ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “中上環

FELINE SHOPKEEPERS (貓店長) 1, Central-Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

In a spring Saturday afternoon, we went to a familiar stall at Graham Street Market (嘉咸街市集) to pick up some fruits. While the male owner gathered the fruits we wanted, his wife was busy feeding a big cat tuna-like snacks with a small spoon. The cat sat gratefully on the table to chew on its snacks with its eyes closed. The lady gently stroked the cat’s back and proudly praised about its silky fur. We soon found out that the cat actually didn’t belong to the fruit stall owners. It was a guest from the adjacent dried goods stall. Like many other cats in the open street market, the lucky one we encountered that day would roam freely and welcomed by different stall owners in the area everyday.

Such beautiful human-cat relationship is not uncommon in the old neighbourhoods of Central-Sheung Wan (中上環) and adjacent Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), where decades old shops and market stalls provide the perfect havens for cats to linger. In return for all the food and love from shop owners, the cats would catch mice, attract pedestrian’s attention, and most importantly, keep the shop owners company during the day. Similar to Japan, where the belief of maneki-neko or “beckoning cat” (招き猫) has been around since the Edo Period, shop cats in Hong Kong are often regarded as an integral member of the business. In recent years, these shop cats are often referred to as “feline shopkeepers” (貓店長). These cute shopkeepers have become beloved mascots of the old neighbourhoods, where shop doors are always kept open to the street from morning till dusk.

On the sloped market street, a cat checks out the passing pedestrians in front of its dried food shop. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2021]
The tri-colour cat of Wah Kee Restaurant (華記食店) sits quietly at the now blocked off Staveley Street (士他花利街) after lunch hour. [Staveley Street, Graham Street Market, Central, 2021]
Another tri-colour cat sunbathed at a closed market stall. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
At the same stall lives another lovely market cat. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
The cats at the 80-year old Gan Kee Noodle Factory (近記粉麵廠) are quite well known at the Graham Street Market. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
The cats at Gan Kee Factory (近記粉麵廠) belong to the same family. Apparently, the father (dark colour at the back) is the shyest of them all. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
People who live in the area, including us, often stop by Gan Kee to say hello to the cats and the elderly owners. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
With over 60 years of history, Kan Kee Noodles Factory (勤記粉麵廠) is another popular noodle shop in Graham Street Market. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
Kan Kee Noodle Factory (勤記粉麵廠) is another popular shop to get traditional dried noodles. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
Near Kan Kee, the cat of a souvenir shop often comes out to chill out on the metal platform of the adjacent market stall. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
At a dried food stall, a cat is peacefully taking a nap on a folding table. [Graham Street (嘉咸街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
The cat falls asleep while its owner is reading newspaper when no customer is around. [Graham Street (嘉咸街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
Estabished in 1948, Kung Lee Sugar Cane Juice (公利真料竹蔗水) is one of our favorite snacks shop in our neighborhood. At Kung Lee, a kitten stands on a dining table to greet customers. [Junction of Hollywood Road (荷李活道) and Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
Sasa, the fluffy master of Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) street eatery, loves to greet customers under their tables. [Mee Lun Street (美輪街), Central, 2020]
When it’s not too crowded, Sasa prefers to stay on its “throne chair” at Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園). [Mee Lun Street (美輪街), Central, 2020]
Sometimes, customers would find Sasa of Sing Heung Yuen scratching its head under the table. [Mee Lun Street (美輪街), Central, 2020]
If we manage to arrive early for breakfast at Sing Heung Yuen, there would be a good chance to see Sasa at the eatery. [Mee Lun Street (美輪街), Central, 2020]
Apart from antique shops, the grey cat and the elderly metal worker (right side of photo) are common sights at the end of the pedestrianized Upper Lascar Row, also known as the Cat Street. [Upper Lascar Row (摩羅上街), Sheung Wan, 2021]
Since 1912, Yuan Heng Spice Company (源興香料) has been around in Sheung Wan offering all sort of international spices. Generations of cats there must have been guarding their precious merchandises from mice. [Tung Street (東街), Sheung Wan, 2021]
Today, the cat at Yuan Heng serves more as a greeter to welcome customers. [Tung Street (東街), Sheung Wan, 2021]
Apart from their famous pork chop noodles, the pair of cats at For Kee Restaurant (科記咖啡餐室) has been a big draw for visitors. [Tai Ping Shan Street (太平山街), Sheung Wan, 2020]
The cats at For Kee Restaurant (科記咖啡餐室) often stand elegantly outside the restaurant. [Tai Ping Shan Street (太平山街), Sheung Wan, 2020]
The cats of For Kee just know how to gather people’s attention. [Tai Ping Shan Street (太平山街), Sheung Wan, 2020]
Though sometimes, they can get a little grumpy when being disturbed at the wrong moment. [Tai Ping Shan Street (太平山街), Sheung Wan, 2020]

LADDER STREETS PART 3: A NOSTALGIC JOURNEY, Tai Ping Shan (太平山), Hong Kong

Construction began in 1841, the same year of founding the city, Ladder Street is one of the oldest streets in Hong Kong. [Near the intersection of Ladder Street and Bridges Street in 1927. Various online sources.]

Out of the many ladder streets in Central and Sheung Wan (中上環), the roughly 350m Ladder Street (樓梯街) in Tai Ping Shan is the longest and one of the oldest. While “ladder street” is a general term for all pedestrian stair streets in Hong Kong, “Ladder Street” is also the name of a specific 316-steps stair street running from Caine Road (堅道) in the Mid Levels (半山) down to Queen’s Street Central (皇后大道中) in Sheung Wan. On its way, Ladder Street intersects with Bridges Street (必列者士街) and Hollywood Road (荷李活道), and several smaller pedestrian lanes. It also passes by a number of historical buildings and tourist attractions, including the Museum of Medical Sciences (香港醫學博物館), Chinese YMCA (中華基督教青年會), Man Mo Temple (文武廟) and Upper Lascar Row Antique Street Market / Cat Street Market (摩羅上街). Construction began in 1841 in the same year when the city was founded, Ladder Street is an iconic urban artefact of Hong Kong.

For many, Ladder Street is an iconic backdrop that represents a bygone Hong Kong. Throughout the years, Ladder Street has featured in uncounted films, TV shows (often involves chasing scenes), advertisements, photographs, etc. For foreigners, Ladder Street may be best known as one of the main filming locations of The World of Suzie Wong, a 1960 American/ British movie that tells the story of a American painter Robert Lomax (William Holden) falling in love with a Hong Kong prostitute Mei Ling (Nancy Kwan). For filming, the section of Ladder Street around Hollywood Road was converted into the set of Nam Kok Hotel, a fictional hotel where the two main protagonists stay hang around. The streetscapes of Ladder Street and Hollywood Road in the movie were “enriched” with extra street vendors, Chinese signage, pulled rickshaws, and lots and lots of people.

Walking down the Ladder Street to Sheung Wan Station every morning is a pleasant start to our daily routine. Away from rush hour traffic, Ladder Street offers us a moment of relaxing air before diving ourselves into the bustling dynamics of the city. Singing birds, shadows of swaying trees, rustic balustrades, old brick walls, incense smoke from Man Mo Temple, and scenes of vendors setting up their antique market stalls, every little detail of Ladder Street come together in a poetic picture. In the past two decades, many low rise tenement buildings in the area have been torn down for new apartment towers. Many vendors have retired, and old shops being replaced by new ones. No matter how much has changed, the intimate and tranquil scenery of Ladder Street remains as an icon of an old Hong Kong. Late poet Yesi (也斯), Leung Ping Kwan, in his 1990 poem Ladder Street, imagines himself on a pair of wooden clogs wandering in Ladder Street like a flaneur, mourning for the loss of the old days and yearning for a re-connection to bygone voices. Who knows, we probably would share a similar sense of loss in a few years’ time.

