ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Temple

ARCADES & TEMPLES, Nishiki Market (錦市場) & Teramachi Shopping Street (寺町通商店街), Kyoto, Japan

No matter in Rome, Buenos Aires or Hong Kong, taking morning walks is always one of our most enjoyable ways to appreciate a city. With an ever-present tranquility, elegance and otherworldliness, Kyoto is perfect for a morning stroll, especially to appreciate the beautiful tones of aged timber, indigo shingles and seasonal vegetation all under the crisp air of surrounding mountains. And what’s best to start a morning walk? For us, it’s a cup of good coffee. Tucked in a corner of an almost unnoticeable parking lot a block away from Nishiki Market (錦市場), a tiny coffee shop successfully captured our attention with its rich aroma and lovely ambience. Housed in an old machiya house, Weekenders Coffee provokes memories of a traditional kissaten (喫茶店) where writers and intellectuals in the old days gathered for a cup of tea or coffee. Opened since 2005, Weekenders was one of the first espresso shops in Kyoto. At Weekenders, a few customers may gather at the forecourt sipping coffee while resting the eyes upon a tiny Japanese garden. This was exactly what we did: sitting in front of the coffee shop at 7:30 in the morning, sniffing in fresh morning air and coffee aroma, and being enchanted with the pleasure of life.

At Nishiki Market, pickle vendors and fishmongers were busy setting up their stores. Laughter and giggles could be heard behind the counter of a tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) shop, where a team of staff were busy making omelettes for the day. It was still way too early to taste the food and shop for grocery at the iconic 400-year-old market. Unlike the crowded scenes during our 2016 visit, this time we almost had Nishiki all by ourselves. At the eastern end of where the market met Teramachi Shopping Street, we were once again attracted by the lanterns of Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine (錦天満宮) just like in 2016. Headed north from the shrine, we entered the arcade of Teramachi Shopping Street (寺町通商店街), a famous destination for both locals and tourists.

Literally means “Temple Town Street”, Teramachi (寺町通) has much more to offer than a covered arcade both sides flanked by shops. In 1590, 80 or so Buddhist temples from the area were relocated to Teramachi. It was Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉), the powerful daimyo (feudal lord) or de facto ruler of Japan, who ordered the move during Sengoku period (戦国時代) in the late 16th century. In the subsequent centuries, stores selling books, Buddhist rosaries, medicine, stationery, handicrafts and clothing flourished and gradually developed into the present arcades. Today, in the midst of shops, restaurants, and entertainment facilities, places of worship and even small graveyards maintain a strong presence at Teramachi, with temple entrances open right next to boutiques and stores. While most shops on Teramachi and the adjacent Shinkyogoku Shopping Street (新京極商店街) had yet opened for business, we took the opportunity to do some temple hopping while window shopping at the same time.

Hidden in a corner of a neighborhood parking lot, Weekenders Coffee offers great coffee in a traditional setting. [2022.12.27]
The coffee aroma goes well with the traditional machiya setting. [2022.12.27]
Weekenders Coffee is the perfect place to start the day. [2022.12.27]
The tiny forecourt has a certain zen quality that calms every customer. [2022.12.27]
A marvelous cup of latte to start our first full day in Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
After Weekenders, we walked over to Nishiki, the 400 year old market at the heart of Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
We came too early. Most shops at Nishiki Market had yet opened for business. [2022.12.27]
Staff at Miki Keiran (三木鶏卵) tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) shop were busy preparing omelettes for the day. [2022.12.27]
Unlike 2016’s visit, we didn’t eat or buy anything at Nishiki Market. [2022.12.27]
Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine (錦天満宮) marks the eastern end of Nishiki Market. [2022.12.27]
The lanterns of Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine forms a lovely gateway to the shrine compound. [2022.12.27]
Nade-ushi, the cow messenger associated with the deity of Tenjin, the god of scholarship, is proudly on display at Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine. [2022.12.27]
Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine is full of fine details and elegant offerings. [2022.12.27]
It was surprising to see red maple leaves were still around at the end of December. [2022.12.27]
From Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine, we turned north onto Teramachi Shopping Street. [2022.12.27]
Perhaps it was the cold weather, we were quite hungry as we walked. We stopped briefly at a local bakery chain store Pan-no-Tajima (パンの田島) for a quick breakfast before continuing our walk. [2022.12.27]
Along with the adjacent Shinkyogoku Shopping Street (新京極商店街), the covered arcade of Teramachi (寺町通) offers a wide range of merchandises, from clothing, books, souvenirs to religious goods. [2022.12.27]
The covered arcades also serve as a primary entertainment district for the younger generation. [2022.12.27]
Selfie backdrops for New Year celebration could be found at a number of spots in the shopping arcades. [2022.12.27]
Wandering at the shopping arcade in early morning when most shops were still shuttered offer us a quiet moment to admire the visual complexity of the retail district. [2022.12.27]
Literally means “Temple Town Street”, Teramachi (寺町通) is home to many temples and shrines since Toyotomi Hideyoshi relocated a large group of religious institutions into Downtown Kyoto four hundred years ago. [2022.12.27]
Thanks to the red banners, Eifuku-ji Temple (永福寺) and Takoyakushi-dō (蛸薬師堂) is one of many temples relocated to Teramachi Shopping Street 400 years ago. [2022.12.27]
Behind a few clothing stores we found the entrance of Seishin-in Temple (誠心院), and a cheerful selfie backdrop to welcome New Year visitors. [2022.12.27]
In such close proximity to the busy shopping arcades, it was a surprise to find a cemetery behind Seishin-in. [2022.12.27]
The cemetery at Seishin-in appeared like a tranquil backyard for the temple. [2022.12.27]
The triangular Rokkun Plaza (ろっくんプラザ) is a well known meeting point at the heart of the shopping arcades. [2022.12.27]

