ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Shrine

HONG KONG’S MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE: Not Old Enough For Conservation?

18th June 2021 was the deadline for developers to bid for the latest waterfront site in Central, between Jardine House and Central Ferry Pier.  With an estimated value at around USD 5 – 7.1 billion, the 47,970 sq.m site encompasses a piece of reclaimed land and the iconic General Post Office at Connaught Place.  Completed in 1976, the fourth generation postal headquarters has been a prominent fixture in the city’s evolving skyline for 45 years. Despite efforts from conservationists, the building would inevitably be replaced by another glassy skyscraper in the near future.  While few people see the modernist post office as an architectural masterpiece, many Hongkongers have expressed their resentment about the potential loss in the business district.  With its horizontal features, modular brise soleil, and concrete vaults, the General Post Office is a decent example of modernist architecture in Hong Kong, the design movement that first emerged in the West between the World Wars. Using modern construction methods and materials like steel, reinforced concrete and glass, Modernism rose to become the dominant architectural style after WWII.  In Hong Kong, the Modernist style in the city is often referred to as the “Bauhaus style”. 

Founded by German architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus was probably the most famous and avant-garde design and art school between the world wars (1919 – 1933). From art to graphic design, architecture to interiors, typography to industrial design, influences of the Bauhaus have been an omnipresence in our lives.  Commonly known as International Style, the minimalist and rationalist approach of the Bauhaus reflect the rapid modernization of the 20th century.  To envision Modernism, architectural masters like Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, or Mies van de Rohe might be looking for a novel design methodology and architectural tectonics that define the functionalism and aesthetics of the Modern Age.  By the time Modernism has arrived to Postwar Hong Kong, the style was quickly adopted due to pragmatic reasons such as construction speed, design modularity, minimal detailing, and versatile functionality.  Modernist apartment blocks, office towers, factories, schools, sport centres, parking garages, market complexes, and government buildings flourished across the city to cope with the population and economic boom, replacing earlier colonial structures and pre-war tenement buildings.

As Hong Kong further developed into one of Asia’s most prominent financial hubs in the 1980’s, the architectural world has already entered the age of Post-Modernism.  Some notable Modernist buildings such as Gropius’ Bauhaus in Dessau, Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa’s City of Brasilia, Le Corbusier’s various projects in Europe, Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House, etc. have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, but many more Modernist buildings have become subjects of demolition and redevelopment.  Modernist architecture has yet been widely recognized as a precious heritage, nor have them been well loved by the public.  Many have already been torn down in Hong Kong in the past three decades.  In recent years, this attitude has finally come to a twist.  The potential demolition of buildings like the General Post Office have raised public awareness of the modern heritage.  This is a realization of what heritage and cultural legacy really are in the making of a diverse urban culture and defining the zeitgeist of an era.

Not all Modernist buildings are designated for demolition in Hong Kong. Some have been preserved and revitalized with new uses and appearances, such as the Murray Building (美利大廈) on Cotton Tree Road.  The 1969 government office tower was recently converted into a 5-star hotel by architect Norman Foster.  Such adaptive reuse of the Modernist building is a convincing way to preserve memories and manage urban changes while retaining the essence of the original architecture.

Modernist buildings once dotted around Hong Kong, from residential blocks, office towers to all kinds of public buildings. Mei Ho House (美荷樓), formerly part of Shek Kip Mei Estate, is the sole survivor of a “H” shape apartment building. Built in 1954, the Modernist building has been preserved and converted into a youth hostel and a small public housing museum in 2013. [Mei Ho House, Junction of Castle Peak Road and Tai Po Road, Sham Shui Po, 2021]
Completed in 1960, the existing Garden Centre (嘉頓中心) at Castle Peak Road in Sham Shui Po has gained approval for redevelopment. Designed by famous Chinese architect Chu Pin (朱彬), the Modernist building has all the reasons to be preserved as a modern heritage. Unfortunately, the building is likely to be gone soon. Chu Pin was one of the first generation of US educated Chinese architects. Obtained his master degree at University of Pennsylvania in 1923, Chu Pin moved to Hong Kong in 1949 and established himself as a successful Chinese architect in the city. His other works included the first generation of Man Yee Building (萬宜大廈), home to Hong Kong’s first escalators, and Takshing House (德成大廈), the demolished office tower where curtain walls where first used in Hong Kong 60+ years ago. [Garden Centre as seen from Garden Hill, Sham Shui Po, 2021]
News on the fate of former State Theatre (皇都戲院) in North Point captured the hearts of Hongkongers in the past few years. Built in 1959, the former cinema was one of the last surviving large scale theatre in Hong Kong. In 2020, developer New World Development agreed to preserve the building and revitalize it into a new cultural and heritage facility. [State Theatre, King’s Road, North Point, 2017]
In Central, Modernist style Public Bank Centre (大眾銀行中心) from 1977 and The Center (中環中心) from 1998 stand as representatives from two different eras. [Public Bank Building, Des Voeux Road Central, Central, 2020]
At the junction of Des Voeux Road Central and Pedder Street, the third generation General Post Office (erected 1911) was demolished in 1976. [Photo: Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection, Library of Congress, public domain, 1923]
The current General Post Office at Connaught Place is the fourth generation in Hong Kong. Built in 1976, it was once located adjacent to the former Star Ferry Pier and the old waterfront. [General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Constructed on reclaimed land, the 5-storey building was designed by architect K. M. Tseng. [General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Despite there is urge from conservationists and the public to preserve the modernist building, Antiquities Advisory Board refuses to list any structure constructed after 1970. The building is scheduled to be demolished after the land sale tender was closed in June 2021. [General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
The modernist General Post Office and its surrounding open space will certainly be missed. [Back side of General Post Office, Lung Wo Road, Central, 2021]
The mailing counters on the ground floor are some of the busiest in the city. [Interior of General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Over 69,000 stamps from 98 countries were put together by the staff to create a large wall mural displayed at the entrance of the General Post Office. [Interior of General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Next to the iconic General Post Office once stood the Star Ferry Pier. The pier was demolished in 2006 as part of the latest land reclamation project. The 1957 Modernist Star Ferry Pier Car Park (天星碼頭多層停車場) survived 2006, but is included in the demolition zone together with the post office as part of the land sale package. [Star Ferry Car Park, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
Perhaps the most famous Modernist building in the city is Hong Kong City Hall (香港大會堂) at Edinburgh Place. Designed by Ron Phillips and Alan Fitch in the 1950’s, the 1962 completed City Hall is comprised of a low block, a concert hall, a theatre, a 12-storey high block and a memorial garden. The high block houses Hong Kong’s first public library, while the low block was the main venue of Hong Kong’s major festivals of art, film, and music from late 1950’s to 1980’s. The City Hall was considered the city’s first major cultural venue that welcomed everyone. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
At the centre of the memorial garden, a 12-sided memorial shrine stands in memory of the soldiers who fought during WWII. An elevated walkway encloses the memorial garden. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
From the elevated walkway, a spiral stair leads visitors back down to the ground level drop off area. Before 2008, the spiral and the drop off area stood directly opposite the now demolished Queen’s Pier. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
The City Hall still contains a few remnants from the previous colonial times. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
Unlike previous stone and decorative architecture, the Modernist City Hall promotes clean lines, large windows, simple geometry, etc. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
In comparison to International Financial Centre (IFC), the Modernist City Hall stands to represent a totally different era. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
While the City Hall flanks one side of Statue Square, the 21-storey Hong Kong Club building stands to the east side of the square. [The Cenotaph, Connaught Road Central, Central, 2021]
Designed by Australian architect Harry Seidler, the current building is the third generation of Hong Kong Club. [Hong Kong Club, Junction of Connaught Road Central and Jackson Road, Central, 2021]
Being demolished and replaced by a newer structure is an inevitable fate for most buildings in Hong Kong. Demolished in 1981, the second generation Hong Kong Club was replaced by architect Harry Seidler’s Modernist version. [Hong Kong Club, photo credit: Arnold Wright, public domain, 1908]
Built in 1953, the former Bridges Street Market was one of the first Modernist market buildings constructed after WWII, replacing old markets that were destroyed during the war. It contained 26 fish and poultry stalls on lower level and 33 butcher, vegetable and fruit stalls on the upper level. In 2018, the building was reopened as a news museum. [Former Bridges Street Market, Junction of Bridges Street and Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In 1969, the upper level of Bridges Street Market was converted into a children’s playground. [Former Street Market, Junction of Bridges Street and Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2016]
Horizontal shading fins are some of the typical features of a Modernist building. [Former Street Market, Junction of Bridges Street and Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2016]
Sai Ying Pun Jockey Club Polyclinic (西營盤賽馬會分科診所) was redeveloped from Government Civic Hospital, the first public hospital in Hong Kong operated since 1874. [Sai Ying Pun Polyclinic, Junction of Queen’s Road West and Sutherland Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Built in 1960, Sai Ying Pun Jockey Club Polyclinic is designed by the local architectural firm Leigh & Orange. [Sai Ying Pun Polyclinic, Junction of Queen’s Road West and Sutherland Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The concrete barrel vaults on the roof of the clinic is a recognizable feature on Queen’s Road West. [Sai Ying Pun Polyclinic, Junction of Queen’s Road West and Sutherland Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The 27-storey Murray Building (美利大廈) on Cotton Tree Road was a government office building completed in 1969. After the government moved out in 2012, the modernist building was revitalized into a 5-star hotel. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]
Architect Norman Foster was hired for the adaptive reuse project. Decorative stainless steel were used as design features in the project, offering the 5-star hotel an elegant touch. Murray Hotel opened for business in 2018. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]
The former car ramp connected to Cotton Tree Drive is now a popular spot for selfies. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]
The windows were oriented to avoid glare and direct sunlight. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]

ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE AT RISK? Churches in the Mid-Levels (半山區), Hong Kong

In 2017, the 4th generation Union Church (佑寧堂) at 22A Kennedy Road, a 68-year Grade III listed historical building, was brutally torn down for a highly controversial real estate redevelopment. Despite efforts from conservation groups, architects, politicians, church members, media, and local community groups, the government refused to list the church as a Grade I historical building, and the Union Church refuses to back down from the project. The upcoming 22-storey mixed use building, which includes a new worshiping space and 45 luxurious apartments split between real estate developer Henderson Land Development (恒基兆業地產) and Union Church, exemplifies another bitter defeat of architectural heritage conservation in Hong Kong. Perhaps no government in 1890 (the time when Union Church acquired the site) could predict how insanely expensive land prices would become in a hundred years’ time, especially in the affluent Mid-Levels district. The original reasoning for letting missionaries to acquire land at relatively low cost may no longer be justified. Today, this has become a convenient tool for any religious institution to secure commercial profit by selling its own properties. Union Church is not the first such case and certainly won’t be the last either.

The scene of a lonely Gothic Revival church encircled by highrise apartments or commercial towers ten times its height is not uncommon in Hong Kong. Well known for its high urban density, many neighborhoods in Hong Kong appear like monotonous forests of highrise buildings. Engulfed in glittering reflections of curtain wall glazing, old churches in the city have become precious features. Each architectural detail is full of history, collective memories, and a melancholic beauty. Well worth checking out, several churches in the Mid-Levels represent some of the oldest surviving structures in Hong Kong. Churches were some of the first permanent buildings constructed after the British arrived in 1841. The 180-year heritage of church architecture tells the story of Christianity in Hong Kong, which is as old as the city itself. Early missionaries, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, built churches and used Hong Kong as their base to spread the gospel in China and beyond. They also set up local charity networks, schools and hospitals, at a time when the colonial government had little interest in lives of the locals. Today, about 1.2 million Hongkongers or roughly 16% of the population are Christians. While churches and their affiliated institutions continue to thrive, some churches, like the Union on Kennedy Road, have reached the dilemma on how to compete and expand in the era of tremendous commercialism and sky-high property value. Each big decision a church makes may lead to the daunting risk of losing a part of Hong Kong’s architectural heritage. Every time a historical church is being torn down and moved into one of the city’s 9000+ highrise buildings, it represents one irreplaceable loss for not just today’s Hongkongers, but for the next generations to come.

