ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Old Bailey

NoHo & SoHo, Central – Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

Linking a number of tourist attractions like Tai Kwun, PMQ and Man Mo Temple, Hollywood Road is always popular for tourists in Hong Kong. While tourists come for the historical attractions, many locals, on the other hand, come to Hollywood Road for food and drinks. South of Hollywood Road, the narrow Staunton Street (士丹頓街) was once home to wet market vendors, trading offices, family-run stores and small Buddhist convents (庵堂). In fact, Staunton Street was once nicknamed the Street of Buddhist Nuns (師姑街). After the Central – Mid Levels Escalators opened to the public in 1993 and brought an influx of pedestrians from the business district downhill, Staunton Street and the adjacent Elgin Street(伊利近街) have quietly undergone a dramatic transformation. Expatriates started to move into the area. Old shops and Buddhist convents were gradually replaced by bars, pubs, restaurants, comedy clubs, cafes, and wine shops. In 1996, Thomas Goetz, a restaurant owner from Elgin Street, came up with the acronym “SoHo” (蘇豪) for this new entertainment and dining area of Central, referring to the location “South of Hollywood Road”. From then on, the Staunton Street that I used to go as a child to get fresh grocery and pay ritualistic respect to my grandfather at a small Buddhist convent has silently disappeared. Today, SoHo would remain sleepy most of the day, and then bursts into life after sunset. The yell of market vendors and pungent incense smoke have been replaced by causal giggles and laughter, and the smell of beer.

Further away from the Central – Mid Levels Escalators and less than 150m northwest of the buzzing SoHo, Gough Street (歌賦街), Kau U Fong (九如坊) and Aberdeen Street (鴨巴甸街) offer a much more laid-back and tranquil ambience. Once home to family run shops and small printing presses, these sleepy back streets have become a hipper cousin of the nearby SoHo. Known as NoHo for “North of Hollywood Road”, this area is particular attractive to locals who come for the foodie scene: Chinese cuisine, dai pai dong dishes, beef brisket noodles, Japanese ramen, sushi, Western fine dining, unadon, Vietnamese pho, hand-drip cafes, bubble tea, chocolate, etc. Despite its abundance of dining options, the shops here remain small and peaceful. Compared to its noisier neighbour, NoHo is much more low key, as if deliberately staying away from the public limelight. Here visitors would enjoy a sense of discovery and intimacy that is hard to find anywhere else in Central.

Looking down from PMQ, the stepped Shin Hing Street (善慶街) marks one of the entrances into Gough Street from Hollywood Road. [Junction of Hollywood Road and Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
An old furniture store still occupies the corner of Hollywood Road and Shin Hing Street. [Top of Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Many love the tranquil and “European” feel of NoHo, which is a rarity in urban Hong Kong. [Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Art installation related to the history of Sun Yatsen, the Father of Modern China, has become a playground for children. [Junction of Shin Hing Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Before the pandemic, the steps of Shin Hing Street was often turned into a stepped seating and drinking area in the evening and during weekends. [Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
At Mee Lun Street (美輪街), a small ladder street just a few shops away from Shin Hing Street, a simple dai pai dong street eatery has been a pedestrian magnet for years. Opened in 1959, Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) dai pai dong is a big attraction in NoHo. Before the pandemic, there would always a long queue (mainly tourists and young couples) whenever the eatery is opened. [Junction of Mee Lun Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
One of the most famous dishes at Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) is tomato beef and egg noodles. [Junction of Mun Lun Street and Gough Street, NoHo,Sheung Wan, 2020]
Sasa the cat of Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) is a popular member of the Mun Lun Street neighbourhood. Without tourists during the pandemic, Sasa got a little more freedom to linger around. When the eatery is busy and all seats are taken, the owner would take Sasa back to their apartment nearby. [Junction of Mun Lun Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Kau Kee Beef Briskets(九記牛腩) is another tourist favourite in NoHo. Kau Kee’s business during the pandemic is greatly affected. [Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Apart from food, design shops such as Homeless offers another crucial aspect of urban living in Hong Kong. [Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
One street downhill from Gough Street, Kau U Fong (九如坊) offers another clusters of tranquil options for foodies. [Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
As chill as SoHo but with smaller crowds, that is the real beauty of NoHo. [Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In recent years, one of the most well known establishments in Kau U Fong is The Chairman (大班樓), a Michelin 1-star Chinese restaurant that uses mostly organic ingredients from small local suppliers and fishermen. [Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The most famous fish at The Chairman is undoubtedly steamed crab in aged Xiaoxing wine with Chan Village rice noodles. [The Chairman, Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Perpendicular to Gough Street and Kau U Fong is the sloped Aberdeen Street. Despite its slope, the street is also filled with new restaurants and cafes, including Tenkai, a Japanese fine dining restaurant specialized in tempura omakase. [Aberdeen Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Further downhill, the more causal Ode has also attracted a constant queue outside. The restaurant is specialized in ramen in sea bream fish broth. [Aberdeen Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The relatively new and sleek looking Aesop store at Gough / Aberdeen Street is a neat addition to the NoHo neighbourhood. [Junction of Aberdeen Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan,2020]

***

Near Hollywood Road, the vivid wall paintings at Graham Street remind visitors that we are now about to enter an interesting and fun neighbourhood. [Junction of Graham Street and Hollywood Road, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Since 1993, the world’s longest covered escalator system has brought tens of thousands of pedestrians up and down the slope of Central, from 34,000 daily usage in 1996 to about 85,000 in 2010. This influx of energy has directly contributed to the development of the SoHo District. [Junction of Shelley and Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
The Central – Mid Level Escalators was the unexpected driving force behind the creation of the entertainment district of SoHo in Central. [Junction of Shelley and Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Restaurants and bars cascade up along the escalator system of Shelley Street. [Shelley Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
Staunton has become the central axis of SoHo entertainment district. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Staunton Street ends at Old Bailey Street where Tai Kwun, the former Central Police Headquarters is situated. [Junction of Staunton and Shelley Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
A simple restaurant serving British food marks the eastern entrance of SoHo at Old Bailey Street. [Junction of Old Bailey and Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
From crafted beer to high end whiskey, sake, and wines, Staunton Street offers plenty of options to anyone looking for fun after work. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
A constant queue from morning till dusk, Bakehouse is the clear winner of SoHo during the Covid 19 pandemic. Operated by Grégoire Michaud, a renowned baker who has an impressive resume of work experiences in high end hotels and restaurants, the famous bakery has become an urban sensation in the past few years in Hong Kong. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
The former shops and Buddhist convents below old apartment blocks have been converted into restaurants and bars. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2021]
The ambience of Staunton Street would dramatically transformed as evening approaches. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2021]
One street further uphill from Staunton Street, Elgin Street is also at the heart of the bar hopping circuit of SoHo. [Elgin Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Like other old neighborhoods in Hong Kong, there is a deity shrine in SoHo that protects all in the community. [Junction of Staunton and Peel Street, Soho, Central, 2021]
Across from the shrine, a bar specialized in shesha water pipes has an interesting wall painting at its door. [Peel Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
During the Covid 19 pandemic, many bars and pubs were asked to temporarily close their doors. The restaurants remain opened have to follow strict regulations for number of customers per table, distance between seats, shorter opening times, stringent mechanical requirements for air changes, regular disinfection of spaces, etc. [Peel Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
SoHo is not all about fine dining and bar hopping. Other businesses such as custom tailor and second hand bookstore have also left their marks. [Flow Books, Hollywood Road, SoHo, Central, 2014]
The true beauty of SoHo is about how people with different backgrounds may come and mingle in a few small streets uphill from the business district of Central. [Flow Books, Hollywood Road, SoHo, Central, 2014]

VICTORIA PRISON (域多利監獄), Tai Kwun (大館), Central (中環), Hong Kong

The former Victoria Prison or Gaol is the third main component of the Tai Kwun Centre of Heritage and Arts. Built in August 1841, some say the prison was the first permanent Western architecture constructed in Hong Kong. It served as the city’s first prison until 2006, when the complex was decommissioned for good. Today, the prison halls are largely preserved as listed historical buildings. Some are opened to the public to showcase the history, while some are being converted into restaurants and bars. But it’s the Prison Yard, the tranquil courtyard in the midst of the prison compound that is the real gem. Under the shade of Frangipani and Candlenut trees, movable beach chairs are provided for relaxation. In the evening, the courtyard is dimly lit to maintain a peaceful ambience.

At either end of the Prison Yard, renowned architect Herzog de Meuron has left their mark by erecting two cubic structures that appear to be floating in mid air above the prison walls. Serving as a theatre, one of the cubic structure is known as JC Cube. The other cube, named JC Contemporary, is a sleek looking museum of contemporary art. Beneath the JC Cube lies the stepped plaza Laundry Steps, where movie screening and live performances would regularly be held. Echoing the brick and stone masonry of the heritage structures, the cast aluminium facade of the cubic structures offer a dramatic contrast between the old and new.

If the Parade Ground courtyard at the lower platform is reserved for the vibrancy of retail and dining activities, the Prison Yard at the upper platform is all about the venues for cultural exhibitions and performances. While the Central Police Headquarters on Hollywood Road and Central Magistracy on Arbuthnot Road were all about establishing an authoritative image to the public, the unpretentious buildings of the Victoria Prison, which have been walled off from the city ever since 1841, offers the perfect setting for contemporary culture and architecture to establish a new identity for the compound. Converting the cold prison blocks into a welcoming urban oasis has so far proven to be successful.

Earlier versions of Victoria Prison have long gone, including the one with a radial plan dated to 1858. [Photo: University of Bristol – Historical Photographs of China reference number: NA16-009. Image from an album in The National Archives. 1860’s]
Today, the JC Contemporary cantilevers over the granite walls of Victoria Prison and red brick facades of the Central Police Headquarters along Old Bailey Street. [Tai Kwun at junction of Old Bailey Street and Staunton Street, Central, 2021]
At the junction of Old Bailey Street and Chancery Lane, the Blue Gate (now painted green) marks the main entrance of Victoria Prison. From my childhood home just a dozen of steps away, my curiosity would explode whenever a police truck arrived with new prison inmates. Back in the 1980’s, the prison was actually used as a transit and repatriation centre for Vietnamese refugees. [Blue Gate of Victoria Prison at junction of Old Bailey Street and Chancery Lane, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The southern extent of Victoria Prison is bounded by the granite wall along Chancery Lane. [Prison wall at Chancery Lane, Central, 2021]
I remember most walls of the Victoria Prison were topped with glass pieces when I was a child. Today, only a small amount of glass is left. [Former prison wall at Chancery Lane, Central, 2021]
The JC Cube overhangs beyond the prison wall along Arbuthnot Road. [Tai Kwun at Arbuthnot Road, Central, 2021]
From Central Magistracy, a small chapel decorated with wall paintings marks the entrance vestibule into the former Victoria Prison. [Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
Herzog de Meuron chose a cladding design contrasting to the heritage masonry buildings for the new cubic buildings. [Former Victoria Prison, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The Victoria Prison was damaged during WWII, and has gone through extensive restoration after the war. [Hall B, Victoria Prison, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Hong Kong was declared a port of first asylum for Vietnamese refugees. The prison was used as a transit and repatriation centre. [Former Victoria Prison, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The Victoria Prison has imprisoned all kinds of people in its 165 years of history, including some well known figures such as Vietnamese revolutionary and politician Ho Chi Minh. [Former prison hall, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
One of the prison buildings was used to showcase projections of Chinese and Italian sword fighting techniques as part of the Way of the Sword: Warrior Traditions in China and Italy exhibition. [Former prison hall, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The Laundry Steps serves as a connection point between the platform of Central Magistracy and Prison Yard. [Laundry Steps, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
Beneath the JC Cube is Laundry Steps, a welcoming stepped plaza designated for live performances. [Laundry Steps, Tai Kwun, Central, 2020]
The Laundry Steps is a great place for movie screening. [Laundry Steps, Tai Kwun, Central, 2020]
During the pandemic, beach chairs were removed from the Prison Yard. Only the Frangipani and Candlenut trees remain as the main features of the courtyard. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
Live performances would occasionally be held at the Prison Yard. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
Built in 1913, and modified in 1931 and 1948, Hall F was considered to have less historical value compared to other buildings in the compound. Left of Hall F is the passageway leading to the Blue Gate. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
Built in 1858, the 3-storey D Hall of former Victoria Prison is the oldest surviving structure in Tai Kwun. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
The first floor of D Hall was once used as a hospital and psychiatric ward, while the second floor housed youth detainees. Today, the ground floor is converted into a causal restaurant managed by a NGO. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2020]
Design by Herzog de Meuron, a cast aluminium cladding system made from recycled vehicle wheels in Australia is used for the outer skin of JC Contemporary and JC Cube. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The slit of glazing reveals the spiral stair up to the exhibition floors of the JC Contemporary. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
A minimalist base of concrete and glass lifts the JC Contemporary up beyond the prison wall. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The spiral staircase in the JC Contemporary is a popular selfie spot today. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
Wet Feet_Dry Feet:Borders and Games by Belgian artist Francis Aly was one of the many exhibitions hosted at the JC Contemporary recently. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, March 2021]
The small Artist’s Book Library on the second floor of JC Contemporary is a pleasant place to take a break. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]

CENTRAL POLICE HEADQUARTERS & MAGISTRACY, Tai Kwun (大館), Central (中環), Hong Kong

In the business district of Hong Kong, it is always an uphill battle to preserve a heritage building against the power of urban development. The former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) is a rare exception, and so as the former Central Police Station Compound just a few blocks down Hollywood Road. In the past two years, the most exciting new attraction in Hong Kong has to be Tai Kwun (大館). Consisted of 16 heritage buildings, 2 courtyards and 2 new structures, Tai Kwun is the the largest heritage and art compound in the city. Literally means “big station” in Chinese, “Tai Kwun” refers to how people used to call this former police compound over a century ago. Today, Tai Kwun is home to art and history exhibitions, outdoor performances, a 200-seat auditorium, design shops, restaurants and bars. Perhaps everyone acknowledges that there isn’t much old Hong Kong left to see nowadays, that’s why Tai Kwun has become an instant hit on Instagram and made it onto Time magazine’s list of World Greatest Places when the compound first opened to the public in 2018.

The story of Tai Kwun dates as far back as 1841, the year when the British first set foot in Hong Kong. On the slope of Tai Ping Shan in Central, Captain William Caine who also served as Chief Magistrate and Head of Police and Gaol chose the current site bounded by Hollywood Road (荷李活道), Old Bailey Street (奧卑利街), Chancery Lane (贊善里) and Arbuthnot Road (亞畢諾道) to build the city’s first prison, police station and magistracy office all in one compound. Expansions and alterations of the splendid compound gradually establish the authority of the colonial police force upon the public. Most buildings were erected before 1925, despite expansions and alterations continued to transform Tai Kwun well into 1950’s. For 160 years the compound served as Central’s law enforcement hub until 2006 when the compound was finally decommissioned. In 2007, conceptualization of the Tai Kwun revitalization project began to take shape. Construction and conservation work began in 2011 and took 8 years to complete. After spending HKD 3.7 billion from the Hong Kong Jockey Club charity trust, Tai Kwun finally opened its doors in May 2018.

As a child having lived for a decade at the intersection of Old Bailey Street and Chancery Lane just 10m away from the Blue Gate of Victoria Prison, entering the walled compound that has been off limits to the public for the last 160 years has been quite special to me. I used to walk past the prison along Chancery Lane and imagine what might lie on the other side of the high stone wall topped with pieces of broken glass. As the revitalized Tai Kwun unveiled its mysterious face, my childhood curiosity has finally been fed. It is delightful for me to see that Tai Kwun has been carefully preserved, restored and everyone, including me, can finally see, touch and enjoy whatever that are taking place at both sides of the prison walls.

The compound is defined by three main groups of buildings: Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. Buildings of the Police Station cluster around the Parade Ground courtyard at the lower platform, while the prison structures stand around the Prison Yard at the upper platform. The beautiful Magistracy building is situated in between at the middle platform. [Visitor centre display shows the three areas of Tai Kwun: Police Station in blue, Magistracy in orange, and the Prison in yellow, 2021]
A pedestrian footbridge links up Tai Kwun with the Central – Mid Levels Escalator. [Junction of Old Bailey Street and Hollywood Road, 2020]
The once tranquil Old Bailey Street has seen its streetscape dramatically developed into a welcoming pub scene. [Tai Kwun at seen from Old Bailey Street, 2020]
The Central Police Headquarters building along Hollywood Road is seen as the poster child of the compound. [Tai Kwun as seen from Hollywood Road, 2021]
From Hollywood Road, a sloped lane leads visitors up to the Parade Ground courtyard. [Tai Kwun as seen from Hollywood Road, 2021]
No longer in use, the front entrance of the Central Police Headquarters on Hollywood Road reveals the colonial power of the British government. [Tai Kwun at Hollywood Road, 2021]
Classical style was used in to impose a powerful image upon the public. The Central Police Headquarters was the first attempt by the colonial police force to establish its authority to the city. [Tai Kwun as seen from Hollywood Road, 2021]
Designed by British architect Leslie Owen Ross, the Central Police Headquarters represented the authority of law and order with classical motifs such as fluted columns and lion decorations. [Tai Kwun as seen from Hollywood Road, 2021]
The former inspector residences define the corner of Arbuthnot Road and Hollywood Road. [Junction of Hollywood and Arbuthnot Road, 2021]
Built in 1914, the Central Magistracy stands as the most prominent structure on Arbuthnot Road. Just like Central Police Headquarters, the court house adopted a classical approach to establish its powerful image to the public. [Near junction of Hollywood and Arbuthnot Road, 2021]
The year 1914 was clearly marked on the keystone of the Central Magistracy. [Near junction of Hollywood and Arbuthnot Road, 2021]
Canton red bricks were used extensively for Central Magistracy and Central Police Headquarters. [Arbuthnot Road, 2021]
Inside the compound, an arched doorway divided the Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. [Outside Central Magistracy, Tai Kwun, 2020]
The decorative entrance of the Central Magistracy is carefully preserved. [Central Magistracy, Tai Kwun, 2021]
The entrance of the Central Magistracy is now a hot spot for taking selfies. [Central Magistracy, Tai Kwun, 2021]
At the former Central Police Headquarters, the Parade Ground courtyard served as the main event and parade space for the colonial police force. Now, it has become the main event space for Tai Kwun Heritage and Arts Compound. [Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2019]
Standing at the west side of Parade Ground is the former Armoury building. Now, it has become a bar popular with tourists and expatriates. [Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2018]
The Parade Ground is also a designated spot for setting up large Christmas trees in Central. [Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2020]
During the Covid 19 pandemic, public performances are occasionally held depending on the temporary regulations during the time. Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2019]
During weekends, performances at Parade Ground are often catered for families and kids. [Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2021]
Inside the Central Police Headquarters, fluted columns and decorative mouldings filled the space with a strong colonial setting. [Interior of Central Police Headquarters, Tai Kwun, 2020]
Iron stair railing and floor tiles are preserved inside thee Central Police Headquarters. The building is now used to house heritage display, temporary exhibitions, restaurants and shops. [Interior of Central Police Headquarters, Tai Kwun, 2020]
In 2018, the first exhibition at Central Police Headquarters focused on old businesses in the surrounding neighbourhood. [Interior of Central Police Headquarters, Tai Kwun, 2018]
Footbridges at each level connect the Police Station area with the Victoria Prison. [Tai Kwun, 2021]
During Chinese New Year, the alleyway separating the Ventral Police Headquarters and the Victoria Prison would be filled with red lanterns. [Tai Kwun, 2020]

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]