ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Kowloon

ROMANTIC SUNSET AND SEASIDE RUINS, Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門), Hong Kong

Known as the eastern gateway of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour (維多利亞港), the sea channel of Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門) is the narrowest point of the harbour between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.  During the British colonial era, defending the channel of Lei Yue Mun was seen vital for the protection of Hong Kong Island.  Military defense had been set up on the hills at both sides of Lei Yue Mun, many of which can still be seen today as historical sites.  The area in East Kowloon around the Lei Yue Mun Channel is also called Lei Yue Mun.  One of the most important villages at Lei Yue Mun is Sam Ka Village (三家村) .  Since the opening of Yau Tong (油塘) MTR Station in 2002, visiting the once remote Lei Yue Mun has became just a half an hour metro ride from Central Hong Kong.  While in the old days Lei Yue Mun was well known for its typhoon shelter and villagers were mainly engaged in the industries of fishery, farming and mining, today when people thinks about Lei Yue Mun the first thing comes to mind is definitely the seafood.  With its picturesque seaside village setting, fantastic lookouts for the sunset, and romantic ruins of the former quarry buildings, Lei Yue Mun has much more to offer than steamed prawns and broiled lobsters.

DSC_5429In the afternoon, seafood restaurant staff were busy preparing for their evening business.

DSC_5431The Main Street at Sam Ka Village of Lei Yue Mun has dozens of seafood restaurants.  Most restaurants install large glass tanks at their shopfront to display their catches of the day.

DSC_5440Beyond the cluster of seafood restaurant, Sam Ka Village is a tranquil village by the sea.

DSC_5451The Lei Yue Mun Lighthouse has been standing at the waterfront for over half a century to guide the sea traffic at the eastern gateway if the Victoria Harbour between Sau Kee Wan (筲箕灣) on Hong Kong Island and Sam Ka Village in Kowloon.

DSC_5454Living by the Victoria Harbour has became a luxury feature for Hong Kong’s real estate.  At Lei Yue Mun, living by the sea literally means having a house exposed to the wind and waves at a few feet above the sea.

DSC_5456Fishing is one of the most popular hobbies for local villagers.

DSC_5497Like many other villages by the sea in Hong Kong there is a Tin Hau Temple in Sam Ka Village.

DSC_5504The semi open forecourt of Lei Yue Mun’s Tin Hau Temple is full of hanging incense.

DSC_5506Behind the Tin Hau Temple, there is a popular fortune teller.

DSC_5517Founded for nearly 150 years, Lei Yue Mun was a village known for agriculture, fishery and mining until the 1960’s.  After gradual decline of the three industries, today’s Lei Yue Mun is best known for its seafood restaurants.

DSC_5532The stone quarry site at the southern tip of Lei Yue Mun has been abandoned since the 1960’s.

DSC_5536Mining has been around in Lei Yue Mun since the 19th century.  In the British era, Hong Kong is well known for its fine grained granite stones.  The ruins at Lei Yue Mun are the remnants of Wong Yin Quarry (旺賢石廠), which was abandoned in 1968 after explosives were banned for mining. 

DSC_5538Ruins of the old jetty, sea walls, stone houses and concrete foundations of the former quarry have became a romantic ruin for all to enjoy.

DSC_5570Young people love to come here to take photos, or just chilled out by the sea.

DSC_5545Some visitors like to climb onto the alcoves on the seaside stone cliffs to have some sober moments by the sea.  Beyond Lei Yue Mun and across the Junk Bay or Tseung Kwan O (將軍澳) stand the new residential developments at Lohas Park (日出康城).

DSC_5583While most were enjoying the sunset or taking selfies at the ruins, a young lady came to one of the stone beaches to collect garbage.

DSC_5603In the late afternoon, even the dogs look truly relaxed at Lei Yue Mun.

DSC_5612While Hong Kong has been known for its materialistic way of living, villagers in Lei Yue Mun seem to maintain a relatively simple lifestyle.

DSC_5621Under the western sun, a swimmer enjoys himself swimming in the Victoria Harbour.  Given the amount of boat traffic in the harbour, swimming in Lei Yue Mun is in fact a dangerous act.

DSC_5633Late afternoon or early evening is definitely the best time to visit Lei Yue Mun’s Sam Ka Village.

DSC_5643Watching the sunset is so popular in Lei Yue Mun, especially for photography enthusiasts.  Most would gather near the lighthouse to witness the sun moving behind the skyline of Sai Wan Ho (西灣河).

DSC_5645The super tall residential developments Grand Promenade (嘉亨灣) look absolutely out of proportion.

DSC_5664As the day’s last twilight fades, a distinct ambiance emerges as the neon signs of the seafood restaurants are being lit up.

DSC_5682In the relaxing atmosphere of Lei Yue Mun, even a dog would wear a bow tie to pose for visitors.

DSC_5691The once vibrant typhoon shelter of Sam Ka Village has became a leisure place for busy Hong Kongers to escape from their daily hassles.