Union Church (佑寧堂) was founded by Reverend James Legge (理雅各), a Scottish member of the London Missionary Society, who was also the founder of Ying Wa College (英華書院), and suggested the government to set up Queen’s College (皇仁書院) in Hong Kong. Union Church began with a English chapel on Hollywood Road, then moved to the intersection of Staunton Street and Peel Street, before relocated to 22A Kennedy Road (堅尼地道). [Photograph of the second generation Union Church at Staunton Street and Peel Street in Central, by John Thomson Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Union chapel, Hong Kong. Photograph by John Thomson, 1868/1871. 1868 By: J. ThomsonPublished: 1868/1871. CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0%5D
The 4th generation Union Church was considered as a unique example of Modernist architecture from mid-20th century. After 68 years of service, the building was demolished for luxurious real estate development. [Photographed by Ceeseven, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
Opened in 1849, St John’s Cathedral (聖約翰座堂) at Garden Road (花園道) was one of the first permanent buildings erected in the city. As an Anglican place of worship, the cathedral is the only building in Hong Kong granted with a freehold land ownership by the British colonial government. [Photograph by William Pryor Floyd, Public Domain, 1873]
Being the seat of Archbishop of Hong Kong, St John’s Cathedral is the oldest Anglican cathedral in the Far East. The bell tower is decorated with a VR motif at the west face to commemorate the reign of Queen Victoria during which the church was founded. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
The timber roof structure of the cathedral is a rarity in Hong Kong. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
Behind the Altar stands the Bishop throne, choir stalls, High Altar and East Window. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
The font in the north transept dates back to 1890. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
St John’s Cathedral features stained glass windows created by William Morris from England. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
Today, St John’s Cathedral is nestled in the midst of government and commercial buildings of Central. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
Swiss priest Theodore Joset established a parish in 1842, and established the first Catholic church at the intersection of Pottinger Street and Wellington Street. The church was named Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (聖母無原罪主教座堂). After the church was destroyed by fire, a new cathedral with twin steeples was rebuilt at the same spot. [Second generation of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at the upper left with its twin steeples. [Photograph by John Thomson, 1868/1871, Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org, CC BY 4.0]
The third Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (聖母無原罪主教座堂) was completed in 1888 at a site above Caine Road (堅道). [Photograph of Henry Rue Collection. Image courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library, University of London (www.hpcbristol.net), (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0), 1910’s]
Instead of a grand plaza or lush green lawn, the city’s main Catholic church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is now tightly surrounded by luxurious apartments, as well as the Caritas complex (明愛), a Catholic social welfare group, and Raimondi College (高主教書院), a Catholic school. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2021]
The church was consecrated in 1938, 50 years after it was opened when the cathedral was free from debt of its US$15,400 construction cost. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2021]
The cathedral was spared from plunder and serve damages in WWII. The Japanese treated the Prefecture Apostolic as under the sovereignty of Italy, with whom Japan was not at war with. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2021]
The shrine of Virgin Mary Mount behind the cathedral is a popular spot for Catholics to stop by. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2014]
The cathedral interior is designed in the cruciform form of the Latin cross. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2014]
Defined as the main focal point in the cathedral, the Grand Altar represents the memory for Jesus Christ. Relics of Chinese Martyrs, Pope John Paul II and Blessed Gabriele Allegra (first translator of Chinese Catholic Bible) are some of the treasures kept in the cathedral. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2014]
The first organ in the cathedral was built by William George Trice in 1889. It was extensively rebuilt by W.C. Blackett in 1921 and 1938. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2014]
In the evening, the cathedral is lit up with beautiful flood lights. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2020]
St. Joseph’s Church at Garden Road stands out from the residential apartments of the Mid Levels further above. This Catholic church is the third structure on the site, where Rev. Timoleon Raimondi founded the first St. Joseph’s Church in 1872. [St. Joseph Church, intersection of Garden and Kennedy Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
Design by architect Peter K. Ng in 1966, St. Joseph’s Church exhibits interesting modernist features on its facades. [St. Joseph Church, intersection of Garden and Kennedy Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
St. Joseph’s Church is one of the busiest Catholic church in Hong Kong with 10 masses on every Sunday. [St. Joseph Church, intersection of Garden and Kennedy Road, Mid Levels, 2017]
Reverend James Legge (理雅各) of London Missionary Society founded the English church Union Church, and also Hong Kong’s Ying Wa College (英華書院) in 1843, a school where local Chinese could come for Christian services. This led to the founding of To Tsai Church (道濟會堂), the first independent Chinese church on Hollywood Road. In 1921, To Tsai Church moved to Bonham Road (般咸道) and renamed as Hop Yat Church (合一堂). [Hop Yat Church, Bonham Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
Construction of Hop Yat Church (合一堂) took several years and went along with the expansion of the adjacent Nethersole Hospital (那打素醫院), also owned by London Missionary Society. [Hop Yat Church, Bonham Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
Hop Yat Church stands prominently as a Gothic structure decorated with bands of bricks. [Hop Yat Church, Bonham Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
Completed in 1932, Kau Yan Church (救恩堂) of Lutheran Christianity is another historical church worth preservation. Theodore Hamberg and Rudolph Lechler of Basel Mission based themselves in Sai Ying Pun to spread the gospel in Hakka and Chiu Zhou in China. Theodore Hamberg founded a Hakka church in 1851, and acquired a piece of Sai Ying Pun land in 1852. In 1860’s Rudolf Lechler urged the government to settle Hakka people in the area, and the Hakka people became the basis of the church. In 1927, the local Tsung Tsin Mission of Hong Kong (基督教香港崇真會) was founded at the church. A new church was built in 1932 known as Kau Yan Church. [Kau Yan Church, Intersection of High Street (高街), Third Street (第三街), and Western Street (西邊街), Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Gothic details of the outer wall reflect the trend of the 1930’s. [Kau Yan Church, Intersection of High and Western Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Designed by Palmer & Turner Group (公和洋行), Kau Yan Church has become a prominent monument in Sai Ying Pun. [Kau Yan Church, Intersection of High and Western Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]

