ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Graham

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]

STREET ART, Central-Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

For 50 years, lampposts, electrical boxes, concrete pillars, pavements, benches, planters, and retaining walls on the streets of Hong Kong could be seen as one large canvas for the “King of Kowloon” (九龍皇帝) to leave his unique calligraphy works. Sometimes, he wrote to proclaim his ancestral land ownership of the Kowloon Peninsula before the British rule, while at other times he would write about his family. Seen by many as acts of a crazy man, the “King of Kowloon” or Tsang Tsou Choi (曾灶財) was probably the most well known graffiti artist the city had seen in the 20th century. Fined by the government numerous times, insulted by neighbours, and even disowned by his own family, Tsang Tsou Choi was mocked by Hong Kong for decades. Whenever his calligraphy was washed or painted over by the authorities, he would restore the works right after. His works were largely seen as public nuisance until the 1990’s, when local artists, fashion designers, art directors, interior designers, furniture makers, graphic designers, musicians began to use Tsang’s unique calligraphy on design products. In his final years, Tsang’s works finally began to gain public recognition with successful shows both in Hong Kong and abroad, including the Venice Biennale in 2003, and even went for auctions at the Sotheby’s.

A decade after Tsang’s death (2007), street art in Hong Kong has already entered a new chapter. Far from the vibrancy and sophistication of London’s or New York’s, street art is nonetheless much widely accepted and welcomed by the public in Hong Kong nowadays. In recent years, the city has been frequented by international street artists, such as Invader from France, who has secretly put up his iconic pixelated 8-bit video game images all over the city. In December 2019, the popular show “Banksy: Genius or Vandal?” arrived in Hong Kong and created quite a stir on the social media. The free spirit, unique artistic expression, cool character, coupled with satirical imagery, political controversy, and social criticism of street art have been welcomed by the young generations, especially in the era of social media when everybody has something to say and share.

In Hong Kong, one of the most popular areas to see interesting street art is Central-Sheung Wan (中上環). Thanks to HKwalls, the non-profit organization who has been organizing annual street art festival since 2014, several neighbourhoods in Hong Kong have already become hotspots showcasing the talents of local and international artists. In their debut year of 2014, HKwalls paired artists with properties owners in Sheung Wan and successfully added 17 street murals in the neighborhood, then another 50+ works in Sheung Wan and Stanley Market in the following year. The event moved to Sham Shui Po in 2016, Wong Chuk Hang in 2017, then returned to Central and Western District in 2018 before moving on to Wanchai (2019) and Sai Kung (2021). HKwalls has successfully brought in great artistic talents from all over the world to Hong Kong, transformed the urban scenery of old neighborhoods, and raised public appreciation of street art to a whole new level.

For a city well known of its quick, dramatic and relentless urban changes, the impermanent and transient beauty of street art suit perfectly to echo the ephemeral spirit of Hong Kong. Here if you see an interesting street art, you better document it right away. Next time around, the mural may be gone forever.

Most of the street art by Tsang Tsou Choi (曾灶財) did not survive. After public outcry, the government finally agreed to preserve the last few remaining works by the King of Kowloon (九龍皇帝), including the one at the Star Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀). [Star Ferry Terminal, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Renowned French undercover artist Invader has left his marks in 79 cities worldwide, including Hong Kong. [Forecourt of Harbour City Mall, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
In December 2019, the Banksy show came to Hong Kong and was quite a hit among the younger generation. [A mock up of Banksy studio at the “Banksy: Genius or Vandal?” show, Kowloon Bay, 2019]
Often referred to as the Instagram Wall, local artist Alex Croft created one of the most photographed street art in the city. Depicting the fast disappearing tenement apartments on Graham Street, the famous mural stands proudly across the street from GOD (Goods Of Desire), a local lifestyle store that was one of the first design business to incorporate Hong Kong street art into merchandises. [Junction of Graham Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
Renowned British street artist Dan Kitchener participated in the annual street art festival by HKwalls in 2018. Kitchener often takes inspirations from urban sceneries of Tokyo and Hong Kong to create his works, which appear in many cities in Europe, Asia and North America. [Junction of Graham Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
Kitchener’s murals often depict imaginary urban scenery inspired by a fix of streets scenes from Hong Kong and Tokyo. [Junction of Hiller Street and Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan, 2020]
For the show Street Art Challenge on Insight TV, British artists Dan Kitchener and Charles Williams created this wall mural with a juxtaposition of a natural and an urban scene, and a Chinese message saying “don’t let it go to waste.” [Junction of Elgin Street and Caine Road, Central, 2020]
In Sheung Wan, Tank Lane (水池巷) is one of the best spot to check out graffiti art. Brazilian artist Alex Senna was another street art superstar participated in HKwalls 2018. Appeared in many cities around the world, his black and white (and different shades of grey) human figures depict various scenarios of human life, and are often open for interpretation. [Junction of Tank Lane and Bridges Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Known as the King of Graffiti in his home country, South Korean artist Xeva (Yoo Seung-baik) painted a multifaceted Bruce Lee for HKwalls 2015. Xera often collaborates with different commercial brands in both Korea and abroad. [Tank Lane, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Further down Tank Lane from Xeva’s Bruce Lee is another eye-catching piece, a stylish woman face painted by Hopare from France for HKWalls 2015. [Tank Lane, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Well known for his deconstructed pop icons from Mickey Mouse and the Simpsons in America to the Astro Boy and Dragon Ball characters of Japanese anime, LA based Matt Gondek has also left a melting Mickey Mouse (and also Donald Duck) in Sheung Wan. [Junction of Tank Lane and Lower Lascar Row, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Apart from Tank Lane, the nearby Water Lane (水巷) and the lane between Upper Station Street and Sai Street are also the must-sees for street art lovers. [Lane between Upper Station Street and Sai Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Begins from a traditional Chinese landscape painting, then evolves into geometric shapes and ends with a dragon head, artist WEST & Megic from Foshan of China made this long mural for HKwalls 2018. [Lane between Upper Station Street and Sai Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Detail of the dragon head made by WEST & Megic. [Lane between Upper Station and Sai Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
From billboards to planes, British artist 45RPM from Bristol is a multi-disciplinary artist who has collaborated with many international brands. He has also left his mark in Sheung Wan for HKwalls 2018. [Water Lane, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Since 2015, Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto (Vhils) has been making street art in Hong Kong. Known as “Scratching the Surface projects”, one of his signature art creation methods is to remove paint and plaster from the wall to expose the concrete inside. [Sai Street and Water Lane, Sheung Wan, 2020]
At Water Lane, the 2014 HKwalls mural by Stern Rockwell and 4GET from New York creates a big contrast to the adjacent historical shrine for a local deity. [Near junction of Water Lane and Tai Ping Shan Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Danish artist Christian Storm made this eye-catching koi fish mural for HKwalls 2018. Recently, the mural has been replaced by a new painting depicting a large rhino. [Junction of Shing Wong Street and Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In SoHo, Barcelona artist Cinta Vidal Agullo created this Inception-like mural for a wine cellar/bar as part of HKwalls 2018. [Junction of Aberdeen and Staunton Street, Central, 2019]
La Bouffe, a French resturant, Seoul Brothers, a Korean restaurant and Yuk Yip, a dai pai dong street eatery commissioned a French artist to create this mural in the street corner where the three businesses are located. [Junction of Elgin Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
Local artist KristopherH created this 6-face animal for La Cabane Bistro and wine cellar to capture the attention of pedestrians. [Junction of Shin Hing Street and Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The same wall of La Cabane has been repainted recently with a treasure map also by KristopherH and calligraphy by Woodnink. [Junction of Shin Hing Street and Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Japanese celebrity Shingo Katori (香取慎吾) has created this mural underneath the Central-Mid Levels Escalator in 2018. [Junction of Shelley Street and Hollywood Road, 2020]
One street down from Hollywood Road, locally based French artist Elsa Jean de Dieu painted this delightful mural for Bedu, a cosy Middle Eastern restaurant popular with expats. [Junction of Gough and Shing Hing Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Also by Elsa Jean de Dieu, this laughing woman outside Uma Nota restaurant has become an icon for SoHo. [Junction of Peel Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
For HKwalls 2018, Elsa Jean de Dieu is also responsible for a large mural next to the shop of Lush, the British cosmetics retailer. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, 2020]
Local artist Joe Yiu and his team of Creative Master Group has created this large mural at the popular tourist attraction of historical Pottinger Street. [Junction of Pottinger Street and Wellington Street, Central, 2020]
Sometimes, a surprised encounter of an anonymous graffiti art is more delightful than purposefully checking out a large scale mural commissioned by a certain business. This “ET nun” caught my eye when I walked pass the in one afternoon. [Near Lan Kwai Fong Amphitheatre, Central, 2021]