DSC_5705Half an hour after sunset, the neon signs of the restaurants have taken over the night at Lei Yue Mun.  Leaving Lei Yue Mun by boat at Sam Ka Village Pier is the best way to bid farewell.

 

 

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THE BEAUTY OF CHAOS, Street Markets, Old eateries, Heritage Buildings and Calligraphy Signage of Sham Shui Po (深水埗), Kowloon (九龍), Hong Kong

Hong Kong has its charm as a vibrant metropolis and financial hub in the Far East, but it also has its issues of insanely expensive housing and tremendous gap between the rich and poor.  New immigrants, elderly and young people living in bunkers about the size of coffins (known as “coffin homes”) have made the headlines in recent years while at the same time government’s land sales and housing prices have skyrocketed to record levels.   Because of its concentration of inexpensive tiny bunkers and decades-old apartments, Sham Shui Po (深水埗), an old neighborhood in West Kowloon, has often been associated with issues of poverty and urban decay.

With its vibrant street markets selling everything from cheap electronics, second hand appliances, clothing, toys, and a wide range of DIY parts, from buttons and fabrics, to cables and motors, Sham Shui Po seems like one huge flea market.  Beyond the chaotic appearance, however, visitors may find a special nostalgic charm in this neighborhood, with traces of the beautiful old Hong Kong that have been mercilessly replaced by cold and glassy highrises, luxurious malls, and uninspiring chain-stores throughout the city.  A walk in Sham Shui Po is a diverse journey full of chaotic street markets, affordable and unpretentious food, lovely heritage buildings and much more.

01Compared with many upscale residential neighbourhoods and the city’s commercial heart, the streets of the relatively less affluent Sham Shui Po are much more human and pedestrian oriented.

02Sham Shui Po still has a variety of traditional businesses from Old Hong Kong, such as a high concentration of pawnshops.

03Some old apartment flats in the area have been converted to subdivided rental bunkers.  The worst type is called “coffin homes” due to their tiny size similar to real coffins.

04Every view in Sham Shui Po seems layered, chaotic and complicated.

05Quite a number of streets in Sham Shui Po are famous for street markets. Catering for different clientele, each market zone is more or less designated for a distinct type of merchandises.

06Looking from above, the streets of Sham Shui Po seem like an abstract painting composed of rows of colour swatches.

07While the streets are vibrant and chaotic, the rooftop level seems like a totally different world.

08Ki Lung Street (基隆街) is popular with customers looking for DIY supplies for clothing, including fabrics, buttons, ribbons, trims, zippers, you name it.

09Nicknamed Street of Beads, Yu Chau Street (汝州街) is another street in the area famous for DIY clothing accessories.

10Known as the miniature of Sham Shui Po, Pei Ho Street (北河街) is a market street famed for its fine clothing in really affordable prices.

12Another well known market street is Apliu Street (鴨寮街), a large flea market specialized in electronic parts and second-hand electronics.

13There are many stalls at Apliu Street (鴨寮街) specialized in electronic repair.

14Other than shopping, food lovers also have their reasons to visit Sham Shui Po for some of its more small, traditional and down-to-earth eateries that are disappearing fast in other areas of the city.  Sun Heung Yeung (新香園 (堅記)) on Kweilin Street (桂林街) is one of the most popular Hong Kong style cafe in Sham Shui Po, famous for its beef and egg sandwiches.

IMG_0888Established in 1957, another renounced eatery in Sham Shui Po is Wai Kee Noodle Cafe (維記咖啡粉麵 ) on Fuk Wing Street (福榮街).

15Wai Kee Noodle Cafe (維記咖啡粉麵 ) is famous for their beef and pork liver noddles (豬潤牛肉麵) and Coconut Jam French Toast (咖央西多士).

16Kung Wo Dou Bun Chong (公和荳品廠) or Kung Wo Soybean Product Factory is another major attraction for food lovers.

17With over a century of experience, Kung Wo Dou Bun Chong (公和荳品廠) sell all kinds of bean curd or tofu products.

18Even the interior of Kung Wo Dou Bun Chong (公和荳品廠) is full of nostalgic ambience.

19.JPGApart from shopping and eating, Sham Shui Po is also a great place to admire Hong Kong’s old architecture.  The government proposes a series of urban renewal.

20Sham Shui Po still has a considerable amount of tong lau (唐樓) or old tenement buildings with a covered colonnade on street level.  The ground floor was usually occupied by a small shop, such as a pawnshop or food vendor.  This type of architecture once dominated much of Hong Kong before 1960’s.

21The 5-storey Nam Cheong Pawn Shop at 117-125 Nam Cheong Street was built in the 1920’s.  Even the iconic cantilevered pawnshop signage have becoming rarer nowadays.

2258 Pei Ho Street is probably one of the most famous heritage buildings in the area.  Built in 1920’s and served as a pawnshop until the 1970’s, it was then converted into a shop selling dried seafood until present days.

23The curved balcony of 58 Pei Ho Street is quite unique.  The amazing feature window a level above the street is such a lovely design gesture back in the old days when there was less vehicular traffic.

24Old Chinese calligraphy signage can be seen all over the streets of Sham Shui Po.  Before graphics design being computerized, most Chinese signage came from the hands of a professional calligrapher.  Each neighborhood allowed a few calligraphers to earn a living, and each calligrapher had his/her own style.  It’s the individual human touch that makes these calligraphy signage unique, especially in the  age of computerization and standardization.

25Built in the 1940s, Hang Jing Pawnshop is no longer in business.  The colonnaded area is now used as an outdoor workshop of a nearby shop.  On the columns, beautiful calligraphy of the former pawnshop is still visible.

26On the concrete wall of Hang Jing Pawnshop, the old calligraphy set in the plaster represents a bygone era


YEN CHOW STREET HAWKER BAZAAR (欽州街小販市場), Sham Shui Po ( 深水埗), Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, redevelopment of an old neighborhood is often a controversial matter, especially when it involves eviction of existing occupants, or replacing an old neighborhood with new residential towers and shopping malls.  In recent years there has been public concerns regarding the anticipated relocation of the vendors at Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar in Sham Shui Po.

Opening its doors since the 1970s at the intersection of Yen Chow Street and Lai Chi Kok Road, the specialized textile bazaar has been a popular destination for fabric seekers from fashion design students to amateur seamstress throughout the city.  The bazaar stalls are laid out in a grid pattern, under patches of roof covering consisted of corrugated metal and nylon sheets.  A visit to the bazaar is like a treasure hunt that involves meandering through narrow aisles and flipping through piles of colourful fabrics, bags of buttons and rolls of ribbons at each 3m x 3m vendor stall.  The bazaar is chaotic, cramped, dark, and can be stuffy in humid summer days.  Despite its resemblance to a shanty town , the bazaar does not deter anyone who determines to hunt for prizable fabrics and accessories in affordable prices, and to enjoy a disappearing shopping culture that emphasizes human interactions.  It is the type of old school shopping experience in which friendly and long-lasting relationship between returned customers and vendors can be built up over time.

The unique atmosphere, unpretentious setting, and sense of community of the Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar belong to a disappearing Hong Kong.  In a city shaped mostly by retail franchises and real estate developers, and where retail streets and shopping centres are looking more repetitive as ever, small independent businesses and grassroots communities are becoming more vulnerable and helpless in the rapid process of urban development.

1From outside, Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar looks like a shabby village built at a city park.

2Once inside, the chaotic bazaar is a treasure trove for many.

3Fabrics and accessories are piled up high along both sides of narrow aisles.

4Some vendors own multiple stalls.  In many occasions, customers would need to call the owner over from another corner of the bazaar.

5After forty years, a number of the existing trees have become permanent features in the bazaar.

6Each stall has its unique arrangement and textile selection.

7Some stalls even offer sewing service.

8One may wonder how the vendor can keep track of his or her merchandises from the piles of items at the stall.

9Apart from fabrics, ribbons are also popular.

10And so as buttons of different colours and styles.

11Encouraging messages written by customers and supporters for the bazaar vendors are pinned up at a stall.

12Big banner urging for establishing an official textile market at the current location is hung at the bazaar entrance.

13A supporting banner made of fabric strips is also hung at the exterior fence along Lai Chi Kok Road.

14Photos showing the vendor community expressing their unity and determination to fight for their own survival at the current site, in protest to the government’s relocation proposal of the bazaar.


JCCAC – Factory-Turned Art Centre, Hong Kong

Throughout much of the 20th century, Hong Kong has undergone massive economic development and urban transformation, from a small trading port before WWII to one of the most successful industrial capitals in Asia in 1970s.   From 1980s on, most of the city’s manufacturing industries have moved to either China or elsewhere in Asia. Today, large numbers of industrial buildings that once housed almost half of Hong Kong’s work force have been given a “second life” and converted into various spaces for light manufacturing, creative industries, storage facilities, or small offices for all kinds of businesses.  JCCAC in Shek Kip Mei is a recent example of adaptive reuse of former industrial building in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

Opened in 2008, Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre (JCCAC) is a “multi-disciplinary arts village and art centre”, providing affordable studios and exhibition facilities for the art and design community.  The centre welcomes the public to visit the shops, studios and café within the complex 7 days a week.  From time to time, JCCAC would host shows and design fairs to further engage the public and the immediate neighborhood.

I visited JCCAC during its annual handicraft fair. Much of the ground floor atrium was turned into a market fair, while many studios on the upper floors had their handicraft shops open to the public.  The open roof was animated by various activities.  At one corner, a patio was packed with stalls selling vintage clothing, housewares and books.  At the other corner people were lining up for henna art.  On the wall adjacent to the main stair was a photo exhibition with the theme on local community.   A local band brought in live music to create an upbeat atmosphere.  Looking out from the roof parapet, layers upon layers of apartment blocks seemed never ending.   Recent effort by the housing department to upgrade or redevelop the old housing estates in Kowloon was clearly visible from the vivid new paint colours on the apartment facades, planters with local flora, and new green roof design.

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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