OASES IN THE CULTURAL DESERT, Hong Kong Arts Centre (香港藝術中心) & Academy of Performing Arts (香港演藝學院), Wan Chai (灣仔), Hong Kong
When I was a kid, my parents used to take me to the children art workshops at Hong Kong Arts Centre (香港藝術中心) in Wanchai. I don’t remember much about my earliest ”artworks”, but I do remember bits and pieces about the Arts Centre building in the 1980’s: ceiling consisted of small triangles, exposed yellow air ducts, staircase with yellow handrails spiraling up the atrium which took me forever to climb. Today, after series of renovations, the iconic yellow ductwork and stair handrails are gone, but the Arts Centre remains as a prominent non-government institution for art exhibitions, theatre shows, film screenings, and children workshops. As a competitive commercial city where people spent most of their time working to earn a living, Hong Kong is reputed for being a cultural desert. In the 1970’s, some Hongkongers tried to do something to advocate the development of art and culture, including the late architect Tao Ho (何弢). Graduated from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Ho studied and worked under Walter Gropius, the master of Modernist architecture and founder of the Bauhaus School in prewar Germany. Tao Ho returned to Hong Kong and established TaoHo Design Architects in 1968. In 1971, Tao Ho, Bill Bailey and King-man Lo came together to form the organization Hong Kong Arts Centre. After negotiations with the government and series of fundraising campaigns, construction of the building began in 1975 and completed in 1977. As chief architect, Tao Ho’s challenge was enormous. In a 10,000sf triangular site, Ho needed to incorporate galleries, theatre, rehearsal rooms, auditoriums, classrooms, restaurants, offices, and a four-storey atrium plus disabled facilities (first in Hong Kong) within a 16-storey building, all under a limited budget from donors. A triangular system was adopted from spatial planning, structural modules to facade treatment. From the use of functional forms, simple colour scheme, industrial materials, holistic design language, to incorporating geometric shapes into architecture, the spirit of Bauhaus is clearly shown. Since opening, Hong Kong Arts Centre has become a cultural icon in the city, exhibiting works by masters like Paul Klee and Zao Wou Ki as well as supporting the local art scenes. Before his death in 2019, Tao Ho was also responsible for a number of design projects in Hong Kong and China, including Hong Kong Pavilion for the 1986 World Expo in Vancouver, Tsuen Wan MTR Station, renovation of Hong Kong Governor House, Panda Pavilion in Ocean Park, Wing Kwong Pentecostal church, the Bauhinia emblem and the Hong Kong flag, etc.
In 2019, we finally got a chance to visit Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts (HKAPA-香港演藝學院) to watch 887, a solo play by renowned playwright, actor and stage director Robert Lepage from Quebec. Before the show, we wandered a little bit in the atrium hall, where a model of the building complex was on display, showing the two triangular blocks: the academy and theatre blocks separated by a driveway. Serving as both the main campus for performing arts education and a venue for theatre performances, the HKAPA has been a prominent establishment in Hong Kong since 1985. It was founded as the city’s only place that offers professional education on music, dance, drama, technical arts, film and television. Equipped with state of the art acoustics and stage equipment, its Lyric Theatre and other performance halls have served the audience well throughout the last three decades. Like the Arts Centre across the street, HKAPA was conceptualized during the reformative decade of Governor Murray MacLehose (麥理浩), who dramatically improved the social welfare of Hongkongers by introducing new ordinances and policies, and boldly transformed the city into a diverse metropolis with a wide range of public projects, from the metro system to satellite towns, country parks to the Ocean Park (amusement park), Jubilee Sport Centre to the HKAPA. In 1981, architect Simon Kwan (關善明) won the design competition for HKAPA. Restricted by underground utilities, Kwan uses a driveway to break the complex into two triangular volumes, academy and administrative block on one side and theatre block on the other.
CULTURAL CENTRE AT FORMER EXPLOSIVES MAGAZINE, Asia Society (亞洲協會), Admiralty (金鐘), Hong Kong
In late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the former Victoria Barracks at Admiralty have been torn down to make way for commercial developments, government buildings, and transportation infrastructure. Only a handful of the 19-century structures have been preserved and renovated with modern usage in today’s Hong Kong Park. East of the park, the abandoned Explosives Magazine Compound awaited its fate as rain forest gradually takes over the site. Two decades have passed. In 2002, the site was granted to Asia Society to establish their new home in Hong Kong. Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III in New York, Asia Society is an organization that promotes cultural exchange between Asia and the United States. In 1990, Asia Society arrived in Hong Kong to establish its Hong Kong Centre. After granted the site of the former Explosives Magazine Compound, Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien were chosen to oversee the design and transformation of the site, erecting new structures and converting four former weapon production and storage buildings into one of the most fascinating cultural venues in the city.
As the New York based architects described, the 1.3 hectares site was overgrown with banyan trees and lush green vegetation despite its central location adjacent to the British consulate and Pacific Place Shopping Centre. In 2012, after a decade of construction work, Asia Society’s 65,000 s.f. new home was opened to the public. Seen as one of Hong Kong’s most successful adaptive reuse and heritage conservation project in recent years, Asia Society regularly host talks and exhibitions. The complex is separated by a nullah into two parts. Where the former explosive magazine buildings are located, the upper site houses a gallery, offices, and theatre. The lower site is occupied by a visitor centre, multi-function hall, gift shop, restaurant, and offices. Connecting the upper and lower sites, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien designed a double decker bridge that zigzags over the sloped rain forest. The upper deck is a pleasant open walkway offering great views of the adjacent commercial district. Combined with the roof of the visitor centre, the open walkway also serves as a sculpture garden.
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.
DAY 2 (3/5): MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本), Japan, 2018.05.26
Two years ago in April 2016, Pritzker Prize winner Toyo Ito (伊東豊雄) came to Hong Kong for a public lecture. His recently completed Taichung Metropolitan Opera House was the main focus on that day, but Ito also introduced some of his earlier works, including the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre (まつもと市民芸術館). With its spatial fluidity and random windows on the curving outer walls, the Matsumoto project has strongly imprinted onto our memory. Completed in 2004, the Matsumoto Performing Arts Center is consisted of two performance halls: the great hall (1800 seats) and the smaller hall (240 seats), rehearsal studios, supporting facilities, a cafe, and a reception lobby, all connected by a ribbon-like foyer and a splendid staircase, allowing visitors to freely flow through different spaces. The performing arts centre was famous not only for its aesthetics, but also its quality as a community theatre, providing a great place for both the audience and performers. This, to a great extent, was the fruitful result from close collaborations during the design process between architect Toyo Ito and stage director-actor Kazuyoshi Kushida.
Despite our limited time in the city, we just couldn’t leave Matsumoto without checking out Ito’s building. We were eager to have a firsthand experience of the fluid spatial experience, check out the delicate construction detailing, and admire the lovely finish materials. The performance halls were closed for the public, but we could still freely wander in the common areas, from the grand entrance staircase to the lovely roof garden.
The Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre is just a few minutes walk from Matsumoto City Museum of Art.
From outside, the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre bends along a side street to the dark grey fly tower.
The expression of fluidity seems to be the coherent design language of the building. Patterns of flowing water appears on some metal panels near the building entrance.
The magical experience of the architecture begins right from the dramatic entry into the entrance lobby and grand staircase.
A moving walkway along the beautiful outer wall of random openings, where diffused natural light is allowed to enter the interior.
In a magazine interview, Toyo Ito describes the curved facade with windows of sparkling pattern can give the impression of being random and natural rather than geometrically based.
From a distance, the facade of random windows appears like a translucent screen of sparkling gemstones.
During daytime, the foyer serves as a indoor public space. The public is free to enter and climb the stair to the upper foyer.
A screen of translucent glass serves as a balustrade for the upper foyer.
On the upper foyer, there is a large glazed wall allowing visitors to take in the view of greenery outside.
The curvature of the outer walls extends all the way to the back foyer of the grand hall. While the outer wall are defined by the random windows, the walls of the performance halls in the foyer are cladded by dark metal panels.
On the upper foyer, there are several two groups of organic shaped seating under spotlight.
Between the grand and smaller halls, the foyer offers a pleasant space for pre-function activities under the carefully designed ambient lighting.
There is a causal cafe at the end of the foyer next to the smaller hall. The adjacent glass elevator provides a convenient way to access the above roof garden.
The flat roof is covered entirely by vegetation. Both the lawn and the continuous bench along the railing offer pleasant seating to the public.
The roof garden ends at a dance rehearsal studio and the fly tower of the grand hall.
From the roof garden, visitors can enjoy the skyline of Matsumoto and the scenery of Hida Mountains (Northern Japanese Alps) beyond.
After touring the roof garden and upper foyer, we descended back to the ground floor.
We were delighted to have make it to see Ito’s great piece of architecture. From the performing arts centre, it was a 15-minute walk back to Matsumoto Station for us to embark into the countryside of the Northern Japanese Alps.
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CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE
Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)
Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)
Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)
Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)
Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)
Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)
LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Another journey begins…
Bounded by Himalayas to the south and Karakorum/ Kunlun Mountains to the north, for 900 years Ladakh had been an independent kingdom deeply rooted with influences from neighboring Tibet. On one hand, the jagged, mountainous Ladakh was a profound Tibetan Buddhist society where lamaseries flourished in almost every corner. On the other hand, centuries of being a trading outpost along the Silk Road between Tibet, Xinjiang and Central Asia opened Ladakh to other Asian influences especially the Islamic culture. It is the charm of such a unique melting pot of traditions and cultures of Central Asian highlands that led us to make a short trip to this high-altitude desert in Jammu and Kashmir State of Northern India. Ladakh’s breathtaking scenery of arid moonscapes, snow-capped mountains and picture perfect blue sky was just another reason why we were so keen to reach this magical “Land of High Passes”, a remote snow county in India where thick snow and -40 temperature virtually close off the region for many months of a year. After years of dreaming to visit India, we finally made up our mind to take Ladakh as our first taste of the Indian Subcontinent. It was late June when much of India was baked in Pre-Monsoon heat of 40+ degrees, except high up in the Himalayas where even forces of the mighty South Asian Monsoon cannot reach. For six full days, we stationed at Leh, the ancient capital of the Ladakh Kingdom, and explored the landscapes and nearby lamaseries in the Indus Valley.
Location of Ladakh in Northern India.
Like many travelers, we took the ancient city of Leh as the base to explore the nearby villages and monasteries of Ladakh.
Throughout Ladakh, we saw how the traditional local culture cope with the modern age.
Outside Leh, Tibetan lamaseries rise above the Indus River Valley against the dramatic backdrop of Ladakh’s arid mountains.
Inside each lamasery, Tibetan Buddhist monks continue their century-old traditions to pursue for a simple way of life and spiritual enlightenment.
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Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi
1933 SHANGHAI (老場坊) , Shanghai, China
Located in Hongkou District, Shanghai 1933 was our next destination of the day. After seeing photographs of this magnificent building on the Internet, I longed to visit Shanghai 1933 since months before our trip. Built in the year 1933, Shanghai 1933 was purposely designed as a livestock slaughterhouse for the city. It was designed by British architects, and some of the cement material was also imported from England. Throughout the years, the prewar slaughterhouse had been converted to host other functions. A few years ago this unique building went through a major restoration and has once again gone through another identity transformation. This time, it has become a hub of shops, restaurants, event spaces and studios for creative industries, a cool new representative of Shanghai’s creative and commercial scene.
The five-storey concrete building is remarkable both aesthetically and functionally. The complex is comprised of a circular tower at the centre, and a rectangular ring of chambers around it, with open atrium spaces between the two components. Narrow footbridges and concrete braces connect the two main components, while ramps and stairs link the levels. Visually, the complex seems like a concrete labyrinth as if a modern realization of Piranesi’s imaginary prison. Functionally, the former slaughterhouse is an excellent example of the former meat processing system when cattle was brought into the feeding halls at the outer ring and gradually proceeded upwards via the concrete ramps until reaching the high levels. Then the animals would cross the narrow footbridges into the central circular tower and advanced through the slaughtering process.
After getting off the taxi, we were immediately attracted by the rich architectural articulations on the building facade and columns. Reminding us of this highly globalized era, we could see the signage of Starbucks before we even entered the building. Once inside, we wandered around the atrium spaces to take photographs and gradually worked upwards via its ramp network. We didn’t pay much attention to the shops. After strolling for a while, we sat down at a Sichuan noodle shop and had a late lunch. After the delicious meal, we wandered for another bit, enjoying ourselves with photographing the unique architectural spaces and also other visitors who came to Shanghai 1933 posing for all sorts of photo shoots.
Signage of 1933 Shanghai at the main entrance.
Interesting architectural articulations are visible everywhere, including the columns at the entrance arcade.
Footbridges at different levels of the complex greatly contribute to the labyrinth feel of the experience.
Visitors walked in the ring of atrium space between the circular tower and the rectangular outer chambers (shops).
Walking up the ramp overlooking a series of narrow stairs (probably for working staff back in the old days).
Even the concrete balustrade was created with a sense of organic fluidity.
The round edges of the architecture reminded us of the former streamline slaughtering process.
A narrow bridge linking the circular tower and the outer wing.
A group of children in vivid colours stood out from the monotonous concrete environment.
Watching people enjoying different corners at Shanghai 1933 was delightful.
Watching people enjoying different corners at Shanghai 1933 was delightful.
Some came for their wedding photos.
A few visitors seemed to be models for fashion photography.
Others were simply groups of young people looking for an interesting selfie spot.
We could see either someone was being photographed or someone taking photos of another person almost anywhere at Shanghai 1933.
Looking down from the highest level.
It was empty inside the circular core tower except some artwork display when we were there.
Footbridges and visitors both provided the most interesting components in any scene of the complex.
Concrete patchworks are visible throughout the complex.
Looking out the main entrance as we exited the complex.
The main facade of Shanghai 1933 as viewed from the canal of Shajing Port.
Other interesting former industrial buildings in the area.
Leaving Shanghai 1933 behind, we found our way to the nearest metro station.
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
POON CHOI – A Brief Visit of Ping Shan in Yuen Long, Hong Kong
An unexpected opportunity came up. I found myself tagging along my cousin to participate in a traditional poon choi dinner at the Tang Ancestral Hall in Ping Shan, a rural area between the new towns of Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai. Poon choi is a traditional dish originated from the villages of the New Territories. It was believed that poon choi was invented in late Song Dynasty (late 13th century) when villages in the New Territories gathered their best dishes available together in large wooden washbasins to serve the exile Song emperor and his army. Today, poon choi is often served in large stainless steel or ceramic bowls for everyone to share around the table. The food served in poon choi varies, but usually it is a combination of seafood and meat. Throughout the centuries, poon choi has become a signature dish for communal gatherings and celebrations in many parts of the New Territories.
Despite largely renovated in recent years, the original Tang Ancestral Hall in Ping Shan was built over 700 years ago by the Tang Clan. Today it is still used regularly by the Tang Clan in Ping Shan for rituals and gatherings. In 1993, the government established the Ping Shan Heritage Trail to promote tourism in the area. The trail connects a number of historical sights and an interpretation centre housed in the former Ping Shan Police Station. The Tang Ancestral Hall is one of the star attractions along the trail. With an entry courtyard, a central hall for reception, and an inner hall to house the ancestral alter, the Tang Ancestral Hall is a typical example of a traditional ancestral hall, which in ancient times functioned as the social nucleus of a clan village.
Before dinner, we had a chance to stroll around the area. We walked by Tsui Sing Lau, Hong Kong’s only historical pagoda dating back to 600 years ago, an old well that once served the villagers for over two centuries, and the entrance to Sheung Cheung Wai, a walled village constructed more than 200 years ago. Despite drastically transformed from the heydays, clan villages and walled communities are still common in rural areas of the New Territories. Many walled villages, like Sheung Cheung Wai in Ping Shan, were once heavily fortified with high walls and deep moats for self-defense against pirates. Moats were filled and cannons removed, but many wall enclosures survived to the present day.
With its 700-year history, the Tang Ancestral Hall is the star attraction of Ping Shan.
Dining tables were set up at the semi-open central hall of the Tang Ancestral Hall.
Warmed with a portable gas stove throughout the dinner, the poon choi was the centre piece on the dining table. The wine-marinated chicken and duck soup on the side were equally impressive.
The Tang Ancestral Hall has been undergoing major renovations in recent years. Scaffolding has been set up at the inner hall where the ancestral altar is located.
Many farmlands in Ping Shan and its surroundings have been converted into parking lots and new housing estates, including the new town of Tin Shui Wai. The land where Tin Shui Wai occupies was mainly marshland a century ago. Villagers then converted the marshes into rice paddies and fish ponds. As the economy changed, most rice paddies and fish ponds were abandoned and the government finally stepped in to transform the land into the new town of Tin Shui Wai in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The Tsui Sing Lau pagoda originally contained 7 storeys. It was used for the worship of the star constellations for academic achievement.
The 200-year old well
Sheung Cheung Wai remains as a example of the traditional walled villages in the New Territories.