CULTURE OF DISAPPEARANCE: GRAHAM STREET MARKET (嘉咸市集), Central (中環), Hong Kong

2014: A stall owner was about to wrapped up his day after a long day of work. 2014 and 2015 marked the final moments of Graham Street Market before half the market was knocked down for redevelopment. In this ever-changing city, documenting a moment in time is a way to battle against the power of forgetting. [Graham Street, Central, 2014]
2014: Unlike shopping in a supermarket, causal interactions with vendors of Graham Street Market is one of the most interesting experiences of living in Central. It will certainly be missed when the old market is gone. [Graham Street, Central, 2014]

In Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express (重慶森林), actors Faye Wong and Tony Leung often show up in an outdoor wet market in Central (中環) where fresh meat, vegetables, flowers, housewares, and even goldfish can be found, and so as outdoor street eateries known as dai pai dong (大牌檔). Defined by Graham Street (嘉咸街), Gage Street (結志街), and Peel Street (卑利街) between Hollywood Road (荷李活道) and Queen’s Road Central (皇后大道中), Graham Street Market (嘉咸市集) is the city’s oldest wet market with about 160 years of history. Flanked both sides by small metal stalls, the sloped market streets present an iconic urban scenery where elderly, housewives, maids, and children rub shoulders with white-collar workers and foreign expatriates. Before the pandemic, tourists flocked to the market just to get a feel of the vibrant atmosphere and check out its decades-old shops. Artists and photographers also come to train their eyes by framing whatever that might catch their attention in a chance encounter. But it is the people from the surrounding neighbourhoods like us who regularly come for our daily needs, that have contributed in sustaining a street market culture in Central, just a block or two away from the central business district. In this ever-changing metropolis, every building, street, or neighborhood has a price tag. When the price is right, redevelopment seems to be inevitable. In 2007, a controversial announcement was made by the profit making Urban Renewal Authority to replace the Graham Street Market with HK$3.8 billion (about US$ 500 million) worth of housing, retail, office and hotel.

Months after we relocated to Hong Kong in 2014, we wrote a post on the Graham Street Market for the first time. Back then, demolition had already begun, but the majority of the market was still largely intact. 7 years have passed. While construction is still ongoing, 11 new market stores and a high rise apartment known as “My Central” have already been completed. Against the annoyance of dust, noise and construction truck traffic, Graham Street Market continues to serve the neighborhood today. In a relatively low dense neighbourhood, four new residential, hotel and commercial towers of about 30 storeys have been planned, along with their respective retail podiums. Being the heart of colonial Victoria City (維多利亞城), Central (中環) and Sheung Wan (上環) is officially the one and only old city of Hong Kong. While Hong Kong is no Rome or Paris, that doesn’t mean its old city is worthless. Instead, being an international metropolis frequented by tourists, many would expect the old city should be protected by stringent restrictions such as building height limits. Rather than keeping one or two historical facades as gimmick, the overall density, neighbourhood ambience, urban scale and fabric should be respected as a whole entity. Knocking down old neighbourhoods and replacing them with new towers is not a sensible way to rejuvenate a city, as Jane Jacobs pointed out decades ago. Not only would this kills the identity, diversity and character of the area, it would also destroy the neighbourhood’s self evolving power. In the words of Aldo Rossi, this is in fact destroying the genius loci (spirit of the place) of Old Central, like pinning four 30-storey towers right at the Campo de Fiori in Rome.

When I was a child, I used to visit Graham Street Market and the nearby Central Market (中環街市) with my aunt. Back then, I didn’t know that having such a destination of living heritage a block away from home was a privilege. Nor did I know that the market was actually an iconic filming location for photographs and movies. As a tourist attraction, the market is well received by foreigners to the point that even Queen Elizabeth II has come for a visit in 1975. For me as a child, the market was just a busy, noisy and sometimes slippery and bloody place where I could witness how chickens were slaughtered, cow’s and pig’s heads were hung for display, and live fish were de-scaled on a thick wood block. It was the 1980’s when purchased meat was still wrapped in butcher paper and tied with local salt water grass instead of using a plastic bag. Graham Street Market was where I first grasped a sense of what daily living is all about: gossiping with neighbours, picking the freshest food, bargaining with the hard working vendors, day in, day out. Three decades on, these scenes of street market culture are unfortunately fading. The “renewed” Graham Market shall be cleaner, less noisy, and perhaps have a few more planters and trees, but it may turn out that only gourmet stores selling Japanese wagyu, French cheese and Tasmanian cherries could survive the rent. The street market culture of Central might continue to fade until one day it only exists in historical photos.

2014: The market entrance at Gage Street is always packed with grocery shoppers and tourists. Today, the entire block beyond 7 Eleven has been demolished. [Junction of Gage Street and Cochrane Street right below Central – Mid-Levels Escalator, Central, 2014]
2014: One of the casualties in the area’s redevelopment, the 70-year-old Sun King Kee Noodles (新景記粉麵) shut its doors for good in March 2015. The entire block has since been demolished. [Gage Street, Central, 2014]
2021: Now wrapped in scaffolding, almost the entire northeastern half of Gage Street has been knocked down in the last few years. [Gage Street, Central, 2021]
2014: With wooden shutters and decorative roof parapet walls, a group of three pre-war shophouses at the intersection of Graham and Gage Street was a focus of discussion at the early stage of the redevelopment. Instead of fully preserving the historically listed buildings, the Urban Renewal Authority and developer had decided to demolish most of the structures and keep the outer facades only. [Gage Street, Central, 2014]
2014: Formerly occupying the corner of Gage and Graham Street near the three pre-war shophouses, Yiu Fat seafood (耀發海鮮) has been relocated to a new shop below “My Central”, the first completed residential tower in the redevelopment. [Junction of Gage Street and Graham Street, Central, 2014]
2014: Other old shops who chose to be relocated to the 11 new shops below “My Central” includes Lee Hung Seafood (利鴻海鮮). Some owners complain that the new shop is much smaller than their old ones. [Gage Street, Central, 2014]
2021: Six new shops on Gage Street, including Lee Hung Seafood (利鴻海鮮), are some of the earliest to reopen for business after the first phase of redevelopment. Most of these shops are former market stalls in the area. What many concern is how the three pre-war shophouses at the intersection of Graham and Gage Street would become after the green scaffolding is removed in a few years’ time. [Gage Street, Central, 2021]
2014: Before redevelopment, most buildings in Graham Street Market were less than 10 storey high. Buying the old tenement buildings and replacing them with high rise luxurious apartment is one of the quickest way to make money in Hong Kong. [Graham Street, Central, 2014]
2021: At 37-storey high, “My Central” is the first residential tower completed in the market redevelopment. A 2020 property listing shows that a high level unit was selling for HK$48,960 per square feet (US$ 6,100). The asking price for the 674 sq.ft unit was HK$33,000,000 (US$ 4,255,500). To put it in context, if a tofu vendor at Graham Street Market sells a block of tofu for HK$4.00 each, she would need to sell over 12,000 blocks just to buy a square feet of residential space above her head. The HK$4.00 price has yet factored in any expense or production cost. Being the world’s most expensive property market for years, Hong Kong real estate is way out of reach for many ordinary Hong Kongers. [My Central at Gage Street, Central, 2021]
2014: Descending from Gage Street brings us into the crowded Graham Street Market. [Graham Street, Central, 2014]
2014: Back in 2014, both sides of Graham Street were occupied by vendors and shops. [Graham Street, Central, 2014]
2014: Graham Street Market has been enclosed by scaffolding and affected by construction noises in the past few years.. [Graham Street, Central, 2014]
2014: Late 2014 was the last few months when Graham Street was still flanked by its old shops and market stalls. [Graham Street, Central, 2014]
2014: The redevelopment has forced a number of shop owners to consider retirement. [Graham Street, Central, 2014]
2014: Some shops preferred to relocate to another retail space in the same area. [Graham Street, Central, 2014]
2014: Situated near the junction of Graham and Wellington Street, this stall sells all kinds of local dried ingredients, such as nuts, dried tofu, dried mushrooms and Chinese preserved sausages. [Graham Street, Central, 2014]
2014: This kind of dried good grocery was quite common at street markets in the old days, but are now disappearing fast in Hong Kong. [Graham Street, Central, 2014]
2014: Shopping in traditional market stalls offer us opportunities to chat with the vendors and asked for their recommendations on cooking techniques. [Graham Street, Central, 2014]
2020: For several years already, the market stalls on Graham Street have to cope with construction noises and dusts behind and above their heads. [Graham Street, Central, 2020]
2020: Today, between Wellington Street and Gage Street, one side of Graham Street is occupied by “My Central”, while market stalls on the opposite side are backed by a wall of construction barriers. [Graham Street, Central, 2020]
2021: New shops such as Smoke and Barrels, a New Orleans-style BBQ restaurant, has already moved into the podium of “My Central”. [Graham Street, Central, 2020]
2021: Behind the scaffolding structure and green coverings, the 140-year-old Wing Woo Grocery (永和號) awaits for its turn of makeover. [Junction of Wellington and Graham Street, Central, 2021]
2017: As the sole survivor of its architectural type in Hong Kong, the Wing Woo Grocery (永和號) building is a Grade 1 listed historical building meant to be preserved and renewed for retail use. Last year, people found that the roof of the building has been removed. [Junction of Graham Street and Wellington Street, Central, 2017]
2016: Thanks to netizen who shares a drone photograph online, we can still have a peek of what the original structure and roof were like. [Photo credit: Jack Chui at Chinese Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
2009: Also thanks to netizens who share their old photos online, we can have a glimpse of what the interior of Wing Woo Grocery (永和號) was like before it closed its doors in 2009 after 80 years in business. [Photo credit: Wikipedia user -Wpcpey, WiNG, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
2020: Established at Kowloon City in 1917, Kowloon Soy Co. Limited (九龍醬園) is one of the last company still using traditional method to make soy sauce. Many of their products are exported to the overseas, while their Graham Street store is their last remaining specialty shop in Hong Kong. [Graham Street near Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
2020: Apart from Graham Street, Peel Street the other sloped market street lined with small shops. [Peel Street near Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
2014: Compared to Graham Street, Peel Street has a larger concentration of shops selling non-food merchandise. [Peel Street, Central, 2014]
2014: The corrugated metal cover atop the market stall provides decent protection against dusts and debris from adjacent construction site of “My Central”. [Peel Street, Central, 2014]
2014: Before popularization of supermarkets, citizens in Hong Kong relied on these small variety shop to get all sorts of household merchandise. [Peel Street, Central, 2014]
2014: Not too long ago, even goldfish could be purchased from the street market stalls at Graham Street Market. [Junction of Peel Street and Wellington Street, Central, 2014]
2014: These goldfish vendors are disappearing fast across the city, especially on Hong Kong Island. [Junction of Peel Street and Wellington Street, Central, 2014]
2014: The story of the changing Graham Street Market exemplifies the fate of many old neighbourhoods in Hong Kong. [Graham Street, Central, 2014]

