ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “cat

THE LAST URBAN VILLAGE, Cha Kwo Ling (茶果嶺), Kowloon, Hong Kong

On 21 September 1989, the city’s second harbour tunnel Eastern Harbour Crossing (東區海底隧道) officially opened between Quarry Bay of Hong Kong Island and Cha Kwo Ling of Kowloon. Cha Kwo Ling (茶果嶺), a lush green hill in East Kowloon, was once home to about 10,000 villagers in its heyday, when granite quarrying was a major industry in Hong Kong. Sitting below the green hill facing the harbour, the Hakka village of Cha Kwo Ling has a 400+ years of history, thriving long before this part of Kowloon and the New Territories were leased to Britain in 1899. In the 19th century, Cha Kwo Ling and three other mining villages in East Kowloon, namely Ngau Tau Kok (牛頭角), Sai Tso Wan (晒草灣), and Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門), were administered as the Four Hills of Kowloon (九龍四山), each had its own leader who would report directly to the Qing government office at Kowloon Walled City. After becoming part of the British colony, the four mining villages continued to flourish as a collective community with shared schools, community facilities and temple. Similar to many neighborhoods in Hong Kong, Cha Kwo Ling saw an influx of newcomers from Mainland China during mid 20th century. Stone quarrying at Cha Kwo Ling ceased after 1967, when the government no longer licensed permits for industries using explosives. Apart from granite stones, Kaolin clay mining was also a major industry in the village. The white Kaolin clay is used in a wide range of products, from ceramics, toothpaste, cosmetics, paint, industrial insulation, paper, etc.

In 1980’s, the government put the second nail in Cha Kwo Ling’s coffin by tearing down a part of the village, including a former stone quarry, to make way for Eastern Harbour Crossing (東區海底隧道). A shrank Cha Kwo Ling continued to exist as a village of squatter houses somehow isolated from the surrounding urbanization. Since 2011, a number of government plans were released to replace Cha Kwo Ling village with a high density housing development. The 2021 plan gave the final verdict: erecting six residential towers at the Cha Kwo Ling site, and demolishing the existing village in two years’ time. As one of the last remaining urban village, Cha Kwo Ling has long been a unique place in Hong Kong where things seem to be frozen in time since decades ago, luring photographers and filmmakers seeking for a bygone Hong Kong, from a time when many poor were living in squatter homes but enjoying a strong community bonding. Cha Kwo Ling’s inevitable fate might long be sealed since granite quarrying ceased operations. Witnessing the final demise for one of Kowloon’s last remaining urban villages and anticipating yet another high density housing development that can be found all over the city is rather upsetting.

East of Kwun Tong Pier stands the cluster of residential towers of Laguna City (麗港城) estate, where the former quarry village Sai Tso Wan (晒草灣) and Shell oil depot used to be located. To the right of Laguna City stands the “new apartments” of Cha Kwo Ling. [2015]
The new apartments of Cha Kwo Ling were late additions in the 60’s and 70’s to the village of Cha Kwo Ling (hidden behind trees right of the apartment blocks). [2021]
Completed in early 1990’s, Laguna City (麗港城) is comprised of 38 residential towers and a wide range of community facilities from shopping centres to kindergartens and ball courts. The private estate was situated at Sai Tso Wan (晒草灣), home to one of the four quarry villages of Four Hills of Kowloon (九龍四山) and Shell’s former oil depot. [2021]
Cha Kwo Ling is one of the last remaining urban villages in Kowloon. [2022]
Colourful sheets on drying racks near village entrance. [2021]
At the entrance of Cha Kwo Ling village stands a small St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (路德會聖馬可堂). Built with local granite stones, the church is an early base for Lutheran Church in Hong Kong. [2022]
Ho Wa Lion Dance (壕華龍獅隊) was formed in 2015 by two youngsters who love the tradition. The NGO offers lion dance lessons for kids, and aimed to establish a museum to promote the tradition. [2021]
Vivid colours are often found in the village. [2022]
Wing Wah Restaurant (榮華冰室) is one of the two last remaining coffee houses still in business at Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Nothing seems to have changed in Wing Wah since 1960’s. Sixty years ago, the wooden tables and benches were secondhand furniture sourced by Mr. Ah Yeung, founder of the business. Today, his son (鏡叔) is putting great efforts to sustain the business. [2022]
Due to the lack of clarity on the village’s future, most villagers prefer not to invest money to renovate their homes. [2022]
Layers of rusting corrugated metals, cloths, nylon covers, scrap plywood boards, etc. are the most common facade materials for the squatter houses in Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
In the village, external walls of squatter houses are used for displaying community notices. [2021]
Cha Kwo Ling is a pleasant village for an aimless stroll, and it is not that easy for visitors to get lost. [2022]
A traditional store at the major village junction offers all kinds of drinks and snacks. Stores like this Tak Kee Chan must have witnessed much better days decades ago when school children were still around. [2022]
Many residents built their houses over village lanes, creating a number of covered alleys. [2022]
A setback area in front of a low rise apartment block was a gathering and children’s play area for Cha Kwo Ling villagers in the old days. [2022]
We bumped into several cats in Cha Kwo Ling during our brief visit. Hope that they could settle in a new home when the village is being demolished. [2022]
Metal roofs of squatter homes leave a narrow strip of sky over the alleys of Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Built in 1900 with local granite, Law Mansion (羅氏大屋) is one of the oldest surviving building in Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Antennas dominate the skyline of Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Proudly on display near Cha Kwo Ling Village Fraternity Association, the Hop Yee Lung (合義龍) Dragon Boat is over 60 years old. In its heyday, the boat would take 48 paddlers for the annual dragon boat race at Yaumatei Typhoon Shelter. A number of victories in the 1960’sand 1970’s gave the boat a legendary status in the village. The 20m long dragon boat took artisan Chan Yau (陳有) almost a year to build. [2021]
Built in 1956, Cha Kwo Ling Village Fraternity Association (茶果嶺鄉民聯誼會) is the main gathering and event place for villagers. In the old days, the association also offer charity meals to the poor during Lu Ban (鲁班, the patron saint for the construction industries) Patron’s Day. [2021]
Adjacent to Cha Kwo Ling Village Fraternity Association stands the former Four Hill School (四山公立學校, 1952-1993), a collective memory for many residents of East Kowloon. For years, the former school was home to a sport academy. The forecourt has been turned into a practice ground for golf. [2022]
The current Cha Kwo Ling Tin Hau Temple is dated to late 1940’s, as a replacement for an older temple that was built during the reign of Dao Guan (道光, 1821-1850) of Qing Dynasty. [2022]
Not a common practice for traditional temples, but building this Tin Hau Temple at Cha Kwo Ling with granite was a convenient choice, as the building stood right adjacent to the stone quarries. [2022]
The temple interior offers a distinctly spiritual ambience in the village of Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]

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]

FELINE SHOPKEEPERS (貓店長) 2, Hong Kong

A few years ago, Dutch photographer Marcel Heijnen published a beautiful photo book Hong Kong Shop Cats. The book was an instant hit and captured the heart of people both in Hong Kong and abroad. Lovely images of cats and shop owners with backdrops of traditional shops in Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun manifest a certain universal charm even for non cat lovers. It is the affection between shop cats and their owners that truly touch people, revealing a kind of human-animal bonding enrooted in the old shopping streets of Hong Kong. In the old neighborhoods, shop cats that linger at shopfront often become magnets that draw people from close and afar. Thanks to the social media, some celebrated shop cats (and owners) are even appear in foreign magazines or websites. While the need of mouse catching fades, the role of shop cats have shifted to sunbathing at shopfront, napping on cashier counter, patrolling the back alleys, and serving as social ambassadors to promote the business.

Other than old dried seafood or herbal medicine shops, cats also fit in well with all sort of businesses in the younger generation. Recent TV shows “Cat Shopkeepers” reveal that shops cats have become quite a phenomenon spreading to many businesses: bookstores, cafes, gyms, music schools, nail polishers, design shops, dance studios, musical instrument workshops, you name it. The cool yet lovely character of cats somehow become a perfect compliment to the warm-hearted and neighbourhood friendly identity of local small business. For returning customers or chance pedestrians, surprised encounters of shop cats may feel like discovering some sort of momentary antidotes to their otherwise stressful and monotonous daily life.

Tin Yin Coconut Co. (天然椰子號) has been around in North Point (北角) since 1964, from just a coconut supplier to selling all sort of Indonesian spices, condiments and snacks. Three cats (“Black Pepper”, “Turmeric”, “Satay”) accompany Amy, the lady shop-owner daily in the shop. But only “Black Pepper” would linger at the front desk to greet customers. [Marble Road (馬寶道), North Point (北角), 2020]
Tin Yin Coconut Co. (天然椰子號) has moved to a new store on the same street recently. “Black Pepper” still sleeps through most of the day while customers picking spices and snacks around him. [Marble Road (馬寶道), North Point (北角), 2021]
Ming Kee Southern Goods (銘記南貨店) at Sai Ying Pun is a traditional condiment store that we frequently visited. This is where we get our local cooking wine, soy sauce, oyster sauce, fermented bean curd, etc. Another reason is to check out the their big and friendly cat. [Third Street (第三街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
A bowl of grass is often available as a special snacks for the cat to clear its stomach. [Third Street (第三街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
As a “southern goods” store (南貨店), Ming Kee sells all sort of traditional condiments and food products that are originated from south of Yangtze River. The cat is guarding one of the most popular seasonal merchandises: the Chinese Mitten Crabs (大閘蟹) from Shanghai that are available in the autumn. [Third Street (第三街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun are known for the dried seafood shops that have been around for decades, when the Triangular Pier (三角碼頭) served as a main trading port in Hong Kong. Hundreds of trading companies were situated around the pier, including many dried seafood shops. Today this area is known as the Dried Seafood Street (海味街). Dried Seafood Street (海味街) has become a popular place to spot some of the more well known shop cats whose images have gone viral on the Internet. [Ko Shing Street (高陞街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
In many occasions, visitors would find a rather sleepy shop cat at the Dried Seafood Street (海味街). [Des Voeux Road (德輔道西), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Near the junction of Sutherland Street and Des Voeux Road West, Dai Lee Hong (大利行) dried seafood shop also has its celebrity cat known as “Fat Boy” (肥仔). [Sutherland Street (修打蘭街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Apart from Apart from dried seafood, herbal medicine, nuts, spices and condiments are also popular in the Dried Seafood Street (海味街), such as Wing Shun Lei (永順利) dried herb shop. The beautiful cat Gum Gum (金金) of Wing Shun Lei is one of the many neighbours of “Fat Boy” (肥仔). [Sutherland Street (修打蘭街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Another cat Ting Ting (丁丁) sometimes takes the night shift to “guard” the back door of Wing Shun Lei (永順利). [Sutherland Street (修打蘭街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
The cat at Guang Chong Hong (廣昌行), another herbal medicine in the area, loves to nap at the shopfront no matter how busy the street gets. [Queen’s Road West (皇后大道西), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Sometimes, it would be waken by curious pedestrians who couldn’t resist petting its head. [Queen’s Road West (皇后大道西), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
A little further uphill from Sheung Wan, a beautiful cat is waiting for its owner at a hair salon window. [Po Hing Fong (普慶坊), Sheung Wan (上環)]
The top of Ladder Street is home to a shy shop cat belonged to the street eatery Glorious Fast Food (輝煌快餐店). [Junction of Caine Road (堅道) and Ladder Street (樓梯街), Sheung Wan (上環), 2020]
Old restaurants and eateries are also good places to find shop cats, whose mice catching instinct is a big asset for the business. [Luen Wah Cafe (聯華茶餐廳), Centre Street (正街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Even household hardware shops are cat friendly these days. [Lockhart Road (駱克道), Wanchai (灣仔), 2020]
And so as household appliance shop… [Marble Road (馬寶道), North Point (北角), 2021]
Sam Kee Bookstore (森記圖書) at Fortress Hill (炮台山) is a peaceful bookstore at the basement of a small shopping arcade. Apart from its good selection of books, Sam Kee is also well known as a sanctuary for a dozen or so stray cats. [King’s Road (英皇道), Fortress Hill (炮台山), 2020]
The lady shop owner adopted the cats one by one simply because they have no where to go. [King’s Road (英皇道), Fortress Hill (炮台山), 2020]
These cats are used to be left alone. A sign saying “Sorry, please don’t play with cats” remind customers not to play with the cats. [King’s Road (英皇道), Fortress Hill (炮台山), 2020]