BEYOND THE CROWDS, Kwun Tong (觀塘), Kowloon, Hong Kong

Apartment blocks mushroom in clusters north of Kwun Tong’s MTR viaduct all the way to the slopes of Sau Mau Ping and Lam Tin, where stone quarries once dominated the skyline of Kowloon East. With 59,000 persons per square kilometre (2016), Kwun Tong is the most densely populated district in Hong Kong. Since the first public housing was erected in late 1950’s, Kwun Tong has become home to many public housing estates: Ngau Tau Kok (牛頭角邨), Lam Tin (藍田邨), Sau Mau Ping (秀茂坪邨), just to name a few. At the neighborhood centre lies Yue Man Square (裕民坊), the former commercial heart, and Shui Wo Street Market (瑞和街街市), the bustling street market that fascinates me every time I walk by the area. While Shui Wo Street Market remains as busy as decades ago, the original Yue Man Square is all but gone, giving way to new shopping malls and glassy towers. Beyond the vibrancy, noises, and dust, I was surprised to find pockets of breathing spaces beyond the crowded streets of Kwun Tong while exploring the area. Be it a decades old temple that was left untouched and hidden from plain sight throughout all these years of urban transformations, or forgotten reservoir structures that were left for decay in a lush green ravine, these peaceful corners have been serving as peaceful “backyards” for local residents, and any curious outsider who chooses to explore Kwun Tong beyond its shopping malls.

Surrounded by apartment blocks of Tsui Ping Estate (翠屏邨) and several school compounds, traditional Tai Wong Yeh Temple (大王爺廟) sits on a slope that is invisible from the streets below. Meandering between groups of school kids and elderly at the covered plazas of Tsui Ping Estate just minutes ago, entering the tranquil temple complex felt like going into an hidden retreat. During my brief visit, I was the only visitor and was free to wander around the temple complex all by myself. Clustered over a slope on three terraces, the complex was erected in 1958 as a replacement of an earlier temple in Lok Fu. I took my time to check out the colouful wall reliefs around the temple. Reliefs of a tiger and dragon particularly captured my attention. They may not be the most exquisite artworks found in galleries, but nevertheless they are valuable relics of the old Kwun Tong, from a time when skillful mural artisans were much more common.

North of Lok Wah Estate (樂華邨), lush green Jordan Valley (佐敦谷) wraps along the northern boundary of Kwun Tung. It is at Jordan Valley that the 648,541 (2016) Kwun Tong residents can cool themselves off at a 1.7 hectare swimming compound, hike in forested trails, picnic on park lawns, exercise in public playgrounds and ball courts, under the shadow of the majestic Kowloon Peak (飛鵝山). What fascinates me is that much of these pleasant green spaces and recreational facilities were once occupied by 16 blocks of social housing apartments known as Jordan Valley Estate (佐敦谷邨). In 1990’s, the former colonial government decided to tear down the housing estate and replace it with the much needed public recreational facilities of Kwun Tong. This was the only time in Hong Kong where a public housing estate was torn down and not replaced by taller apartment blocks. Perched above Jordan Valley, a red running track awaits anyone who is willing to hike up to the secret getaway of Kwun Tong High Level Service Reservoir Playground (觀塘上配水庫遊樂場). Attracted by photos of the running track against the dramatic backdrop of a ruined reservoir wall and Kowloon Peak, I braved the summer heat to climb up the hill for the relatively little-known scenery. On the way up, I passed by the main dam of the former Jordan Valley Reservoir, a decommissioned facility that once supplied Kwun Tong with seawater for flushing. Completed in 1960, the reservoir ceased operations in early 1980’s and was subsequently filled up. Today, apart from elderly residents or the few who come to exercise at the dam or running track, hardly anyone knows about the reservoir remnants. Without much documentation about its history, memories of the former Jordan Valley Reservoir are actually fading fast.

From Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, the skyline of Kwun Tong and Lam Tin is dominated by layers of highrise buildings. [2015]
Visible from Kwun Tong MTR Station, the decades old Garden Estate (花園大廈) awaits for its turn of urban renewal. [2022]
First completed in late 1950’s, Garden Estate (花園大廈) was the first public housing in Kwun Tong. [2022]
Garden Estate (花園大廈) was built to house industrial workers of Kwun Tong, which was Hong Kong’s first planned satellite town in 1950’s and 1960’s. [2022]
The main street market, Shui Wo Street Market (瑞和街街市), remains as lively as ever. [2022]
Apart from the shopping malls, commercial and industrial areas, Shui Wo Street Market is the place in Kwun Tong to experience its crowds. [2022]
From traditional cooking ingredients to paper lanterns for Mid Autumn Festival, Shui Wo Street Market offers a wide range of traditional merchandises for the community. [2022]
Decades old stationery shop and toy stores at Shui Wo Street Market are children’s favorites. [2022]
From Shui Wo Street Market, the newly completed curtain wall apartments can be seen as prominent replacements of the former commercial centre of Yue Man Square (裕民坊). [2022]

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It is such a contrasting experience to step into the complex of Tai Wong Yeh Temple (大王爺廟) from the busy streets of Kwun Tong. [2021]
The complex was built upon three main terraces. [2021]
Tai Wong Yeh Temple (大王爺廟) is quite well maintained. [2021]
I was particularly interested on the wall reliefs at Tai Wong Yeh Temple (大王爺廟). [2021]
With the fine details and beautiful shadows, the dragon is perhaps the most eye-catching relief of them all. [2021]
Built on the site of the former Jordan Valley Estate (佐敦谷邨), the 1.7 hectare swimming compound at Jordan Valley has become an essential public facility in Kwun Tong. [2022]
From the main dam of the former Jordan Valley Reservoir, the lush Jordan Valley appears like a green lung for Kwun Tong. [2022]
A part of the former reservoir is still used for water filtration and distribution. [2022]
The main dam of the former Jordan Valley Reservoir has become an exercise spot for the community. [2022]
Traces of the former reservoir is still visible at the former main dam. [2022]
Further uphill from the main dam brought me to Kwun Tong High Level Service Reservoir Playground, where remnants of the former water facilities can still be found. [2022]
Remnant of the former reservoir includes a dramatic ruined stone wall behind the running track. [2022]
Perched high above the surrounding residential developments, the running track is a secret getaway for Kwun Tong residents. [2022]
It is not an easy climb in summer to reach the running track from the adjacent neighborhoods. [2022]
But views of the majestic Kowloon Peak (飛鵝山) is more than rewarding for the sweaty climb. [2022]

IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME, Cha Kwo Ling (茶果嶺), Hong Kong

This summer, the Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage (CACHE) has organized a number of guided walks in Cha Kwo Ling, hosted a small exhibition at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, and published Travelling through Cha Kwo Ling – A Memoir of the Urban Village, a free publication that documents the oral history of villagers who have spent decades in Hong Kong’s last quarry community. These personal recollections might seem fragmentary, but once pieced together they form a comprehensive set of living memories for a place pretty much frozen in time for the past few decades. The fact that Cha Kwo Ling has been able to evade bulldozers all these years was quite remarkable, especially when the adjacent Kwun Tong (觀塘), a former industrial district and Hong Kong’s most densely populated area (57,250 persons per sq.km as of 2014), has gone through series of major makeovers since 1990’s. One of the main reasons why villagers prefer not to rebuild or renovate their squatter homes was because they never knew when the government would arrive to lock down their homes. Decades have past, Cha Kwo Ling gradually becomes a special place in Hong Kong where aura of the 60’s and 70’s still rules, allowing contemporary visitors to have a sense of the village’s heyday, when granite and Kaolin clay mining were major industries in East Kowloon.

Oral history of villagers records stories of Cha Kwo Ling from a bygone era, many objects in Cha Kwo Ling, be it a set of rusty metal shutters, a stone stele with fading inscriptions, or an abandoned animal cage, can still be found today, representing tangible evidences for the villagers’ stories. If these objects can speak, what would they say about the urban village and its generations of inhabitants? These silent artefacts would probably be gone in two years’ time, along with the squatter homes, community stores, small tea shops, narrow alleys, etc. Before their disappearance, we did a small walk in Cha Kwo Ling and photo documented the village scenery. Once Cha Kwo Ling is gone, former villagers and anyone who is interested in the city’s urban transformations would sadly mourn the loss of these precious artefacts. Here are objects that caught our eyes during our two recent visits.

A notice board of Cha Kwo Ling Village Fraternity Association (茶果嶺鄉民聯誼會) listed out this year’s donors to the village’s Tin Hau Temple. [2022]
Near the village entrance, a corrugated metal wall is decorated with several columns of license plates. (2022)
Notices and posters for the village are being put up on walls of a few houses along the main alley. [2022]
Fire and water were the biggest enemies for the shanty houses in Cha Kwo Ling. Traces of previous fire and water damages can still be seen today. [2022]
A large mural depicting community celebrations of Tin Hau’s birthday. [2022]
Tropical plants root themselves on the wall of a former clay factory. [2021]
Built with Cha Kwo Ling’s granite blocks in 1951, the tiny St. Mark’s Lutheran Church also offered kindergarten and primary education in the early days. As the village population dwindled, the school has long ceased operation. The historical building would probably be demolished and even forgotten in the near future. [2022]
Many villagers have already moved out of Cha Kwo Ling, leaving behind a government’s notice on the door. [2022]
Home of Kei Lun or Qilin Dance Troupe (茶果嶺麒麟隊), is a traditional organization specialized in qilin dances performed during festivals. Like lion dance to resemble lion, qilin is a legendary creature that is also known as Chinese unicorn. [2022]
Traditional metallic mailboxes are still widely used in the village. [2022]
Established in 1950’s, Ming Tak Primary School was in operations for two decades until mid 1970’s, along with the rise and fall of the children population in the village. Half a century has past, somehow the old school sign is still visible in Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Wing Wah Eatery (榮華冰室) has been a prominent fixture in Cha Kwo Ling since 1960’s. It was a well known venue for local filmmakers, artists and photographers. [2022]
In Wing Wah Eatery, everything seems to be frozen in time, including the colour faded posters on the wall. [2022]
At CACHE’s exhibition, a red textile with guest signatures was on display, marking the opening of Wing Wah Eatery back in 1960’s. [2022]
With it name hollow cut into the metal, the shop shutter of Wing Wah Restaurant has been around for decades. Designed to allow natural ventilation back in the 50’s and 60’s, these traditional shutters only exist at the shopfront of decades old shops nowadays. [2022]
Some metal shutters are badly deteriorated in the village. [2022]
At the small open space where villagers used to gather and socialize, the metal shutter of Wai Kee should be part of the collective memories of many Cha Kwo Ling villagers. [2022]
Cha Kwo Ling might look chaotic to some, but for many photographers, the visual complexity makes the village is a delightful destination for exploration. [2022]
In its heyday, Cha Kwo Ling was a thriving urban village with inhabitants of various generations. Today, many villagers and their kids have moved out to other parts of the city. [2022]
A stone stele with faded inscriptions documents donor names for a bridge repair in the village. [2022]
In the old days, a wildlife lover moved to Hong Kong from Guangzhou. He had a number of big cats, bear and elephant and tried to convince the colonial government to establish a zoo in Hong Kong. Used as storage of the old animal cages can still be found in Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Five rows of mailboxes near Tin Hau Temple reveal a collective living environment back in the old days. [2022]
Recently renovated, the door panels of Tin Hau Temple have been beautifully preserved. Hope that the temple can be saved after the redevelopment of Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]