REVERIE OF CHUNGKING EXPRESS: URBAN ESCALATORS, Central – Mid Levels (中環-半山), Hong Kong

Moving up the hill on the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator is a pleasant way to experience the urban scenery of Hong Kong. [Escalator at Soho, 2014]
From vibrant city scenes to quiet residential neighborhoods, the escalator journey offers visitors a continuous sequence of moving pictures. [Escalator near Caine Road, 2014]
The higher the escalator reaches, the more residential the scenery gets. [Escalator near Mosque Street, 2014]

Whenever I flew with Cathay Pacific, I often selected Wong Kar Wai’s (王家衛) Chungking Express (重慶森林) from their entertainment system when I was about to take a nap. Indulging myself in the repeating music of Dennis Brown’s Things in Life and The Mamas & the Papas’ California Dreamin’, and Christopher Doyle’s dynamic shots of Tsim Sha Tsui and Central always relaxed my mind. Chungking Express is undoubtedly one of my most favorite Hong Kong films. Chungking Express is lighthearted, complex, ambiguous, and beautiful. There are two stories in the film. The first story follows policeman 233 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and a female drug smuggler (Brigitte Lin) at Chungking Mansion in Tsim Sha Tsui. The second story follows policeman 633 (Tony Leung) and a female staff (Faye Wong) at Midnight Express, a snack bar in the entertainment district of Central. Released in 1994, three years before Hong Kong was returned to China, the film did capture a mixed bag of sentiments and mood of that era: sense of uncertainty, ambiguity, loneliness, loss, affection, impermanence, desire to change, hope for a brighter future, etc. Without pretentious shots of the city’s famous skyline, Chungking Express is a visually dazzling film that captures the daily life of Hong Kongers happened in wet market, snack bar, old tenement apartment, convenience store, and the Chungking Mansion, a huge mixed use complex in Kowloon where new immigrants and tourists gather and stay the night. Director Wong Kar Wai describes the film as his love letter to Hong Kong. 27 years have passed. Chungking Express remains as an icon of Hong Kong cinema, and an exquisite documentation of the ever-changing city in that particular moment in history.

Perhaps it is because both protagonists Tony Leung (梁朝偉) and Faye Wong (王菲) are two of my favorite Hong Kong stars back in the 1990’s, or The Mamas & the Papas’ California Dreamin’ is too overpowering, or the filming locations in Central are just a few blocks from where I spent my childhood, I always like the story of Midnight Express more. Every time watching the film would remind me the old Central before the disastrous urban renewal projects that have torn apart Graham Street Market and gentrification that have wiped out uncounted tenement apartments and small shop owners who can no longer afford the skyrocketed rent. 1994 also marked the first anniversary of the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator (中環至半山自動扶梯), a 800m escalator system from Downtown Central up to the Mid-Levels. Wong Kar Wai chose the escalator and an adjacent apartment unit (home of Christopher Doyle, the legendary cinematographer of many Wong’s films) as the major film set for Chungking Express. Wong’s selection prominently imprints the escalator in the cultural atlas of the city, and introduces such unique urban feature to the whole world. In fact, the success of Chungking Express has consolidated Wong Kar Kai’s name onto the stage of international cinema, paving the way for his triumphs in the later half of the 1990’s, including Happy Together and In the Mood for Love.

Today, the 800m escalators system remains the longest in the world, and a popular tourist attraction. In 2015, CNN website picked the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator as one of the coolest commutes in the world. The idea of building an urban escalator system began in early 1980’s, when the Hong Kong government considered various options to improve traffic and pedestrian circulation between Central, the business district of Hong Kong, and Mid Levels, the residential neighbourhood on the slope of Victoria Peak. Cable car and monorail were also considered, but an escalator system was eventually selected. After 2.5 years of construction, the system was opened to the public in 1993. Wong Kar Wai seized the opportunity and became the first director to shoot a movie there. The escalator soon became popular among residents and office workers in Central, and led to dramatic gentrification of the surroundings. Buildings along the escalator system were torn down for new apartments. Small shops were replaced by bars and upscale restaurants, forming a vibrant entertainment district that we now call Soho. For both good and bad, the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator has been a major catalyst that wipes out the old Central I have known as a child. Yet on the other hand, the convenience it brings us who live in the area has undeniably become an inseparable part of our daily routine.

Cochrane Street (閣麟街) is one of the hilly streets going uphill from Queen’s Road Central (皇后大道中). Today, the junction of Cochrane Street and Queen’s Road Central is where the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator begins to climb uphill.
[Cochrane Street: Wellcome Library, London. By John Thomson, 1868 / 1871. http://wellcomeimages.org. Creative Commons CC BY 4.0]
The streetscape of Cochrane Street (閣麟街) has completely transformed after the escalator was built in 1993. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Queen’s Road Central, 2014]
Looking down from the escalator, Stanley Street (士丹利街) is one of the last few spots in Central that dai pai dong (大排檔) or street eateries can still be found. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Stanley Street, 2016]
In Chungking Express, Tony Leung often comes here for lunch and Faye Wong would come by after getting grocery from Graham Street Market just around the corner. [Street eateries near the junction of Stanley Street and Graham Street, 2014]
Apart from distant traffic noises and pedestrian chattering, live music is occasionally heard on the escalator. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Wellington Street, 2018]
Stairs and elevators are provided at street intersections for access to the escalator system. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Gage Street, 2020]
The escalator reaches Gage Street (結志街) at the end of Cochrane Street (閣麟街). Gage Street has long been part of the Graham Street Market, the oldest open market in Hong Kong with 160 years of history. Today, the once vibrant street market has been partially demolished by the profit making Urban Renewal Authority for residential developments. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Gage Street, 2020]
Near the intersection of Gage Street (結志街), Cochrane Street (閣麟街) and Lyndhurst Terrace (擺花街), an old Hong Kong-style cafe called Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園) is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. Established in 1952, Lan Fong Yuen is known as the place where Hong Kong style milk tea was invented. [Junction of Cochrane Street, Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2020]
Below the escalator, tourists and locals queued outside Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園). [Junction of Cochrane Street, Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2014]
Sometimes the Lan Fong Yuen queue can get a little chaotic, especially when there are trucks coming into Gage Street. [Junction of Cochrane Street, Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2014]
The two seats outside Lan Fong Yuen are probably the smallest dai pai dong or street vendors I have seen in the area. Watching pedestrians moving on the escalator would probably distract the customers from their meal. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Gage Street, 2014]
At many occasions, the escalator would get awfully close to the adjacent buildings. Sometimes, escalator pedestrians can make direct eye contact with people inside the building. [Junction of Cochrane Street, Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2020]
At many occasions, pedestrians on the escalator system can make direct eye contact with people inside the building. [Junction of Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2021]
The one-way escalators move downhill everyday from 6 to 10am, and uphill from 10am to midnight. [Junction of Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2020]
When the escalator reaches Hollywood Road (荷李活道), the scenery from the escalator is dominated by the former police headquarters known as Tai Kwun (大館). Tai Kwun has been converted into a cultural and entertainment complex in recent years. [Junction of escalator and Hollywood Road, 2018]
A connection bridge was built a few years ago to link up the escalator and the side entrance of Tai Kwun. [Junction of Hollywood Road and Old Bailey Street, 2018]
The Central – Mid-Levels Escalator and Soho entertainment district are popular among tourists ever since its completion. [Junction of Shelley and Hollywood Road, 2014]
The escalator brings office workers from the financial district up to the bars and restaurants in Soho. [Near junction of Shelley Street and Staunton Street, 2020]
In the heart of Soho, the escalators is cut off at Staunton Street (士丹頓街). [Junction of Shelley Street and Staunton Street, 2014]
Fancy restaurants and lively bars have transformed the once peaceful residential Elgin Street (伊利近街). [Junction of escalator and Elgin Street, 2020]
The pace of the escalator is ideal for a leisure wander in the hilly neighbourhoods. [Escalator near Elgin Street, 2014]
The Central – Mid-Levels Escalator is a modern alternative of the old ladder streets of Hong Kong. [Escalator near Elgin Street, 2014]
Above Hollywood Road (荷李活道), the escalator continues up the sloped Shelley Street (些利街) in segments. [Shelley Street as viewed from landing at Caine Road, 2020]
Above Caine Road (堅道), the escalator entered the district of Mid-Levels (半山), an affluent residential district right above Downtown Hong Kong. [Escalator south of Caine Road, 2020]
Before hitting Mosque Street (摩羅廟街), the escalator passes by the entrance Jamia Masjid Mosque, the oldest mosque in Hong Kong. [Jamia Masjid Mosque, north of Mosque Street, 2020]
Jamia Masjid Mosque is also called Lascar Temple. Built in 1849 and rebuilt in 1915, the beautiful mosque is listed as a Grade 1 historical building. [Jamia Mosque, 2020]
Built in early 20th century, the three storey building offered free accommodation to mosque worshipers. [Jamia Mosque, 2014]
Around Jamia Masjid Mosque, the escalator snakes through clusters of apartments. [Escalator at Mosque Junction, 2014]
Beyond Jamia Mosque, the escalator continued to climb up the slope towards Robinson Road (羅便臣道) and Conduit Road (干德道). [Escalator at Mosque Junction, 2014]