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]

ISURUMUNIYA RAJAMAHA VIHARAYA, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.06

Day 2 (5 of 5).

Since most attractions in Anurādhapura are covered by the one-day Cultural Heritage Ticket, we decided to visit the two obvious exceptions on our first day: Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, and the rock temple of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya, and leave the rest covered by the day ticket for the following day.  On the east coast of Tissa Wewa, the reservoir built by King Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC, stands a group of giant granite boulders, where for the past two thousand years had been served as a small Buddhist temple, the Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya.  Constructed under the reign of Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC, the vihara was used as a Buddhist monastery to the house 500 ordained children.  Renovations and additions in later centuries continued to transform the temple into its current form, which is consisted of the old rock shrine, the new shrine, the lily pond, and the rock cliff on which visitors can climb atop to check out the stupa and a rock engraved footprints of the Buddha.  The temple is famous for its stone carvings, but unfortunately much of the complex, including the small museum, was under renovation during our visit.

01From Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, we followed Google Map and walked towards Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya.  On our way, we passed Dakkhina Stupa, a brick stupa constructed in the 2nd century BC.

02Unlike the ancient stupas in town, Sandahiru Seya near Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya is in fact a modern construction commissioned by President Rajapaksa in 2010.  Once completed, the modern stupa will reach a height of 85m.  Slow funding and construction means Sandahiru Seya won’t be completed anytime soon.

03Near the entrance of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya, we passed by the Buddhist monastery Sri Sarananda Maha Pirivena.

