2Community celebrations continued on the laneways after the fire dragon left Tai Hang.

3Barbecue was popular for celebrating the Mid Autumn Festival among local businesses in Tai Hang.

4In the good old days, playing with candles and paper lanterns on the street was popular among kids.

5The street became a secret garden for kids playing with their colourful glow sticks.

6Adults and kids had different ways celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival.

7This ice-cream store offered special mooncake flavour ice-cream.

8At the entrance to the Fire Dragon Path was a large sign for celebrating the 136th Tai Hang Fire Dragon Festival.  The Fire Dragon Path connects Tai Hang with the Victoria Park.

9A full moon rose between clouds over Fire Dragon Path.

10The festive Lantern Festival at Victoria Park included large lanterns and a fair selling traditional snacks and local crafts.

11When the fire dragon dance entered Victoria Park, the lights dimmed and all eyes were at the dragon performance.

12Traditional red lanterns were hung over the football fields of the Victoria Park.

13Many large lanterns were on display at the lantern festival, and this one made by traditional craftsman was the centerpiece of the show.

14Families and friends gathered on the grass field,

15Illuminating a paper lantern is wonderful way to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.

16Everyone had their own design for their little moon viewing spot.

17Despite the fact that there were thousands of people celebrating together on the green field, there was a sense of tranquility in the dark embraced by the soft light from candles and colourful glow lights.

18Across the street from Victoria Park, the traditional signage of Tai Hang’s Fire Dragon Dance Festival reminded everyone that the dance would be held again the following night.


TAI HANG FIRE DRAGON, Hong Kong (Part 1 of 2)

Every year during the Mid Autumn Festival, three consecutive nights of fire dragon dance illuminates the streets of Tai Hang, a residential neighborhood near the shopping and entertainment district of Causeway Bay.  For 136 years, the fire dragon dance has been an annual local ritual since 1880, originating at a time when Tai Hang was a Hakka fishing village.  Local legend has it that there was a year when Tai Hang was hit by typhoon and plague.  In order to tackle the plague, a soothsayer suggested to organize the fire dragon dance for three nights during the Mid Autumn Festival.  The villagers did what was told.  After the dance, the plague miraculously receded.  Since then, the fire dragon dance has continued year after year into modern days, and gradually evolved into a renowned event organized by the Tai Hang Residents’ Welfare Association, attracting spectators from all over the city.

1The fire dragon dance is mainly performed on Wun Sha Street (the main street in Tai Hang), and paraded through a number of streets and lanes in the neighborhood, including Lily Street where the historical Lily Temple (Lin Fa Kung -蓮花宮) is located.

3Back on Wun Sha Street where the centre stage of the dance is held, different groups of performers in traditional costumes gather in unique formations for the various scenes in the fire dragon dance.

4 Dance performers include local children and elderly.

6The main performers are undoubtedly the hundreds of Tai Hang boys, who hold up the 67m dragon.

13Made of 32 segments of dried weed and burning incenses, the fire dragon presents a rare glimpse of authentic heritage in the contemporary urban context of Hong Kong.

16Leading by the two dragon balls, one of the main focus of the fire dragon dance is the dragon head.

9Led by the dragon head, the dance performs throughout the upper and lower sections of Wun Sha Street for over an hour.

7Dragon dancers run up and down the 200m+ Wun Sha Street, rhythmically swinging the dragon body under the beat of the Chinese drum.

5The dragon dance is a collective endeavour that involves sweat and muscles of Tai Hang boys.

20While the dancers parade the dragon, hundreds of spectators and photographers gather along Wun Sha Street competing for a good spot.

10Towards the end of the dance, performers carry the dragon back to the mouth of Wun Sha Street, where they perform the dragon coil one last time.

12The dancers gradually move the dragon body to form a circular coil, symbolizing unity and harmony of the community.

15The entire dragon dance includes a combination of quick and slow moves. Under moments of quick drum beats, the fire dragon appears dancing up and down in mid air.

18The rhythmic dragon dance is directed by the Traditional Chinese drum music squad.

17Before the end of the dance, all performers, including the children in traditional costumes, parade through Wun Sha Street once again greeting farewell to the spectators.

11After the farewell greetings, the dancers perform a few minutes of “encore” performance.

19At the end, dancers pull out the incenses from the back of the dragon and give them out to spectators as souvenirs.


LUNAR NEW YEAR FAIR, Victoria Park, Hong Kong

Going to a flower fair (花市) or new year fair (年宵) on the Lunar New Year’s Eve is a common tradition in Hong Kong.  Among all flower fairs in the city, the one at Victoria Park 維園 in Causeway Bay is the biggest and busiest.   Nowadays, all sorts of merchandises are being sold in the flower fair, from fresh flowers to traditional snacks, classic New Year’s gifts to trendy toys, and just about anything that may make one laugh.  Never mind the crowd.  The later it gets into the night the more fairgoers flock into the park.  It’s the joyful atmosphere, the sense of participation and the feel of being jammed in the mass that draws friends, families and couples to visit the fair every year.  It is the prelude of Spring holiday, and the biggest party in Hong Kong to welcome the lunar new year. 2Floral colour was the first thing that caught the eyes of fairgoers when entering the park. 1Peach blossom has always been the most iconic flower of the Chinese New Year. 3Other than peach, water narcissus, pussy willows, lilies, and orchids were among people’s favorites. 4 New Year Fruits might look funny but its golden colour made it a delightful New Year’s decoration at home. 5Shoppers often compared prices and the qualities of flowers from one vendor to another. 6Traditional snacks and sweets attracted both tourists and local visitors. 7 The fair get much busier as the clock edged closer to midnight. 8aIn recent years, the Lunar New Year’s Fair at Victoria Park has become a testing ground for young entrepreneurs and amateur designers, many of whom are students from universities or secondary schools. 9aStuff toy and cushions are common in the fair. 10Young vendors make their best effort to capture fairgoers’ attention. 11Popular slang in Cantonese inspired a whole lot of fair merchandises. 12Some vendors positioned themselves in the middle of the aisle to advertise their booths. 13To stand out among the vendors was not an easy task. 14Among all the new merchandise this year, the cola-like stuff toys with trendy slogans made the news by walking the thin ice of copyright infringement. 15Other than young vendors, many politicians and political parties also had booths set up in the fair.  Some politicians made new year couplets as free gifts for supporters. 16Satirical merchandises targeting the chief executive of Hong Kong CY Leung could be found throughout the fair. 17Merchandise related to the Umbrella Movement (Occupy Central) reminded us the delicate political situation of Hong Kong in recent months. 18Other politically charged merchandise include the inflated fence (related to the protests of Umbrella Movement) and the thick toast (related to a recent conflict between the locals and visitors from Mainland China). 19Many merchandise reflected a considerable level of disapproval of the current government.  Nonetheless, most fairgoers did put aside their political differences and anguish in order to enjoy a night of joy. 20The fair at Victoria Park lasted until dawn of the Lunar New Year’s Day.


TEMPLE, CHURCH, MOSQUE – Houses of God on the Mid Levels, Hong Kong

Since the completion of the Central-Mid-Levels Escalators and Walkway System in 1993, the Mid Levels in Central and Sheung Wan have undergone series of urban redevelopment. Several architectural gems dated back to the era of Victoria City survive to the present days. The co-existence of these religious buildings reflects a diverse demography that once resided in the neighborhoods on the Mid Levels over a century ago.

Man Mo Temple
Among all religious buildings on Mid Levels, the most well known is Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan. Just like any other man mo temples in a Chinese city, Man Mo Temple is dedicated for the God of Literature and Martial, to whom people pray for success in their academic studies. Built in 1847, Sheung Wan’s Man Mo Temple is still popular with worshipers, especially among parents who pray for their kids to thrive in the competitive environment of Hong Kong.
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Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Opened in 1888, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is the main Roman Catholic Church in the city. It replaced the first catholic cathedral of Hong Kong that once stood at Wellington Street and Pottinger Street. In the embrace of residential towers and the Caritas Compound (a community centre operated by the Catholics), the cathedral and its surrounding grounds are always shielded off from traffic and daily business, like a spiritual oasis welcoming anyone who thirsts for a moment of serenity.
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Jamia Masjid Mosque
Known as the first mosque in Hong Kong, the original Jamia Masjid Mosque was built at around 1849 to serve the Indian Muslims who worked for the colonial government and other British establishments in Central.  The current building was built in 1890.  Embraced by tall apartment buildings, the mosque maintains its modest presence with its entrance right by the Mid Levels Escalator. Although not opened to the public, the building occasionally hosts open day events for visitors who are interested in the mosque’s history and Islamic beliefs.
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SEA OF CANDLES – June 4th Candlelight Vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong

June Fourth.  A quarter of a century on, a solemn candlelight vigil is held at this very night in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park every year since 1989.  Hong Kong and Macau are the only places in China where citizens can openly commemorate the June 4th Incident.  This year, over 180,000 people participated in the event, the biggest crowd ever.

It was a night with fine weather.  Songs were sung.  Rallies were shouted.  Tears were shed.  Symbolic rituals were held.  Age of participants ranging from under 10 to well over 80, a diverse crowd came together for the purpose of rectifying the June Fourth Incident and rallying for democracy and freedom. That evening, 180,000 candles flickered in the summer breeze, lit up the six football pitches of Victoria Park into a sea of light.

ImageBefore the event, pro-democratic rallies and banners lined up along the main routes leading to the entrance of Victoria Park in Causeway Bay.
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ImageA replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue was erected in the centre of the venue.
ImageA democratic activist held up a 1989’s  newspaper while speaking out to the audience.
ImageThe slogans “Rectify the June Fourth Incident” and “Fight till the End” were put up as the stage’s backdrop.
ImageThe crowd was peaceful and solemn throughout the night of commemoration.ImageImageImageImageThe last slide on the stage: “See you next year at Victoria Park”.
ImageDeparting crowd lined up to photograph the Goddess of Democracy statue.
ImageThe leaving crowd and pro-democratic groups packed the streets near Victoria Park.Image


27 LUGARD ROAD – Controversy at the Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

Walking along the paved ring path of Lugard Road and Harlech Road at the Victoria Peak is probably the most popular short trail for viewing the magnificent skyline and natural setting of the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula.  It is accessible from the city either by a short ride on bus, microbus, taxi, car or tram, or on foot with a one-hour uphill hike.  Well signed and shaded, the hour-long stroll on the ring path is pleasantly suitable for all.

Since September last year, Lugard Road came under spotlight for a controversial development project that could see the century-old Edwardian mansion of 27 Lugard Road converted into a luxurious hotel.  The new acquirer of the property had already gained approval from the government despite public outcry in objection to the proposal.  Apart from the major renovation and additions to the historical building, the proposal also introduces some form of shuttle service for future guests staying in one of the 17 hotel rooms.  There is pubic concern for the now pedestrian-friendly road to be taken over by cars. Some parts of the road are already too narrow for small cars. How to manage regular traffic on the narrow Lugard Road without compromising pedestrian safety is one of the biggest concerns from the public.

In the past few months, Alliance for a Beautiful Hong Kong has been gathering support for a petition to revoke the project.  This organization raised concern about waste management and pollution generated from both the construction and operation of the business.  Surrounded mostly by Pok Fu Lam Country Park, the immediate area of Lugard Road belongs to a crucial green network at the centre of the Hong Kong Island which acts like a backyard of the downtown core.  The recent approval to the hotel project seems to signal and welcome future development near the greenbelt. Grounded on these worries, any negative environmental impact resulted from the project may represent a hefty loss for the public.

ImageCompleted in 1919, Lugard Road was originally built as a scenic promenade.  With the narrow width, the road can hardly serve as a proper road for vehicles.
ImageSubtropical vegetation, including this famous Indian Banyan tree, provide shading for most of the ring path.ImageThe lookouts along Lugard Road offer some of the most iconic views of Hong Kong.
ImageThe path that leads up to No. 27 of Lugard Road.
ImageAlliance for a Beautiful Hong Kong is gathering support for a petition to revoke the project.
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DEITY GARDEN & FU GUI SWIMMING CLUB – Ad Hoc Space Making in Wa Fu Estate, Hong Kong

Built in mid 1960s at the southwest end of Hong Kong Island, Wah Fu Estate is one of the first public housing projects in Hong Kong based on the modern housing concept  which introduces elevators in high-rise apartments  and standard facilities such as toilet,  kitchen and balcony in each individually owned unit.  In recent years, housing officials have been busy coming up with renewal proposals aiming at increasing the capacity of Wah Fu as part of the solution in tackling the ongoing shortage of affordable housing in Hong Kong.

Situated at the southwest corner of Hong Kong Island, Wah Fu Estate enjoys a dramatic seaside setting, with Lamma Island clearly in sight across the water to the south.  Along the shore lies a strip of park called Waterfall Bay Park.  Throughout the years, the park has become a prominent communal feature for Wa Fu and the adjacent Wa Gui Estate.  In addition to the facilities built by the government, there are two interesting examples of ad hoc space making within the park.

