ultramarinus – beyond the sea

HK Island

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.

 

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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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