ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “market

QUEEN’S ROAD CENTRAL (皇后大道中), Central-Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

Six years before the handover of Hong Kong to China, Taiwanese songwriter and singer Lo Tayou (羅大佑) published a song called “Queen’s Road East” (皇后大道東) in 1991. Emerged as a satirical reflection of Hongkongers’ collective feelings in the eve’s of the handover, the song became an instant hit. Even today, the song still offers an interesting cultural reference to understand the city’s unsettling moment before 1997. In the face of Hong Kong’s social uncertainties and imminent changes in near future, lyricist Albert Leung (林夕) made use of a wide range of symbols in the song, from “portrait on the coin” and “noble friend” to signify Queen Elizabeth II, to “waves of pedestrians” to suggest the mass exodus of Hongkongers. But the biggest symbolism is in fact the name “Queen’s Road East” itself. Physically divided into three sections, namely Queen’s Road East, Queen’s Road Central, and Queen’s Road West, Queen’s Road was used in the song to symbolize the three main players in the city’s story: “East” for Hong Kong, “West” for Britain, and “Central” for China (in reference to “Middle Kingdom”, the Chinese name of China). While “Queen” is unmistakably a reference to the city’s colonial past, the historical and economic significance of Queen’s Road has suggested a meaning way beyond colonialism. It is in fact a symbol of the city’s success story. As Hong Kong’s first main road, Queen’s Road was home to the first city hall, first post office, first luxury hotel, first bank headquarters, first residences of government officials, first business district, etc. After almost 180 years of urban transformations, its importance in the commercial heart remains vital to this date. The rich history and symbolism of Queen’s Road has made it a sensible choice for Lo Tayou and Albert Leung in their iconic song, and a reference point to tell the story of Hong Kong.

For its architecture and luxury shops, Queen’s Road Central is indeed a popular destination for both foreign visitors and local Hongkongers. Constructed between 1841 and 1843, Queen’s Road was originally named Main Street (大馬路). It ran through the first business district in the city between Sai Ying Pun (西營盤) and Central (中環). The road was soon renamed as Queen’s Road in tribute to Queen Victoria. As the road further extended in the west and east direction, Queen’s Road was eventually divided into three main sections: West, Central and East. Connecting Sheung Wan (上環) and Central along the island’s original shoreline, Queen’s Road Central (皇后大道中) has long been considered as a synonym of Downtown Hong Kong. Subsequent land reclamations in the next 180 years pushed Queen’s Road Central further and further inland. The business district has long extended way beyond its original extent around Queen’s Road Central. Yet, buildings along the road continue to be sold, torn down and replaced by taller replacements, from the 19th century Neo-classical structures to the 20th century Modernist buildings, and then to the contemporary glassy skyscrapers. Due to its historical significance, Queen’s Road Central is probably one of the most documented street in Hong Kong. Having the historical photographs in hand while taking a brief tour of Queen’s Road Central offers a fruitful way to understand the tale of constant changes, and endless cycle of deconstruction and reconstruction in one of the fastest growing metropolises in modern history.

Running across the former extent of Victoria City (West District, Sheung Wan, Central and Wanchai), Queen’s Road is the first main road in Hong Kong. [Street sign of Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
In the early days, Queen’s Road was no more than a street of dirt. [A Chromolithograph of Queen’s Road based on a drawing by Eduard Hildebrandt, Public Domain, 1865]
This Central-Sheung Wan (中上環) diagram highlights the extent of Queen’s Road Central and some of its notable street numbers in correspondence to the photos below.
1 Queen’s Road Central: HSBC Main Building (香港上海滙豐銀行總行)
Completed in 1985, Norman Foster’s HSBC Main Building is the fourth version of the bank’s headquarters at the very same site. [Junction of Bank Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
1 Queen’s Road Central: HSBC Main Building (香港上海滙豐銀行總行)
At the ground floor covered plaza, markings on the floor explain the building site in relationship with the various land reclamations of Central. [Junction of Bank Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
9 Queen’s Road Central: The Galleria (嘉軒廣場)
The Galleria formerly housed a flagship Hermes store
, before the French luxury goods company sold the 7500 sq.ft retail space for about USD 86 million. [Junction of Ice House Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
12 Queen’s Road Central: Shanghai Commercial Bank Tower (上海商業銀行) & Landmark Atrium (置地廣塲)
In 2016, Shanghai Commercial Bank moved into their new tower after years of construction. Much of its ground floor is rented out to a flagship boutique of Versace. Across the street stands Landmark Atrium, one of the city’s most upscale shopping centres. [Junction of Duddell Street and Queen’s Road, Central, 2020]
Rickshaws lined up both sides of Queen’s Road Central at the junction where today’s Shanghai Commercial Bank stands. [Photo in Public Domain, Junction of Duddell Street and Queen’s Road, Central, 1900]
15 Queen’s Road Central: The Landmark (置地廣塲)
Home to the likes of Gucci flagship and Harvey Nichols department store, Landmark Atrium is one of the most well known luxury shopping destination in Hong Kong. [Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
15 Queen’s Road Central: The Landmark (置地廣塲)
The Landmark partially occupies the site of the former Hongkong Hotel
(香港大酒店
), a majestic luxury hotel. [Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
Founded in 1868 and closed in 1952, Hongkong Hotel (香港大酒店) was the first luxury hotel in Hong Kong. It was later replaced by the office tower Central Building (中建大廈) and The Landmark (置地廣塲) a complex of luxury shopping centre and office buildings. [Photo by Lai Afong, Public Domain, 1880’s]
30 Queen’s Road Central: Entertainment Building (娛樂行) at Intersection of Pedder Street
Designed by P&T Architects, the neo-gothic Entertainment Building was erected in 1993 on the site of the former King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院). Instead of movie billboards that once dominated the scenery at this location, a large LED screen on the podium facade
to engage pedestrians from all directions.
[Junction of Wyndham Street, D’Aguilar Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
30 Queen’s Road Central: Entertainment Building (娛樂行)
Long gone the days when Central was a destination for moviegoers (except a small cinema in the Entertainment Building). In 1928, the air conditioned King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院) was erected along with a ballroom and restaurant. It lasted till 1962 and was replaced by the 1,300-seat second generation. The theatre finally closed in 1990 to make way for the current office tower. [Junction of Wyndham Street, D’Aguilar Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
30 Queen’s Road Central: Former King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院)
The 7-storey King’s Theatre was opened in 1931
. Its predecessor on the same spot, Bijou Scenic Theatre, was one of the first cinema established in Hong Kong. [Photo by Harrison Forman, American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, 1940’s]
31 Queen’s Road Central: LHT Tower (陸海通大廈) and Theatre Lane (戲院里)
The street name “Theatre Lane” says it all. Decades ago, Theatre Lane was flanked by Queen’s Theatre (皇后戲院) and opposite from King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院). Both famous theatres were demolished and redeveloped in the 1990’s into new office towers: King’s Theatre became Entertainment Building and Queen’s Theatre was turned into LHT Tower with the eye-catching slanted facade verticals. [Junction of Theatre Lane and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
31 Queen’s Road Central: Queen’s Theatre (皇后戲院)
In 1907, Victoria Theatre and Hong Kong Theatre opened in Central. Located at the intersection of Theatre Lane and Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong Theatre was the first cinema founded by local Chinese. It was replaced by Queen’s Theatre in 1924 with 1,200 seats. Queen’s Theatre was later replaced by its second generation in 1961, and eventually demolished in 2008 for the new office building. [Photo by Harrison Forman, American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, 1940’s]
80 Queen’s Road Central: Pottinger Street (砵典乍街) or Stone Slab Street (石板街)
One of the most popular tourist destination in Central is the historical Pottinger Street. Its stone steps lead tourists all the way from Queen’s Road Central to Tai Kwun, the former Police Headquarters in Central. [Junction of Pottinger Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
100 Queen’s Road Central: Don Don Donki (驚安之殿堂) at 100 QRC
Open 24 hours 7 days a week and famous for its vast selection of household and food merchandises imported from Japan, the Japanese supermarket Don Don Donki at 100 QRC is their 5th outlet opened in Hong Kong since 2019. The pandemic is preventing Hongkongers to visit their favorite destination: Japan. For the time being, Don Don Donki is benefiting from the situation and is determined to speed up their expansion plan of opening 24 stores across the city. [Junction of Central-Mid Levels Escalators and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
100 Queen’s Road Central: Central-Mid Levels Escalator Since its inauguration in 1993, the Central-Mid Levels Escalator has completely transformed the pedestrian patterns and urban scenery of SoHo, bringing people up to the Mid Levels from Queen’s Road Central. [Looking down from Central-Mid Levels Escalator, Central, 2020]
93 Queen’s Road Central: Central Market (中環街市)
Famous for its Bauhaus style, the 83-year Central Market is undergoing a major revitalization work. It would be adapted into a new shopping complex. [Junction of Jubilee Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
93 Queen’s Road Central: Central Market (中環街市)
Before the modernist version was erected in 1938, the earlier versions of the Central Market had always been a traditional Western architecture.
[Image courtesy of Historical Photographs of China reference number: NA16-019., University of Bristol Library (www.hpcbristol.net), CC BY_NC_ND 4.0, 1895]
99 Queen’s Road Central: The Center (中環中心)
At 346m, The Center is the fifth tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong. It is one of the tallest steel buildings in the world without reinforced concrete core. In 2017, the building for sold for a world record of USD 5.15 billion. [Junction of Jubilee Stree and Queen’s Road, Central, Central, 2020]
99 Queen’s Road Central: The Center (中環中心)
To facilitate the skyscraper’s construction, several historical structures were demolished and streets shortened in 1995. [unction of Jubilee Street and Queen’s Road, Central, Central, 2021]
99 Queen’s Road Central: The Center (中環中心)
The main lobby is raised up a level for better views, leaving the ground level to become a semi-open plaza. [Junction of Jubilee Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central,
2021]
128 Queen’s Road Central: Peel Street (卑利街)
Graham Street Market, the oldest street market in Hong Kong, is accessible from Queen’s Road Central via Peel Street or Graham Street.
[Junction of Peel Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
A century ago, Queen’s Road Central was flanked both sides by qilou (騎樓), or arcade buildings. These unique architecture originated from the British in India, who came up with the idea of adding verandas in front of buildings for shading in hot climate. These architectural type then spread into Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Southern China and became widely popular in the 19th century. [Photo by Lai Afong, Public Domain, late 19-century]
176 Queen’s Road Central:
Not many qilou buildings survives in Central-Sheung Wan today. [176 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
176 Queen’s Road Central: Peel Street (卑利街)
The qilou at 176 Queen’s Road Central has become a precious survivor in the area. [176 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
176 Queen’s Road Central: Kam On Building (錦安大廈)
A thin building called Kam On Building marks the junction of Wellington Street and Queen’s Road Central. [Junction of Wellington Street and Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
181 Queen’s Road Central: Grand Millennium Plaza (新紀元廣場)
Similar to The Center, Grand Millennium Plaza was also a redevelopment project that dramatically transform the urban fabric of the area. Old tenement buildings were demolished and small streets and lanes were removed to make way for the current two office towers and a neo-classical plaza.
[Junction of Bonham Strand and Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
378 Queen’s Road Central: Possession Street (水坑口街)
In Sheung Wan, Possession Street, the spot where the British navy first landed on the island, defines the end of Queen’s Road Central and beginning of Queen’s Road West (皇后大道西). [Junction of Possession Street, Bonham Strand and Queen’s Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]