About 30 years ago, a number of Wah Fu residents began to abandon and leave their traditional deity porcelain figures on a slope in the park; some of which belonged to their deceased family members. Those porcelain figures were mostly used for either decoration or for worshiping at home. As the numbers of porcelain figures began to accumulate in the park, someone had a brilliant idea of using cement to fix them onto the ground, preventing them from toppling during typhoons. Years after years, an outdoor garden of hundreds of deity porcelain figures was created and has been used by the community as a place of worship. The porcelain figures are all facing the sea. A small pavilion was later added next to the garden.  Today this original “dumpsite” has become an interesting deity garden used by the community as a place of worship and local attraction for tourists.

By the waterfront immediately adjacent to the deity garden stands a small shelter and a sign that says “Fu Gui” Swimming Club, another ad hoc organization established at an unofficial spot by the local  residents from Wah Fu and Wah Gui Estate.  Further into the sea, out on a coastal rock is a small outdoor shrine for worshiping Tin Hau, Goddess of the Sea.  Accessible only via a series of stepping-stones, this once unofficial Tin Hau shrine has earned its official status from the government after bargaining and will stay permanently, according to the local residents.  Together with the deity garden, the Tin Hau shrine is a sacred place and is believed to protect the swimmers and the community. Worshiping at the shrine before swimming in the sea has become a ritual for the swimmers from the “Fu Gui” Swimming Club.

In contrast to the planned redevelopment of Graham Street in Central, residents living further away from the commercial core of the city seem to enjoy bigger flexibility in shaping their own neighborhood.

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Apartment blocks of Wah Fu Estate.
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Years after years, the abandoned porcelain deity figures have become a local garden and a place of worship in the community. With collaborative effort and creativity, the people created an unique identity to their own community.
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On the day I visited the Deity Garden, I met the members from the Fu Gui Swimming Club who were preparing for the annual celebration and offering for the birthday of Tin Hau, Goddess of the Sea, at the small shrine built on a rock. They happily shared with me stories behind the Tin Hau shine and the founding of the swimming club.  The shrine was built to protect the swimmers and community. The experienced swimmers acknowledge that the water between Wah Fu and the Lamma Island is a busy shipping corridor and they would not venture farther than they should.
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Every year the swimmers celebrate the birthday of Tin Hau with rituals followed by an outdoor feast. Roast baby pork was first offered to Tin Hau at the shrine, and then shared among participants. Beer, pop and red wine were drank to wash down the roast park, chicken and other food that were offered to Tin Hau.
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GRAHAM STREET MARKET – Swansong of the Old Central, Hong Kong

On the sloped Graham Street between Queen’s Road Central and Hollywood Road, there is a narrow street market hidden at the back of Central, the old downtown of Hong Kong. The Graham Street Market has been around since 1841 and is the oldest street market in Hong Kong. Personally, this is also the first street market I have ever set foot on when I was a child living in the neighborhood. Today, I re-visited the market with vivid memories of the past. With my camera, I wanted to capture the present moment of the market as it will soon be demolished to make way for new development.

As downtown Hong Kong expands east and west from Central, and the waterfront being pushed continuously out into the harbour, the hidden Graham Street Market could well be off the radar for most people if the Mid-Level Escalator and SOHO entertainment district had never been built. In fact, the covered Mid-Level Escalator that links the affluent Mid-Level to Old Central has been very successful as an efficient pedestrian infrastructure linking different neighbourhoods. It is influential for transforming the urban fabric of the Old Central area in the past two decades to becoming one of the most architecturally eventful areas in the city.

As part of the revitalizing project in Old Central, the Graham Street Market has come into spotlight in recent years. In 2007, The Urban Renewal Authority (URA) announced the three phases of redevelopment in Peel Street and Graham Street that would pretty much put an end to the street market’s century-old story. Because of rising land value and the emergence of SOHO, many parts of the old residential neighborhoods in Central have been transformed into entertainment retails or high-end condominiums. To many, the traditional Graham Street Market remains as the last symbolic stronghold of an authentic, original Central neighborhood. The loss of the Graham Street Market will certainly be bad news for the market merchants. While some are promised with new stores once the project is completed, the majority of the merchants will need to seek relocation. Even with offers for staying do come up, the foreseeable high rents will not allow most of the merchants to continue their traditional businesses that have been around for decades. On the other hand, to some local residents of the 37 buildings affected by the project, whose deteriorating apartments are in almost crumbling conditions, redeveloping the area is inevitable and perhaps not so bad after all.

According to the new master plan published by the URA, the new Graham Street will be made up of “more public open spaces” with a section of street retails, one hotel and two condominium developments. Jane Jacobs, an influential urban critic of the 20th century, may have something to say about such static urban design strategy, especially when a diverse  neighborhood that has gone through over a century of evolution, is suddenly wiped out. The more chaotic, diverse, dynamic and to a certain extent, human and warmhearted Central may live long in the collective memory for many locals, but will soon only exist as nostalgic cinema sets for the generations to come.

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Construction hoardings have been put up in some area on Graham Street. Many vendors continue their businesses selling  different dry goods and fresh food like  meats and vegetable across from the construction site.
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Unlike supermarket, grocery shopping at open street market is a completely different experience. It gives a sense of community and provides opportunities for human interaction. Instead of reading labels on packaging or scanning barcode for information,  Shoppers have to interact and start a conversation with the vendors to inquire about the source of the food or to bargain for a better price. Shoppers also have to put trust on the vendors for picking them to best and freshest of all. It is the kind of casual human interaction that is slowly disappearing in today’s urban society when people all found themselves too busy to talk to each other.
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Many shops, stalls, and buildings have been vacant out awaiting for demolition.
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Street vendors closing down their stalls at sunset.
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SHEK O (石澳) – Walking on the Dragon’s Back (龍脊), Hong Kong

For a city known for long working hours and bustling nightlife, hiking in one of its 24 country parks has quietly emerged as a popular alternative to shopping, karaoke, or watching a movie as a local weekend activity.

On a fine day in early April, I set out on a half day journey to hike in the southern part of Hong Kong Island.  Compared to the northern shoreline of Hong Kong Island where the downtown is located, the south is dotted with sandy beaches and hill forests.  I had a few hours’ time before sunset to do the hike, and I picked the Dragon’s Back hike in Shek O Country Park.  Recognized by some magazines as one of the best urban hikes in Asia, the Dragon’s Back Hike has become really popular among locals and tourists.  Just like many other hikes in Hong Kong, the trailhead of Dragon’s Back Hike can be easily accessed by public transportation.  In this case, the trailhead at To Tei Wan can be reached by frequent public buses from Shau Kei Wan MTR Station.

It took me less than three hours to hike from To Tei Wan to Big Wave Bay, and then another half an hour to walk from Big Wave Bay to Shek O Village.  After reaching the highest point of Dragon’s Back at 284m, the magnificent panoramic view of Shek O and the South China Sea was rewarding.  The descend journey to Bay Wave Bay was largely done in shaded paths.  By the time I reached the renounced surfing beach, the sun was about to set.  I stayed at Big Wave Bay and continued on to finish my journey at Shek O, a mere 20-minute walk from Big Wave Bay.  At Shek O, I climbed onto a rock hill adjacent to the beach to take in the scenery and watched the people enjoying themselves on the beach under the setting sun.

Image龍脊 – Dragon’s Back is a scenic trail along the ridges of folding mountainsImageNo wonder why the undulating hike along the Dragon’s Back ridge has been recognized by guidebooks and magazines as one of the best urban hikes in Asia.  The view toward Shek O Village and Beach, and the rocky islands of Tai Tau Chau and Ng Fan Chau is the biggest reward for climbing up to the Dragon’s Back.ImageImageImage
Paragliding in mid-air or surfing along the Big Wave Bay (Tai Long Wan) – people choose different ways to enjoy themselves outside the city centre.ImageAerial view to the Big Wave Bay (Tai Long Wan), a popular surfing spot in HK.ImageImageImageImageImage


HONG KONG – a New Chapter

Angela and I started “Blue Lapis Road” in 2013 to publish a photo journal of our backpacking trip to South America as we wandered through the vast continent in 90 days.  It has been over 3 months since we left Valparaiso of Chile, the last destination of our S.A. trip.  Since early March, I have relocated to another continent and started a new life chapter in Hong Kong, a city that I was once very familiar with as I spent my childhood here two decades ago.

With vibrate city life, complex social structure, recent colonial memories, multifaceted regionalism, intertwining global cultures, hyper dense neighborhoods, vast countryside, and subtropical beaches, Hong Kong has much more to offer than just fine dining, crazy shopping, and extravagant night life.

In the next chapter of “Blue Lapis Road”, we are going to share with you our explorations in this magnificent metropolis, Hong Kong.

BlueLapisRoad_HK Introduction