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Posts tagged “Pak Shing

COOLEST STREET IN TOWN, Tai Ping Shan Street, Tai Ping Shan (太平山), Hong Kong

Perhaps it is the lack of traffic, or its proximity to the adjacent business and entertainment quarters in Central, Tai Ping Shan Street in Poho is like no other residential street in Hong Kong. It has its dark history of the 1894 plague, and forgotten stories of the early Chinese migrant workers. It has its fair amount of heritage buildings, old temples, side street deadends and stone staircases to construct a certain kind of vintage and causal ambience. It could be precisely the unique and rich cultural history and the causal mood of the area that have attracted a diverse community to station in the area, making Tai Ping Shan Street the coolest neighborhood in Hong Kong. A few years ago, some travel magazines and websites put Sheung Wan as one of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods, and it was largely due to Tai Ping Shan Street in the district. The excitement of Tai Ping Shan Street originates from the influx of artists, designers, expats, and young residents who come to look for a more tranquil alternative to the nearby Soho. Gradually, it has become an interesting example of what Jane Jacobs would describes as a successful neighborhood focused on pedestrian permeability, mixed public uses, buildings of various ages, diversity of inhabitants, vibrancy of commercial and community activities, etc. While Teakha (trendy tea shop), Homey (family run cafe), Green Ginkgo Tea (Japanese lifestyle tea house), Frantzén’s Kitchen (Michelin recommended Nordic cuisine), Crit Room (sleek Italian cuisine), Reserva Iberica (ham shop), Espana Espana (Spanish fine dining), CRAFTISSIMO (international crafted beer), support a strong contemporary culinary scene, Fo Kee(科記), Yuk Kin(郁健) and Sun Bor Kee (新波記) continue to offer local fast food (street eatery) at street corners where neighbours and pet dogs mingle throughout the day. Art galleries, fashion boutiques, designer pop up shops, and hair stylists open their business just a few meters away from a cluster of the city’s oldest temples. The juxtaposition of the old and new, east and west, reveals the core spirit of what Hong Kong culture is all about. Apart from the exciting foodie scene and designer stores, Mount Zero Books has stood out in recent years as the hub that has brought the Poho community together. Situated at a dead end, the bookstore often organizes events right outside their door, fostering a strong community bonding. This is the bygone sense of community that has somehow disappeared in time as Hong Kong is being developed into a global financial hub. All the above excitement is miraculously packed in less than 200m of the one way street, forming some lovely streetscape that won’t be found anywhere else in Hong Kong.

But Tai Ping Shan Street wasn’t always about the stylish and trendy. Lying one street lower than Po Hing Fong, Tai Ping Shan Street was once the densest neighborhood in the Victoria City during the 19th century. While the terraces around Po Hing Fong and U Lam Terrace were home to upper and middle class Chinese residents, Tai Ping Shan Street was cramped with shared housing for migrant workers arriving from Qing Imperial China seeking opportunities in Colonial Hong Kong. Most of them had families in Canton or beyond, and they hardly knew anyone when they first arrived. The Buddhist temples, especially Pak Shing Temple (百姓廟), served as the main community hub for these newcomers. Free meals and accommodation were provided for the sick. When one passed away, body of the deceased would be stored in the temple for later transport back to Mainland China, or for simple burial in the nearby Po Yan Street near the current Tung Wah Hospital. News of the poor living environment and dire treatment of the sick and dead circulated back to London, forcing the colonial government to support local charity groups to establish Tung Wah Hospital as the city’s first hospital in 1870 to treat the locals with Chinese medicine (as most Chinese refused to take Western medicine during that time). Then the plague came in 1894 and the government was determined to tackle the poor living conditions of Tai Ping Shan by clearing some buildings to make way for the Blake Garden, and building the city’s first public toilet and shower facility at Tai Ping Shan Street. The area was cleaned up as time went by, but among the older generations, Tai Ping Shan is still haunted by the memories of the sick and dead. Even today, coffin stores and funeral homes still exist around the area, reminding people its darker past despite its contemporary bohemian flair. Today, Tai Ping Shan remains as the rare location in the city where a pub or a hamburger eatery can coexist with a coffin store side by side. It is the juxtaposition of paradoxes and clashes of cultures that make Tai Ping Shan Street and the Poho area the coolest neighbourhood in Hong Kong.

Staffordshire Regiment cleaning plague houses in Tai Ping Shan in 1894.
[Credit: Wellcome Library, London. http://wellcomeimages.org. Creative Commons CC BY 4.0]
More than 100 years after the plague, Tai Ping Shan Street emerges from its shadows to become a neighborhood full of charming ambience.
Just a block west of the vibrant Soho entertainment district, a short flight of steps leads us to the tranquil Tai Ping Shan Street.
In the midst of trendy tea shops, sleek cafes, and fine dining restaurants, the local street eatery Yuk Kin (郁鍵) continues to serve up simple and hearty meals to all. Their corner location makes it a welcoming magnet for pedestrians and neighbours. It is one of our usual places to go for breakfast and lunch takeouts.
Selling a fashion philosophy of East meets West, Yi-ming Cheongsam Boutique finds Tai Ping Shan Street its perfect home to sell its cross-cultural style that combines traditional Oriental aesthetics and craftsmanship with contemporary Western styles and design.
Minimalist shopfront works fine for Khromis, a bespoke eyeglasses boutique featuring Italian design and Japanese craftsmanship, and Green Ginkgo, a tiny refreshing cafe where people come for matcha gelato and strawberry waffle.
Further down the road, Nordic gastronomy is another attraction of Tai Ping Shan Street. Operated by celebrity chef Bjorn Frantzen, Frantzén’s Kitchen is a sister restaurant of Frantzén in Stockholm, Sweden’s only 3 star restaurant in the Michelin Guide.
Just a few steps away from Frantzén’s Kitchen, Reserva Iberica also has its ties to Europe as an extension to the Reserva Iberica ham shop in Barcelona.
Tai Ping Shan Street is a magnet for designers, artists and craftsmen. Small art exhibitions and handicraft workshops often attract outsiders to the street during weekends.
The charming streetscape ot Tai Ping Shan Street provides the perfect setting to indulge ourselves to be nostalgic to Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love.
Branching out from Tai Ping Shan Street, Tank Lane is full of interesting street art and a small deity shrine.
Flanked both sides by century old temples, a flight of stair leads us to the lower part of Tai Ping Shan Street.
Close to 200 years old, the Kwun Yum (Chinese Goddess of Mercy) Temple is a remnant of a larger temple nearby and one of the oldest temples in the city. Just a metal door separates the historical temple with the display window of Artyze, a private gallery that promotes works of new talents in Asia Pacific.
Tai Shui Temple (太歲廟) is dedicated to the 60 Taoist heavenly generals. It is popular for worshipers to pray for good fortune whenever one’s birth year clashes with the zodiac of a particular year.
Across from Kwun Yum Temple, the Shui Yuet (Water and Moon) Temple is dedicated to Kwun Yum in her pre-Goddress state as a Bodhisattva with 1000 hands.
At the lower section of Tai Ping Shan Street, Kwong Fuk Ancestral Hall (廣福義祠) or Pak Shing Temple (百姓廟) is the biggest tourist attraction. Built in 1851, the temple is very significant for anyone who is interested in the history of Hong Kong. It is the temple dedicated to the ghosts of Chinese migrant workers who passed away in the colony.
Kwong Fuk Ancestral Hall also served as a charity facility to house the sick and a temporary morgue. It was the poor hygiene of the temple that led to public awareness about the healthcare needs of the Chinese, leading to the establishment of Tung Wah Hospital at the western end of Tai Ping Shan Street.
In response to the 1894 plague, the British colonial government erected the city’s first public bathhouse at the intersection of Pound Lane and Tai Ping Shan Street, right next to Kwong Fuk Ancestral Hall. The original building was built in 1904 as the first permanent public bathhouse for both men and women free of charge. The current multi-storey bathhouse was built in 1960.
Beyond the funky and trendy, in our opinion the most lovely spot on the entire Tai Ping Shan Street is Mount Zero Books. Situated at the deadend of a short side street, Mount Zero has become a community hub for all of us living in the neighborhood. They often make use of the deadend area to host community events such as flea market, movie nights, poetry reading, etc.
Often, they would host events before big festivals such as Christmas and Chinese New Year. Of course, that would not happen this year due to the pandemic.
In January 2019, a vibrant fair to celebrated the upcoming Chinese New Year was held in front of Mount Zero.
That day, we had a great time shopping for handicrafts, books, and artworks. Since then, we would check out Mount Zero every now and then, just to be part of the delightful community of the fascinating Tai Ping Shan Street.