ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Wanchai District

FELINE SHOPKEEPERS (貓店長) 2, Hong Kong

A few years ago, Dutch photographer Marcel Heijnen published a beautiful photo book Hong Kong Shop Cats. The book was an instant hit and captured the heart of people both in Hong Kong and abroad. Lovely images of cats and shop owners with backdrops of traditional shops in Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun manifest a certain universal charm even for non cat lovers. It is the affection between shop cats and their owners that truly touch people, revealing a kind of human-animal bonding enrooted in the old shopping streets of Hong Kong. In the old neighborhoods, shop cats that linger at shopfront often become magnets that draw people from close and afar. Thanks to the social media, some celebrated shop cats (and owners) are even appear in foreign magazines or websites. While the need of mouse catching fades, the role of shop cats have shifted to sunbathing at shopfront, napping on cashier counter, patrolling the back alleys, and serving as social ambassadors to promote the business.

Other than old dried seafood or herbal medicine shops, cats also fit in well with all sort of businesses in the younger generation. Recent TV shows “Cat Shopkeepers” reveal that shops cats have become quite a phenomenon spreading to many businesses: bookstores, cafes, gyms, music schools, nail polishers, design shops, dance studios, musical instrument workshops, you name it. The cool yet lovely character of cats somehow become a perfect compliment to the warm-hearted and neighbourhood friendly identity of local small business. For returning customers or chance pedestrians, surprised encounters of shop cats may feel like discovering some sort of momentary antidotes to their otherwise stressful and monotonous daily life.

Tin Yin Coconut Co. (天然椰子號) has been around in North Point (北角) since 1964, from just a coconut supplier to selling all sort of Indonesian spices, condiments and snacks. Three cats (“Black Pepper”, “Turmeric”, “Satay”) accompany Amy, the lady shop-owner daily in the shop. But only “Black Pepper” would linger at the front desk to greet customers. [Marble Road (馬寶道), North Point (北角), 2020]
Tin Yin Coconut Co. (天然椰子號) has moved to a new store on the same street recently. “Black Pepper” still sleeps through most of the day while customers picking spices and snacks around him. [Marble Road (馬寶道), North Point (北角), 2021]
Ming Kee Southern Goods (銘記南貨店) at Sai Ying Pun is a traditional condiment store that we frequently visited. This is where we get our local cooking wine, soy sauce, oyster sauce, fermented bean curd, etc. Another reason is to check out the their big and friendly cat. [Third Street (第三街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
A bowl of grass is often available as a special snacks for the cat to clear its stomach. [Third Street (第三街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
As a “southern goods” store (南貨店), Ming Kee sells all sort of traditional condiments and food products that are originated from south of Yangtze River. The cat is guarding one of the most popular seasonal merchandises: the Chinese Mitten Crabs (大閘蟹) from Shanghai that are available in the autumn. [Third Street (第三街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun are known for the dried seafood shops that have been around for decades, when the Triangular Pier (三角碼頭) served as a main trading port in Hong Kong. Hundreds of trading companies were situated around the pier, including many dried seafood shops. Today this area is known as the Dried Seafood Street (海味街). Dried Seafood Street (海味街) has become a popular place to spot some of the more well known shop cats whose images have gone viral on the Internet. [Ko Shing Street (高陞街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
In many occasions, visitors would find a rather sleepy shop cat at the Dried Seafood Street (海味街). [Des Voeux Road (德輔道西), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Near the junction of Sutherland Street and Des Voeux Road West, Dai Lee Hong (大利行) dried seafood shop also has its celebrity cat known as “Fat Boy” (肥仔). [Sutherland Street (修打蘭街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Apart from Apart from dried seafood, herbal medicine, nuts, spices and condiments are also popular in the Dried Seafood Street (海味街), such as Wing Shun Lei (永順利) dried herb shop. The beautiful cat Gum Gum (金金) of Wing Shun Lei is one of the many neighbours of “Fat Boy” (肥仔). [Sutherland Street (修打蘭街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Another cat Ting Ting (丁丁) sometimes takes the night shift to “guard” the back door of Wing Shun Lei (永順利). [Sutherland Street (修打蘭街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
The cat at Guang Chong Hong (廣昌行), another herbal medicine in the area, loves to nap at the shopfront no matter how busy the street gets. [Queen’s Road West (皇后大道西), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Sometimes, it would be waken by curious pedestrians who couldn’t resist petting its head. [Queen’s Road West (皇后大道西), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
A little further uphill from Sheung Wan, a beautiful cat is waiting for its owner at a hair salon window. [Po Hing Fong (普慶坊), Sheung Wan (上環)]
The top of Ladder Street is home to a shy shop cat belonged to the street eatery Glorious Fast Food (輝煌快餐店). [Junction of Caine Road (堅道) and Ladder Street (樓梯街), Sheung Wan (上環), 2020]
Old restaurants and eateries are also good places to find shop cats, whose mice catching instinct is a big asset for the business. [Luen Wah Cafe (聯華茶餐廳), Centre Street (正街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Even household hardware shops are cat friendly these days. [Lockhart Road (駱克道), Wanchai (灣仔), 2020]
And so as household appliance shop… [Marble Road (馬寶道), North Point (北角), 2021]
Sam Kee Bookstore (森記圖書) at Fortress Hill (炮台山) is a peaceful bookstore at the basement of a small shopping arcade. Apart from its good selection of books, Sam Kee is also well known as a sanctuary for a dozen or so stray cats. [King’s Road (英皇道), Fortress Hill (炮台山), 2020]
The lady shop owner adopted the cats one by one simply because they have no where to go. [King’s Road (英皇道), Fortress Hill (炮台山), 2020]
These cats are used to be left alone. A sign saying “Sorry, please don’t play with cats” remind customers not to play with the cats. [King’s Road (英皇道), Fortress Hill (炮台山), 2020]

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.


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.
Image
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