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Posts tagged “Lascar

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]

LADDER STREETS PART 3: A NOSTALGIC JOURNEY, Tai Ping Shan (太平山), Hong Kong

Construction began in 1841, the same year of founding the city, Ladder Street is one of the oldest streets in Hong Kong. [Near the intersection of Ladder Street and Bridges Street in 1927. Various online sources.]

Out of the many ladder streets in Central and Sheung Wan (中上環), the roughly 350m Ladder Street (樓梯街) in Tai Ping Shan is the longest and one of the oldest. While “ladder street” is a general term for all pedestrian stair streets in Hong Kong, “Ladder Street” is also the name of a specific 316-steps stair street running from Caine Road (堅道) in the Mid Levels (半山) down to Queen’s Street Central (皇后大道中) in Sheung Wan. On its way, Ladder Street intersects with Bridges Street (必列者士街) and Hollywood Road (荷李活道), and several smaller pedestrian lanes. It also passes by a number of historical buildings and tourist attractions, including the Museum of Medical Sciences (香港醫學博物館), Chinese YMCA (中華基督教青年會), Man Mo Temple (文武廟) and Upper Lascar Row Antique Street Market / Cat Street Market (摩羅上街). Construction began in 1841 in the same year when the city was founded, Ladder Street is an iconic urban artefact of Hong Kong.

For many, Ladder Street is an iconic backdrop that represents a bygone Hong Kong. Throughout the years, Ladder Street has featured in uncounted films, TV shows (often involves chasing scenes), advertisements, photographs, etc. For foreigners, Ladder Street may be best known as one of the main filming locations of The World of Suzie Wong, a 1960 American/ British movie that tells the story of a American painter Robert Lomax (William Holden) falling in love with a Hong Kong prostitute Mei Ling (Nancy Kwan). For filming, the section of Ladder Street around Hollywood Road was converted into the set of Nam Kok Hotel, a fictional hotel where the two main protagonists stay hang around. The streetscapes of Ladder Street and Hollywood Road in the movie were “enriched” with extra street vendors, Chinese signage, pulled rickshaws, and lots and lots of people.

Walking down the Ladder Street to Sheung Wan Station every morning is a pleasant start to our daily routine. Away from rush hour traffic, Ladder Street offers us a moment of relaxing air before diving ourselves into the bustling dynamics of the city. Singing birds, shadows of swaying trees, rustic balustrades, old brick walls, incense smoke from Man Mo Temple, and scenes of vendors setting up their antique market stalls, every little detail of Ladder Street come together in a poetic picture. In the past two decades, many low rise tenement buildings in the area have been torn down for new apartment towers. Many vendors have retired, and old shops being replaced by new ones. No matter how much has changed, the intimate and tranquil scenery of Ladder Street remains as an icon of an old Hong Kong. Late poet Yesi (也斯), Leung Ping Kwan, in his 1990 poem Ladder Street, imagines himself on a pair of wooden clogs wandering in Ladder Street like a flaneur, mourning for the loss of the old days and yearning for a re-connection to bygone voices. Who knows, we probably would share a similar sense of loss in a few years’ time.

Ladder Street contains 316 steps running from Queen’s Road Central to Caine Road. [Sectional Diagram of Ladder Street, steps and landings are indicative only]
A small street eatery (popular with construction workers in the area) marks the top entrance of Ladder Street. [Junction of Caine Road and Ladder Street]
Decades ago, Victoria Harbour was clearly visible from the upper sections of Ladder Street. [Ladder Street between Caine Road and Caine Lane, 1954. Various online sources.]
Viewing from the same spot today, the sea is completely hidden by layers of modern buildings. [Junction of Caine Road and Ladder Street]
At night, a moody tone of yellow blankets much of the Ladder Street. [Junction of Caine Lane and Ladder Street]
The curved retaining wall between U Lam Terrace and Rosario Street remains as one of the few things that we can pick out in historical photos. [Junction of Rosario Street and Ladder Street]
Branching off from Ladder Street to Tank Lane, U Lam Terrace, a residential lane with only five apartment blocks, exemplifies a middle upper Chinese neighbourhood in the 19th century. [Junction of Tank Lane, U Lam Terrace and Rosario Street]
For 10 days in March each year, blossoms of tabebuia chrysantha would completely transform the scenery of the terrace. Native to South America, the deciduous tree was introduced to Hong Kong for aesthetic reasons. [U Lam Terrace]
Further down from U Lam Terrace is Bridges Street. In 1883, American missionary Rev. Dr. Charles Robert Hager arrived at Bridges Street in Tai Ping Shan and embarked on the Hong Kong Mission. In 1898, he bought the land at Ladder Street and Bridges Street and established the China Congregational Church. Charles Robert Hager is well known for baptizing Dr. Sun Yatsen in 1884. [Junction of Bridges Street and Ladder Street]
Linking the artsy Tai Ping Shan Street to the west and SOHO to the east, the 300m Bridges Street is frequented by tourists to check out the historical buildings in the area. [Outside Island Christian Academy on Bridges Street]
Completed in 1918, Chinese YMCA at Bridges Street was designed by American architect Harry Hussey in an attempt to integrate the style of the Chicago school with traditional Chinese features. As a result, red bricks, concrete and green glazed roof tiles were used. [Junction of Bridges Street and Ladder Street]
Currently a community centre, the building houses Hong Kong’s first indoor swimming pool and the last surviving running track made from wood. [Junction of Bridges Street and Tank Lane]
Constructed with the most modern facilities at its time, YMCA building has witnessed a century of changes in Hong Kong. Being a community hub for the locals ever since completion, Famous Chinese writer Lu Hsun once hosted a lecture at the YMCA building’s auditorium in 1927. [The cornerstone of the 1st Hong Kong YMCA was laid, 1917. University of Minnesota Libraries, Kautz Family YMCA Archives.]
Further down from Bridges Street, the upper section of Ladder Street ends at Man Mo Temple (文武廟), where Square Street makes a sharp turn out to Hollywood Road. This historic street junction featured frequently in films, including American/ British movie The World of Suzie Wong. [Junction of Square Street and Hollywood Road]
A century ago, the very same spot at the junction of Square Street and Ladder Street was home to street vendors. Looking upwards, the profile of Victoria Peak could still be seen. Today, the hill is totally hidden behind tall apartments. [Ladder Street as viewed from Square Street near Hollywood Road, with the side wall of Man Mo Temple on the left, 1920, copyright expired]
Situated at the junction of Square Street, Ladder Street and Hollywood Road, Man Mo Temple (文武廟) is one of the oldest temples in the city. Based on inscriptions on a brass bell, the temple was presumably built in 1847. [Man Mo Temple from corner of Hollywood Road and Ladder Street]
Not much has changed for Man Mo Temple in the past 150 years. But the urban context surrounding the temple has dramatically evolved. [The Joss House temple ornamented with lions and Chinese dragons, by William Pryor. Floyd, 1873. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)]
Yue Po Chai Curios Store (裕寶齋) occupies the corner of Hollywood Road and Square Street, where the filming spot of the fictional Nam Kok Hotel in The World of Suzie Wong was once located. Today, the circular shop entrance is a popular spot for Instagram selfies. [Corner of Hollywood Road and Square Street]
Another landing or two down the Ladder Street from Hollywood Road would get us to Upper Lascar Row (摩羅上街) and Circular Pathway (弓絃巷). Upper Lascar Row is a major antique market street in Hong Kong. East Indian sailors known as Lascar in the colonial era once lived in the street during the 19th century. As the Indians moved to other areas in the city, the small street was transformed into a shopping street for antiques and curios merchandises in the 1920’s. [Near junction of Upper Lascar Row and Ladder Street]
In the old days, all kinds of merchandise could be found at Upper Lascar Row. Merchandise from illegal origins were referred as “mouse goods”. Shoppers who came seeking for these goods were nicknamed “cats”. Thus Upper Lascar Row was also called Cat Street by Westerners. [Near junction of Upper Lascar Row and Tank Lane]
Hidden in the antique shops of Upper Lascar Row is June Woonamy, a bespoke tailor shop specialized in making “sleekly vintage” suits. [Junction of Upper Lascar Row and Luk Ku Road]
In the midst of old shops, Halfway Coffee has emerged as an urban magnet attracting the younger generation coming into the antique market. [Halfway Coffee’s exterior seating area in Upper Lascar Row]
Before the shops open for business, Upper Lascar Row is a peaceful venue for morning stroll. [Near junction of Upper Lascar Row and Tank Lane]
The Ladder Street landing cthat branches off to Upper Lascar Row and Circular Pathway is a popular spot to get “fai chun” (揮春), traditional calligraphy decorations used during Chinese New Year. [Junction of Upper Lascar Row, Circular Pathway and Ladder Street]
The landing of Ladder Street that branches off to Upper Lascar Row and Circular Pathway is a popular spot to get “fai chun” (揮春), traditional calligraphy decorations used during Chinese New Year. [Junction of Upper Lascar Row, Circular Pathway and Ladder Street]
As Chinese New Year is approaching, four temporary “fai chun” (揮春) booths were being set up at Ladder Street. These booths would usually last for about two weeks each year. [Junction of Upper Lascar Row, Circular Pathway and Ladder Street]
All of the fai chun writers are elderly, with the oldest being almost 96. [Near junction of Upper Lascar Row, Circular Pathway and Ladder Street]
After 316 steps, the Ladder Street reaches Queen’s Road Central, the first main street in Hong Kong. [Junction of Queen’s Road Central and Ladder Street]