04Beyond a bridge over a beautiful lotus pond, we arrived at the entrance of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya.

05Lotus ponds are common all over Sri Lanka.

06It was almost sunset when we reached the magnificent rock temple.  Just like the shrine of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, we had to take off our shoes before entering the compound of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya.

07Set in front the backdrop of granite boulders, the Isurumuniya Temple and the adjacent pond are the most prominent features in the complex.

08Splendid stone carving of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya is one of the main reason why foreign visitors come.

09The shrine of Isurumuniya Temple contains a Buddhist image behind glass.

10Unfortunately the small museum on site was closed for renovation.  We left the temple and walked over to the stair at the back side.

11Behind the Isurumuniya Temple, a series of steps led us to the top of the granite boulders.

12Top top of the boulders is dominated by a stupa and rocks with carvings.

13The white stupa is actually a relatively recent addition to the complex.

14Late afternoon sun cast a peaceful aura onto the stupa.

15At the top, ancient carvings, including a pair of Buddha’s footprints.

16What seems to be a designated area of money offerings at the top.

17Looking down, we could see the pond and more incoming visitors.

18Behind us to the west, the sun sett over the peaceful reservior Tissa Wewa.  It was time for us to head back to the hotel for a Sri Lanka supper to conclude the day.

 


2,308-YEAR-OLD SACRED BODHI, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.06

Day 2 (4 of 5).

In 288BC, a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi, the sacred fig tree in Buddha Gaya of India under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, was brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta Theri, the eldest daughter of Indian Emperor Ashoka the Great.  The sapling was brought to the island in a golden vase on the ship, and planted by King Devanampiya Tissa on a 6.5m high terrace in the Mahamevnawa Gardens of Anuradhapura.  Sangamitta stayed in Anurādhapura and established the nun-lineage of Bhikkhunī with several other Indian nuns.   Along with his elder brother Mahinda, Sangamitta was a vital figure for spreading Buddhism to Sri Lanka.  The ancient capital Anuradhapura continued to flourish and develop into a hub for Buddhist teachings that lasted for many centuries.

Today, the sacred tree Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi continues to thrive and has become one of the most important pilgrimage site for Buddhists around the world.  The amazing 2308-year-old tree is also known as the oldest living tree planted by human hands on record.  Given the significance of the tree, the Sri Lankan government banned all construction within 500m from it.  Walls were also erected in the 18th century to protect the tree from wild elephants. Golden fence around the tree was later added in 1969.  Buddha statues were placed at four sides of the sacred tree by different ancient kings.  Ceremonies are held at the site to celebrate new year and several other festivals every year.

01After a light lunch, we ventured out the Sanctuary Tissawewa and head east.  Following the instruction given by the hotel staff, we found our way towards the legendary fig tree.

02From the main road, we followed a pedestrian only path for about 10 minutes towards the sacred tree.  At one point, we passed by a tree full of monkeys.

03Most worshipers arrived at the sacred tree with lotus flower as offerings.

04A green garden mat surrounds the terrace where the sacred Bodhi is located.

07From the semicircular Moon stone (Sandakada pahana, a floor feature unique to Sinhalese architecture), worshipers would go up the steps to the shrine at the second level of the platform.

05At each cardinal direction, a shrine is built for worshipers to leave their offerings and receive blessing from the monk.

11The shrine is relatively simple, with an offering table and small Buddha statues.

06Offerings of lotus flower can be seen at all Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, including Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.

10Some shrines are more popular than the others.

08Dressed in white, worshipers would leave a handful of lotus flower at the shrine, and receive blessing and a white string wrist bracelet from the monk of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.

09At the platform, monks and worshipers interact and chat prayers towards the sacred Bodhi tree.

12Behind the shrine further up the platform, we could see what must be the 2300 year old sacred Bodhi tree.

13The lush green crown of the sacred tree provides a perfect backdrop for the golden features of the shrines and colouful Buddhist flags.  The golden sunlight, peaceful aura,  and sounds of rubbing leaves in the gentle breeze convey a strong sense of spirituality.