FELINE SHOPKEEPERS (貓店長) 1, Central-Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

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.

On the sloped market street, a cat checks out the passing pedestrians in front of its dried food shop. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2021]
The tri-colour cat of Wah Kee Restaurant (華記食店) sits quietly at the now blocked off Staveley Street (士他花利街) after lunch hour. [Staveley Street, Graham Street Market, Central, 2021]
Another tri-colour cat sunbathed at a closed market stall. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
At the same stall lives another lovely market cat. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
The cats at the 80-year old Gan Kee Noodle Factory (近記粉麵廠) are quite well known at the Graham Street Market. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
The cats at Gan Kee Factory (近記粉麵廠) belong to the same family. Apparently, the father (dark colour at the back) is the shyest of them all. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
People who live in the area, including us, often stop by Gan Kee to say hello to the cats and the elderly owners. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
With over 60 years of history, Kan Kee Noodles Factory (勤記粉麵廠) is another popular noodle shop in Graham Street Market. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
Kan Kee Noodle Factory (勤記粉麵廠) is another popular shop to get traditional dried noodles. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
Near Kan Kee, the cat of a souvenir shop often comes out to chill out on the metal platform of the adjacent market stall. [Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
At a dried food stall, a cat is peacefully taking a nap on a folding table. [Graham Street (嘉咸街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
The cat falls asleep while its owner is reading newspaper when no customer is around. [Graham Street (嘉咸街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
Estabished in 1948, Kung Lee Sugar Cane Juice (公利真料竹蔗水) is one of our favorite snacks shop in our neighborhood. At Kung Lee, a kitten stands on a dining table to greet customers. [Junction of Hollywood Road (荷李活道) and Peel Street (卑利街), Graham Street Market, Central, 2020]
Sasa, the fluffy master of Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) street eatery, loves to greet customers under their tables. [Mee Lun Street (美輪街), Central, 2020]
When it’s not too crowded, Sasa prefers to stay on its “throne chair” at Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園). [Mee Lun Street (美輪街), Central, 2020]
Sometimes, customers would find Sasa of Sing Heung Yuen scratching its head under the table. [Mee Lun Street (美輪街), Central, 2020]
If we manage to arrive early for breakfast at Sing Heung Yuen, there would be a good chance to see Sasa at the eatery. [Mee Lun Street (美輪街), Central, 2020]
Apart from antique shops, the grey cat and the elderly metal worker (right side of photo) are common sights at the end of the pedestrianized Upper Lascar Row, also known as the Cat Street. [Upper Lascar Row (摩羅上街), Sheung Wan, 2021]
Since 1912, Yuan Heng Spice Company (源興香料) has been around in Sheung Wan offering all sort of international spices. Generations of cats there must have been guarding their precious merchandises from mice. [Tung Street (東街), Sheung Wan, 2021]
Today, the cat at Yuan Heng serves more as a greeter to welcome customers. [Tung Street (東街), Sheung Wan, 2021]
Apart from their famous pork chop noodles, the pair of cats at For Kee Restaurant (科記咖啡餐室) has been a big draw for visitors. [Tai Ping Shan Street (太平山街), Sheung Wan, 2020]
The cats at For Kee Restaurant (科記咖啡餐室) often stand elegantly outside the restaurant. [Tai Ping Shan Street (太平山街), Sheung Wan, 2020]
The cats of For Kee just know how to gather people’s attention. [Tai Ping Shan Street (太平山街), Sheung Wan, 2020]
Though sometimes, they can get a little grumpy when being disturbed at the wrong moment. [Tai Ping Shan Street (太平山街), Sheung Wan, 2020]

CULTURE OF DISAPPEARANCE: DAI PAI DONG (大排檔), Central (中環), Hong Kong

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.

After their dai pai dong was forced to shut down in 2005, the elder Lee brother of Man Yuen Noodles (民園麵家) reopened a 300 sq.ft restaurant just across the street from its former location. We visited this small noodle shop several times until the owners retired in March 2016. [Elgin Street (伊利近街), Central, 2016]
In 1990, Yuk Yip Dessert (玉葉甜品) moved to Elgin Street (伊利近街) right beside Man Yuen Noodles. From then on, the two stalls shared the same menu which included both noodles and Chinese dessert. [Junction of Elgin Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2021]
Today, Yuk Yip Dessert remains as the only dai pai dong left in Soho, Central. Some say Yuk Yip is now operated by the younger Lee brother of Man Yuen Noodles, and his wife, the fourth generation owner of the vintage dessert stall. [Junction of Elgin Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2021]
Today, Yuk Yip Dessert continues to serve beef brisket, pork knuckle, wanton and dumpling noodles (recipe probably from the former Man Yuen Noodles), as well as Chinese dessert. [Junction of Elgin Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2016]
In fact, the hundred-year-old Yuk Yip Dessert has been around in Central for several generations. They continues to offer traditional dessert such as tong but lut (糖不甩), a Cantonese dessert made of glutinous rice balls in sugar syrup and crushed roasted peanut. [Junction of Elgin Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2016]
A long bench with small seats at Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園) presents the old way of squeezing a few more seats beyond the official table and chair limits. These have pretty much become exterior decorations now as Lan Fong Yuen has moved into a fully enclosed restaurant space behind the street stall. [Gage Street, Central, 2014]
Despite Lan Fong Yuen has become an air conditioned restaurant, their metal stall on Gage Street (結志街) continues to serve simple takeouts, including Hong Kong style milk tea which is claimed to be an invention by the owner of Lan Fong Yuen decades ago. [Gage Street, Central, 2021]
Towering scaffolding and the tiny metal stall of Leung Pui Kee (梁培記) mark the entrance of Gutzlaff Street (吉士笠街) at Wellington Street (威靈頓街). Established in 1914, Leung Pui Kee Locksmith has been serving banks and shops in Central for over a century. Now the stall is being swallowed by the redevelopment construction. [Junction of Gutzlaff Street and Wellington Street, Central, 2020]
Further towards Stanley Street (士丹利街), Gutzlaff Street (吉士笠街) is home to Shui Kee (水記) dai pai dong. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
For over 60 years, Shui Kee (水記) has been serving beef brisket and entrails in Central. With construction cranes and scaffolding closing in from Graham Street and Wellington Street, over half of Gutzlaff Street, a pedestrian lane once dotted with street eateries, would eventually be demolished to make way for new hotel and office towers. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2020]
Shui Kee is situated on a slightly sloped lane. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
Awning covers, folded tables and plastic chairs define the dining area of Shui Kee. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
Lam Kin Wing (林健永), the third generation owner of Shui Kee, took over the business over two decades ago after his father retired. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
Eating at dai pai dong offers locals and tourists a vintage dining experience. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
Shui Kee is well known for its fresh beef entrails (牛雜). Unlike frozen ones, fresh beef entrails have a more chewy texture and richer favour. Due to the time and effort involved in cleaning and preparing fresh entrails, it’s quite difficult to find them nowadays. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
For those who is not a big fan of beef entrails (stomachs), beef brisket is another decent alternative at Shui Kee. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
Stanley Street (士丹利街) is one of the last spots in Central where dai pai dong hawkers still set up folding tables and portable chairs daily to provide an affordable alternative to the restaurant franchises, fast food chains, and Michelin star restaurants in the area. [Stanlet Street, Central, 2014]
Dai pai dong offers some of the best opportunities for people watching and interaction with the locals. [Stanley Street, Central, 2014]
While dai pai dong offers a unique street dining experience, the summer heat can make it a sweaty one. [Stanley Street, Central, 2014]
In Central, dai pai dongs can only be found at pedestrian-only alleyways. [Stanley Street, Central, 2014]
Perhaps in less than a decade, this affordable dining culture will become history, and only exist in photos and movies like Chungking Express. [Stanley Street, Central, 2021]
Other than Gutzlaff Street, Staveley Street (士他花利街) is another alleyway that is facing the fate of demolition. Staveley Street was once dotted with dai pai dongs and small printing shops. Now they are mostly gone. [Staveley Street, 2014]
Small family owned printing companies once flourished in the alleyways of Central-Sheung Wan. Entering the digital era, most of these shop owners are calling it a day and close their business for good. [Staveley Street, 2014]
Most of Staveley Street will be knocked down and the alleyway would become a dead end. [Staveley Street, 2014]
Wah Kee Restaurant (華記食店) is one of the last businesses still in operation at Staveley Street. [Staveley Street, 2014]
The tri-colour cat of Wah Kee Restaurant (華記食店) watched the last customers leaving Staveley Street after lunch hour. [Staveley Street, 2021]

ANADOLU KAVAGI, Istanbul, Turkey

2006.05.03

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.

06ME09-27Anadolu Kavagi appears as a lovely fishing village.

06ME09-28The waterfront of Anadolu Kavagi is occupied a cluster of fishing boats.

06ME09-34During our brief visit, several fishermen were busy fixing their fishing net while chatting causally.

06ME09-35The 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.

fisherman at Anadolu Kavagi 1Each fisherman we met seemed friendly and relaxed.

vendor at Anadolu KavagiA handful of seafood stalls and restaurants can be found at the fishing village.

cat at Anadolu Kavagi 1-2Just like Istanbul, we had all sort of cat encounters in Anadolu Kavagi. This cat sat right by the dock looking at the sea.

cat at Anadolu Kavagi 2Even the cats seemed content with their hassle free lives in Anadolu Kavagi.

06ME09-24Located at the hilltop above Anadolu Kavagi,  Yoros Castle guarded the confluence spot of the Bosphorus and Black Sea since the Byzantine times.

06ME09-18From Yoros Castle, we could see the Bosphorus as well as the Black Sea.


AN UNDISTURBED WATER WORLD, Nam Sang Wai (南生圍), Hong Kong

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.

DSC_1900The passenger boat at Shan Pui River (山貝河) is the last public passenger boat service in Hong Kong operated entirely by hand.

DSC_1902The first impression of Nam Sang Wai for most visitors is its overwhelming serenity of water networks.

DSC_1908The footpaths at Nam Sang Wai are lined with beautiful Red Gum Trees (赤桉樹).

DSC_1911Some old houses in Nam Sang Wai are abandoned, and are sometimes used for filming local movies.

DSC_1918The boardwalk by the old fish ponds are popular spots for photos.

DSC_1937The large lawn at Nam Sang Wai is equally popular for couples, families and pets to hang out.

DSC_1944Nam Sang Wai is a hotspot for both migrating birds and local waterfowls.

DSC_1956Beyond 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.

DSC_1981The peaceful water of Nam Sang Wai remains like a flawless mirror.

DSC_1987As a natural system to purify the surface runoff of the city, wetlands are essential in the entire water cycle of the city.

DSC_2002As villagers move out of the rural areas, some old stores and houses in Nam Sang Wai are gradually crumbling into ruins.

DSC_2009A handful of occupied houses remain in Nam Sang Wai.

DSC_2010Though most of them are in need of restoration.

DSC_2020Like pets in other rural areas of Hong Kong, the cats and dogs in Nam Sang Wai also lead peaceful lives.

DSC_2033_01A number of village homes built on stilts can be founded along Shan Pui River (山貝河).

DSC_2031Such serene and picturesque setting are great for photography and sketches.

DSC_2027After 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.