Ladder Street contains 316 steps running from Queen’s Road Central to Caine Road. [Sectional Diagram of Ladder Street, steps and landings are indicative only]
A small street eatery (popular with construction workers in the area) marks the top entrance of Ladder Street. [Junction of Caine Road and Ladder Street]
Decades ago, Victoria Harbour was clearly visible from the upper sections of Ladder Street. [Ladder Street between Caine Road and Caine Lane, 1954. Various online sources.]
Viewing from the same spot today, the sea is completely hidden by layers of modern buildings. [Junction of Caine Road and Ladder Street]
At night, a moody tone of yellow blankets much of the Ladder Street. [Junction of Caine Lane and Ladder Street]
The curved retaining wall between U Lam Terrace and Rosario Street remains as one of the few things that we can pick out in historical photos. [Junction of Rosario Street and Ladder Street]
Branching off from Ladder Street to Tank Lane, U Lam Terrace, a residential lane with only five apartment blocks, exemplifies a middle upper Chinese neighbourhood in the 19th century. [Junction of Tank Lane, U Lam Terrace and Rosario Street]
For 10 days in March each year, blossoms of tabebuia chrysantha would completely transform the scenery of the terrace. Native to South America, the deciduous tree was introduced to Hong Kong for aesthetic reasons. [U Lam Terrace]
Further down from U Lam Terrace is Bridges Street. In 1883, American missionary Rev. Dr. Charles Robert Hager arrived at Bridges Street in Tai Ping Shan and embarked on the Hong Kong Mission. In 1898, he bought the land at Ladder Street and Bridges Street and established the China Congregational Church. Charles Robert Hager is well known for baptizing Dr. Sun Yatsen in 1884. [Junction of Bridges Street and Ladder Street]
Linking the artsy Tai Ping Shan Street to the west and SOHO to the east, the 300m Bridges Street is frequented by tourists to check out the historical buildings in the area. [Outside Island Christian Academy on Bridges Street]
Completed in 1918, Chinese YMCA at Bridges Street was designed by American architect Harry Hussey in an attempt to integrate the style of the Chicago school with traditional Chinese features. As a result, red bricks, concrete and green glazed roof tiles were used. [Junction of Bridges Street and Ladder Street]
Currently a community centre, the building houses Hong Kong’s first indoor swimming pool and the last surviving running track made from wood. [Junction of Bridges Street and Tank Lane]
Constructed with the most modern facilities at its time, YMCA building has witnessed a century of changes in Hong Kong. Being a community hub for the locals ever since completion, Famous Chinese writer Lu Hsun once hosted a lecture at the YMCA building’s auditorium in 1927. [The cornerstone of the 1st Hong Kong YMCA was laid, 1917. University of Minnesota Libraries, Kautz Family YMCA Archives.]
Further down from Bridges Street, the upper section of Ladder Street ends at Man Mo Temple (文武廟), where Square Street makes a sharp turn out to Hollywood Road. This historic street junction featured frequently in films, including American/ British movie The World of Suzie Wong. [Junction of Square Street and Hollywood Road]
A century ago, the very same spot at the junction of Square Street and Ladder Street was home to street vendors. Looking upwards, the profile of Victoria Peak could still be seen. Today, the hill is totally hidden behind tall apartments. [Ladder Street as viewed from Square Street near Hollywood Road, with the side wall of Man Mo Temple on the left, 1920, copyright expired]
Situated at the junction of Square Street, Ladder Street and Hollywood Road, Man Mo Temple (文武廟) is one of the oldest temples in the city. Based on inscriptions on a brass bell, the temple was presumably built in 1847. [Man Mo Temple from corner of Hollywood Road and Ladder Street]
Not much has changed for Man Mo Temple in the past 150 years. But the urban context surrounding the temple has dramatically evolved. [The Joss House temple ornamented with lions and Chinese dragons, by William Pryor. Floyd, 1873. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)]
Yue Po Chai Curios Store (裕寶齋) occupies the corner of Hollywood Road and Square Street, where the filming spot of the fictional Nam Kok Hotel in The World of Suzie Wong was once located. Today, the circular shop entrance is a popular spot for Instagram selfies. [Corner of Hollywood Road and Square Street]
Another landing or two down the Ladder Street from Hollywood Road would get us to Upper Lascar Row (摩羅上街) and Circular Pathway (弓絃巷). Upper Lascar Row is a major antique market street in Hong Kong. East Indian sailors known as Lascar in the colonial era once lived in the street during the 19th century. As the Indians moved to other areas in the city, the small street was transformed into a shopping street for antiques and curios merchandises in the 1920’s. [Near junction of Upper Lascar Row and Ladder Street]
In the old days, all kinds of merchandise could be found at Upper Lascar Row. Merchandise from illegal origins were referred as “mouse goods”. Shoppers who came seeking for these goods were nicknamed “cats”. Thus Upper Lascar Row was also called Cat Street by Westerners. [Near junction of Upper Lascar Row and Tank Lane]
Hidden in the antique shops of Upper Lascar Row is June Woonamy, a bespoke tailor shop specialized in making “sleekly vintage” suits. [Junction of Upper Lascar Row and Luk Ku Road]
In the midst of old shops, Halfway Coffee has emerged as an urban magnet attracting the younger generation coming into the antique market. [Halfway Coffee’s exterior seating area in Upper Lascar Row]
Before the shops open for business, Upper Lascar Row is a peaceful venue for morning stroll. [Near junction of Upper Lascar Row and Tank Lane]
The Ladder Street landing cthat branches off to Upper Lascar Row and Circular Pathway is a popular spot to get “fai chun” (揮春), traditional calligraphy decorations used during Chinese New Year. [Junction of Upper Lascar Row, Circular Pathway and Ladder Street]
The landing of Ladder Street that branches off to Upper Lascar Row and Circular Pathway is a popular spot to get “fai chun” (揮春), traditional calligraphy decorations used during Chinese New Year. [Junction of Upper Lascar Row, Circular Pathway and Ladder Street]
As Chinese New Year is approaching, four temporary “fai chun” (揮春) booths were being set up at Ladder Street. These booths would usually last for about two weeks each year. [Junction of Upper Lascar Row, Circular Pathway and Ladder Street]
All of the fai chun writers are elderly, with the oldest being almost 96. [Near junction of Upper Lascar Row, Circular Pathway and Ladder Street]
After 316 steps, the Ladder Street reaches Queen’s Road Central, the first main street in Hong Kong. [Junction of Queen’s Road Central and Ladder Street]