14Structures painted in gold are erected to support certain branches of the sacred tree.

15A small temple is located at one side of the platform.

16Inside the temple, a decent sized worship hall houses a Buddhist statue.

17Apart from the sacred Bodhi tree on the highest terrace, younger fig trees are planted at the lower platforms.  These trees are meant to provide protection to the sacred tree against storm and animals.

18We enjoyed the spiritual atmosphere of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.  After checking out the shrines at all four sides of the sacred tree, we left the compound at the south gate.

 


TOUCH DOWN IN NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.05

Day 1 (1 of 1).

Almost all foreign visitors coming to Sri Lanka would stop by Negombo, a seaside town less than 10km from Bandaranaike International Airport.  Since many incoming international flights arrive at night, staying the night in nearby Negombo before heading elsewhere is not uncommon.  That’s exactly what we have done, flying in just after midnight and staying the night at Icebear Guesthouse in Negombo.

Situated at the mouth of Negombo Lagoon, Negombo is an important commercial and fishing hub in the west coast of Sri Lanka.  In the 1500’s, Negombo became a Portuguese port for cinnamon trade.  Later came the Dutch who took over the town’s control, and then lastly the British arrived in the 19th century.  The majority of Negombo’s population had converted to Roman Catholic ever since the Portuguese era.  Today, two thirds of Negombo residents still consider themselves Roman Catholics.  With its high concentration of churches, Negombo is sometimes referred to as “Little Rome.”

Unfortunately, St. Sebastian Church in Negombo was under terrorist bombing during Easter service in 2019.  Innocent lives were lost and the town’s tourism was devastated. The negative impact on tourism and other related business could still be strongly felt when we visited in December.  The only souvenir vendor we met on Negombo beach expressed his discontent and anxiety when we politely rejected his offer.  Negombo’s deserted beach, vacant hotels and desperate souvenir vendor reminded me of Dahab in Sinai Peninsula back in 2006 when I visited the famous diving paradise two months after a terrorist bombing that killed 23 people.  Back then, rows after rows of empty beach chaise lounges lined up on the silky sand along the Gulf of Aqaba.  Desperate hotel and restaurant owners waited outside the bus station and approached any foreigner with dirt cheap deals.  Today, there are a whole lot of places around the world solely rely on tourism to generate jobs and sustain the local economy.  Any terrorist attack or natural disaster causing a sudden disruption to tourism would lead to terrible suffering for the locals.  This economic vulnerability may spell unpredictable trouble for any resort town, but can also cause a painful impact for any tourist city like Paris or New York.  Resilience, versatility, social unity and a persisted sense of hope would be vital for recovery and regeneration for any town or city after such mishap.  First came the 26-year civil war and then the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, and now the Easter Bombing of 2019, Negombo is once again on its path of gradual recovery.

01All foreign visitors coming to Sri Lanka have to fill out an arrival card upon landing.

02Our flight arrived at midnight.  The airport passenger concourse was surprisingly busy.  We went through customs, bought some Sri Lankan rupees, and purchased two local mobile SIM cards.

06We stayed our first night at the northern strip of Negombo where dozens of hotels and guesthouses dotted the shore of Laccadive Sea.

05Before breakfast at Icebear Guesthouse, we went for a short walk along the beach behind the guesthouse.

03On the wall of Icebear Guesthouse we could still see markings from the Boxing Day Tsunami 15 years ago.

04With the country’s largest concentration of Roman Catholic population, churches and Christian shrines can be seen all over Negombo .

07Looks like another new church is under construction by the beach.

08Not the most exotic beach in Sri Lanka, Negombo’s beach nonetheless provided us a place for a relaxing stroll before moving on to our Sri Lankan journey.

09The beach is popular with locals coming for morning exercises.

10Dogs also take the beach as their playground.

11After the Easter’s bombing, Negombo’s tourism has taken a heavy toll.  There were hardly any tourists on the beach except a few Western couples.

12A traditional fishing sailboat was the most eye-catching feature on the beach, though we had no idea how Tirol related to Sri Lanka.

13A local man stood by the boat waiting for any tourist interested to take a selfie on the boat by paying him a small tip.

14Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit Central Negombo and any of its churches, maybe next time.


HOKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 ), Sapporo (札幌), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.24

Day 10 (1/6).

Under the Meiji Government, the Hokkaido Development Commission was established in 1869, and the pioneer movement in Japan’s northernmost and second largest island, Hokkaido, officially began.  The Japanese pioneers brought over their living culture, farming techniques, and faith of Shintoism.  Emperor Meiji in Tokyo enshrined three deities Ōkunitama, Ōkuninushi, and Sukunahikona as the deities of Hokkaido reclamation (開拓三神) to support the pioneer movement.  These deities were then moved to Sapporo from Tokyo.  The shrine housing these Shinto deities was first named as Sapporo Shrine, and then in 1964 renamed as Hokkaido Shrine (北海道神宮) along with the enshrinement of Emperor Meiji into the same shrine.  Today, the 150-year Hokkaido Shrine continues to play a crucial role in the lives of the locals, from New Year celebration to wedding ceremonies.  The shrine is also a popular spot for hanami (花見), the spring cherry blossom festival.  To start off our second last day of the trip, we spent a peaceful morning at the Hokkaido Shrine in Maruyama Park (円山公園) while most shops and cafes had yet opened for business.

DSC_6497In the shade of magnolias, maple, oak, Japanese Judas, and cherry of Maruyama Park, we arrived at the Torii gate of Hokkaido Shrine (北海道神宮).

DSC_65062019 marked the beginning of the Reiwa era (令和) and the accession of Emperor Naruhito (徳仁).

DSC_6499Before entering the main shrine complex, we arrived at the first shrine building called Kaitaku Jinja (開拓神社), the pioneer shrine.

DSC_6510We washed our hands at the chozuya (手水舎) before entering the main shrine.

IMG_0727The current Hokkaido Shrine was restored in 1978, after a fire destroyed the earlier structure in 1974.

DSC_6516Inside the main complex, we arrived at the courtyard in front of the main shrine.

DSC_6521Just like many Shinto shrines around Japan, the main shrine of the Hokkaido Shrine is a beautiful timber structure.

IMG_0745We had a quick peek into the main shrine as we left our offering coins and clapped our hands at the entrance veranda.

IMG_0734We also picked up an O-mikuji (御御籤) or sacred fortune slip from a wooden box.

DSC_6518There are a number of racks for visitors to leave behind their undesirable O-mikuji (御御籤), as well as wooden ema (絵馬), or wooden plaques with written wishes.

IMG_0748After the main shrine, we paid respect to the other small shrines before leaving the shrine complex.

* * *

Introduction
HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)

Day 1 – from Tokyo to Shiretoko Peninsula
Day 1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
Day 1.2 ARRIVAL IN SHIRETOKO, Utoro (ウトロ)

Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)

Day 3 – Rausu
Day 3.1 RUSA FIELD HOUSE (ルサフィールドハウス)
Day 3.2 JUN NO BANYA (純の番屋)

Day 4 – Rausu
Day 4.1 MOUNT RAUSU (羅臼岳)
Day 4.2 FANTASTIC ORCAS, Nemuro Strait (根室海峡)

Day 5 – Lake Mashu & Lake Akan
Day 5.1 SUNRISE AT LAKE MASHU (摩周湖)
Day 5.2 MOUNT MASHU TRAIL (摩周岳) , Teshikaga (弟子屈)
Day 5.3 SILENT NIGHT AT LAKE AKAN (阿寒湖)

Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)

Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)

Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)

Day 9 – Yochi & Sapporo
Day 9.1 NIKKA YOICHI DISTILLERY (余市蒸溜所), Yoichi (余市)
Day 9.2 SOUP CURRY NIGHT

Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)

Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)