For a whole year we walked by the junction of Ladder Street (樓梯街) and Circular Pathway (弓弦巷) every morning and never did we notice Nhau, a new contemporary Vietnamese restaurant just 30m down Circular Pathway, until one Saturday morning when we decided to give it a try after reading about it on the Internet. We ended up enjoying the lovely food by Chef Que Vinh Dang and the relaxing ambience of the restaurant. But what truly amazed us was the fact that we have never noticed the restaurant’s existence despite it is just 3 minute walk away from our apartment and we passed by the junction almost everyday. In fact, Nhau was not the only pleasant surprise we have encountered during our strolls in Tai Ping Shan. Be it a hidden restaurant, or a tiny vintage shop, or a new hand-drip coffee house, or an alleyway full of street art, the labyrinth network of ladder streets in our neighborhood are full of hidden treasures. Every spontaneous detour we make may end up a journey of discoveries. Being a flaneur in our own neighborhood has become our weekend pastimes, as if a recurring treasure hunt that brings us delightful surprises from time to time.
Tai Ping Shan in Sheung Wan has been a treasure trove for several generations. The area around Hollywood Road (荷李活道) and Upper Lascar Row (嚤囉上街) have long been the largest antique market in Hong Kong. Today, the area still host a large concentration of antique stores. Apart from traditional antique shops, new vintage shops have emerged in recent years, attracting nostalgic vintage lovers across the city coming over to test their luck. Film directors and designers in particular love to linger in the area to search for inspirations and film production props. Select 18 at Tung Street has an impressive collection of vintage objects from jewellery, posters, photos, vinyls, toys, housewares to furniture. We can easily spend hours just to go through every single items that might have appeared somewhere in our childhood memories. Recently, it is Chenmiji (陳米記): A Department Store For Only One Person at Water Lane that has captured our attention. Housed in a metal shed measured no more than 1.5 x 2.5m in a 3m wide alleyway, Chenmiji truly epitomizes the tiny living conditions in Hong Kong, where the average living space per capita is 160 sq.ft (compared to 220 in Japan, 323 in Singapore, and 800 in the United States. Space is intimate at Chenmiji, and the atmosphere is cozy and the collection personal but charming, especially attractive for people who adores the 1960s and 1970s Hong Kong. Checking out these vintage shops have become another hobby of ours recently. Just a gentle touch of an old toy or movie ticket would trigger distant memories that we haven’t recalled for years, reminding us how we used to live in an era without smartphones, computers, and the internet.
Treasures for All
Checking out the vintage store You Wu Studio (遊誤工房) would bring us to a popular community gathering spot at Shing Wong Street (城皇街), another famous ladder street between Hollywood Road and Caine Road. In the midst of “30 House” (卅間), an old community of tenement buildings, or tong lau (唐樓) in Chinese, a series of pedestrian landings and steps have become a causal meeting place for the community, as if a small piazza in Europe. Surrounded by two coffee shops and the vintage store You Wu Studio, these landings can be considered as the community’s “third place”, which sociologist Ray Oldenburg describes as a relaxing mingling place away from our home and office. Every weekend, You Yu Studio would set up chairs and tables outside their store, encourage members of the community to sit down for a causal chat, or a cup of locally made ice cream, or a handicraft workshop. Such breathing space just a stone throw away from the business district is truly a treasure for Tai Ping Shan community, and a valuable open space for all pedestrians to enjoy. As a dense and vertical city, Hong Kongers are unfortunately enjoying far less open spaces than residents in many other Asian cities. A study in 2017 reveals the average open space per capita in Hong Kong is about 2.8 sq.m, way behind Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai and Singapore (ranging from 5.8 to 7.6 sq.m). Without adequate outdoor spaces for social activities, Hong Kongers have long been using the streets creatively for both commercial and social purposes. This is the case for You Yu Studio at Shing Wong Street, and so as the tiny Chenmiji at Water Lane.
Hidden in a series of alleyways of traditional townhouses known as Shikumen (石庫門), an interesting area popular with artists and young people has become a major tourist attraction in the former French Concession of Shanghai. Known as Tianzifang (田子坊) since artist Huang Yongyu (黃永玉) named the area after an ancient painter Tianzifang (田子方) in 2001, Tianzifang has become a vibrant location for young people and artists. Many of the traditional Shikumen houses were restored during 2000s and converted into craft shops, cafes, bars, souvenir stores, etc. Taken quite a distinct approach towards preservation than the nearby Xintiandi (新天地), Tianzifang maintains a relatively low-key and community feel. Electrical cables were hanging all over, while weathered bricks and decades old windows could be commonly seen.
We spent much of the last morning of our Shanghai trip wandering in the alleyways of Tianzifang to absorb the lay-back and creative atmosphere. We did quite a bit of window shopping. At the end, we stopped by Cafe Dan for coffee and soba. Owned by a Japanese, Cafe Dan is a lovely small cafe serving excellent Japanese food and great coffee from around the world. Up a flight of narrow wooden stair, the dining area of Cafe Dan on the upper levels felt like a peaceful oasis above the bustling activities of tourists and visitors of Tianzifang. Sitting by the wooden window screen, we had some moments of tranquility under the warm sunlight, while the aroma of our filtered coffee gradually filled the cafe interior.
We reached Tianzifang through one of these alley entrance on Taikang Road.
One of the alley gateway into Tianzifang.
Statue of the ancient painter Tianzifang from the Warring State Period (481 to 403 BC).
Hand-drawn 3D map of Tianzifang.
Alleyway in Tianzifang. Some shops were at the upper level of the old houses, accessible by narrow stairway from the ground level.
Much of the old houses in Tianzifang were transformed into cafes, restaurants and shops.
This shop is dedicated to Teddy bears.
Pedestrian nodes such as a small courtyard could be found at a number of places.
Colourful or kitsch souvenirs selling the Chinese culture could be found all over.
A shop selling traditional and bespoke clothing.
Statue dressed like a red army during the Cultural Revolution in front of a second-hand camera shop.
Interesting murals contribute to the community feel of Tianzifang.
Alleyway in front of Cafe Dan.
Entrance of Cafe Dan.
Interior of the upper level of Cafe Dan.
Delicious Japanese soba at Cafe Dan.
My cup of coffee was brewed with beans from the Galapagos.
The alternating tread wooden staircase at Cafe Dan was an interesting feature.
Heading out of Tianzifang to find our way to our next destination of the day, the small Blue Nankeen Museum.
Read other posts on Shanghai 2016:
0.0 SHANGHAI, 2016
1.0 SUZHOU MUSEUM, Suzhou, China
2.0 HUMBLE ADMINISTRATOR’S GARDEN, Suzhou, China
3.0 LION GROVE GARDEN, Suzhou, China
4.0 SOUP DUMPLINGS AND MORNING STROLL, Shanghai, China
5.0 ROCKBUND, Shanghai, China
6.0 M50, Shanghai, China
7.0 1933 SHANGHAI (老場坊) , Shanghai, China
8.0 POLY GRAND THEATRE (上海保利大劇院), Shanghai, China
9.0 FORMER FRENCH CONCESSION, Shanghai, China
10.0 POWER STATION OF ART, Shanghai, China
11.0 LONG MUSEUM (龍美術館), West Bund, Shanghai, China
12.0 THE BUND (外灘) AT NIGHT, Shanghai, China
13.0 TIANZIFANG (田子坊), Shanghai, China
14.0 CHINESE HAND PRINTED BLUE NANKEEN GALLERY (藍印花布博物館), Shanghai, China
15.0 LUJIAZUI (陸家嘴) OF PUDONG (浦東), Shanghai, China