ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “南北行

LEGACY OF TRIANGULAR PIER : Street of Dried Seafood (海味街), Sheung Wan / Sai Ying Pun (上環/西營盤), Hong Kong

Smell of the sea fills the air between concrete building blocks along both sides of Des Voeux Road West. In the midst of busy traffic, wholesale workers quickly unload truck loads of dried seafood and large plastic bags of herbs at curbside and trolley them to different nam pak hongs (南北行), skillfully avoiding pedestrians, trams and buses along the way. Watching these hectic actions from the upper tram deck as a child, I used to dislike all the disorder on the Street of Dried Seafood (海味街). Revisit these streets three decades later, my feelings have completely changed. What I considered chaotic in the past actually looks full of life and energy to me now. What I saw as untidy now seems to be a precious connection to a bygone era, when the bustling docks at the Triangular Pier area was just right around the corner. Not to mention that I now find the natural odour of dried scallops and mushrooms smell much better than the artificial fragrances in shopping malls. The Triangular Pier and other Sheung Wan/ Sai Ying Pun piers are long gone. Where the shore once was has become an arterial road and concrete overpass. It is amazing to see that after a century of urban transformations, the seafood shops and nam pak hong wholesale companies are still thriving. Time may have changed, but the demands for traditional taste seems to have passed on.

Since the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) in China, a large group of merchants, mainly from Chiu Chow (潮州) in Eastern Guangdong, have migrated to various locations in Southeast Asia. The growing diaspora communities generated a great demand of Chinese goods in Southeast Asia, while there is also a strong demand in China and elsewhere for rice, spices and other products from Southeast Asia. As a free port situated right in the middle between China and Southeast Asia, Hong Kong was the perfect place for Chinese merchants (especially Chiu Chow businessmen) to set up their trading companies. These have become the original nam pak hongs (南北行), literally means ”south north companies). Situated in Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun, these nam pak hongs were the most influential Chinese businesses in the first century of colonial Hong Kong. With fleets of junk boats and aid of the monsoon winds, these companies established Hong Kong as a hub in the midst of trading routes. Some of their shipped products, such as dried seafood, were also sold by wholesale and retail shops in Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun. Clustered in several streets near the former Triangular Pier, many of these shops survived till the present day and have been promoted as the famous Street of Dried Seafood and Tonic Food (海味參茸燕窩街). As time goes by, some of their merchandises have also evolved to cater for modern lifestyle, but dried seafood, herbs, and traditional tonic food (such as ginseng) still remain popular along locals, especially as gifts during Chinese New Year.

