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.
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.
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.
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.
Before the event, pro-democratic rallies and banners lined up along the main routes leading to the entrance of Victoria Park in Causeway Bay.
A replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue was erected in the centre of the venue.
A democratic activist held up a 1989’s newspaper while speaking out to the audience.
The slogans “Rectify the June Fourth Incident” and “Fight till the End” were put up as the stage’s backdrop.
The crowd was peaceful and solemn throughout the night of commemoration.The last slide on the stage: “See you next year at Victoria Park”.
Departing crowd lined up to photograph the Goddess of Democracy statue.
The leaving crowd and pro-democratic groups packed the streets near Victoria Park.
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.
Completed 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.
Subtropical vegetation, including this famous Indian Banyan tree, provide shading for most of the ring path.The lookouts along Lugard Road offer some of the most iconic views of Hong Kong.
The path that leads up to No. 27 of Lugard Road.
Alliance for a Beautiful Hong Kong is gathering support for a petition to revoke the project.
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.
Apartment blocks of Wah Fu Estate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many shops, stalls, and buildings have been vacant out awaiting for demolition.
Street vendors closing down their stalls at sunset.
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.
龍脊 – Dragon’s Back is a scenic trail along the ridges of folding mountainsNo 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.
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.Aerial view to the Big Wave Bay (Tai Long Wan), a popular surfing spot in HK.