ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “皇后大道中

QUEEN’S ROAD CENTRAL (皇后大道中), Central-Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

Six years before the handover of Hong Kong to China, Taiwanese songwriter and singer Lo Tayou (羅大佑) published a song called “Queen’s Road East” (皇后大道東) in 1991. Emerged as a satirical reflection of Hongkongers’ collective feelings in the eve’s of the handover, the song became an instant hit. Even today, the song still offers an interesting cultural reference to understand the city’s unsettling moment before 1997. In the face of Hong Kong’s social uncertainties and imminent changes in near future, lyricist Albert Leung (林夕) made use of a wide range of symbols in the song, from “portrait on the coin” and “noble friend” to signify Queen Elizabeth II, to “waves of pedestrians” to suggest the mass exodus of Hongkongers. But the biggest symbolism is in fact the name “Queen’s Road East” itself. Physically divided into three sections, namely Queen’s Road East, Queen’s Road Central, and Queen’s Road West, Queen’s Road was used in the song to symbolize the three main players in the city’s story: “East” for Hong Kong, “West” for Britain, and “Central” for China (in reference to “Middle Kingdom”, the Chinese name of China). While “Queen” is unmistakably a reference to the city’s colonial past, the historical and economic significance of Queen’s Road has suggested a meaning way beyond colonialism. It is in fact a symbol of the city’s success story. As Hong Kong’s first main road, Queen’s Road was home to the first city hall, first post office, first luxury hotel, first bank headquarters, first residences of government officials, first business district, etc. After almost 180 years of urban transformations, its importance in the commercial heart remains vital to this date. The rich history and symbolism of Queen’s Road has made it a sensible choice for Lo Tayou and Albert Leung in their iconic song, and a reference point to tell the story of Hong Kong.

For its architecture and luxury shops, Queen’s Road Central is indeed a popular destination for both foreign visitors and local Hongkongers. Constructed between 1841 and 1843, Queen’s Road was originally named Main Street (大馬路). It ran through the first business district in the city between Sai Ying Pun (西營盤) and Central (中環). The road was soon renamed as Queen’s Road in tribute to Queen Victoria. As the road further extended in the west and east direction, Queen’s Road was eventually divided into three main sections: West, Central and East. Connecting Sheung Wan (上環) and Central along the island’s original shoreline, Queen’s Road Central (皇后大道中) has long been considered as a synonym of Downtown Hong Kong. Subsequent land reclamations in the next 180 years pushed Queen’s Road Central further and further inland. The business district has long extended way beyond its original extent around Queen’s Road Central. Yet, buildings along the road continue to be sold, torn down and replaced by taller replacements, from the 19th century Neo-classical structures to the 20th century Modernist buildings, and then to the contemporary glassy skyscrapers. Due to its historical significance, Queen’s Road Central is probably one of the most documented street in Hong Kong. Having the historical photographs in hand while taking a brief tour of Queen’s Road Central offers a fruitful way to understand the tale of constant changes, and endless cycle of deconstruction and reconstruction in one of the fastest growing metropolises in modern history.

Running across the former extent of Victoria City (West District, Sheung Wan, Central and Wanchai), Queen’s Road is the first main road in Hong Kong. [Street sign of Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
In the early days, Queen’s Road was no more than a street of dirt. [A Chromolithograph of Queen’s Road based on a drawing by Eduard Hildebrandt, Public Domain, 1865]
This Central-Sheung Wan (中上環) diagram highlights the extent of Queen’s Road Central and some of its notable street numbers in correspondence to the photos below.
1 Queen’s Road Central: HSBC Main Building (香港上海滙豐銀行總行)
Completed in 1985, Norman Foster’s HSBC Main Building is the fourth version of the bank’s headquarters at the very same site. [Junction of Bank Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
1 Queen’s Road Central: HSBC Main Building (香港上海滙豐銀行總行)
At the ground floor covered plaza, markings on the floor explain the building site in relationship with the various land reclamations of Central. [Junction of Bank Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
9 Queen’s Road Central: The Galleria (嘉軒廣場)
The Galleria formerly housed a flagship Hermes store
, before the French luxury goods company sold the 7500 sq.ft retail space for about USD 86 million. [Junction of Ice House Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
12 Queen’s Road Central: Shanghai Commercial Bank Tower (上海商業銀行) & Landmark Atrium (置地廣塲)
In 2016, Shanghai Commercial Bank moved into their new tower after years of construction. Much of its ground floor is rented out to a flagship boutique of Versace. Across the street stands Landmark Atrium, one of the city’s most upscale shopping centres. [Junction of Duddell Street and Queen’s Road, Central, 2020]
Rickshaws lined up both sides of Queen’s Road Central at the junction where today’s Shanghai Commercial Bank stands. [Photo in Public Domain, Junction of Duddell Street and Queen’s Road, Central, 1900]
15 Queen’s Road Central: The Landmark (置地廣塲)
Home to the likes of Gucci flagship and Harvey Nichols department store, Landmark Atrium is one of the most well known luxury shopping destination in Hong Kong. [Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
15 Queen’s Road Central: The Landmark (置地廣塲)
The Landmark partially occupies the site of the former Hongkong Hotel
(香港大酒店
), a majestic luxury hotel. [Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
Founded in 1868 and closed in 1952, Hongkong Hotel (香港大酒店) was the first luxury hotel in Hong Kong. It was later replaced by the office tower Central Building (中建大廈) and The Landmark (置地廣塲) a complex of luxury shopping centre and office buildings. [Photo by Lai Afong, Public Domain, 1880’s]
30 Queen’s Road Central: Entertainment Building (娛樂行) at Intersection of Pedder Street
Designed by P&T Architects, the neo-gothic Entertainment Building was erected in 1993 on the site of the former King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院). Instead of movie billboards that once dominated the scenery at this location, a large LED screen on the podium facade
to engage pedestrians from all directions.
[Junction of Wyndham Street, D’Aguilar Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
30 Queen’s Road Central: Entertainment Building (娛樂行)
Long gone the days when Central was a destination for moviegoers (except a small cinema in the Entertainment Building). In 1928, the air conditioned King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院) was erected along with a ballroom and restaurant. It lasted till 1962 and was replaced by the 1,300-seat second generation. The theatre finally closed in 1990 to make way for the current office tower. [Junction of Wyndham Street, D’Aguilar Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
30 Queen’s Road Central: Former King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院)
The 7-storey King’s Theatre was opened in 1931
. Its predecessor on the same spot, Bijou Scenic Theatre, was one of the first cinema established in Hong Kong. [Photo by Harrison Forman, American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, 1940’s]
31 Queen’s Road Central: LHT Tower (陸海通大廈) and Theatre Lane (戲院里)
The street name “Theatre Lane” says it all. Decades ago, Theatre Lane was flanked by Queen’s Theatre (皇后戲院) and opposite from King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院). Both famous theatres were demolished and redeveloped in the 1990’s into new office towers: King’s Theatre became Entertainment Building and Queen’s Theatre was turned into LHT Tower with the eye-catching slanted facade verticals. [Junction of Theatre Lane and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
31 Queen’s Road Central: Queen’s Theatre (皇后戲院)
In 1907, Victoria Theatre and Hong Kong Theatre opened in Central. Located at the intersection of Theatre Lane and Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong Theatre was the first cinema founded by local Chinese. It was replaced by Queen’s Theatre in 1924 with 1,200 seats. Queen’s Theatre was later replaced by its second generation in 1961, and eventually demolished in 2008 for the new office building. [Photo by Harrison Forman, American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, 1940’s]
80 Queen’s Road Central: Pottinger Street (砵典乍街) or Stone Slab Street (石板街)
One of the most popular tourist destination in Central is the historical Pottinger Street. Its stone steps lead tourists all the way from Queen’s Road Central to Tai Kwun, the former Police Headquarters in Central. [Junction of Pottinger Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
100 Queen’s Road Central: Don Don Donki (驚安之殿堂) at 100 QRC
Open 24 hours 7 days a week and famous for its vast selection of household and food merchandises imported from Japan, the Japanese supermarket Don Don Donki at 100 QRC is their 5th outlet opened in Hong Kong since 2019. The pandemic is preventing Hongkongers to visit their favorite destination: Japan. For the time being, Don Don Donki is benefiting from the situation and is determined to speed up their expansion plan of opening 24 stores across the city. [Junction of Central-Mid Levels Escalators and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
100 Queen’s Road Central: Central-Mid Levels Escalator Since its inauguration in 1993, the Central-Mid Levels Escalator has completely transformed the pedestrian patterns and urban scenery of SoHo, bringing people up to the Mid Levels from Queen’s Road Central. [Looking down from Central-Mid Levels Escalator, Central, 2020]
93 Queen’s Road Central: Central Market (中環街市)
Famous for its Bauhaus style, the 83-year Central Market is undergoing a major revitalization work. It would be adapted into a new shopping complex. [Junction of Jubilee Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
93 Queen’s Road Central: Central Market (中環街市)
Before the modernist version was erected in 1938, the earlier versions of the Central Market had always been a traditional Western architecture.
[Image courtesy of Historical Photographs of China reference number: NA16-019., University of Bristol Library (www.hpcbristol.net), CC BY_NC_ND 4.0, 1895]
99 Queen’s Road Central: The Center (中環中心)
At 346m, The Center is the fifth tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong. It is one of the tallest steel buildings in the world without reinforced concrete core. In 2017, the building for sold for a world record of USD 5.15 billion. [Junction of Jubilee Stree and Queen’s Road, Central, Central, 2020]
99 Queen’s Road Central: The Center (中環中心)
To facilitate the skyscraper’s construction, several historical structures were demolished and streets shortened in 1995. [unction of Jubilee Street and Queen’s Road, Central, Central, 2021]
99 Queen’s Road Central: The Center (中環中心)
The main lobby is raised up a level for better views, leaving the ground level to become a semi-open plaza. [Junction of Jubilee Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central,
2021]
128 Queen’s Road Central: Peel Street (卑利街)
Graham Street Market, the oldest street market in Hong Kong, is accessible from Queen’s Road Central via Peel Street or Graham Street.
[Junction of Peel Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
A century ago, Queen’s Road Central was flanked both sides by qilou (騎樓), or arcade buildings. These unique architecture originated from the British in India, who came up with the idea of adding verandas in front of buildings for shading in hot climate. These architectural type then spread into Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Southern China and became widely popular in the 19th century. [Photo by Lai Afong, Public Domain, late 19-century]
176 Queen’s Road Central:
Not many qilou buildings survives in Central-Sheung Wan today. [176 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
176 Queen’s Road Central: Peel Street (卑利街)
The qilou at 176 Queen’s Road Central has become a precious survivor in the area. [176 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
176 Queen’s Road Central: Kam On Building (錦安大廈)
A thin building called Kam On Building marks the junction of Wellington Street and Queen’s Road Central. [Junction of Wellington Street and Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
181 Queen’s Road Central: Grand Millennium Plaza (新紀元廣場)
Similar to The Center, Grand Millennium Plaza was also a redevelopment project that dramatically transform the urban fabric of the area. Old tenement buildings were demolished and small streets and lanes were removed to make way for the current two office towers and a neo-classical plaza.
[Junction of Bonham Strand and Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
378 Queen’s Road Central: Possession Street (水坑口街)
In Sheung Wan, Possession Street, the spot where the British navy first landed on the island, defines the end of Queen’s Road Central and beginning of Queen’s Road West (皇后大道西). [Junction of Possession Street, Bonham Strand and Queen’s Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]

REVERIE OF CHUNGKING EXPRESS: URBAN ESCALATORS, Central – Mid Levels (中環-半山), Hong Kong

Moving up the hill on the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator is a pleasant way to experience the urban scenery of Hong Kong. [Escalator at Soho, 2014]
From vibrant city scenes to quiet residential neighborhoods, the escalator journey offers visitors a continuous sequence of moving pictures. [Escalator near Caine Road, 2014]
The higher the escalator reaches, the more residential the scenery gets. [Escalator near Mosque Street, 2014]

Whenever I flew with Cathay Pacific, I often selected Wong Kar Wai’s (王家衛) Chungking Express (重慶森林) from their entertainment system when I was about to take a nap. Indulging myself in the repeating music of Dennis Brown’s Things in Life and The Mamas & the Papas’ California Dreamin’, and Christopher Doyle’s dynamic shots of Tsim Sha Tsui and Central always relaxed my mind. Chungking Express is undoubtedly one of my most favorite Hong Kong films. Chungking Express is lighthearted, complex, ambiguous, and beautiful. There are two stories in the film. The first story follows policeman 233 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and a female drug smuggler (Brigitte Lin) at Chungking Mansion in Tsim Sha Tsui. The second story follows policeman 633 (Tony Leung) and a female staff (Faye Wong) at Midnight Express, a snack bar in the entertainment district of Central. Released in 1994, three years before Hong Kong was returned to China, the film did capture a mixed bag of sentiments and mood of that era: sense of uncertainty, ambiguity, loneliness, loss, affection, impermanence, desire to change, hope for a brighter future, etc. Without pretentious shots of the city’s famous skyline, Chungking Express is a visually dazzling film that captures the daily life of Hong Kongers happened in wet market, snack bar, old tenement apartment, convenience store, and the Chungking Mansion, a huge mixed use complex in Kowloon where new immigrants and tourists gather and stay the night. Director Wong Kar Wai describes the film as his love letter to Hong Kong. 27 years have passed. Chungking Express remains as an icon of Hong Kong cinema, and an exquisite documentation of the ever-changing city in that particular moment in history.

Perhaps it is because both protagonists Tony Leung (梁朝偉) and Faye Wong (王菲) are two of my favorite Hong Kong stars back in the 1990’s, or The Mamas & the Papas’ California Dreamin’ is too overpowering, or the filming locations in Central are just a few blocks from where I spent my childhood, I always like the story of Midnight Express more. Every time watching the film would remind me the old Central before the disastrous urban renewal projects that have torn apart Graham Street Market and gentrification that have wiped out uncounted tenement apartments and small shop owners who can no longer afford the skyrocketed rent. 1994 also marked the first anniversary of the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator (中環至半山自動扶梯), a 800m escalator system from Downtown Central up to the Mid-Levels. Wong Kar Wai chose the escalator and an adjacent apartment unit (home of Christopher Doyle, the legendary cinematographer of many Wong’s films) as the major film set for Chungking Express. Wong’s selection prominently imprints the escalator in the cultural atlas of the city, and introduces such unique urban feature to the whole world. In fact, the success of Chungking Express has consolidated Wong Kar Kai’s name onto the stage of international cinema, paving the way for his triumphs in the later half of the 1990’s, including Happy Together and In the Mood for Love.

Today, the 800m escalators system remains the longest in the world, and a popular tourist attraction. In 2015, CNN website picked the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator as one of the coolest commutes in the world. The idea of building an urban escalator system began in early 1980’s, when the Hong Kong government considered various options to improve traffic and pedestrian circulation between Central, the business district of Hong Kong, and Mid Levels, the residential neighbourhood on the slope of Victoria Peak. Cable car and monorail were also considered, but an escalator system was eventually selected. After 2.5 years of construction, the system was opened to the public in 1993. Wong Kar Wai seized the opportunity and became the first director to shoot a movie there. The escalator soon became popular among residents and office workers in Central, and led to dramatic gentrification of the surroundings. Buildings along the escalator system were torn down for new apartments. Small shops were replaced by bars and upscale restaurants, forming a vibrant entertainment district that we now call Soho. For both good and bad, the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator has been a major catalyst that wipes out the old Central I have known as a child. Yet on the other hand, the convenience it brings us who live in the area has undeniably become an inseparable part of our daily routine.

Cochrane Street (閣麟街) is one of the hilly streets going uphill from Queen’s Road Central (皇后大道中). Today, the junction of Cochrane Street and Queen’s Road Central is where the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator begins to climb uphill.
[Cochrane Street: Wellcome Library, London. By John Thomson, 1868 / 1871. http://wellcomeimages.org. Creative Commons CC BY 4.0]
The streetscape of Cochrane Street (閣麟街) has completely transformed after the escalator was built in 1993. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Queen’s Road Central, 2014]
Looking down from the escalator, Stanley Street (士丹利街) is one of the last few spots in Central that dai pai dong (大排檔) or street eateries can still be found. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Stanley Street, 2016]
In Chungking Express, Tony Leung often comes here for lunch and Faye Wong would come by after getting grocery from Graham Street Market just around the corner. [Street eateries near the junction of Stanley Street and Graham Street, 2014]
Apart from distant traffic noises and pedestrian chattering, live music is occasionally heard on the escalator. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Wellington Street, 2018]
Stairs and elevators are provided at street intersections for access to the escalator system. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Gage Street, 2020]
The escalator reaches Gage Street (結志街) at the end of Cochrane Street (閣麟街). Gage Street has long been part of the Graham Street Market, the oldest open market in Hong Kong with 160 years of history. Today, the once vibrant street market has been partially demolished by the profit making Urban Renewal Authority for residential developments. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Gage Street, 2020]
Near the intersection of Gage Street (結志街), Cochrane Street (閣麟街) and Lyndhurst Terrace (擺花街), an old Hong Kong-style cafe called Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園) is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. Established in 1952, Lan Fong Yuen is known as the place where Hong Kong style milk tea was invented. [Junction of Cochrane Street, Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2020]
Below the escalator, tourists and locals queued outside Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園). [Junction of Cochrane Street, Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2014]
Sometimes the Lan Fong Yuen queue can get a little chaotic, especially when there are trucks coming into Gage Street. [Junction of Cochrane Street, Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2014]
The two seats outside Lan Fong Yuen are probably the smallest dai pai dong or street vendors I have seen in the area. Watching pedestrians moving on the escalator would probably distract the customers from their meal. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Gage Street, 2014]
At many occasions, the escalator would get awfully close to the adjacent buildings. Sometimes, escalator pedestrians can make direct eye contact with people inside the building. [Junction of Cochrane Street, Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2020]
At many occasions, pedestrians on the escalator system can make direct eye contact with people inside the building. [Junction of Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2021]
The one-way escalators move downhill everyday from 6 to 10am, and uphill from 10am to midnight. [Junction of Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2020]
When the escalator reaches Hollywood Road (荷李活道), the scenery from the escalator is dominated by the former police headquarters known as Tai Kwun (大館). Tai Kwun has been converted into a cultural and entertainment complex in recent years. [Junction of escalator and Hollywood Road, 2018]
A connection bridge was built a few years ago to link up the escalator and the side entrance of Tai Kwun. [Junction of Hollywood Road and Old Bailey Street, 2018]
The Central – Mid-Levels Escalator and Soho entertainment district are popular among tourists ever since its completion. [Junction of Shelley and Hollywood Road, 2014]
The escalator brings office workers from the financial district up to the bars and restaurants in Soho. [Near junction of Shelley Street and Staunton Street, 2020]
In the heart of Soho, the escalators is cut off at Staunton Street (士丹頓街). [Junction of Shelley Street and Staunton Street, 2014]
Fancy restaurants and lively bars have transformed the once peaceful residential Elgin Street (伊利近街). [Junction of escalator and Elgin Street, 2020]
The pace of the escalator is ideal for a leisure wander in the hilly neighbourhoods. [Escalator near Elgin Street, 2014]
The Central – Mid-Levels Escalator is a modern alternative of the old ladder streets of Hong Kong. [Escalator near Elgin Street, 2014]
Above Hollywood Road (荷李活道), the escalator continues up the sloped Shelley Street (些利街) in segments. [Shelley Street as viewed from landing at Caine Road, 2020]
Above Caine Road (堅道), the escalator entered the district of Mid-Levels (半山), an affluent residential district right above Downtown Hong Kong. [Escalator south of Caine Road, 2020]
Before hitting Mosque Street (摩羅廟街), the escalator passes by the entrance Jamia Masjid Mosque, the oldest mosque in Hong Kong. [Jamia Masjid Mosque, north of Mosque Street, 2020]
Jamia Masjid Mosque is also called Lascar Temple. Built in 1849 and rebuilt in 1915, the beautiful mosque is listed as a Grade 1 historical building. [Jamia Mosque, 2020]
Built in early 20th century, the three storey building offered free accommodation to mosque worshipers. [Jamia Mosque, 2014]
Around Jamia Masjid Mosque, the escalator snakes through clusters of apartments. [Escalator at Mosque Junction, 2014]
Beyond Jamia Mosque, the escalator continued to climb up the slope towards Robinson Road (羅便臣道) and Conduit Road (干德道). [Escalator at Mosque Junction, 2014]

LADDER STREETS PART 1: COLLECTIVE MEMORY, Central & Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

Before leaving Hong Kong for Canada, I spent the first decade of my life in the same Central Sheung Wan (中上環) area where our current home is located. The sloped streets and granite stairs in the neighborhood have featured heavily in my childhood memories. Walking up and down the century-old pedestrian stairs, a unique urban feature that we call “ladder streets” (樓梯街) in Hong Kong, was part of my childhood routine. I used to hate these stairs, especially when climbing them to school during summer months. Now returning as an adult, my emotions towards ladder streets have dramatically changed. Each worn treads, old balustrade and aged retaining walls seem to be remnants from a bygone era of the city, as well as my distant childhood.

Behind the glittering skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island stands Victoria Peak, also called Tai Ping Shan (太平山) in Chinese. The once imposing ridge line is pretty much hidden nowadays, unless one ventures far enough out into the harbour for a distant view. In fact, the island’s hilly terrain once posed a big challenge for the British colonial government when founding the city in 1841. On one hand, they were determined to erect a waterfront city by land reclamation from the sea. On the other hand, they managed to conquer the unforgiving terrain of Victoria Peak, levelling slopes into terraces for housing constructions, and connecting the residential terraces with steep paths and ladder streets. From then on, the network of ladder streets connect the hillside communities of West District, Sheung Wan, Central and Wanchai with the business district along the waterfront.

No one has a concrete idea of how many ladder streets remain in Hong Kong until 2013 when Melissa Cate Christ of Hong Kong University and her team on the Stair Culture project attempted to map out the ladder streets in the city. In their mapping exercise, they found over 3000 stairs in Central-Western District (中西區) alone. Not only has their work illustrated the astonishing concentration of ladder streets in a small area of old Hong Kong (about 12.4 sq. km), they also highlighted the danger ladder streets are facing today, the importance of preserving the ladder streets and the positive impact these stairs have contributed to the livability and urban character of the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Over a century of urban makeovers, many ladder streets have become obsolete when public escalators, elevators and asphalt roads were built to bring busy urbanites up and down the hill at a much faster pace. Some have been demolished to make way for modern developments, while some have been reduced to dark narrow alleyways sandwiched between highrise blocks. Functionally, the century old staircases may no longer fit well into modern urban planning. However, beyond merely moving people, the ladder streets play a crucial role in defining the historical identity of the city and providing peaceful alternative routes for pedestrians. A number of ladder streets have become iconic backdrops for tourists, filmmakers, photographers, and advertisers, who come to seek for the city’s nostalgic, peaceful and cozy ambience, in contrast to the fast-paced and somewhat stressful financial district just a stone throw away. From movies to TV shows, ladder streets have featured in a variety of media, formulating a collective memory not just for us who live in the area, but also for all Hong Kongers.

Before the emergence of modern skyscrapers, the hilly terrain of Hong Kong Island was much more prominent. With only a narrow strip of flat land between the hill and the sea, the British Colonial government had little options but to rely on land reclamation and altering the sloped terrain to establish Victoria City.
[1880s skyline of Hong Kong with Central (left) and Sheung Wan (right), credit: Lai Afong, 1880s, public domain]
Today, one can hardly see the ridge line of Victoria Peak unless viewing from a distance. Almost all commercial skyscrapers are situated on reclaimed land that once belonged to the sea. [Skyline of Central (left) and Sheung Wan (right) as viewed across Victoria Harbour from Tsim Sha Tsui of Kowloon]
The old residential neighborhoods on the slopes of Central, Sheung Wan and Western District lie peacefully behind the modern skyline. [Looking downhill from Peel Street (卑利街) and Caine Road (堅道) towards the 346m The Centre (中環中心), Central (中環)]
Many ladder streets and sloped streets begin at Queen’s Road, the first major waterfront road in Hong Kong. In fact, just by mapping where the ladder streets begin can give us a rough idea on where the original shoreline of Hong Kong Island was located. After over 150 years of land reclamation, Queen’s Road has become a busy inland street with the sea nowhere to be seen. [The stepped section of Aberdeen Street (鴨巴甸街) where it meets Queen’s Road Central (皇后大道中), Sheung Wan (上環)]
Layers of retaining walls from different periods in history are visible at some ladder streets. Landslides have been a constant issue in the past. Over a century of experiences and painful lessons, the city’s slope management techniques have become one of the most sophisticated in the world.[The retaining structure of Ladder Street (樓梯街) at U Lam Terrace (儒林臺), Sheung Wan (上環)]
In the past, some ladder streets have served as boundary line between two communities, such as Pottinger Street and Shing Wong Street that once separated British and Chinese communities. A ladder street might represent a means of separation, but also a venue of social mingling. Today, many ladder streets reveal the diversity of cultures where local traditions collide with contemporary trends. [A traditional temple and mural of a shisha smoking panda occupy opposite sides of Peel Street (卑利街), Central (中環)]
Ladder streets feature extensively in movies and TV shows in Hong Kong, including the 2013 movie The Way We Dance (狂舞派). A remarkable dance scene that combined Tai Chi with Hip-hop and a red balloon (essence spirit of Hong Kong: East meets West) was filmed at the steps of On Wo Lane. [On Wo Lane (安和里) as seen from Kau U Fong (九如坊), Central (中環)]
Opened in 1993, the Central – Mid Levels escalator has provided a more efficient means for pedestrians to travel up and down the lower slope of Victoria Peak. At certain areas, ladder streets have become obsolete as modern developments continue to transform the urban landscape. [Intersection of Central – Mid Levels Escalator (中環至半山自動扶梯) and Mosque Street (摩羅廟街), Mid-Levels (半山)]
There are always options in Hong Kong. On the same route, pedestrians may choose between taking the escalator on the upper deck, or take relaxing steps on the lower deck. [Central – Mid Levels Escalator (中環至半山自動扶梯) between Robinson Road (羅便臣道) and Mosque Junction (摩羅廟交加街), Mid-Levels (半山)]
Often appearing in local films and TV shows, one of the most recognizable ladder streets in Hong Kong is Duddell Street (都爹利街) and it’s four historic gas lamps in Central (中環). [Duddell Street (都爹利街), Central (中環)]
Manufactured by William Sugg & Co. in England, the four gas lamps of Duddell Street were erected in the early twentieth century. The colonial ambience of the Duddell ladder street reveals a form of urban aesthetics that once defined the entire Victoria City. [Duddell Street (都爹利街), Central (中環)]
Pottinger Street, commonly known as Stone Slabs Street (石板街), is undoubtedly the most iconic ladder street in Hong Kong. It remains as one of the top attraction for tourists visiting Central, the commercial heart of Hong Kong. [Pottinger Street (砵典乍街), between Hollywood Road (荷李活道) and Wellington Street (威靈頓街), Central (中環)]
At the junction of Pottinger Street and Wellington Street once stood the first Roman Catholic cathedral of Hong Kong. Built in 1843, the church was destroyed in a fire in 1859, and was rebuilt at another site on Caine Road. [Pottinger Street (砵典乍街) in junction with Wellington Street (威靈頓街), Central (中環)]
Today, Pottinger Street is a popular tourist attraction and a place to shop for Halloween costumes and Christmas decorations. [Pottinger Street (砵典乍街), between Wellington Street (威靈頓街) and Stanley Street (士丹利街), Central (中環)]
During Chinese New Year, Pottinger Street near Queen’s Road Central would turn into a sea of red. [Pottinger Street (砵典乍街), between Stanley Street (士丹利街) and Queen’s Road Central (皇后大道中), Central (中環)]
French artist Invader’s pixelated dragon gives the century-old Pottinger Street a playful touch. [Pottinger Street (砵典乍街), near its terminus at Queen’s Road Central (皇后大道中), Central (中環)]
Connecting Hollywood Road, Po Hing Fong and Bonham Road, Pound Lane was once the site of a government pound that kept cows and sheep in the 19th century. Whoever translated the street name from English to Chinese must have misinterpreted the meaning of “Pound” as in weight measurement. Late Canto-pop singer Leslie Cheung recorded the iconic music video of the song “Stand Up” with a dance troupe on the steps of Pound Lane in 1986. [Pound Lane (磅巷), in junction with Po Hing Fong (普慶坊), Sheung Wan (上環)]
The tranquil Pound Lane made news in 2013 when some pro-government politicians advocated to construct an escalator to replace the the steps. Many residents from the neighborhood opposed the idea. Not only might the proposal transform the area into a second Soho (noisy entertainment district), it might also invite developers to tear down the existing low rise apartments and replace with 30-storey luxury apartments. [Pound Lane (磅巷), between Po Hing Fong (普慶坊) and Tai Ping Shan Street (太平山街), Sheung Wan (上環)]
A landing above Po Hing Fong, Pound Lane reaches a small community piazza at Tai On Terrace. Today, Tai On Terrace is home to a cafe, photography gallery, health food store, yoga studio, etc. [Pound Lane (磅巷), in junction with Tai On Terrace (大安臺), Sheung Wan (上環)]