Situated about 300m from the waterfront, Bonham Strand and Bonham Strand West marked the original shoreline of Sheung Wan before the colonial government began the massive land reclamation of the north shore of Hong Kong Island. [2021]
Nicknamed “Nam Pak Hong Street”, Bonham Strand West is still full of traditional trading companies specialised in tonic products and dried seafood. Ginseng, deer velvet antler and dried seafood (參茸海味) is the general term that describes the products available from these nam pak hongs. [2021]
On Bonham Strand West (文咸西街), the abundance of Asian tonic food and Chinese medicine wholesale companies signify that there is a decent demand of traditional dietary supplements, such as products made from deer velvet antler, in the city. [2021]
In the old days, it was common to see seafood and herbs being sun dried on roofs and streets in this part of the city. Today, drying seafood on the sidewalk remain as a common sight, while the roofs of buildings are probably occupied by modern mechanical equipments. [2021]
Good for making Chinese soup, ham from Southeast China is a highly popular product in the area. [2021]
Ko Shing Street (高陞街) is the hub of Chinese herbal medicine since late 19th century. [2021]
Within the rich visual context of Ko Shing Street, even a series of chaotic ductwork would not appear too out of place. [2021]
What is interesting about the street scenery of Hong Kong is that just a kilometre or two from the luxury shopfronts in the business district of Central, one can enter a completely different world surrounded by dried seafood and aged old shops. [2021]
Between Des Voeux Road West and Ko Shing Strret, dried seafood and herbs shops open right to the pedestrianised Sutherland Street (修打蘭街). [2021]
Probably won’t please the customers nowadays, some shop owners still sun dry their products in back alleys behind their shops. [2021]
Queen’s Road West, the western stretch of the city’s first main road, continues to present a nostalgic ambience from a bygone era, especially when the nearby nam pak hongs take out their products to dry on the sidewalk. [2021]
Dried octopus is another popular ingredient for traditional Chinese soup. [2021]
Nicknamed ”Bird Bridge” (雀仔橋), the iconic bend of stone wall at Queen’s Road West in Sai Ying Pun was originally part of a coastal embankment. Today, it stood at about 450m inland from the waterfront. [2021]
Across from ”Bird Bridge” (雀仔橋), a series of shops selling Chinese medicine and herbs were making final preparation of moving out their old premises due to urban redevelopment projects in the area. [2021]
The ”Bird Bridge” area is undergoing the process of urban redevelopment. A number of its herb stores will be moving away. Along with the shop owners, probably their elderly staff and shop cats will gradually disappear in the area. [2022]
Apart from Sheung Wan, the adjacent Sai Ying Pun also lies in the heart of the bustling scenes of the Street of Dried Seafood. [Eastern Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2022]
For most people, the stretch of Des Voeux Road West (德輔道西) west of the former Triangular Pier is essential the Street of Dried Seafood. [Photo: Des Voeux Road West, 2020]
Despite being a major thoroughfare busy with all kinds of vehicular traffic from buses and trams, to private cars and trucks, this stretch of Des Voeux Road still maintains a nostalgic ambience, as dried seafood such as (sea cucumbers and salted fish can be found everywhere on the sidewalks. [2021]
Some of the dried seafood shops on Des Voeux Road West have been around for over a century. [2022]
Cantonese salted fish was once a popular local dish in Hong Kong. Studies in recent decades have revealed that salted fish is a kind of carcinogen harmful to a person’s health with a constant intake. Sales of salted fish has significantly declined since then. [Photo: Des Voeux Road West, 2022]
A wall full of Chinese dry cured ham on Des Voeux Road West is certainly eye catching. [Photo: Des Voeux Road West, 2022]
A dried seafood shop has participated in the HK Urban Canvas shutter art project organized by Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation. [2021]
Hong Kong was once famous for dried golden oysters. the industry has suffered significant setbacks due to the deteriorating water quality at Shenzhen Bay. [2021]
At a road crossing, a staff trolleys a cart of merchandises across Des Veoux Road West. [2020]
Entering the third year of Covid, some dried seafood shops have decided to terminate their business. [2022]
It is strange to see a stuffed deer is being used to promote a number of traditional tonic food made from various parts of a deer. [2020]
Wherever there a cluster of old dried seafood shops in Hong Kong, sighting of the feline shopkeepers would almost be a guarantee. [2022]
These shop cats seem to know the area of the Dried Seafood Street very well, and would often greet customers after their afternoon naps. [2022]

TRIANGULAR PIER (三角碼頭): The Lost Port of Victoria Harbour, Sheung Wan (上環), Hong Kong

Tucked in a small street less than 20m off the busy Des Vouex Road West (德輔道西), Coffee & Laundry, a hybrid cafe/ self laundry shop is hardly noticeable from the main street. At the shop, we specifically picked up a bottle of cold brew coffee with a label designed by local artist Don Mak (麥東記). On the label, the artist illustrates the nearby street intersection of Des Voeux Road West and Wing Lok Street (永樂街), with a tram making a right turn towards Connaught Road West (干諾道西) before reaching the highway overpass. What really interesting about the label was its hidden backside, visible only when the bottle was emptied. The hidden picture depicts the same street intersection based on a 1925 photo, long before the overpass construction and land reclamation that erased the historical waterfront. Beyond the road bend stands a pier structure with a sign that says “Hong Kong, Canton and Macao Steamboat Company”, a British shipping company that has long dissolved. This was Wing Lok Pier (永樂碼頭), or more commonly known as the Triangular Pier (三角碼頭). Among the dozen or so cargo piers lining along the waterfront between Sheung Wan (上環) and Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), Triangular Pier was one of the largest.