THE LAST URBAN VILLAGE, Cha Kwo Ling (茶果嶺), Kowloon, Hong Kong

On 21 September 1989, the city’s second harbour tunnel Eastern Harbour Crossing (東區海底隧道) officially opened between Quarry Bay of Hong Kong Island and Cha Kwo Ling of Kowloon. Cha Kwo Ling (茶果嶺), a lush green hill in East Kowloon, was once home to about 10,000 villagers in its heyday, when granite quarrying was a major industry in Hong Kong. Sitting below the green hill facing the harbour, the Hakka village of Cha Kwo Ling has a 400+ years of history, thriving long before this part of Kowloon and the New Territories were leased to Britain in 1899. In the 19th century, Cha Kwo Ling and three other mining villages in East Kowloon, namely Ngau Tau Kok (牛頭角), Sai Tso Wan (晒草灣), and Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門), were administered as the Four Hills of Kowloon (九龍四山), each had its own leader who would report directly to the Qing government office at Kowloon Walled City. After becoming part of the British colony, the four mining villages continued to flourish as a collective community with shared schools, community facilities and temple. Similar to many neighborhoods in Hong Kong, Cha Kwo Ling saw an influx of newcomers from Mainland China during mid 20th century. Stone quarrying at Cha Kwo Ling ceased after 1967, when the government no longer licensed permits for industries using explosives. Apart from granite stones, Kaolin clay mining was also a major industry in the village. The white Kaolin clay is used in a wide range of products, from ceramics, toothpaste, cosmetics, paint, industrial insulation, paper, etc.

In 1980’s, the government put the second nail in Cha Kwo Ling’s coffin by tearing down a part of the village, including a former stone quarry, to make way for Eastern Harbour Crossing (東區海底隧道). A shrank Cha Kwo Ling continued to exist as a village of squatter houses somehow isolated from the surrounding urbanization. Since 2011, a number of government plans were released to replace Cha Kwo Ling village with a high density housing development. The 2021 plan gave the final verdict: erecting six residential towers at the Cha Kwo Ling site, and demolishing the existing village in two years’ time. As one of the last remaining urban village, Cha Kwo Ling has long been a unique place in Hong Kong where things seem to be frozen in time since decades ago, luring photographers and filmmakers seeking for a bygone Hong Kong, from a time when many poor were living in squatter homes but enjoying a strong community bonding. Cha Kwo Ling’s inevitable fate might long be sealed since granite quarrying ceased operations. Witnessing the final demise for one of Kowloon’s last remaining urban villages and anticipating yet another high density housing development that can be found all over the city is rather upsetting.

East of Kwun Tong Pier stands the cluster of residential towers of Laguna City (麗港城) estate, where the former quarry village Sai Tso Wan (晒草灣) and Shell oil depot used to be located. To the right of Laguna City stands the “new apartments” of Cha Kwo Ling. [2015]
The new apartments of Cha Kwo Ling were late additions in the 60’s and 70’s to the village of Cha Kwo Ling (hidden behind trees right of the apartment blocks). [2021]
Completed in early 1990’s, Laguna City (麗港城) is comprised of 38 residential towers and a wide range of community facilities from shopping centres to kindergartens and ball courts. The private estate was situated at Sai Tso Wan (晒草灣), home to one of the four quarry villages of Four Hills of Kowloon (九龍四山) and Shell’s former oil depot. [2021]
Cha Kwo Ling is one of the last remaining urban villages in Kowloon. [2022]
Colourful sheets on drying racks near village entrance. [2021]
At the entrance of Cha Kwo Ling village stands a small St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (路德會聖馬可堂). Built with local granite stones, the church is an early base for Lutheran Church in Hong Kong. [2022]
Ho Wa Lion Dance (壕華龍獅隊) was formed in 2015 by two youngsters who love the tradition. The NGO offers lion dance lessons for kids, and aimed to establish a museum to promote the tradition. [2021]
Vivid colours are often found in the village. [2022]
Wing Wah Restaurant (榮華冰室) is one of the two last remaining coffee houses still in business at Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Nothing seems to have changed in Wing Wah since 1960’s. Sixty years ago, the wooden tables and benches were secondhand furniture sourced by Mr. Ah Yeung, founder of the business. Today, his son (鏡叔) is putting great efforts to sustain the business. [2022]
Due to the lack of clarity on the village’s future, most villagers prefer not to invest money to renovate their homes. [2022]
Layers of rusting corrugated metals, cloths, nylon covers, scrap plywood boards, etc. are the most common facade materials for the squatter houses in Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
In the village, external walls of squatter houses are used for displaying community notices. [2021]
Cha Kwo Ling is a pleasant village for an aimless stroll, and it is not that easy for visitors to get lost. [2022]
A traditional store at the major village junction offers all kinds of drinks and snacks. Stores like this Tak Kee Chan must have witnessed much better days decades ago when school children were still around. [2022]
Many residents built their houses over village lanes, creating a number of covered alleys. [2022]
A setback area in front of a low rise apartment block was a gathering and children’s play area for Cha Kwo Ling villagers in the old days. [2022]
We bumped into several cats in Cha Kwo Ling during our brief visit. Hope that they could settle in a new home when the village is being demolished. [2022]
Metal roofs of squatter homes leave a narrow strip of sky over the alleys of Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Built in 1900 with local granite, Law Mansion (羅氏大屋) is one of the oldest surviving building in Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Antennas dominate the skyline of Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]
Proudly on display near Cha Kwo Ling Village Fraternity Association, the Hop Yee Lung (合義龍) Dragon Boat is over 60 years old. In its heyday, the boat would take 48 paddlers for the annual dragon boat race at Yaumatei Typhoon Shelter. A number of victories in the 1960’sand 1970’s gave the boat a legendary status in the village. The 20m long dragon boat took artisan Chan Yau (陳有) almost a year to build. [2021]
Built in 1956, Cha Kwo Ling Village Fraternity Association (茶果嶺鄉民聯誼會) is the main gathering and event place for villagers. In the old days, the association also offer charity meals to the poor during Lu Ban (鲁班, the patron saint for the construction industries) Patron’s Day. [2021]
Adjacent to Cha Kwo Ling Village Fraternity Association stands the former Four Hill School (四山公立學校, 1952-1993), a collective memory for many residents of East Kowloon. For years, the former school was home to a sport academy. The forecourt has been turned into a practice ground for golf. [2022]
The current Cha Kwo Ling Tin Hau Temple is dated to late 1940’s, as a replacement for an older temple that was built during the reign of Dao Guan (道光, 1821-1850) of Qing Dynasty. [2022]
Not a common practice for traditional temples, but building this Tin Hau Temple at Cha Kwo Ling with granite was a convenient choice, as the building stood right adjacent to the stone quarries. [2022]
The temple interior offers a distinctly spiritual ambience in the village of Cha Kwo Ling. [2022]

NOSTALGIA OF AN EX-RESIDENT, Tai Hang (大坑), Hong Kong

After moving out of Tai Hang in 2019, Tai Hang has changed, Hong Kong has changed, and so do we. From time to time, we would return for visits, mainly for the French pastries and Japanese sushi, or a simple stroll in the tong lau area just to check out which shops have departed and who were the newcomers. Looking back on why we chose Tai Hang as our initial home in the city may well reveal the qualities that we appreciated its sense of place: the character, comfort, sociability, access, activities, image, etc. In fact, we were attracted by Tai Hang’s diverse mix of residents, quiet setting away from major roads, convenient location between Tin Hau (merely 200m) and Causeway Bay, absence of banks, chain stores, supermarkets, and MTR station, wide range of small shops and restaurants, and its embodied paradoxes between East and West, old and new, quiet and vibrant, traditional and bohemian, local and touristic, coolest and also the warmest. When we were still semi-strangers to Hong Kong after a two-decade absence, Tai Hang offered us a haven to settle down, and inspired us how to be part of the community, to have fun in the city, to cherish things that would soon disappear, to appreciate things that resist the changes of time, and to enjoy Hong Kong in our own way. But things have changed, shops have switched hands and people have gone, including us.

200m is the distance between Tai Hang and the tram and bus lines on Causeway Road, or the closest MTR Station in Tin Hau. 200m distance is all it takes to miraculously preserve century-old heritage and a strong sense of community that hardly exist anywhere else at the heart of Hong Kong. Despite its close proximity to Causeway Bay and North Point, this 200m distance put Tai Hang in the city’s backwaters for much of the 19th and 20th century, when squatter settlements filled the slope of Red Incense Burner Hill where Lai Tak Estate now stands, and over a hundred auto repair shops ruled the neighbourhood. Wun Sha Street (浣紗街), the main street of Tai Hang, was once an open water channel, which led to the name Tai Hang, literally means “big water channel”. Since the first coffee shop opened in 2004, Tai Hang has gone through rapid gentrification. Luxury apartments and cool shops sprang up one by one across the old neighbourhood. But it was the emergence of special little restaurants (due to relatively low rents compared to adjacent Causeway Bay) that truly captured the attention of the city, who didn’t realize that at the back of “Little Ginza” there was this secret garden of Causeway Bay. Though there is one thing every Hongkongers knows about Tai Hang, and that is the Fire Dragon Dance, a traditional ceremony at Mid-Autumn Festival since 1880. The dance is now a widely advertised cultural event that draws huge crowds into the neighbourhood every year.

For a tourist, Tai Hang is a foodie paradise, hotspot for the trendy and cool, and stage for the annual Fire Dragon Dance. But for a resident, it is the sense of place and community bonding that truly count. No matter one is a 80-year-old resident who spends his whole life in Tai Hang, or a foreign expatriate who just arrives at the doorstep and hardly speaks a word of Cantonese, as soon as one enters the community, one would soon be touched by the sense of community and gradually assimilate as Tai Hang people. As rents and real estate prices fluctuate, shops and residents may come and go. But as long as its strong sense of community remains, Tang Hang is always Tai Hang. It is the simple and pure village atmosphere at the heart of a highly commercialized metropolis that makes Tai Hang unique in Hong Kong, something that could only be appreciated if one spends more time in the neighbourhood than just a fancy omakase dinner or a cup of hand drip Gesha.

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REVISITING TAI HANG AS A TOURIST

After we moved out of Tai Hang, we would sometimes return for brief visits. More street art and new shops have emerged in recent years. [2022]
Lyrics of local singer songwriter Charmaine Fong (方皓玟)’s “All We Have is Now” is remnant from Tai Hang Festival, one of the many community events being held in the neighbourhood since our former district council representative Clarisse Yeung was elected. [2022]
New shops owned by the younger generations have emerged in recent years. [2022]
Stripping of latter additions, another old mansion in Tai Hang has returned to its former glory. The newly renovated mansion was turned into Shophouse, housing levels of exhibition and social concept space. [2021]
More old mansions were turned into cafes. [2020]
From specialty cafes to vintage shops, the bohemian air of Tai Hang remains as the main drive for the younger generation. [2020]
After vacant for years, another pre war mansion was renovated into Tai Hang Fire Dragon Heritage Centre, the official venue that tells the story of the community and its famous dragon dance. [2022]

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MEMORIES OF TAI HANG AS A FORMER RESIDENT

2019.09.13_21:45
2019 Mid Autumn Festival was the last Fire Dragon Dance we watched in Tai Hang.
2017.10.05_20:58
A strong sense of comradeship would be built up among dancers, who were made up of volunteers from residents of Tai Hang. Volunteer dancers were busy inserting burning incense sticks into the dragon body.
2017.10.05_21.27
2017 was the 138th Tai Hang Fire Dragon Festival. As usually about 300 volunteers would participate for the three days festival.
2016.09.16_21:48
2016 was our third time watching the dance. We made a donation that year and picked up our Tai Hang Fire Dragon t-shirt.
2016.09.16_22.10
Apart from t-shirt, we also went to the community centre pick up a pack of “dragon cookies”.
2016.09.16_22:11
Everyone was still out on the streets participating in the festival when we picked up the cookies from the community centre.
2016.09.16_22:18
The community at Wun Sha Street was still overwhelmed by the energy of the festival after we exited the community centre.
2016.09.16_22:19
Despite exhausted, the dancers still went through the dance routine one more time before calling it a day.
2015.09.27_20:58
Hassun Japanese Restaurant (八寸料亭), one of our closest neighbours in Tai Hang, offered free sake for the community just before the fire dragon dance.
2015.09.27_21:03
After having a sip of sake in the stomach, our excitement for the night grew even stronger.
2015.09.28_21:38
Every year, volunteers would give their best in the dragon dance, which is a sweaty and pretty physical demanding task that lasts for three nights.
2015.09.27_22:35
After the dragon dance, children would gather on streets and the nearby Victoria Park to light candles and play with lanterns to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival.
2015.09.27_22:40
For adults, the best festival celebrations would always involve food, from BBQ on the streets to having traditional food at places like Hong Kee Congee (康記粥店)
2015.09.27_22.51
We wouldn’t want to call it a day yet after the dragon dance. We walked out of Tai Hang via Fire Dragon Path (火龍徑) to Victoria Park to check out the lantern displays.
2015.01.01_00:07
We still remember the excitement we had for the first fireworks outside our bedroom window.
2015.02.18_23:07
On Chinese New Year’s Eve, we braved the crowds to enter our neighbouring temple Lin Fa Temple.
2015.02.18_23:09
At Lin Fa Temple, we paid respect to Gwan Yin (觀音) for our smooth settling in Tai Hang. In 2019, we also visited the temple on our moving date just to bid farewell to our neighbouring deity.
2014.08.09_19:12
Opposite to our flat, I loved to watch people walk up the stairs at Lin Fa Kung Garden to Lai Tak Estate (勵德邨). Built in 1975, two of the blocks are the only bicyclindrical public housing in Hong Kong.
2016.08.01_21:46
As Severe Tropical Storm Nida approached Hong Kong, Typhoon Signal No. 8 was issued on 20:40. We took the opportunity to wander in the relatively deserted Tai Hang. The storm was nowhere near the anticipated force and every Hongkonger had a relatively quiet night at home.
2018.03.28_22:36
After overtime work, we used to have late dinner at one of our favorite Japanese skewer restaurants in Tai Hang, including Moto Yakitori & Sake Bar.
2015.07.24_09:32
Before Hong Kee Congee moved to their current new store and the two elderly owners were still around, their boiling hot congee, hand made rice noodle roll, fried dough, and raddish cakes were fantastic for a winter morning.
2019.08.17_09:37
Forgot since when, Bing Kee Cha Dong (炳記茶檔) has become the most popular tourist attractions in Tai Hang.Their pork chop noodles and causal atmosphere have become an Internet sensation for both local visitors and foreign tourists. Living in the neighbourhood meant we could usually beat the crowds on weekends, when the queue became unbelievably long for just a simple breakfast.
2018.05.19_09:49
Just around the corner from our apartment, BlissHIVE, a bakery cafe that no longer exists, was the takeout breakfast solution that we usually went to on any normal work day.
2018.05.19_09:52
Only occasionally during weekends, we would sit in at BlissHIVE for a full breakfast.
2019.11.24_10:31
Plumcot remains as our favorite pastry shop in town since it opened in summer 2017. Chefs Camille Moënne-Loccoz and Dominique Yau from Paris brought a taste of French to Tai Hang each morning.
2017.02.11_13:34
Shops and restaurants come and go in Tai Hang. Only “Wong Jai” (黃仔) taxi seat remains as if a permanent fixture in the neighbourhood. His shop is a reminder of the era when there were about a hundred auto repair shops in Tai Hang (now less than 20).
2018.09.25_17:28
With over 50 years of experience in Tai Hang, Mr. Wong is one of the last 3-4 craftsmen that still repair car seats by hand in Hong Kong. We often walked by his shop, and he was always busy with his work.
2017.07.28_07:57
When passing by Allure Hair Salon, we would sometimes hear the owner playing Mozart while the client was having a haircut in one of Tai Hang’s charming historical mansions.
2018.12.13_08:14
For 6 out of 10 chance we would bump into this Shiba Inu dog at Fire Dragon Path on our way to work. Among all dogs we have seen in Tai Hang, this is the only one that loves sit still and watch people playing tennis every morning.
2018.09.27_22:36
From small poodle to large husky, every night there would be a mass gathering of dogs and dog owners at Fire Dragon Path (火龍徑). Whenever we walked by, we would always slow down and see if any one dog would approach us.
2015.06.20_05:44
Victoria Harbour outside our former bedroom window in Tai Hang has an eerie beauty that seems so distant to us nowadays.

TEMPLE BY THE NULLAH, Pak Tai Temple (灣仔北帝廟), Wan Chai, Hong Kong

For a city with 1,113 sq.km of land, Hong Kong has an astonishing 1,178km (some say 733km depending if all 261 outer islands are counted) of coastline. From a fishing village to a global trading port, Hong Kong’s relationship with the sea is the most essential character for the city. Before the arrival of the British, the city was no more than a scattered collection of fishing communities across the territory. Where there were fishing villages there would also be shrines dedicated to guardian deities of the sea. Many of these communities were made up with diasporas from different regions of China, where each has their unique customs and guardian deity, thus bringing a wide range of temples to the city. Popular sea deity in Hong Kong includes Tin hau (天后), a Fujianese sea goddess also named Mazu in Taiwan and Southeast Asia; Hung Shing (洪聖), god of the southern seas originated from a Guangdong official in the Tang Dynasty; Pak Tai (北帝), a Taoist cosmological god from Northern China; Tam Kung (譚公), a sea god common in Huizhou of Guangdong; Lung Mo (龍母), another sea goddess from Southern China known as the Dragon Mother, etc.


In Wan Chi, 500m from the Hung Shing Temple (洪聖古廟), Pak Tai Temple(灣仔北帝廟) stands as a much bigger temple complex hidden under the shadows of an imposing old Banyan tree in a public park at the upper end of Stone Nullah Lane. Hidden at the tranquil end of the Stone Nullah neighbourhood, visiting the temple feels like entering a distinct world from the commercial district of Wan Chai, despite the iconic 78 storey Central Plaza and the waterfront skyline are just 800m to the north. Built in 1863, Pak Tai Temple is the largest temple complex on Hong Kong Island, and home to a 400 year old bronze statue and a 160 year old antique bell. Also called Yuk Hui Kong (玉虛宮), Pak Tai Temple is mainly dedicated to Pak Tai (北帝), a Taoist god from Northern China that is also called Xuanwu (玄武) or Xuantian Shangdi (玄天上帝). Pak Tai is a powerful god related to the Northern Star and one of the 28 constellations of the north, controlling the power of water in the five elements, and thus he is also considered as a sea god. Apart from Pak Tai, the temple also serves as an one stop worshipping hall for a number of traditional Chinese deities, such as Ji Gong (濟公), Eight Immortals (八仙), Guan Yu (關公), Bodhisattva Guanyin (觀音), City God Shing Wong (城隍), God of Wealth Choi Sen (財神), constellation deities Tai Sui (太歲), Dragon Mother Lung Mo (龍母), etc. Perhaps of its central location, Pak Tai Temple continues to attract worshippers from across the city even in the 21st century. It is definitely one of the busiest temples we have visited in Hong Kong.

Pak Tai Temple is also called Yuk Hui Kong (玉虛宮). [2022]
Adjacent to the main hall stands Hall of Three Treasures (三寶殿), a Buddhist worshipping hall for more quiet prayers. [2022]
A pleasant forecourt links up all the worshipping halls. [2022]
Outside the main hall, two large lanterns are hung from the eaves to mark the entrance elegantly. [2022]
Exquisite decorative woodwork can be appreciated without entering the hall. [2022]
Elegant decorations of the timber beams. [2022]
Lung Sai Bowl (龍洗盆), a copper bowl with two handles which allows user to rub in quick motion until the reverberated vibrations to trigger fierce rhythm of dancing water, is commonly found at entrance of a Chinese temple. [2022]
Through the main gate, the first worship hall with a prominent statue of Pak Tai can be reached. [2022]
Casted in 1603 (萬曆三十一年), the 3m bronze statue of Pak Tai is the oldest artefact in the temple. It was originally housed in a temple in Guangdong, China. A wealthy businessman bought the statue during the civil war years and housed it in his Kowloon villa. After his villa was demolished by the Japanese to make way for the airport expansion, the statue was eventually relocated to the temple in Wan Chai. 2022]
Apart from the bronze statue, the decorations in the temple ate equally splendid. [2022]
A stone plaque with names of early donors quietly sits at a side wall in the temple. [2022]
A traditional drum is often used during rituals that communicate with the gods. [2022]
Before the drum, a bronze bell dated to 1863 is also a tool for rituals. [2022]
The main altar sits by another statue of Pak Tai, flanked both sides by his four generals. [2022]
Apart from calligraphy, the ceiling temple is decorated with rows of lanterns donated by worshippers. [2022]
Pak Tai Temple is one of the busiest temples we have been to in Hong Kong. [2022]
Each of the four generals has his unique outfit, weapon and facial expression. [2022]
The serious expression of the four generals help to create a solemn ambience for the main hall. [2022]
Statues of the four generals are beautifully decorated. [2022]
The detail touches on the statues are not easy to find nowadays in Hong Kong. [2022]

ARCHITECTURAL GEM ON THE SEVEN TERRACES OF SAI WAN, Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), Hong Kong

In Kennedy Town, less than three hundred meters from Smithfield Municipal Market and Forbes Street Playground (site of the former slaughterhouses), a sleepy neighbourhood has been tucked away on a quiet hill slope for a hundred years. A staircase on Sands Street is all it takes to separate the two worlds, one bustling and the other tranquil. Once consisted of seven terraces built on the slope between Hong Kong University above and Belcher’s Street below, the secluded neighbourhood is commonly known as the Seven Terraces of Sai Wan (西環七臺). Also called Western District, “Sai Wan” is the general name for the area encompassing Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), Shek Tong Tsui (石塘咀) and Sai Ying Pun (西營盤). The seven terraces can be traced back to Li Sing (李陞), the richest Chinese merchant in 19th century Hong Kong. One of his sons Li Po Lung (李寶龍) inherited the sloped land when his father died in 1900. Li Po Lung decided to develop the land into residential terraces and an amusement park. He named the terraces and amusement park with references to his favorite ancient Chinese poet Li Bai (李白). Chinese pavilions, outdoor stages, dance floors, merry-go-round, playgrounds, and even an artificial pond for rowing boats, coupled with street performances, handicraft fair, small fireworks, chess competitions, etc. made Tai Pak Lau (太白樓), Li’s amusement park, into a trendy destination from 1915 and on. It was especially popular with wealthy men and prostitutes coming from the nearby Shek Tong Tsui (石塘咀), the city’s most famous red light and entertainment district in early 20th century. Just like many places in Hong Kong, Tai Pak Lau was rather short-lived, lasting for merely nine years before closing down due to financial difficulties of Li Po Lung. The park was then converted into today’s Tai Pak Terrace (太白臺) residential street. Despite the bankruptcy of Li Po Lung in 1924, the seven terraces, especially the topmost terraces such as Academic Terrace (學士臺), To Li Terrace (桃李臺) and Ching Lin Terrace (青蓮臺), continued to thrive as an upscale residential neighbourhood for wealthy Chinese.

If Tai Pak Lau was an ephemeral dream of a wealthy man, the historical Lo Pan Temple (魯班先師廟) on Ching Lin Terrace (青蓮臺) has proven to be a much more resilient establishment. Listed as a Grade 1 historical building, Lo Pan Temple was erected in 1884 by the Contractor Guild, way before Li Po Lung laid hands on the area. The temple construction was supported by 1172 donors, mostly contractors and builders from all over Guangdong (Canton) and Hong Kong. The temple is the city’s only religious establishment solely dedicated to Lo Pan, the patron saint for all Chinese contractors and builders. Lo Pan (魯班) or Lu Ban in Mandarin, was a renowned structural engineer, inventor, carpenter, builder and craftsman in the Spring and Autumn Period in China. During his lifetime, (507 – 444 BC), Lo Pan was responsible for inventing a variety of tools from the saw and prototype of a kite, to military tools and seige ladder used in warfare. Lo Pan was considered to be the master of all craftsmen in the Chinese culture, and has become a deity and patron saint for all contractors.

Maintained by a very old temple keeper “Uncle Fun” (芬叔) in his late 90s, Lo Pan Temple (魯班先師廟) is a remnant from a distinct past, a time when traditional values in the three general construction trades (三行), namely carpentry, cement work, and paint work, were strong. In the old days, paying respect to Lo Pan was a common routine to start the day for all contractors. They would celebrate Lo Pan’s birthday, on the 23rd of June in the Lunar Calendar, with heart beating drums and dragon dances, and share a big pot of “Lo Pan meal” (魯班飯). It was the contractors’ respect to the Lo Pan heritage that has sustained the temple to the present day. Even “Uncle Fun” is serving his temple keeping responsibility out of appreciation for his former patron saint, after a 60-year career in the paint trade until retirement at 80. Working together with architectural conservationist and master carpenter Wong Hung Keung (王鴻強), Uncle “Fun” was also involved in the temple’s major renovation in 2007, repairing structural damages and restoring some of the magnificent wall paintings, stone carvings, and clay sculptures that make Lo Pan Temple one of the most precious architectural gem in Hong Kong.

In this photo, the Seven Terraces of Sai Wan would be constructed somewhere on the slope at the right hand side behind the slaughterhouses, about three decades after this photo was taken. [City Of Victoria Hong Kong. Slaughter Houses & Pig & Sheep Depôts, 1894. National Archives UK Catalogue Ref: Part of CO 1069/446, Colonial Office Photographic Collection.]
The stair at the end of Sand Street is the main access to the seven terraces from Kennedy Town. [2020]
The locals’ touch to enhance the pedestrian experience expresses a sense of belonging of a close-knitted community. [Sands Street staircase, 2022]
Tai Pak Terrace, site of the former amusement park, maintains its simplicity and tranquility despite the rapid changes of adjacent streets in the past decade. [2022]
The retaining wall of Tai Pak Terrace is itself a piece of historical relic. [2020]
Further up Sands Street would bring us to Ching Lin Terrace, where Lo Pan Temple is located. [2020]
Lo Pan Temple and Ching Lin Terrace can also be reached via the stepped Li Po Lung Path. [2022]
Even the old style street sign of Ching Lin Terrace has become a rarity nowadays. [2022]
Further uphill, Ching Lin Terrace does feel a little farther away from the bustling activities of Kennedy Town. [2020]
Tuck away at the end of Ching Lin Terrace is the small but precious Lo Pan Temple. [2022]
With 26 wall paintings, Lo Pan Temple is home to the largest collection of traditional murals on Hong Kong Island. [2022]
From wall murals, wood carvings to clay sculptures, every detail of Lo Pan Temple is worth every penny and effort to preserve. [2022]
The exquisitely decorated ridge on the roof is centred with the treasure ball. [2022]
Given the fading practice of traditions among the younger generation, the temple is seeing less and less worshipers each year. [2022]
Given the pace of urban transformations in Hong Kong, every precious temple details being preserved is a small victory on its own. The edge of the roof is decorated with the sun and moon deities, with the left side being the Goddess of Moon Chang Er (嫦娥). [2022]
The last major renovation of Lo Pan Temple happened in 2007. [2022]
With great volunteer efforts by architectural conservationist Wong Hung Keung (王鴻強) and temple keeper Uncle Fun, the 2007 renovation successfully restore a number of damages of the old structure. Avoid using contemporary materials as replacement is an essential principle for heritage conservation. Wong went as far as burning his own bricks and making his own grey mortar to match the original ones used in the 19th century. [2020]
The characters “craft lasting ten thousand generations” (巧傳萬世) is written with 99.9% real gold leaf on an wooden plaque. [2022]
Due to the dark interior, many visitors may not realize the upper murals near the ceiling. [2022]
The richly detailed clay sculpture is not common in buildings on Hong Kong Island, making the Lo Pan Temple highly precious. [2022]
Other than clay sculpture, the temple also has beautiful wood carvings. [2022]
The bell in the temple is dated to the 14th year of Emperor Guangxu (光緒), 1888. [2022]
The delicate altar is another piece of precious gem. [2020]
From To Li Terrace (桃李臺), one terrace above Ching Lin Terrace, the temple roof can be conveniently appreciated. The jagged rood and elaborated parapet walls are another unique features of the historical building. [2020]
The back ridge on the roof is also decorated with beautiful sculpture, including two dragons fighting for a treasure ball. [2022]