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]

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]

KHAN EL-KHALILI SOUQ, Cairo, Egypt

2006.05.30.

If not the summer heat, wandering in Islamic Cairo around the huge Khan el-Khalili market would be the most ideal way to enjoy Old Cairo. Even without entering mosques or museums, just strolling around to feel the bustling activities, hearing the calls of prayer mingled with the yells of merchants, smelling the shisha smoke and Arabian coffee from open cafes, and searching for the highly decorative details on centuries old building facade was just a pure delight.

As the largest and most famous souq in the region, it is understandable that Khan el-Khalili has been developed into a major tourist attraction in Cairo. It was precisely the souq’s popularity among tourists that made it falling victim as a target of terrorist attacks. In 2005, just one year prior to my visit, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device near the market, killing two French and one American tourists. In 2009, another bombing incident took place at the souq and killed a 17-year-old French girl. These incidents did make some temporary impact to tourism in Egypt. But judging from the tourist crowds that I saw in 2006, just one year after the suicide bombing, the impact was rather minimal. Of course no attacks would make a greater impact to tourism than the Covid 19 pandemic that we are experiencing right now.

The network of alleyways offered me a delightful labyrinth to wander around.
Most tourists come to Khan El-Khalili for souvenirs, handmade carpets silverware, antiques, stained glass lamps, incense, jewellery, copper-ware, and even gold. I spent most of my time strolling around to take pictures.
For me, the area was a great place to get lost and just watch the bustling actions of local people.
The Mosque Madrassa Khanqah at al-Muizz Street near Bayn al-Qasrayn is a popular spot for tourist photos.
Some aggressive shop owners did approach and invite me to enter their shops.
Sitting at the outdoor patio of a coffeehouse was the most comfortable way foe me to enjoy the bustling activities around.
Despite most shops are now catered for tourists, some still maintain their original character selling daily merchandises and spices.
In Cairo, one of the most sought-after souvenir is the handcrafted metal lantern.
Beyond market stalls and shops, I would from time to time be amazed by some beautiful architecture that had stood for centuries.
Especially in al-Muizz Street where buildings with ornate details have been well preserved.
From time to time, I would unintentionally return to the same spot more than one occasion, including the Mosque Madrassa Khanqah at al-Muizz Street.
Without notice, the sun was getting low and shadows were lengthening.
Despite getting late, the market was still packed with shoppers, tourists and merchants.
From time to time I would hear the loud speakers from nearby mosques calling for prayer.
In the side alleyways away from the main shopping streets, the peaceful neighborhood setting was like another world.
Wandering in the Khan el-Khalili area was a delight for me. Every turn at alleyways or brief stop along the way showed me a unique picture of Cairo from what seemed to be a bygone era.

AL-HAMIDIYAH SOUQ, Damascus, Syria

2006.05.14.

Found in the 1st century at the site of an earlier Aramaean Temple, the Temple of Jupiter was the largest temple in Roman Damascus.  The Greco-Roman temple was renowned for its beauty and scale.  In the 4th century, Theodosius I transformed the temple into a church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.  In 705, the church was converted into the Umayyad Mosque after Damascus was captured by the Muslim Arab forces in 634.  Despite being transformed numerous times, remnants of the Roman Temple of Jupiter survived for another millennium until the present day.  The ruins have indeed interwoven into the urban fabric of today’s Damascus, serving as a 40 feet monument at the entrance of the central market, Al-Hamidiyah Souq.  Indeed, the Roman entry route to the former Temple of Jupiter has become the main configuration of the market.

Shops selling clothes, antiques, handicrafts, souvenir, and jewellery line along the main shopping arcade, while vendors of spices, dried fruits, miscellaneous household items and clothing pack the side streets.  Established in the Ottoman Era in around 1780, the 600m covered market has not been physically affected by the civil war, despite international tourists have largely disappeared.  Due to the war, the Syrian pound has fallen dramatically in recent years, and the supply chains of many merchandises have also been impacted by foreign sanctions.  Business is undoubtedly affected.  Back in 2006, the souk was a must-see for all foreign visitors, including us.

After Umayyad Mosque, we wandered over to the city’s main souk.  We discovered an unique shop that sells textiles, scarfs, bags, and embroideries made by local Syrian and Palestinian women.  After souvenir shopping, we went to a shop called Bakdash, which is Syria’s oldest ice-cream parlour.  Bakdash has been around since 1890, selling rosewater and almond ice-cream topped with fresh pistachio. Each of us had a delicious cone to end the day.

06ME30-13The ruined Roman Temple of Jupiter forms a dramatic entrance for Al-Hamidiyah Souq.

06ME30-09The souk is roughly 15m wide and covered with a 10m tall metal vaulted roof.

06ME30-37Political banner in support of the Assad regime was hung in the souk back in 2006.

06ME30-35In the evening, the ruined temple is lit up by flood lights.

06ME30-36In the evening, the Roman ruins give a strong atmospheric touch to the market entrance.

06ME31-34In 2010, Global Heritage Fund named the old city of Damascus as one of the 12 cultural heritage sites most “on the verge” of irreparable loss and destruction.  In 2008, World Monuments Fund put old Damascuson its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world.

06ME31-35Population decline and demolition plans of old buildings are to blamed for the risks that Old Damascus is facing in recent decade.

06ME31-37Outside of the main souk, vendors of all kinds have spread to many side streets.

06ME31-36Vendors selling produces and household items have turned the side streets near the souk into an open market.


AL-MADINA SOUQ, Aleppo, Syria

2006.05.10

Not far from the citadel is the main souq of Aleppo, the Al-Madina Souq.  It is consisted of a series of interconnected covered markets.  Like other Middle Eastern souqs, the Al-Madina Souq is vast and labyrinth like.  Unlike the touristy Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, Al-Madina Souq was catered almost entirely for the locals.  We stopped often to talk to vendors and tried out the local snacks, including a tasty hot omelet from an old vendor. While picking up a few metal necklaces from a curious young vendor in the jewelery section, the curious vendor kept on asking us questions about Hong Kong and Canada.  There were a number of vendors selling colouful spices, as well as the famous Aleppo soap.

Since the trip to the Middle East, Aleppo soap has been on my occasional shopping list of personal care items.  No matter in Toronto, London, Kyoto or Hong Kong, we could always find some local stores that got some of these Syria soap bars on the shelves.  Although the exact origin of Aleppo soap is unknown, these handmade soap made from olive oil and lye has been around since ancient times.  The first Crusades brought this soap to Europe and greatly influenced the industry of soap making in Europe.  In Aleppo, the best place to shop for Aleppo soap used to be Al-Madina Souq.  With 13km of shops, about 4000 shops distributed in 37 specific souqs, Al-Madina Souq was one of the largest and oldest covered market in the world, and served as the commercial heart of Aleppo for many centuries.  Back in the days of the ancient Silk Road, Aleppo was a major hub in the area.  People from the region would come to shop for soap, silk, spices, jewelry, gold, ceramics, textiles, clothing, pure cotton, etc.  No one knows exactly how old the souq is, but some of the white stones in the market were cut and placed around 2500 years ago.  The souq remained as the city’s iconic shopping venue until the Syrian Civil War.  In September 2012, a fire caused by the fighting between the rebels and government army lasted for days and destroyed the majority of Al-Madina Souq.

06ME23-09Before the war, the Al-Madina Souq was the best place to shop for spices and soap.

souk 2Despite some visiting tourists, the Al-Madina Souq was largely serving the local poppulation.

souk 3Vendors were friendly to us despite many couldn’t speak English.

souk 1We watched an old vendor demonstrating the making of egg omelets.

06ME24-30In some occasions the vaulted ceiling of the souq made way to an opened rotunda.

06ME23-14Apart from the mosque, the Al-Madina Souq was the biggest loss to Aleppo from the war.

06ME23-17The souq lies in the middle of the old city of Aleppo.

06ME23-18Before the destruction of 2012, the souq pretty much stayed the same since the Medieval Ages.

06ME24-31Today, 60% of the old city was damaged in the world.

06ME24-32It was interesting to find our way through these narrow alleys surrounding the souq.

06ME24-34Before the Civil War, most of the old city dated back to the 12th century.

06ME24-35The unique old city of Aleppo was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1986.

06ME24-36Both the souq and the old city were being restored bits by bits in recent years.

06ME24-37Let’s hope the prosperous scenes of the Old Aleppo would return to the war-torn ancient city soon.