Almost as soon as the British set foot on Hong Kong Island back in 1841, this relatively unknown island was declared a free port, a hub of the British Empire for international trading at the Far East. Their aim was to turn this scarcely populated fishing island into a port city and gateway into China. For the next hundred years or so, Triangular Pier and its adjacent piers had played crucial roles in establishing Hong Kong as an entrepôt between the West and East, and setting the basic economic and logistic infrastructure for the later development of manufacturing, servicing and finance sectors. In the 19th century, Hong Kong was a trading hub for tea, silk, and most important of all, opium. Between 1845-49, just a few years since the founding of the city, Victoria Harbour was already handling three quarters of opium from British India to China. Next came the export of Chinese laborers to Western countries, especially during the gold rushes in United States and Australia. From the Triangular Pier and its adjacent docks, 320,349 Chinese workers departed for their oversea destinations between 1851 and 1872 alone. In the next few decades, more Chinese went through the piers, either as temporary workers with 3-year contracts, or as immigrants who would eventually settle in the West. In the end, over one million Chinese had left their homeland from the piers of Sheung Wan. Triangular Pier also served as the entrepôt between the five global trading networks: China, Southeast Asia, India, Britain/ Europe, and the Americas. In 1899, more than 40% of China’s trade was handled in Hong Kong. Because of the piers’ success, many local and overseas (Chinese and Western) merchants chose to set up their offices in Hong Kong, establishing all kinds of trade related businesses, from the obvious shipping and trading companies, to banks, insurance offices, hotels, retail, ship builders, and the Nam Pak Hongs (南北行), trading companies that served as middle person between China and the outside world, namely United States, Australia and Southeast Asia. Entering the 20th century, Hong Kong was promoted as a tourist destination. Apart from cargo shipping, the Sheung Wan piers also emerged as a popular terminal for passenger steamships serving regional coastal cities, and as a stopover port for ocean liners between Asia and the West. In 1930 alone, 1,509,557 passengers traveled by ship between Hong Kong and the outside world. As air travel gained popularity after WWII, the opening of the Kwai Chung container port in 1972, and further land reclamation works along the north shore of Hong Kong Island, the story of Triangular Pier had officially come to the end.

Despite their vital roles for the city’s development, memories of Triangular Pier and other Sheung Wan/ Sai Ying Pun piers are fading fast in Hong Kong. After series of land reclamations, pedestrians would find no traces of the former piers. The only major pier remains is the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal (港澳碼頭), providing regular turbojets to Macau and ferries to Zhuhai and Shenzhen in China. While ferry services between Macau and Hong Kong has been departing from Sheung Wan since early colonial times, the current terminal at Shun Tak Centre (信德中心) was completed in 1985, beside the former Sheung Wan Gala Point (上環大笪地), the biggest night bazaar in the city before its closure in 1992. Highly popular with locals, Gala Point offered a variety of affordable entertainments and services, including outdoor eateries, street performances, storytelling, fortune telling, puppet shows, kungfu display, etc. Across the street from Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal, the majestic North Block of Western Market proudly occupies an entire city block since 1906. Known as the oldest market building in Hong Kong, the four-storey Edwardian-style building is perhaps the only remnant left from the times of Triangular Pier at Sheung Wan waterfront today.

A bottle label by artist Don Mak (麥東記) depicts the current scenery of where the former Triangular Pier was located. [2020]
The back of the label depicts the Triangular Pier in early 20th century. [2020]
Taken in 1920, the aerial view shows the business district of Central on the left, and the densely built up areas of Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun to the right. The Triangular Pier and other piers of Sheung Wan are located at the right hand side in the photo. While Central was the main business districts dominated by Western companies, Sheung Wan was the main hub for trading firms established by Chinese merchants. [public domain]
Busy cargo piers at the waterfront area near the Western Market. [Photograph by Underwood & Underwood, 1900’s. Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/98507421/%5D
Workers unloading cargo from a freight boat in 1910’s. [Photograph by Eleanor Mitchell, est. 1912-17. Image courtesy of E.G. France Historical Photographs of China Mi01-066, University of Bristol Library (www.hpcbristol.net), (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0)]
On 20th October 1906, Paddle Steamer Hankow at Canton Steamer Wharf in Sheung Wan after a fire that claimed 130 lives. [Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain]
Around one million of Chinese emigrants and labourers departed from the piers in Sheung Wan for destinations such as the Straits Settlements (Penang, Singapore, Malacca, and Dinding), North America and Australia. Many would transfer money back to their home in China through banks in Hong Kong. [Chinese miners in the Colorado School of Mines’ Edgar Experimental Mine near Idaho Springs, Colorado, US. Photograph by James Underhill, Public Domain.]
Today, the skyline of Sheung Wan is as dense as ever, with the red and blue twin towers of Shun Tak Centre and Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal standing out at the waterfront. [2020]
The former Triangular Pier was located at the intersection of Des Voeux Road West, Wing Lok Street and Connaught Road West, while the original waterfront is now occupied by a vehicular overpass. [2020]
The area of the former Triangular Pier is still occupied with nam pak hongs, the trading companies specialized in food merchandises from China. [Intersection of Queen Street and Connaught Road West, 2020]
Triangular Pier was also named Wing Lok Pier. From the site of the former Triangular Pier, Wing Lok Street stretches from the western end of Sheung Wan towards the business district in Central. [Intersection of Wing Lok Street and Des Voeux Road West, 2021]
In 1932, Wing Lok Street (永樂街) was home to a number of small banks, including Tianxiang bank (天祥銀號) on the left, and Five continents bank (五州銀號) on the right. [Photograph by Hagger F. Image courtesy of Historical Photographs of China FH01-150, University of Bristol Library (www.hpcbristol.net), (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0)]
Today, the small banks of Wing Lok Street might be gone, but the old nam pak hongs trading companies remain. [Wing Lok Street, 2021]
The famous Dried Seafood Street and Tonic Food Street actually refers to a group of streets: Des Voeux Road West, Wing Lok Street and Bonham Strand West, where nam pak hongs offer both wholesale and retail of dried seafood, herbs, and Chinese medicine. [Wing Lok Street, 2021]
Near the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal, the former waterfront during the time of Triangular Pier is now occupied by the overpass of Connaught Road West. [2020]
Located at the waterfront of Sai Ying Pun and Sheung Wan, Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park (中山紀念公園) sits on reclaimed land outside the former Triangular Pier. [2021]
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park commemorates Sun Yatsen, father of Modern China, who had spent time as a student in the Central and Western District in Hong Kong. [2022]
A large lawn at the heart of Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park provides decent open space for the public. [2021]
200m east of Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park stands the twin towers of Shun Tak Centre and Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal. [2020]
During the Covid pandemic, turbojet journeys to Macau are largely cancelled. [2020]
The Macau Ferry Bus Terminus is where the former Sheung Wan Gala Point (上環大笪地) night bazaar was situated. It was closed down in 1992 for the new waterfront redevelopment master plan. [2020]
Beyond Macau Ferry Bus Terminus, the waterfront promenade a pleasant spot for runners. [2020]
Across the street from Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal, the historical North Block of Western Market is the oldest remaining market building in Hong Kong. [2020]
After renovation, the former Western Market has become a rather quiet shopping complex. [2020]