ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “西環

ARCHITECTURAL GEM ON THE SEVEN TERRACES OF SAI WAN, Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), Hong Kong

In Kennedy Town, less than three hundred meters from Smithfield Municipal Market and Forbes Street Playground (site of the former slaughterhouses), a sleepy neighbourhood has been tucked away on a quiet hill slope for a hundred years. A staircase on Sands Street is all it takes to separate the two worlds, one bustling and the other tranquil. Once consisted of seven terraces built on the slope between Hong Kong University above and Belcher’s Street below, the secluded neighbourhood is commonly known as the Seven Terraces of Sai Wan (西環七臺). Also called Western District, “Sai Wan” is the general name for the area encompassing Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), Shek Tong Tsui (石塘咀) and Sai Ying Pun (西營盤). The seven terraces can be traced back to Li Sing (李陞), the richest Chinese merchant in 19th century Hong Kong. One of his sons Li Po Lung (李寶龍) inherited the sloped land when his father died in 1900. Li Po Lung decided to develop the land into residential terraces and an amusement park. He named the terraces and amusement park with references to his favorite ancient Chinese poet Li Bai (李白). Chinese pavilions, outdoor stages, dance floors, merry-go-round, playgrounds, and even an artificial pond for rowing boats, coupled with street performances, handicraft fair, small fireworks, chess competitions, etc. made Tai Pak Lau (太白樓), Li’s amusement park, into a trendy destination from 1915 and on. It was especially popular with wealthy men and prostitutes coming from the nearby Shek Tong Tsui (石塘咀), the city’s most famous red light and entertainment district in early 20th century. Just like many places in Hong Kong, Tai Pak Lau was rather short-lived, lasting for merely nine years before closing down due to financial difficulties of Li Po Lung. The park was then converted into today’s Tai Pak Terrace (太白臺) residential street. Despite the bankruptcy of Li Po Lung in 1924, the seven terraces, especially the topmost terraces such as Academic Terrace (學士臺), To Li Terrace (桃李臺) and Ching Lin Terrace (青蓮臺), continued to thrive as an upscale residential neighbourhood for wealthy Chinese.

If Tai Pak Lau was an ephemeral dream of a wealthy man, the historical Lo Pan Temple (魯班先師廟) on Ching Lin Terrace (青蓮臺) has proven to be a much more resilient establishment. Listed as a Grade 1 historical building, Lo Pan Temple was erected in 1884 by the Contractor Guild, way before Li Po Lung laid hands on the area. The temple construction was supported by 1172 donors, mostly contractors and builders from all over Guangdong (Canton) and Hong Kong. The temple is the city’s only religious establishment solely dedicated to Lo Pan, the patron saint for all Chinese contractors and builders. Lo Pan (魯班) or Lu Ban in Mandarin, was a renowned structural engineer, inventor, carpenter, builder and craftsman in the Spring and Autumn Period in China. During his lifetime, (507 – 444 BC), Lo Pan was responsible for inventing a variety of tools from the saw and prototype of a kite, to military tools and seige ladder used in warfare. Lo Pan was considered to be the master of all craftsmen in the Chinese culture, and has become a deity and patron saint for all contractors.

Maintained by a very old temple keeper “Uncle Fun” (芬叔) in his late 90s, Lo Pan Temple (魯班先師廟) is a remnant from a distinct past, a time when traditional values in the three general construction trades (三行), namely carpentry, cement work, and paint work, were strong. In the old days, paying respect to Lo Pan was a common routine to start the day for all contractors. They would celebrate Lo Pan’s birthday, on the 23rd of June in the Lunar Calendar, with heart beating drums and dragon dances, and share a big pot of “Lo Pan meal” (魯班飯). It was the contractors’ respect to the Lo Pan heritage that has sustained the temple to the present day. Even “Uncle Fun” is serving his temple keeping responsibility out of appreciation for his former patron saint, after a 60-year career in the paint trade until retirement at 80. Working together with architectural conservationist and master carpenter Wong Hung Keung (王鴻強), Uncle “Fun” was also involved in the temple’s major renovation in 2007, repairing structural damages and restoring some of the magnificent wall paintings, stone carvings, and clay sculptures that make Lo Pan Temple one of the most precious architectural gem in Hong Kong.

In this photo, the Seven Terraces of Sai Wan would be constructed somewhere on the slope at the right hand side behind the slaughterhouses, about three decades after this photo was taken. [City Of Victoria Hong Kong. Slaughter Houses & Pig & Sheep Depôts, 1894. National Archives UK Catalogue Ref: Part of CO 1069/446, Colonial Office Photographic Collection.]
The stair at the end of Sand Street is the main access to the seven terraces from Kennedy Town. [2020]
The locals’ touch to enhance the pedestrian experience expresses a sense of belonging of a close-knitted community. [Sands Street staircase, 2022]
Tai Pak Terrace, site of the former amusement park, maintains its simplicity and tranquility despite the rapid changes of adjacent streets in the past decade. [2022]
The retaining wall of Tai Pak Terrace is itself a piece of historical relic. [2020]
Further up Sands Street would bring us to Ching Lin Terrace, where Lo Pan Temple is located. [2020]
Lo Pan Temple and Ching Lin Terrace can also be reached via the stepped Li Po Lung Path. [2022]
Even the old style street sign of Ching Lin Terrace has become a rarity nowadays. [2022]
Further uphill, Ching Lin Terrace does feel a little farther away from the bustling activities of Kennedy Town. [2020]
Tuck away at the end of Ching Lin Terrace is the small but precious Lo Pan Temple. [2022]
With 26 wall paintings, Lo Pan Temple is home to the largest collection of traditional murals on Hong Kong Island. [2022]
From wall murals, wood carvings to clay sculptures, every detail of Lo Pan Temple is worth every penny and effort to preserve. [2022]
The exquisitely decorated ridge on the roof is centred with the treasure ball. [2022]
Given the fading practice of traditions among the younger generation, the temple is seeing less and less worshipers each year. [2022]
Given the pace of urban transformations in Hong Kong, every precious temple details being preserved is a small victory on its own. The edge of the roof is decorated with the sun and moon deities, with the left side being the Goddess of Moon Chang Er (嫦娥). [2022]
The last major renovation of Lo Pan Temple happened in 2007. [2022]
With great volunteer efforts by architectural conservationist Wong Hung Keung (王鴻強) and temple keeper Uncle Fun, the 2007 renovation successfully restore a number of damages of the old structure. Avoid using contemporary materials as replacement is an essential principle for heritage conservation. Wong went as far as burning his own bricks and making his own grey mortar to match the original ones used in the 19th century. [2020]
The characters “craft lasting ten thousand generations” (巧傳萬世) is written with 99.9% real gold leaf on an wooden plaque. [2022]
Due to the dark interior, many visitors may not realize the upper murals near the ceiling. [2022]
The richly detailed clay sculpture is not common in buildings on Hong Kong Island, making the Lo Pan Temple highly precious. [2022]
Other than clay sculpture, the temple also has beautiful wood carvings. [2022]
The bell in the temple is dated to the 14th year of Emperor Guangxu (光緒), 1888. [2022]
The delicate altar is another piece of precious gem. [2020]
From To Li Terrace (桃李臺), one terrace above Ching Lin Terrace, the temple roof can be conveniently appreciated. The jagged rood and elaborated parapet walls are another unique features of the historical building. [2020]
The back ridge on the roof is also decorated with beautiful sculpture, including two dragons fighting for a treasure ball. [2022]

BOUNDARY STONES OF VICTORIA CITY (維多利亞城界石), Hong Kong

In 2014, local film Dot 2 Dot (點對點) was screened in the Hong Kong International Film Festival. The film was often described as low key, low budget and slow paced love story to the city. Amos Wong’s film explores the history and identity of Hong Kong through the encounter of a graffiti artist and a Mandarin teacher. It begins with the Mandarin teacher, newly arrived from Mainland China, discovering mysterious graffiti composed of dots at every metro station in Hong Kong. She is able to decode the graffiti by connecting the dots into meaningful imagery related to the local history of the particular neighborhood. She then comes up with her own graffiti and engages the unknown graffiti artist in a battle of graffiti riddles. It turns out that the graffiti artist is actually one of her students, who himself is a professional designer returned to Hong Kong from Canada. The movie follows both characters to explore different neighborhoods, including the quest to check out the boundary stones of the former Victoria City (維多利亞城). At the end of the film, the teacher finally realizes the true identity of the graffiti artist after visiting the westernmost boundary stone in Kennedy Town (堅尼地城). The story ends with them enjoying the peaceful sunset together at Kennedy Town ‘s praya.

Considered the capital of the former British Colony, Victoria City at the northern shore of Hong Kong island was the city’s first urban settlement. Victoria City was defined by the four “wans” (四環) or districts: Sai Wan (西環), Sheung Wan (上環), Chung Wan (中環), and Ha Wan (下環) or present’s day Wanchai. In 1903, the government erected seven stones to mark the boundary of Victoria City. The city soon expanded beyond the boundary limits and the stones became obsolete. Measured 98cm in height, tapered at the top and marked with the inscription “City Boundary 1903”, these historical boundary stones are mostly forgotten, except for history buffs who occasionally check on these urban artifacts and share their photos on the Internet. Six out of seven boundary stones survive to the present day, except the one at Magazine Gap Road in the Mid-Levels that was negligently removed by retaining wall contractors in 2007. For the remaining six boundary stones, it is possible to visit them all in a 5-6 hour hike. The hike offers hikers an interesting opportunity to walk around the old city centre, from the waterfront of Kennedy Town, halfway up the Victoria Peak and down to the Happy Valley Racecourses to the east.

Victoria City in 1900, about the time when the boundary stones were erected. [Credit: G. William Des Voeux (1903), My Colonial Service, Vol 2., London: John Murray, public domain]
Six boundary stones of the former Victoria City (highlighted in orange above) remain more or less at their original locations. From west (left) to east (right), the six remaining stones are located at 1) Kennedy Town, 2) Pokfulam, 3) Hatton Road near the Peak, 4) Old Peak Road near the Peak, 5) Bowen Road near Happy Valley, and 6) Happy Valley. The stone at Magazine Gap Road (highlighted in blue above) was removed in 2007 likely by road and retaining wall contractors under the negligence of the authorities. South of Victoria Harbour, connecting all seven stones would more or less offer us the rough extent of the former Victoria City.
1) Boundary Stone at Kennedy Town (堅尼地城)
The westernmost stone is located in Kennedy Town, inside a ball court right by the sea. [Kennedy Town Football Pitch, Sai Ning Road, Kennedy Town, 2020]
1) Boundary Stone at Kennedy Town (堅尼地城)
Kennedy Town Football Pitch is a popular spot for local residents. Hardly anyone notices the 1903 boundary stone right adjacent to a rubbish bin. [Kennedy Town Football Pitch, Sai Ning Road, Kennedy Town, 2020]
1) Boundary Stone at Kennedy Town (堅尼地城)
It is sad to see one of the six boundary stones stands unnoticeably adjacent to a rubbish bin. [Kennedy Town Football Pitch, Sai Ning Road, Kennedy Town, 2020]
2) Boundary Stone at Pokfulam (薄扶林)
In the midst of student dormitories and college buildings of Hong Kong University on the slopes of Pokfulam (薄扶林) stands another boundary stone. [Near Junction of Pokfulam Road and Smithfield Road, Pokfulam, Southern District, 2020]
2) Boundary Stone at Pokfulam (薄扶林)
Half an hour walk from the boundary stone of Kennedy Town led us to the boundary stone in Pokfulam. [Near Junction of Pokfulam Road and Smithfield Road, Pokfulam, Southern District, 2020]
2) Boundary Stone at Pokfulam (薄扶林)
The Pokfulam boundary stone is located close to the entrance of a pedestrian underpass. [Near Junction of Pokfulam Road and Smithfield Road, Pokfulam, Southern District, 2020]
3) Boundary Stone at Hatton Road (克頓道) near Victoria Peak
As the entrance of Lung Fu Shan Morning Trail ascending up to the Victoria Peak, Hatton Road is popular for morning walkers. It is also home to one of the historical boundary stones. [Hatton Road near Kotewall Road, The Peak, 2020]
3) Boundary Stone at Hatton Road (克頓道) near Victoria Peak
The boundary stone at Hatton Road is the only boundary stone remained at its original location. The rest were somehow re-positioned throughout the years due to different constructions. [Hatton Road near Kotewall Road, The Peak, 2020]
3) Boundary Stone at Hatton Road (克頓道) near Victoria Peak
Hatton Road is one of the pedestrian paths that leads to Lugard Road and the Victoria Peak. [India Rubber Tree at Lugard Road, The Peak, 2020]
4) Boundary Stone at Old Peak Road (舊山頂道) near Victoria Peak
From the main square on the Peak, walking down Old Peak Road would bring us to the next boundary stone. Old Peak Road was once the only road connecting the Mid Levels to the Peak and the grand colonial mansions overlooking the city. Today, much of Old Peak Road has been pedestrianized. [Old Peak Road, The Peak, 2020]
4) Boundary Stone at Old Peak Road (舊山頂道) near Victoria Peak
From Old Peak Road, we could occasionally have glimpses of the city below. [Old Peak Road, The Peak, 2020]
4) Boundary Stone at Old Peak Road (舊山頂道) near Victoria Peak
Standing by the side of the steep road, the century old boundary stone silently greets every sweaty hiker. [Old Peak Road, The Peak, 2020]
4) Boundary Stone at Old Peak Road (舊山頂道) near Victoria Peak
The markings from 1903 are still clearly visible on the stone. [Old Peak Road, The Peak, 2020]
5) Boundary Stone at Bowen Road (寶雲道)
Not counting the lost boundary stone at Magazine Gap Road, the next one further east is at Bowan Road (寶雲道), another popular spot for runners and hikers. The relatively flat fitness trail on the eastern slope of the Peak offers visitors splendid views of Wanchai below. The 64-storey cylindrical Hopewell Centre near the lush green slope was the tallest building in Hong Kong from 1980 to 1989. Further out towards the waterfront, the 78-storey Central Plaza was the tallest building in Asia from 1992 to 1996. [Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
5) Boundary Stone at Bowen Road (寶雲道)
The boundary stone is located close to the east end of Bowan Road, where the horse racecourses in Happy Valley and the buildings of Causeway Bay appear within walking distance. [Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
5) Boundary Stone at Bowen Road (寶雲道)
The Bowen Road boundary stone stands comfortably by the side of the fitness trail. [Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
5) Boundary Stone at Bowen Road (寶雲道)
[Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
6) Boundary Stone at Happy Valley (跑馬地)
From the eastern end of Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Stubbs Road and Blue Pool Road leads the way down to Happy Valley Racecourses. Happy Valley Racecourse was established by the British in 1846. Since then, Happy Valley has become a synonym of horse racing in Hong Kong. [Bowen Road Fitness Trail, Mid-Levels, 2020]
6) Boundary Stone at Happy Valley (跑馬地)
Along Wong Nai Chung Road, all apartments contain large windows facing the racecourses of Happy Valley. The last boundary stone is located just outside the wall of the racecourses. [Wong Nai Chung Road (黃泥涌道), Happy Valley, 2020]
6) Boundary Stone at Happy Valley (跑馬地)
The Happy Valley boundary stone stands in a small parkette outside the racecourses. [Wong Nai Chung Road (黃泥涌道), Happy Valley, 2020]