In the Cat Street neighbourhood, the story of Uncle Tim might have come to an end, but another piece of collective memory from the 1960’s continues to live on. Not a cool vintage store, nor a hip design shop, the down to earth Chu Wing Kee (朱榮記) just happens to make its name as an honest and ordinary homeware shop. Local homewares shops like Chu Wing Kee were pretty common in Hong Kong before 1970’s. As the city entered the decades of economic boom, most of these shops have faded out from the urban scenery. Supermarkets, department stores, dollar shops, convenient store chain, and even online shopping have virtually wiped out these shops. As property prices skyrocketed in recent decades, a 1000 sq.ft ground floor retail space in central Hong Kong could worth about USD 4 million. For a shop owner selling housewares at a few USD a piece, selling the shop makes much more sense than continuing the business. Paying a high rent to sell everyday merchandises also doesn’t make it profitable either. The gradual death of traditional homeware shops in Hong Kong seems inevitable. But there are exceptions. Chu Wing Kee is one of these rarities.
Chu Wing Kee started in 1959 by the father of Mr. Chu, the current owner of the shop, with a street stall selling “shan for” (山貨), or “goods from the mountains”. “Shan for” literally refers to housewares and furniture made of natural materials, notably handicrafts made of rattan, bamboo, reed, wood or grass. In mid 20th century, wickenworks made with rattan were very popular. In Hong Kong, these products were handmade and sold during the dry season. In the 1970’s, Hong Kong had became a major manufacturing city of plastic products. Traditional handmade “shan for” proved to be no match against the cheaper and mass produced plastic products. “Shan for” has quietly faded out from most homes. Rattan was perceived as dated and dull, not as exciting as the colourful plastic products. Two generations have since passed. Rattan decor is making a comeback in recent years. So what actually is rattan? Rattan is a climbing plant belongs to the palm family. It can be found in rainforests in Asia, Africa and Australia. It is light, durable and relatively flexible. It serves as a good alternative to timber. Rattan usually grows under shade in rainforests, and can even be cultivated under fruit or rubber trees. However, as deforestation intensifies in recent decades, so as the population of rattan.
As a traditional shop selling “shan for” (山貨), Chu Wing Kee still offers a wide range of rattan goods and other products made locally with natural materials. Since most local craftsmen are getting quite advance in age, Mr. Chu might eventually have to rely on imported products from Southeast Asia. For now, Mr. Chu still manages to offer some local “shan for”, and other vintage housewares dated back to the 1960’s. For many, checking out Chu Wing Kee might be a nostalgic journey to hunt for childhood memories from a treasure trove. Apart from rattan items, ceramic and plastic piggy banks are two of the most popular merchandises Mr. Chu is offering Hongkongers. Other notable vintage products include plastic toys, traditional thermal bottles, metal mailboxes, ceramic chicken bowls, ceramic cooking pots and rice storage, wood laundry washboard, etc. For us living in the area, Mr. Chu’s shop offers some handy products that even supermarkets or department stores no longer carry. In early spring this year, we couldn’t resist but picked up a handmade rattan/bamboo chair. Touching the pencil marks on the bamboo chair arms reminded us how the chair was made by the chair maker, who had soaked, bend and tied the pieces together with his dexterous hands.
Before returning to 1st Gate Home Fusion Hotel, we dropped by Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli, another famous haveli in Jaisalmer. The haveli was built for Diwan Mohata Nathmal, the chief minister of Jaisalmer who served between 1885 – 1891. The haveli was supposedly built by two architects, Hathi and Lulu, who happened to be brothers. Each brother started building the mansion’s from a different facade, and thus the two sides are said to carry subtle differences if looked closely. Unlike Patwon Ki Haveli, Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli is not a museum, nor is it open to the public. Visitors like us can only reach as far as the entrance courtyard that was flanked by a few souvenir shops selling miniature paintings. After a brief stay, we took a leisure stroll back to the hotel. Wandering in the busy market streets of old Jaisalmer and seeing all the vibrant interactions of the locals was a delight. Such delight would left us pleasant memories of the Golden City before we moved on to our next destination by night train.
Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli is considered to be one of the grandest haveli in Jaisalmer.
The two yellow sandstone elephants of Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli are iconic representations of Jaisalmer’s splendid architectural carvings.
Visitors can only go as far as the entrance courtyard of Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli.
After stopping by at Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli, we wandered a bit in old Jaisalmer to find our way back to 1st Gate Home Fusion Hotel.
In the maze like network of small streets, we passed by two stone workers who were preparing stone blocks from a pile of local yellow sandstone.
At a street intersection, a group of men gathered for some sort of discussion at a beautiful veranda.
Shops lined on both sides of small market streets. Cows were free to roam around on the streets (and shops).
It was strange to see cows roaming freely on the streets while some ended up becoming leather goods in shops.
Despite the remote desert location, fresh vegetables were sold in abundance.
It was late in the afternoon and there were only two vendors left at this market square.
Most shops were completely open to the streets, including these tailor shops.
Just like other places in Rajasthan, garments of vivid colours were always the most popular among locals.
For snacks, sweet pastries seemed to be the way to go.
Cakes with sharp colours and sweet flavour: Indian style.
We passed by the popular Bhatia Sweets near the first gate of the fort. Both locals and foreign visitors gathered here for their regional sweets ghotua laddu, kalakand, etc.
We returned to 1st Gate Home Fusion Hotel near the fort, where we had dinner at the rooftop restaurant again. Despite we had already check out of our room, the manager let us stay at the massage room until it was time for us to leave for our midnight train.
Posts on 2018 Rajasthan:-
Day 1: Jodhpur
DAY 1.1: IN TRANSIT TO RAJASTHAN
DAY 1.2: PAL HAVELI & THE OMELETTE MAN, Jodhpur
DAY 1.3: SPLENDOR OF THE SUN FORT, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.4: SUNSET OVER THE BLUE CITY, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.5: SADAR MARKET AND GHANTA GHAR CLOCKTOWER, Jodhpur
Day 2: Jodhpur, Osian, Jaisalmer
DAY 2.1: MARBLE CENOTAPH JASWANT THADA, Jodhpur
DAY 2.2: MEDIEVAL STEPWELLS, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar, & Toorji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur
DAY 2.3: PILGRIM OASIS IN THAR DESERT, Sachiya Mata Temple, Osian
DAY 2.4: SUNRISE AT THE FIRST GATE OF GOLDEN FORT, Jaisalmer
Day 4: Jaisalmer
DAY 4.1: RESERVOIR OF THE GOLDEN CITY, Gadsisar Lake, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.2: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.3: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.4: DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.5: LAST STROLL IN THE GOLDEN CITY, Jaisalmer
Day 8: Bhangarh, Abhaneri & Agra
DAY 8.1: ON THR ROAD TO AGRA
DAY 8.2: HAUNTED RUINS, Bhangarh, Rajasthan
DAY 8.3: CHAND BAORI, Abhaneri, Rajasthan
DAY 8.4: THE ABANDONED CAPITAL OF MUGHAL EMPIRE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 8.5: FRIDAY MOSQUE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Day 9: Agra
DAY 9.1: CROWN OF THE PALACES, Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.2: AGRA FORT, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.3: RAWATPARA SPICE MARKET, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.4: SUNSET AT MEHTAB BAGH, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
In October 2014, we stumbled upon a small shop in the shopping centre Tokyo Midtown. Utensils, furniture, cloths, and other miscellaneous household items were on display on wooden shelves and stands. Merchandises were displayed in clusters according to brands from different parts of Japan. The design of that attractive small shop in the middle of a high-end shopping arcade, according designer Yusuke Seki, was inspired by shotengai (traditional shopping street). We stayed at the shop for quite some time, and ended up picking up a blue umbrella with a nice wooden handle. At its underside, there was a small label with an illustration of two deer and a traditional logo saying Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten (中川政七商店). Later on, we did some online research and realized that Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten originates in Nara, and has been around for three centuries.
Opened in 1716, Nara’s Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten just celebrated its 300th anniversary. Originally, the small Nara shop produced hand woven textiles for samurai and monk ceremonial robes. The textile was known as Narazashi, or sarashi bleached hemp textile. During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the society went through a dramatic change. Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten was forced to diversify its focus on other products such as table cloths and handkerchief. Entering the modern age, the shop defied all odds of modernization, persistently remained faithful to its traditional techniques and craftsmanship. Nakagawa, the 13th president who joined the family business in the last 15 years or so, tested the potentials of his traditional shop to a new level. Not only did he opened new shops outside of Nara like Tokyo and Osaka, Nakagawa also re-branded the company, and gave new life to old products such as using the old technique of mosquito net making for the new best selling fukin (Japanese style table cloth). Furthermore, Nakagawa proactively engaged in fruitful collaborations with other craft companies across the country to come up with new brands and merchandises suitable for the contemporary era.
This time around, we were in Nara after a long day of temple hoping. We promised ourselves that we couldn’t leave the city without visiting the Yu Nakagawa Main Shop (遊中川本店), the flagship store of Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten located at a tranquil alleyway near Sanjo Dori. At one corner of the shop, several merchandises commemorating the 300th anniversary of Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten were on display. A beige cloth with beautiful embroidery was a reproduction of their 1925 product exhibited at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, the design world fair that gave birth to Art Deco. 90 years on, Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten is still standing at the crossroad between the old and new, advocating a good mix of traditional crafts and contemporary aesthetics. At their 300th anniversary, their locally made fabrics and household merchandises are as cool and modern as ever.
The subtle wooden machiya (町屋) facade of Yu Nakagawa Main Shop provides a perfect fit for the shop that advocates high quality local crafts and products.
The design of Yu Nakagawa is a comfortable blend of traditional and contemporary elements.
The signage of Yu Nakagawa Main Shop (遊中川本店) with the iconic deer symbolizing the city of Nara.
Rows of colourful textiles behind the cashier counter attracted our attention right from the beginning.
Cloths, bags, paper products, socks, scarfs, utensils, etc were on display in the pleasant interior.
Most items on display came from their own brands, such as 2&9, their line of well made socks.
It was already dark by the time we left Yu Nakagawa Main Shop.
Before we left Nara, we also stopped by Nipponichi (日本市) at Sanjo Dori. Nipponichi is also a brand from Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten focused on selling Japanese made souvenirs.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan