ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Des Voeux Road

THE GOLDEN GOOSE OF VICTORIA HARBOUR: Central Harbourfront (中環海濱), Central (中環), Hong Kong

Between April 2021 and March 2022, land sales have generated an HK$91.6 billion (US$11.7 billion) income for the Hong Kong government, out of which HK$50.8 billion (US$6.5 billion) came from a 47,967 sq.m lot at Central Harbourfront, the prestige waterfront in the city’s financial district. Like many business areas in the city, this land is created from a massive land reclamation project. Every time a massive reclamation project along Victoria Harbour is completed, the government would increase its land supplies and potential sources of income. The city’s iconic skyline would undergo another phase of transformation, and the harbour would once again get narrower. This new piece of land comes from Phase 3 (2003 – 2018) of the Central and Wan Chai Reclamation project, the last major plan (first initiated in 1985) that altered the waterfront between Central and Wan Chai. Land sale has always been a major revenue source for Hong Kong ever since early colonial times. Due to the limited land supply and continuous growth of the population and economy, reclaiming land from the sea was a cost effective way for urban expansion given the city’s rocky and mountainous terrains. Since 1840’s, about 7000 hectares (70 sq.km) of land has been reclaimed. Compared to 59.1 sq.km of Manhattan Island, 70 sq.km is a decent piece of land housing 27% of Hong Kong’s population and 70% of its businesses. While the search of flat land has always been a challenge, voices against land reclamation among the public has gained momentum in recent decades. Given the negative impact to the environment and Victoria Harbour, many now consider land reclamation as an unsustainable solution that would likely do more harm than good.

Victoria Harbour is a vital component for the economic success of Hong Kong since the founding of city. It is a safe, all-weather and deep harbour, a perfect place to establish an international port as history has proven. Yet, 180 years of land reclamation has narrowed the water to such a great extent (distance between Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui has been halved) that the natural potentials of Victoria Harbour has been diminished. On the other hand, many began to recognize the significance of waterfront planning and its impact on shaping the city’s identity. Up until 1980’s, the harbour was developed mostly for the purposes of infrastructure, with wharfs, piers, godowns, warehouses, and dockyards occupied most of the harbourfront, leaving only pockets in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui for public and commercial uses. Under such context, the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance was passed in 1997 to recognize that Victoria Harbour is more than just a safe port. The law acknowledges that “the harbour is to be protected and preserved as a special public asset and a natural heritage of Hong Kong people, and for that purpose there shall be a presumption against reclamation in the harbour.” First covering only the waters around Central, then expanding to the entire harbour in 1999, the law basically put a stop to land reclamation in Victoria Harbour. If the law is here to stay, then the HK$50.8 billion land at Central Harbourfront would be one of the last available plots of waterfront land in Central. Meanwhile, plans for creating a more accessible harbourfront for all to enjoy have begun to realize, with the completion of various waterfront promenades on the Island’s north coast in recent years. Also from the Phase 3 of Central and Wan Chai Reclamation, the lot east of the HK$50.8 billion lot remains unoccupied in the past decade. Designated as Central Harbourfront Event Space, this land has been a vital public space at the heart of the city, hosting events from music festivals and sporting events, to large scale art installations. After this lot is developed, would the 180 year transformation of Central Harbourfront can finally call it a day, or would the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance be reverted one day due to economic and political pressure? The future is anyone’s guess.

Stretched from the General Post Office to the Ferris Wheel at Central Pier, the HK$50.8 billion (US$6.5 billion) lot is one of the last pieces of reclaimed land in Central. [Photo taken from footbridge connection of Central Piers, 2019]
Included in the HK$50.8 billion (US$6.5 billion) lot, the current General Post Office (4th generation) will likely be demolished in the near future. [Photo taken from footbridge connection of Central Piers, 2020]
The same piece of land seemed like a large construction site about a decade ago. [Photo taken from footbridge connection of Central Piers, 2012]
The HK$50.8 billion (US$6.5 billion) land has been idled as an empty lawn for almost a decade already. [Photo taken from footbridge connection of Central Piers, 2020]

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The year 1873 saw the completion of Praya Reclamation Scheme phase 1, extend the waterfront from Queen’s Road Central to Des Vouex Road Central. [Photo by John Thompson, 1873, Illustrations of China and Its People, public domain]
After completing the second phase of Praya Reclamation Scheme, the Central waterfront was extended to Statue Square and Connaught Road Central. [Hong Kong skyline in 1920’s. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain]
In the subsequent decades, land reclamation in Central pushed the waterfront to the current City Hall and General Post Office. [Skyline of Central in 1970’s. Image courtesy: ken93110, wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA 3.0]
Central and Wan Chai Reclamation began in 1993 and ended in 2019, adding the Terminal of Airport Express, the International Finance Centre (IFC) complex and Central Piers in 1996, the government headquarters in 1999, a series of commercial buildings and waterfront promenade in 2008, and the submerged Central-Wanchai Bypass in 2019. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Most of the business district of Central is located on reclaimed land created from the Praya Reclamation Scheme in the 19th century, several smaller projects in mid 20th century, and the Central and Wan Chai Reclamation Scheme between 1993 and 2018. [Photo taken from The Cenotaph, 2020]
In late 19th century, Paul Chater (Hongkong Land) and James Johnstone Keswick (Jardine Matheson) carried out the Praya Reclamation Scheme that dramatically transformed the north coast of Hong Kong Island, while their companies remain as the largest landlords in Central today, owning a large amount of commercial buildings including Jardine House, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Prince’s Building, Chater House, Alexander House, etc. [Photo taken from Statue Square, 2020]
Owned by Hongkong Land, the luxurious Landmark Atrium is another icon in Central. [2020]
Illustrated on the ground floor pavement of the HSBC headquarters, the shoreline of Central has undergone multiple transformations throughout the past 180 years. [2020]
Commonly known as the original northern shoreline on Hong Kong Island, Queen’s Road now lies somewhere between 500m to over 1km (in Wan Chai) inland from Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken at Intersection of Queen’s Road Central and Ice House Street, 2020]
Des Voeux Road Central was constructed after phase 1 of the Praya Reclamation Scheme. [Photo taken outside of Central Market at Des Voeux Road Central, 2021]
Named after Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, Connaught Road was completed in 1890 as a waterfront thoroughfare. Today the road is completely landlocked after a series of land reclamation. [Photo taken outside of Exchange Square at Connaught Road Central, 2020]
The towers and shopping mall of International Finance Centre (IFC) are resulted from the Phase 1 of Central and Wan Chai Reclamation project (1993 – 2019). [2020]
Phase 3 of Central and Wan Chai Reclamation project includes the Central-Wanchai Bypass, which starting from 2019 connects Central to Causeway Bay via a tunnel under the harbour. [2020]

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Much of the reclaimed Central Harbourfront is designated as an open space for public events such as the Hong Kong Marathon. [2017]
Hong Kong ePrix, an international Formula E race, is also held at the Central Harbourfront Event Space. [2019]
Between 2016 to 2018, Clockenflap Music and Arts Festival, the city’s biggest annual music festival, was held at Central Harbourfront Event Space three years in a row. [2017]
In 2017, British trip hop and electronic band Massive Attack was the final guest of the three day Clockenflap festival. [2017]
Before the pandemic, the Clockenflap events were some of our most memorable nights we spent at the Central Harbourfront. [2017]
During the pandemic, the Central Harbourfront Event Space was used occasionally for fairs and large scale art installations. [2021]
Inspired by Victoria Harbour, American Artist Patrick Shearn from Poetic Kinetics covered a large strip of the event space with a colourful kinetic sculpture that waved in the wind. [2021]

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]