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.
It was raining with occasional thunderstorms all the way from the Hill of the Buddha to Otaru. After a week on the road, we finally arrived at Otaru (小樽), the port city at Ishikari Bay roughly half an hour of train ride from Sapporo. For many Japanese and East Asians, Otaru has become famous after the 1995 hit movie “Love Letter”. Directed by Shunji Iwai (岩井 俊二) and starring Miho Nakayama (中山 美穂), “Love Letter” was filmed entirely in Hokkaido, particularly in Otaru. After the film, The little port city Otaru has become a cultural destination.
We dropped off our bags at the hotel, returned the Toyota near the railway station, and found our way to Sankaku Market (三角市場) for a seafood lunch.
Situated near Otaru Station, Sankaku Market (三角市場) is very popular for tourists and locals for fresh seafood.
The market sells seafood from all over Hokkaido.
The market has only one narrow aisle and shops at both sides.
Some shops also offer seafood snacks or lunch.
We chose the most popular eatery in the market, Takinami Restaurant, where there was a long queue of visitors at the door.
Sea urchin, crab meat and prawns with rice, and crab miso soup
Despite the rain, we made a brief visit to the canal area of Otaru.
We didn’t stay long at the canal because of poor weather.
Instead, we dropped by the Otaru Art Base: four historical buildings were preserved and converted into art exhibition spaces.
Built in 1923, Takahashi Warehouses was turned into the Stained Glass Museum.
Most of the stained glass windows on display were manufactured in England in the 19th and early 20th century.
These stained glass windows were preserved from churches that got torn down.
In the heydays, there were 25 banks supporting the economy of Hokkaido. One of them was Mitsui Bank (三井住友銀行). The Neo-Renaissance building symbolizes the prosperous years of Hokkaido.
The former lobby and reception counter are splendid.
Former conference room
Other than the history of the former bank building, there was also an art exhibition in the building.
After checking out the Art Base, we returned to the hotel and finished the slide of Yubari (夕張) cantaloupe purchased from the market.