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.
In 2016, “dai pai dong” was added as a Hong Kong English term in the Oxford English Dictionary, referring as “a traditional licensed street stall, typically with a small seating area, selling cooked food at low prices; (now more generally) any food stall of this type.” The term “dai pai dong” 大牌檔 literally means “big license stall”, which attributes to their bigger license paper compared to other street vendors. In Chinese, “dai pai dong” can also be written as 大排檔, meaning a “row of line-up stalls”. Street hawkers have been around in Hong Kong for over a century. The number of street hawkers increased dramatically after WWII, when unemployed citizens were eager to make a living by setting up all sort of vendor stalls on the street, including food stalls. In response, the government put forward “dai pai dong” licenses as a measure to regulate and standardize the food stalls. During its heyday between 1950’s to 1970’s, some say there were more than 3000 dai pai dongs across the city. To control street hygiene, avoid traffic congestion and give priority to urban developments, the government stopped issuing dai pai dong licenses in 1956, and restricted license transfer to spouse only, eliminating the chance of passing the business down the generation. As the city’s economy boomed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, dining options exponentially increased. Along with the government’s constraints and fierce competition of dining options, undesirable hygiene, absence of air conditioning, and the relatively crowded seating have all led to the dwindling of dai pai dongs. In 2011, there were 28 dai pai dongs left in Hong Kong: Central (10 stalls), Wanchai (3 stalls), Sham Shui Po (14 stalls), and Outer Islands (1 stall). From one of the most popular causal dining options in the 1960’s to a disappearing urban heritage that appears as diorama in history museums nowadays, the rise and fall of dai pai dongs reflects the rapid evolution of Hong Kong in the latter half of the 20th century.
Often promoted as a unique component of Hong Kong’s culinary heritage, scenes of dai pai dongs are often displayed as backdrops in museums and amusement parks. A typical dai pai dong consists of a 4′ x 6′ green metal stall used as kitchen, and a long bench topped with three small wooden stools as extra seating. In the past, the number of customers was restricted to two folding tables and eight portable chairs. Opened for breakfast, lunch, dinner or late night meals, dai pai dong may serve congee, noodles, stir fry, dessert, and/or coffee/tea. Despite street stalls are disappearing fast, dai pai dong dishes and their cooking techniques have been well preserved at many neighbourhood restaurants in Hong Kong. Often described as good wok hei (鑊氣), which literally means excellent “breath of wok” or the rich aroma and flavour of the wok, the spirit of dai pai dong cuisine remains as one of the essential aspects of the local cuisine. While the taste of dai pai dong may live long, it is the vibrant street ambience, the causal interactions with vendors and fellow customers, and the carefree dining experience topped with cheap beer and loud laughter that would certainly be missed.
Man Yuen Noodles (民園麵家), a former 80-year old dai pai dong in Soho, Central, was the spark that ignited the city’s attention on dai pai dong conservation. In 2005, there were 30 dai pai dongs left in Hong Kong. Wong Kwong Hing (黃光慶), the license holder of Man Yuen Noodles, passed away. The Lee brothers, disciplines of Wong’s father and the operators of Man Yuen for many decades, attempted to continue the hawker license but were rejected by the government. A number of district councillors, legislators, and 3000+ Hong Kongers made a petition, urging the government to let the Lee brothers continue with the business. Their petition failed, and the famous street stall was forced to close down. Yet, the 2005 incident successfully captured the media’s attention and brought out the issue of the dying culture to the public. The conservation effort gained momentum in the next couple of years, and eventually led to the change of license regulations in 2008, allowing non spousal license transfer to be considered. Despite the effort, the numbers of dai pai dongs continue to drop. Without anyone’s notice, the end of dai pai dong could become reality in less than a generation’s time.
Situated at the mouth of Bosphorus into the Black Sea, Anadolu Kavagi, which literally means Control Post of Anatolia (Asia Minor), has been an strategic outpost and fishing village since Roman times. Today, a small fishing community remained. The village also serves as the last stop of the Bosphorus tourist cruise. Compared to the bustling scenes of cosmopolitan Istanbul, the tranquil village expresses a distinctive ambience that keeps on luring foreign tourists and Istanbul inhabitants to come for a brief getaway.
After getting off at Anadolu Kavagi, the first thing that caught our attention was the street food vendors right by the dock. We picked a seafood restaurant, climbed the stairs to the upper floor, and ordered fish buns, fried mussels, fried calamari, etc. After lunch, we ascended the hill behind the village to the ruins of Yoros Castle. We wandered around Yoros Castle a little bit before finding ourselves at an open lookout overlooking the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. Some say the towns along the Black Sea coast are quite picturesque and interesting, but we would have to leave them for the next time around.
Anadolu Kavagi appears as a lovely fishing village.
The waterfront of Anadolu Kavagi is occupied a cluster of fishing boats.
During our brief visit, several fishermen were busy fixing their fishing net while chatting causally.
The peaceful fisherman life at Anadolu Kavagi offered a pleasant contrast to the chaotic and busy scenes of Istanbul just 90 minutes of boat ride away.
Each fisherman we met seemed friendly and relaxed.
A handful of seafood stalls and restaurants can be found at the fishing village.
Just like Istanbul, we had all sort of cat encounters in Anadolu Kavagi. This cat sat right by the dock looking at the sea.
Even the cats seemed content with their hassle free lives in Anadolu Kavagi.
Located at the hilltop above Anadolu Kavagi, Yoros Castle guarded the confluence spot of the Bosphorus and Black Sea since the Byzantine times.
From Yoros Castle, we could see the Bosphorus as well as the Black Sea.
Known as the “backyard” of Hong Kong, Nam Sang Wai (南生圍) is an area of tranquil wetlands north of Yuen Long (元朗). The “Wai” in “Nam Sang Wai” refers to “gei wai” (基圍), an old method mainly for shrimp culture introduced to Hong Kong in the 1940’s. Bounded by man made embankments, gei wai is a shallow pool in a mangrove wetland with 10 to 30 cm of water collected from the Deep Bay (后海灣). The shrimp farmer would use a water gate to control the amount of incoming water from Deep Bay. The sea water would also bring in juvenile fish and shrimps. The shrimps would then feed on the organic matters from the mangroves. Gei wai shrimps (基圍蝦), usually steamed, has became a local delicacy throughout the years. The gei wai method has been mostly phased out nowadays. The former gei wai pools and fish ponds of Nam Sang Wai have became a semi-manmade wetland where visitors enjoy the serene waterways, reed clusters and pockets of grasslands, and learn more the wetland ecosystem. It also offers a network of pleasant footpaths winding through waterways and pools, providing the perfect venue for an afternoon stroll, wedding photos, and even filming set for movies, TV shows and music videos.
The passenger boat at Shan Pui River (山貝河) is the last public passenger boat service in Hong Kong operated entirely by hand.
The first impression of Nam Sang Wai for most visitors is its overwhelming serenity of water networks.
The footpaths at Nam Sang Wai are lined with beautiful Red Gum Trees (赤桉樹).
Some old houses in Nam Sang Wai are abandoned, and are sometimes used for filming local movies.
The boardwalk by the old fish ponds are popular spots for photos.
The large lawn at Nam Sang Wai is equally popular for couples, families and pets to hang out.
Nam Sang Wai is a hotspot for both migrating birds and local waterfowls.
Beyond Shan Pui River (山貝河), the urban and industrial developments of Yuan Long seem like they may one day encroach into the wetland territories.
The peaceful water of Nam Sang Wai remains like a flawless mirror.
As a natural system to purify the surface runoff of the city, wetlands are essential in the entire water cycle of the city.
As villagers move out of the rural areas, some old stores and houses in Nam Sang Wai are gradually crumbling into ruins.
A handful of occupied houses remain in Nam Sang Wai.
Though most of them are in need of restoration.
Like pets in other rural areas of Hong Kong, the cats and dogs in Nam Sang Wai also lead peaceful lives.
A number of village homes built on stilts can be founded along Shan Pui River (山貝河).
Such serene and picturesque setting are great for photography and sketches.
After a long and relaxing stroll in Nam Sang Wai, the small man-powered boat at Nam Sang Wai Pier is always around to bring visitors back to the city’s side.
For several years the famous Shinto shrine Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) has been voted as the favorite tourist attraction in Kyoto on a number of travel websites. The images of the vermilion Senbon Torii (千本鳥居, thousands of torii gates) winding up the Mount Inari (233m) and the clusters of miniature shrines and private graves hidden in the woods certainly nourish the public imagination of a mysterious old Japan. We thought of visiting the shrine in late afternoon or early evening when the twilight was gradually fading away, shifting the tone of everything from orange to violet and then blue. Somehow that wasn’t realized, and instead we chose to explore this highly popular and spiritual place early in the morning of our last day of the trip. To beat the crowds, getting up before sunrise was crucial. It was only a short JR train ride from Kyoto Station to Inari Station. By the time we set foot at the entrance route of the Taisha it was a little before 7:30am.
To make the most out of the last day in Kyoto, we get up before dawn and carried our backpack and luggage to Kyoto Station. At daybreak, we bid farewell to the tranquil Shirakawa River in our Higashiyama neighborhood.
At Kyoto Station, we stored our belongings at one of the many lockers and hopped onto a Nara-bounded train for Inari Station.
The ride to the peaceful Inari Station took only a few minutes, and the entrance route of Fushimi Inari Taisha was just right across the road.
Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) was first established in the 8th century dedicated to Inari (稲荷大神), the God of Rice and Sake. In the agricultural nation, the God of Rice was a powerful figure who governed the fortune of lives. In the modern age, the power of Inari had been shifted to offer blessing on the prosperity of businesses and people’s lives in general.
A large torii gate led us towards the Romon Gate (楼門, Lower Gate).
The Romon Gate (楼門, Lower Gate) was a donation in 1589 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉), the famous daimyō (大名, feudal warlord) who unified a large part of the country.
There were only a few visitors at the Worship Hall in front of the Honden (Main Building). After paying our respects, we couldn’t wait longer to begin the hike up to the peak of Mount Inari via the remarkable Senbon Torii.
On Mount Inari, two features stood out. First was of course the vermilion torii gates. Donated by individuals and business companies, there were over 5000 torii gates guiding our way up the Mount Inari. The second feature was the kitsune (fox). Uncounted statues of foxes appeared along the trail, usually came in pairs standing in front of the Shinto shrines. Foxes were believed to be the Kenzoku, the messenger of god.
We walked past the first pair of bronze fox statues right after the visit of the main shrine. Many fox statues here carried a key in their mouth (to the rice granary).
Our hike up the 4km trail began at this cluster of the vermilion Senbon Torii (千本鳥居, thousands of torii gates).
Only a handful of visitors were there, such a blessing given this place is also famous for big visitor crowds throughout the day. The record was 2.69 million during the 3 days of New Year period in 2006.
Soon we arrived at the trailhead of the dual route. Both route would ultimately converge back to a single path. We picked the left route.
From one direction, the Senbon Torii appeared clean and minimal.
Looking back we could see columns of dates and donor’s names along the path as far as the eye could see.
We stopped at most of the sub shrine along the trail.
After a while, the trail gradually turned steeper with stone steps.
Half way through the ascend, the view from the Yotsutsuji Intersection was amazing in a clear morning. Many tourists would turn back from here.
We continued on the uphill journey, and stopped by a number of miniature shrines and grave clusters. Mini fox statues, mini vermilion torii gates and candles were often seen as offerings.
We often made detours from the trail into groups of mini shrines and graves. We bumped into this what looked like a shrine guardian cat.
The cat came from behind the shrine and jumped from a a stone stele to another, and finally stayed on a small tablet under the morning sun… just for a few seconds.
A pair of stone lions and foxes were on guard by the small shrine of God of Rain.
The early morning sun was nice and warm, and cast a magical highlight onto the torii gates.
Fallen autumn leaves added an extra sense of solitude to the quiet trail.
While at certain spots the autumn leaves gave a vivid background to the otherwise greyish setting of stones steles and statues.
By the time we reached “Second Peak” we knew we were just minutes away from the peak.
At around 9:15 we reached the top of Mount Inari, after about an hour and 45 minutes of hike.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan