ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “firework

NOSTALGIA OF AN EX-RESIDENT, Tai Hang (大坑), Hong Kong

After moving out of Tai Hang in 2019, Tai Hang has changed, Hong Kong has changed, and so do we. From time to time, we would return for visits, mainly for the French pastries and Japanese sushi, or a simple stroll in the tong lau area just to check out which shops have departed and who were the newcomers. Looking back on why we chose Tai Hang as our initial home in the city may well reveal the qualities that we appreciated its sense of place: the character, comfort, sociability, access, activities, image, etc. In fact, we were attracted by Tai Hang’s diverse mix of residents, quiet setting away from major roads, convenient location between Tin Hau (merely 200m) and Causeway Bay, absence of banks, chain stores, supermarkets, and MTR station, wide range of small shops and restaurants, and its embodied paradoxes between East and West, old and new, quiet and vibrant, traditional and bohemian, local and touristic, coolest and also the warmest. When we were still semi-strangers to Hong Kong after a two-decade absence, Tai Hang offered us a haven to settle down, and inspired us how to be part of the community, to have fun in the city, to cherish things that would soon disappear, to appreciate things that resist the changes of time, and to enjoy Hong Kong in our own way. But things have changed, shops have switched hands and people have gone, including us.

200m is the distance between Tai Hang and the tram and bus lines on Causeway Road, or the closest MTR Station in Tin Hau. 200m distance is all it takes to miraculously preserve century-old heritage and a strong sense of community that hardly exist anywhere else at the heart of Hong Kong. Despite its close proximity to Causeway Bay and North Point, this 200m distance put Tai Hang in the city’s backwaters for much of the 19th and 20th century, when squatter settlements filled the slope of Red Incense Burner Hill where Lai Tak Estate now stands, and over a hundred auto repair shops ruled the neighbourhood. Wun Sha Street (浣紗街), the main street of Tai Hang, was once an open water channel, which led to the name Tai Hang, literally means “big water channel”. Since the first coffee shop opened in 2004, Tai Hang has gone through rapid gentrification. Luxury apartments and cool shops sprang up one by one across the old neighbourhood. But it was the emergence of special little restaurants (due to relatively low rents compared to adjacent Causeway Bay) that truly captured the attention of the city, who didn’t realize that at the back of “Little Ginza” there was this secret garden of Causeway Bay. Though there is one thing every Hongkongers knows about Tai Hang, and that is the Fire Dragon Dance, a traditional ceremony at Mid-Autumn Festival since 1880. The dance is now a widely advertised cultural event that draws huge crowds into the neighbourhood every year.

For a tourist, Tai Hang is a foodie paradise, hotspot for the trendy and cool, and stage for the annual Fire Dragon Dance. But for a resident, it is the sense of place and community bonding that truly count. No matter one is a 80-year-old resident who spends his whole life in Tai Hang, or a foreign expatriate who just arrives at the doorstep and hardly speaks a word of Cantonese, as soon as one enters the community, one would soon be touched by the sense of community and gradually assimilate as Tai Hang people. As rents and real estate prices fluctuate, shops and residents may come and go. But as long as its strong sense of community remains, Tang Hang is always Tai Hang. It is the simple and pure village atmosphere at the heart of a highly commercialized metropolis that makes Tai Hang unique in Hong Kong, something that could only be appreciated if one spends more time in the neighbourhood than just a fancy omakase dinner or a cup of hand drip Gesha.

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REVISITING TAI HANG AS A TOURIST

After we moved out of Tai Hang, we would sometimes return for brief visits. More street art and new shops have emerged in recent years. [2022]
Lyrics of local singer songwriter Charmaine Fong (方皓玟)’s “All We Have is Now” is remnant from Tai Hang Festival, one of the many community events being held in the neighbourhood since our former district council representative Clarisse Yeung was elected. [2022]
New shops owned by the younger generations have emerged in recent years. [2022]
Stripping of latter additions, another old mansion in Tai Hang has returned to its former glory. The newly renovated mansion was turned into Shophouse, housing levels of exhibition and social concept space. [2021]
More old mansions were turned into cafes. [2020]
From specialty cafes to vintage shops, the bohemian air of Tai Hang remains as the main drive for the younger generation. [2020]
After vacant for years, another pre war mansion was renovated into Tai Hang Fire Dragon Heritage Centre, the official venue that tells the story of the community and its famous dragon dance. [2022]

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MEMORIES OF TAI HANG AS A FORMER RESIDENT

2019.09.13_21:45
2019 Mid Autumn Festival was the last Fire Dragon Dance we watched in Tai Hang.
2017.10.05_20:58
A strong sense of comradeship would be built up among dancers, who were made up of volunteers from residents of Tai Hang. Volunteer dancers were busy inserting burning incense sticks into the dragon body.
2017.10.05_21.27
2017 was the 138th Tai Hang Fire Dragon Festival. As usually about 300 volunteers would participate for the three days festival.
2016.09.16_21:48
2016 was our third time watching the dance. We made a donation that year and picked up our Tai Hang Fire Dragon t-shirt.
2016.09.16_22.10
Apart from t-shirt, we also went to the community centre pick up a pack of “dragon cookies”.
2016.09.16_22:11
Everyone was still out on the streets participating in the festival when we picked up the cookies from the community centre.
2016.09.16_22:18
The community at Wun Sha Street was still overwhelmed by the energy of the festival after we exited the community centre.
2016.09.16_22:19
Despite exhausted, the dancers still went through the dance routine one more time before calling it a day.
2015.09.27_20:58
Hassun Japanese Restaurant (八寸料亭), one of our closest neighbours in Tai Hang, offered free sake for the community just before the fire dragon dance.
2015.09.27_21:03
After having a sip of sake in the stomach, our excitement for the night grew even stronger.
2015.09.28_21:38
Every year, volunteers would give their best in the dragon dance, which is a sweaty and pretty physical demanding task that lasts for three nights.
2015.09.27_22:35
After the dragon dance, children would gather on streets and the nearby Victoria Park to light candles and play with lanterns to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival.
2015.09.27_22:40
For adults, the best festival celebrations would always involve food, from BBQ on the streets to having traditional food at places like Hong Kee Congee (康記粥店)
2015.09.27_22.51
We wouldn’t want to call it a day yet after the dragon dance. We walked out of Tai Hang via Fire Dragon Path (火龍徑) to Victoria Park to check out the lantern displays.
2015.01.01_00:07
We still remember the excitement we had for the first fireworks outside our bedroom window.
2015.02.18_23:07
On Chinese New Year’s Eve, we braved the crowds to enter our neighbouring temple Lin Fa Temple.
2015.02.18_23:09
At Lin Fa Temple, we paid respect to Gwan Yin (觀音) for our smooth settling in Tai Hang. In 2019, we also visited the temple on our moving date just to bid farewell to our neighbouring deity.
2014.08.09_19:12
Opposite to our flat, I loved to watch people walk up the stairs at Lin Fa Kung Garden to Lai Tak Estate (勵德邨). Built in 1975, two of the blocks are the only bicyclindrical public housing in Hong Kong.
2016.08.01_21:46
As Severe Tropical Storm Nida approached Hong Kong, Typhoon Signal No. 8 was issued on 20:40. We took the opportunity to wander in the relatively deserted Tai Hang. The storm was nowhere near the anticipated force and every Hongkonger had a relatively quiet night at home.
2018.03.28_22:36
After overtime work, we used to have late dinner at one of our favorite Japanese skewer restaurants in Tai Hang, including Moto Yakitori & Sake Bar.
2015.07.24_09:32
Before Hong Kee Congee moved to their current new store and the two elderly owners were still around, their boiling hot congee, hand made rice noodle roll, fried dough, and raddish cakes were fantastic for a winter morning.
2019.08.17_09:37
Forgot since when, Bing Kee Cha Dong (炳記茶檔) has become the most popular tourist attractions in Tai Hang.Their pork chop noodles and causal atmosphere have become an Internet sensation for both local visitors and foreign tourists. Living in the neighbourhood meant we could usually beat the crowds on weekends, when the queue became unbelievably long for just a simple breakfast.
2018.05.19_09:49
Just around the corner from our apartment, BlissHIVE, a bakery cafe that no longer exists, was the takeout breakfast solution that we usually went to on any normal work day.
2018.05.19_09:52
Only occasionally during weekends, we would sit in at BlissHIVE for a full breakfast.
2019.11.24_10:31
Plumcot remains as our favorite pastry shop in town since it opened in summer 2017. Chefs Camille Moënne-Loccoz and Dominique Yau from Paris brought a taste of French to Tai Hang each morning.
2017.02.11_13:34
Shops and restaurants come and go in Tai Hang. Only “Wong Jai” (黃仔) taxi seat remains as if a permanent fixture in the neighbourhood. His shop is a reminder of the era when there were about a hundred auto repair shops in Tai Hang (now less than 20).
2018.09.25_17:28
With over 50 years of experience in Tai Hang, Mr. Wong is one of the last 3-4 craftsmen that still repair car seats by hand in Hong Kong. We often walked by his shop, and he was always busy with his work.
2017.07.28_07:57
When passing by Allure Hair Salon, we would sometimes hear the owner playing Mozart while the client was having a haircut in one of Tai Hang’s charming historical mansions.
2018.12.13_08:14
For 6 out of 10 chance we would bump into this Shiba Inu dog at Fire Dragon Path on our way to work. Among all dogs we have seen in Tai Hang, this is the only one that loves sit still and watch people playing tennis every morning.
2018.09.27_22:36
From small poodle to large husky, every night there would be a mass gathering of dogs and dog owners at Fire Dragon Path (火龍徑). Whenever we walked by, we would always slow down and see if any one dog would approach us.
2015.06.20_05:44
Victoria Harbour outside our former bedroom window in Tai Hang has an eerie beauty that seems so distant to us nowadays.

HOW WE USED TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS

2020.12.24.

We got off work early for Christmas Eve. Some restaurants were about to close as we picked up our takeout from a small Japanese restaurant in Tai Hang. In Hong Kong, no restaurant is allowed to serve customers (except takeouts) after 6pm. No countdown events, Christmas parties or family gatherings. Just a simple dinner at home for the two of us seemed to be the most appropriate Christmas Eve celebration for this unusual year. 2020 is an extraordinary year. I can hardly recall another incident in my lifetime that has simultaneously affected virtually every single human being in the world. The terrible pandemic is forcing all of us to face the same fear, frustration and isolation. Most planes have been grounded, borders shut, and international tourism has almost come to a complete halt. This abrupt disruption to our lives lead us to realize that celebrating a festive moment with families and friends or spending the holiday season at a foreign land shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Memory is interesting when it works with time. At this bizarre moment of frustrating lock downs and social distancing, a recollection of how we had spent Christmas and New Year in the past two decades remind us how we used to freely experience the world and appreciate every little things around us. Looking beyond the vivid fireworks and lavish parties, it was our curiosity, freedom and gratefulness that allowed these joyful moments to simply make us happy in different stages of our lives. At this time of physical restrictions and emotional stress, looking back at these little moments of ours have become more precious than ever. Everyone deserves memories of celebrations that worth cherishing. Hope our little sharing would remind you some of your own best moments of Christmas.

We wish you Merry Christmas and good health for the upcoming 2021.

Separately we both had a school term in Rome. In the eternal city, both our studio and apartment were located in the lively neighbourhood of Trastevere.
Rome, December 2002
Wooden decorations for Christmas tree, festive balloons, magic shows, and many others. The Christmas market at Piazza Navona was our first experience of an European Christmas.
Rome, December 2002
I used to go to Vatican for evening walks during my stay in Rome. Vatican was relatively quiet and peaceful throughout much of December. A large Christmas tree was put up at St. Peter’s Square.
Vatican, December 2002
Another big Christmas tree was set up at the Victor Emmanuel II Monument.
Rome, December 2002
After graduation, we moved to London in 2007. At Christmas, we made a short trip to the Belgian capital for Christmas break. Like many locals and tourists, we spent the night at the Grand Place for light shows and Christmas countdown.
Brussels, Christmas Eve, 2007
Back in London, the Covent Garden was particularly festive during Christmas. The Apple Market was full of delightful vendor stalls and dining patios.
London, December 2007
Elegant, sparkling, and eye catching. One thing we loved about Christmas in London were the amazing shop windows.
London, England, January 2008
Cinema became a big part of our lives in London. We often went to the BFI and Leicester Square after work. At Leicester Square, a carousel and small fair would be set up during the holiday season.
London, December 2008
We decided to stay in England at our second Christmas in London. We made a short trip to the area of Liverpool and Manchester. During that trip, we were particularly fond of the Christmas lights in Leeds.
Leeds, England, December 2008
In 2009, we returned to Toronto to do our professional licensing. In Toronto, Christmas is always cozy and homey, and so does its lights.
Toronto, December 2010
In 2011, we made a trip to Cambodia and Hong Kong. With two of our friends, we experienced one of the most noisy countdown at the bustling Pub Street in Siem Reap.
Siem Reap, New Year’s Eve 2011
On our way to New Year’s countdown in Downtown Toronto, we stopped by the atmospheric Distillery District to test out my new DSLR. From then on, film camera has eventually faded out from my travel packing list.
Toronto, New Year’s Eve 2012
Before relocating to Hong Kong, we made our 90-day trip to South America. We spent the entire month of December in Patagonia and made it to Ushuaia (world’s southernmost city) in Argentina. Reaching the “End of the World” definitely deserved an early Christmas dinner at the beautiful Kaupe restaurant.
Ushuaia, December 2013
Ushuaia is the main port going to Antarctica. We didn’t take the chance to do an Antarctica Christmas trip. Perhaps we would regret it, who knows.
Ushuaia, December 2013
For almost a week we based ourselves at Argentina’s El Chalten to do day hikes near Mount Fitz Roy. At Christmas Eve, we did the longest day hike of the week to the glacier lake right below the magnificent mountain.
Mount Fitz Roy, Christmas Eve 2013
We booked the best room at Yellow House Hotel well in advance just to take in the panoramic harbour view of Chile’s Valparaiso, and enjoy the world famous New Year fireworks from the comfort of our room.
Valparaiso, New Year’s Day 2014
Getting off work at 2:30pm on Christmas Eve, talked about a short getaway trip during dinner, bought the plane ticket right away, then packed a small carryon bag and get a bit of sleep before heading off to Hong Kong International Airport at around 2:30am on Christmas Day. At 7 in the morning, we finally arrived in Taiwan. That trip remains as our quickest travel decision so far.
Main Station, Taipei, Christmas Day 2014
Thanks to the convenient public transportation network, we have been to many neighbourhoods across the city of Hong Kong. Because of Cinematheque movie centre, we often find ourselves in Yau Ma Tei, home to a wide spectrum of people from new immigrants to elderly. Christmas Carol in Yau Ma Tei has to be catered for all.
Hong Kong, Christmas Eve 2015
New Year, Chinese New Year, HKSAR Anniversary, and Chinese National Day. There were once numerous firework displays each year over the iconic Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. All shows have been scrapped for 2020.
Hong Kong, New Year’s Eve 2015
Most Hong Kongers love to visit Japan, and so do we. Their fine sense of beauty and comfortable balance between traditions and technologies go beyond just commercialized eye candy for festival decorations and celebrations.
Railway Station, Kyoto, December 2016
Famous for their lighting technologies, Christmas lights in Japan often create a coherent ambience reflecting their pursuit of romantic fantasy for the holiday season.
Kyoto, December 2016
Under the dreamy lights, the sense of community remains strong during Christmas in Japan.
Kyoto, December 2016
We didn’t expect to see Christmas celebrations in Myanmar (Burma), a Buddhist nation in Southeast Asia. Seeing such a large crowd and festive decorations in Yangon was a pleasant surprise.
Yangon, December 2017
Christmas celebration, Southeast Asian style. Street food is definitely a must.
Yangon, December 2017
I took my parents to Shanghai for a short trip. At the Bund, we passed by the historical Peace Hotel and its Christmas tree.
Shanghai, December 2018
After two trips to India, our third journeys to South Asia was a winter getaway to Sri Lanka. The trip was full of history, spices and fine tea. In a Buddhist country, we were surprised to see so many churches in Negombo, a coastal town near Colombo. A heritage since the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, Christmas is celebrated in a number of coastal towns in Sri Lanka.
Negombo, December 2019
After visiting and staying at a number of cities around the world, Hong Kong remains as our top destination to experience the festive energy and Christmas decorations in an urban setting. Political and social unrest in 2019 have taken a toll in the financial hub. Tai Kwun, a cultural and commercial complex at the former colonial police headquarters in Central, remained as the place to go for expats and the younger generation.
Tai Kwun, Hong Kong, December 2019
Due to the pandemic, most Christmas celebrations have been cancelled across the city. Christmas trees have been downsized, and lighting decorations have been scaled down. In Central District of Hong Kong, the high-end commercial complex Landmark Atrium remains as one of the few venues still maintain a relatively large Christmas installation.
Landmark, Hong Kong, December 2020
But perhaps the most representational thing for this year’s festival season is the Christmas face mask. Social distancing with a bit of festive joy, why not?
Hong Kong, December 2020

DAY 87 (1 OF 1) – NEW YEAR’S FIREWORKS, VALPARAISO, CHILE

Tonight, about a million of locals and visitors gathered in Valparaiso and neighbouring Vina del Mar to watch the largest fireworks display in South America in celebration for the arrival of 2014.   Starting from late morning, people on Cerro Artilleria had already begun to claim their best ocean-facing spots for tonight’s fireworks.  They put chairs, benches, portable tables, and even ropes to mark their temporary territories on the sidewalk.  By midday, vendors at the port were busy cashing in people’s money by selling all sorts of celebration merchandise from party hats to colourful fluorescent bracelets.  Supermarkets were pushing the sales of sparkling wines at their entrances.  We got some groceries and returned to our B&B room to set up our tripods and “snack table” for the night. As night fell upon, myriads of lights were in place of the yellow sunlight illuminating the famous hills of Valparaiso.  But tonight, the starry skyline of the city was a mere backdrop for the most anticipated moment of the year.  Live music from the main square could be heard almost immediately when the sun was down.  Traffic got diverted. Boats kept going in and out of the port. Crowds of people gathered on the main streets, hillside lookouts, apartment balconies, and any public spaces where the sea could be seen.  Upbeat music, laser beams, amateur fireworks, illumination flares continued to lift up the atmosphere of the night.  As time approached, we looked at the time on our laptop and waited patiently by the window with our camera and wineglass in hand.  As the clock struck midnight, the magnificent fireworks display began shooting up high above the city.  We could deeply feel the shake every time the firework exploded in front of us, as if situating in the midst of an air raid. The display lasted for about 25 minutes.  Music was loud and every balconies and roof patios seemed occupied by partying crowds.  We retired to bed at around 4:30am, while our neighbours were still dancing on roof patios under disco lights.  They showed no sign of slowing down.   Valparaiso’s magnificent fireworks display did not only signify the closure of 2013 and the opening of 2014; to us, it also drew an extraordinary conclusion to our three-month journey in South America.  Tomorrow we would be on our way back to the frozen continent of North America.  Under the warm breeze of the Pacific, tonight’s Valparaiso was remarkably bright and beautiful. ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

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Read other posts on Santiago and Valparaiso in 2013 South America:

Day 83.1 – Mercado Central, Santiago
Day 83.2 – Museums & Cultural Centre, Santiago
Day 84.1 – Centro Cultural Palacio la Moneda, Santiago
Day 84.2 – Arrival, Cerro Artilleria, Valparaiso
Day 85.1 – Ascensores, Valparaiso
Day 85.2 – Paella Lunch, Valparaiso
Day 85.3 – Cerros Alegre and Concepcion, Valparaiso
Day 86.1 – Hill of Colours, Valparaiso
Day 86.2 – Trolleybuses, Valparaiso
Day 86.3 – Casa Museo la Sebastiana, Valparaiso
Day 86.4 – Seafood, Valparaiso
Day 87 – New Year’s Fireworks, Valparaiso

The spectacular fireworks conclude our memorable journey to South America in 2013. Click here for the afterthought of our 87-day journey to South America.

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought