ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Temple

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]

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]

TEMPLE • SCHOOL • RESIDENCE • DESIGN CENTRE – REINCARNATION OF THE PMQ (元創方), Sheung Wan (上環), Hong Kong

Between Sheung Wan and Central lies a tranquil stepped alleyway known as Shing Wong Street (城皇街). In Chinese tradition, “Shing Wong” is the guardian deity of city wall, or in a broader sense, the patron saint of the neighbourhood. Shing Wong Street reminds us that there was once a Shing Wong Temple (城皇廟) stood at the site bounded by Shing Wong Street (城皇街), Staunton Street (士丹頓街), Aberdeen Street (鴨巴甸街), and Hollywood Road (荷李活道), a relatively large plot of land in the old Victoria City. Probably built in 1843 or earlier, some consider the former Shing Wong Temple the oldest temple in colonial Hong Kong. Its importance was soon overtaken by Man Mo Temple (文武廟) further down Hollywood Road. In 1870’s, Shing Wong Temple was temporarily converted into a mental health asylum. And then in the 1880’s the government bought the temple and redeveloped it into the new campus of Central School (中央書院), the city’s first upper primary and secondary school to provide modern education. The school was later renamed as Victoria College (維多利亞書院) in 1889 and later the Queen’s College (皇仁書院). Merchant tycoon Sir Robert Ho Tung, and Sun Yatsen, the Father of Modern China were some of the well known graduates from the college’s early years. The Neo-Classical college building was one of the most expensive construction projects in 19th century Hong Kong.

For half a century the splendid Queen’s College building stood proudly in Upper Sheung Wan, until 1941 when the school was forced to close down due to WWII. The building suffered devastating destruction during the war and became nothing more than ruins and rubble when the city was liberated from Japanese occupation. In 1948, the ruins were cleared to make way for a new era. In 1951, a functionalist building was erected for a completely different purpose: residential compound for the police force. Sitting on four levels of platforms, the Police Married Quarters offered about 170 dwelling units. The functionalist compound served its intended purpose for another half a century, until the last residents moved out in 2000. Subsequently the government rezoned the site for private residential development. The heritage site was at risk to be lost forever.

“Save the Trees” was the first slogan local resident Katty Law put up in 2005 to protest against the felling of the Hollywood Road “stone wall trees” of the Police Married Quarters. Among a few other residents from the local neighborhood, Law found a NGO known as Central and Western Concern Group (中西區關注組). The neighborhood group successfully persuaded the government to consider removing the site from residential redevelopment and engaging in archaeological examination of the site. The government agreed to study the site. This eventually led to discovering the historical foundation of the former Queen’s College. In 2009, the government finally announced preserving the former Police Married Quarters and revitalizing it into a hub for art and design that is known as PMQ today. In 2014, the PMQ reincarnated one more time. A glass canopy was constructed over the central court, where public events would now be held. The former residential units were retrofitted into studio spaces for selective tenants including designers, artists, galleries, fashion designers, jewellery designers, lifestyle shops, vintage stores, cultural institutions, cafes, bakeries, and restaurants. A new hub for tourists and art lovers has been reborn upon the legacies of a temple, school and police residence.

The name Shing Wong Street (城皇街) is the only reminder of the former Shing Wong Temple that once occupied the site of the PMQ in the mid-19th century. [Shing Wong Street as seen from the side platform of the PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Retaining walls surrounding the PMQ date back to the era of the former Queen’s College. [Stone wall trees at PMQ’s retaining wall along Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Protecting the stone wall trees on the retaining wall along Hollywood Road was the spark that inspired Katty Law to found Central and Western Concern Group, a NGO that focuses on protecting the neighbourhood heritage of Central and Western District. PMQ’s retaining wall is the most obvious remnant from the era of the former Queen’s College. [Stone wall trees on PMQ’s retaining wall along Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Bounded by Hollywood Road, Aberdeen Street, Shing Wong Street and Staunton Street, the former Queen’s College was one of the most important construction project in the city during the 1880’s. [Queen’s College along Hollywood Road with the sloped Aberdeen Street on the left, photograph by Arnold Wright, 1908, Public Domain]
A block further uphill from Hollywood Road, the PMQ is also accessible from Staunton Street in SOHO. The functionalist architecture from 1951 reflects a pragmatic and efficient living culture in the postwar era. [PMQ along Staunton Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In contrast to the functionalist approach of the PMQ, the Neo-Classical architecture of the former Queen’s College (also named Victoria College) represented a distant era of the bygone Victoria City. [Junction of Staunton and Shing Wong Street, photograph published by Robert Crisp Hurley in 1897. Image courtesy of “Sixty Diamond Jubilee Pictures of Hong Kong”, University of Bristol (www.hpcbristol.net). (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0)]
To deal with the change of levels of the site, the PMQ is situated on a series of platforms defined by stone retaining walls. [The terracing PMQ complex as seen from Aberdeen Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Built in 1918, the underground public toilet at the junction of Aberdeen and Staunton Street was the only female underground public toilet in Hong Kong. Listed as an historical building, the facility is no longer in use. [Junction of Aberdeen and Staunton Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Serving as the main entrance and event space, the courtyard of the PMQ is accessible from the sloped Aberdeen Street. [The PMQ as seen from Aberdeen Street, Sheung Wan, 2019]
Before the Covid 19 pandemic, the PMQ courtyard often hosts large scale art installations, outdoor exhibitions or handicraft market. Inspired by the Chinese proverb “MAKE HAPPY THOSE WHO ARE NEAR AND THOSE WHO ARE FAR WILL COME,” the Gather for Gifts of Love Pavilion by British designer Morag Myerscough defined the entrance of the 2019 Christmas Bazaar. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2019]
During the Covid 19 pandemic, Littleurbanmountain Design (小市山設計) kept their rotating Christmas Trees in a “social distancing arrangement”. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Often, the courtyard features an introductory display for the main exhibit housed in the Qube exhibition block on the 2nd floor behind the courtyard. [Installation of the Hanzi Exhibition (漢字展), PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2018]
Under the glass canopy, large installation can reach up to about four storey high. Kaws, a famous American artist and designer, captured everyone’s attention with his enormous Mickey Mouse like clown figures in 2019. KAWS: Along the Way [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2019]
Further into the courtyard, two columns are enhanced with mosaic artwork by French street artist Invader and figure wall painting by local artist Little Thunder (門小雷). [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Historical foundations of the former Queen’s College can be visited by tour. Visitors can also have a peek of the foundations from the glass floor at the courtyard. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The cover area of the courtyard often hosts handicraft markets or live performances. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Chairs designed by Prouve, Wegner, Eames, etc. are on display near the main courtyard. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
One level lower than the courtyard, the former Central Junior Police Call Clubhouse is now home to a fancy French restaurant managed by renowned Chef Julien Royer. [Central Junior Police Call Clubhouse, PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The recreational clubhouse of the former residence was converted into the Hollywood Road Police Primary School in the 1950’s, and then into the Central Junior Police Call Clubhouse in 1981. [Louise restaurant, PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Several cool looking concrete seats are placed on the lower platform of PMQ. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The stone retaining wall and its adjacent granite steps at the lower platform have been around since 1889. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Step art has been popular with selfies of visitors. The event “Hong Kong on Steps: Tales of Our City” regularly transform the 20 or so staircases into painting canvases. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
A handful of new features have been added during the conversion of PMQ into a public building, including signage. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Above the Qube exhibition block, a lush green roof garden on the 4th floor offers a pleasant resting area for visitors. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2014]
After a few years, a number of shop have moved out, complaining the lack of visitors at PMQ during weekdays. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Snacks and drinks are always the most popular way to engage visitors during festivals and events. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2018]
Striking the balance between an NGO and a retail complex has proven to be difficult. Many shops continues to seek for the right business model. Handicraft workshops or children art classes are some of the most popular way for the tenants to generate income. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Many old features, including the window frames and handles, are carefully preserved at PMQ. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2014]
We regularly go to Levain Bakery for their artisan sourdough bread. Sometimes, we would sit down at their balcony for breakfast. [Levain Bakery, PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
SOHOFAMA promotes healthy eating and happy living, emphasizing on chemical-free, and local organic food. [PMQ at Staunton Street, Sheung Wan, 2014]
Sake Central has everything about sake, from the handmade cups to the sake products from all over Japan. [PMQ at Staunton Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]

HERITAGE VOGUE OF HOLLYWOOD ROAD (荷李活道), Central – Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

For two years in a row in 2017 and 2018, part of Hollywood Road in Old Central was closed off to host an one-day street carnival known “Heritage Vogue • Hollywood Road”. Live performances, activity booths, and temporary displays were set up to promote heritage preservation in Hong Kong. Being the second oldest street in the city and home to a range of heritage buildings, Hollywood Road in Central and Sheung Wan offers the perfect venue for such an event. In fact, Hollywood Road has long been an urban magnet for all history buffs and foreign tourists. Completed in 1844, Hollywood Road in Central – Sheung Wan was the vital connection linking the military barracks at Possession Point and the city centre in Central during the early colonial times. Today, it passes by some of Hong Kong’s most well known attractions and heritage buildings: Hollywood Park (荷李活道公園), Lascar Row antique market (摩羅街), Man Mo Temple (文武廟), Former Police Married Quarters PMQ (元創方), and Former Central Police Station Tai Kwun (大館), and also popular areas including the foodie paradise of NOHO, the entertainment Mecca of SOHO, and the vibrant Graham Street Market (嘉咸街市). To the disappointment of some people, Hollywood Road has nothing to do with the Hollywood in LA. Instead, there are two main theories behind the street’s naming. First, some say there were once holly trees, also known as Christmas berries, planted along the road. However, historical accounts dispute that holly trees were actually imported to Hong Kong years after the road was built and named. One type of holly tree (冬青) were actually widely planted in the Tai Ping Shan area as a type of Chinese medicine when Western medicine has yet being widely accepted by the people in Hong Kong. The second theory refers to the Hollywood House in Henbury, which was the former residence of John Francis Davis, the second governor (1844 – 1848) of colonial Hong Kong.

For decades, visitors coming to Hollywood Road would notice the abundance of antique shops and art galleries. Before massive land reclamation took place over a century ago, Hollywood Road was not far from the waterfront. Traders, sailors and smugglers would bring their overseas merchandises to sell at Hollywood Road. Gradually, Hollywood Road has become a vibrant marketplace for trading all sorts of curios and antiques from China and around the world. Today these antique shops and galleries continue to attract tourists from all over the world. The former Police Married Quarter, a listed modernist building, was preserved, renovated and opened to the public in 2014 as a mixed use art and design compound known as the PMQ. The project has brought new life into the historical street. In 2018, the long awaited Tai Kwun, or the former Central Police Station Compound also opened its doors to the public. Took 8 years and HKD 3.8 billion to complete, Tai Kwun is the most extensive conservation and revitalization project in Hong Kong. World renowned architect Herzog & de Meuron was involved in the master planning and architectural design of Tai Kwun, transforming the former police compound into a welcoming heritage and art centre. The completion of Tai Kwun and PMQ have dramatically transformed the cultural scenery of Hollywood Road, consolidating Hollywood Road as a primary tourist attraction in Hong Kong.

During the “Heritage Vogue • Hollywood Road” event, Hollywood Road was closed off between Tai Kwun and PMQ to host the street carnival. Live performances, activities booths, and temporary displays were set up to promote heritage preservation in Hong Kong. [Tai Kwun at Hollywood Road, Central, 4th November 2018]
The carnival was a rare opportunity in Hong Kong to promote heritage preservation through a large scale public event. [Junction of Lyndhurst Terrace and Hollywood Road, Central, 4th November 2018]
Passing by a number of heritage buildings, temples, and antique markets, the 1km Hollywood Road is a popular historical trail among tourists.
Trippen, a German shoemaker that we love, marks the intersection of Hollywood Road and Queen’s Street Central. The emergence of Trippen several years ago signaled a change of identity for Hollywood Road from traditional to modern and hip. [Junction of Hollywood Road and Queen’s Street Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In the recent ten fifteen years, restaurants, pubs and art galleries have taken over some of the old retail spaces along Hollywood Road. While 208 Duecento Otto serves Neapolitan pizza and other Italian culinary delights on Hollywood Road. The adjacent Chachawan, on the other hand, offers dishes from Thailand’s Northeast Isaan Region. [208 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Since 2008, art gallery Contemporary by Angela Li has been an active player in the art scene in Hong Kong, curating exciting exhibitions in Sheung Wan. [Shop window displaying an installation from The Lost Time Travel Machine, an exhibition by artist Angela Yuen at Contemporary by Angela Li, Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In the past, Hollywood Road Park (荷李活道公園) was named as Possession Point. This was where the Royal Navy landed and raised a British flag on Hong Kong Island before signing the Treaty of Nanjing in 1841. It was also the site of a former Dai tat dei (大笪地), a night bazaar with affordable eateries, stall vendors and street performers. [Hollywood Road Park, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Possession Point in the 19th century. [CC BY_NC_ND 4.0, Photograph by Robert Crisp Hurley. Image courtesy of Sixty Diamond Jubilee Pictures of Hong Kong, Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol (www.hpcbristol.net)]
26 January 1841, Commodore Gordon Bremer formally took possession of Hong Kong Island. They landed at an area known as Possession Point (水坑口). Today, Possession Point is marked by Hollywood Road Park as well as Possession Street (水坑口街). [Junction of Possession Street and Queen’s Street Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The western half of Hollywood Road is the world famous antique marketplace. [Junction of Hollywood Road and Possession Street, Sheung Wan, 2020].
Each antique shop on Hollywood Road has its unique style and shopfront design. [Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Each antique shop at Hollywood Road might have its unique specialty. For example, Ever Arts Gallery is specialized in wooden furniture from the Ming and Qing Dynasty, while its neighbour focuses on old jade stones. [Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Liang Yi Museum (兩依藏博物館) hosts one of the largest furniture collection from the Ming and Qing Dynasty. [Near the Junction of Hollywood Road and Tank Lane, Sheung Wan, 2020].
Predating all antique shops on Hollywood Road, Man Mo Temple was the hub for the Chinese community during the early days of the founding of Hong Kong. [Man Mo Temple, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Especially attractive to foreign tourists, some antique shops still maintain a traditional appearance. [Friendship Trading Company (興華工藝古玩行), Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Shopfront of many antique shops appear like a treasure trove that welcomes anyone who has the patience for a treasure hunt. [True Arts and Curios (趣雅閣), Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The minimalist facade of Gallery 149 emerges as an interesting addition to the traditional cluster of antique shops on Hollywood Road. Specialized in Asian art and antiques, the gallery presents a fusion of styles between the old and new. [Gallery 149, Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Aberdeen Street marks the boundary between Central and Sheung Wan Districts. At the corner of Aberdeen Street and Hollywood Road stands a heritage building compound known as PMQ, the former Police Married Quarter. [Junction of Aberdeen Street and Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In 2014, the compound has been converted into a hub for artists and designers to exhibit and sell their creative products. [Near junction of Aberdeen Street and Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Painted figures of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra dominate the podium facade of Madera Hollywood Hotel. On the ground floor, Villepin Art Gallery bravely entered the art scene of Hong Kong during the year of the pandemic. Founded by Dominique de Villepin, France’s former Prime Minister from 2005 – 2007, and his son Arthur de Villepin, a prominent art collector, Villepin is specialized in Asian art for collectors. [Junction of Peel Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
Opened in 1948 by Lam Fong Nam, a sugar cane farmer from the countryside, Kung Lee Sugar Cane Drink (公利真料竹蔗水) has been around for over 70 years. Dated back to about 1919, the historical building where Kung Lee situates is an iconic heritage building in the area. [Junction of Peel Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
Today, Kung Lee Sugar Cane Drink is operated by the fourth generation owner, who successfully modernized the business to attract younger customers, introducing new products such as sugar cane beer, and repainting their metal gate with colourful street art. [Junction of Peel Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2017]
Apart from new products, Kung Lee Sugar Cane Drink still maintains a nostalgic ambience with decorations from its heyday. [Junction of Peel Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
Beyond PMQ towards Central, Hollywood Road has entered the entertainment area known as SOHO. The street has become livelier with more retail boutiques, pubs and restaurants. [Junction of Lyndhurst Terrace and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
Despite the changes of retail shops and facade decorations, the bend at the junction of Lyndhurst Terrace and Hollywood Road and the old fire hydrant have remained unchanged for decades. [Junction of Lyndhurst Terrace and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
Further east towards Central, the Central – Mid Levels Escalators bends up Shelley Street towards SOHO entertainment district and the Mid Levels residential area. [Junction of Central – Mid Levels Escalators and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
From the Central – Mid Levels Escalator, Hollywood Road [Junction of Central – Mid Levels Escalators and Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]
The former Central Police Station Compound, also known as Tai Kwun, marks the ending of Hollywood Road. After years of renovations, Tai Kwun opened to the public in 2018 as a art and heritage centre. It immediately became a cultural and tourist hot spot in Hong Kong. [Tai Kwun at Hollywood Road, Central, 2020]

LADDER STREETS PART 3: A NOSTALGIC JOURNEY, Tai Ping Shan (太平山), Hong Kong

Construction began in 1841, the same year of founding the city, Ladder Street is one of the oldest streets in Hong Kong. [Near the intersection of Ladder Street and Bridges Street in 1927. Various online sources.]

Out of the many ladder streets in Central and Sheung Wan (中上環), the roughly 350m Ladder Street (樓梯街) in Tai Ping Shan is the longest and one of the oldest. While “ladder street” is a general term for all pedestrian stair streets in Hong Kong, “Ladder Street” is also the name of a specific 316-steps stair street running from Caine Road (堅道) in the Mid Levels (半山) down to Queen’s Street Central (皇后大道中) in Sheung Wan. On its way, Ladder Street intersects with Bridges Street (必列者士街) and Hollywood Road (荷李活道), and several smaller pedestrian lanes. It also passes by a number of historical buildings and tourist attractions, including the Museum of Medical Sciences (香港醫學博物館), Chinese YMCA (中華基督教青年會), Man Mo Temple (文武廟) and Upper Lascar Row Antique Street Market / Cat Street Market (摩羅上街). Construction began in 1841 in the same year when the city was founded, Ladder Street is an iconic urban artefact of Hong Kong.

For many, Ladder Street is an iconic backdrop that represents a bygone Hong Kong. Throughout the years, Ladder Street has featured in uncounted films, TV shows (often involves chasing scenes), advertisements, photographs, etc. For foreigners, Ladder Street may be best known as one of the main filming locations of The World of Suzie Wong, a 1960 American/ British movie that tells the story of a American painter Robert Lomax (William Holden) falling in love with a Hong Kong prostitute Mei Ling (Nancy Kwan). For filming, the section of Ladder Street around Hollywood Road was converted into the set of Nam Kok Hotel, a fictional hotel where the two main protagonists stay hang around. The streetscapes of Ladder Street and Hollywood Road in the movie were “enriched” with extra street vendors, Chinese signage, pulled rickshaws, and lots and lots of people.

Walking down the Ladder Street to Sheung Wan Station every morning is a pleasant start to our daily routine. Away from rush hour traffic, Ladder Street offers us a moment of relaxing air before diving ourselves into the bustling dynamics of the city. Singing birds, shadows of swaying trees, rustic balustrades, old brick walls, incense smoke from Man Mo Temple, and scenes of vendors setting up their antique market stalls, every little detail of Ladder Street come together in a poetic picture. In the past two decades, many low rise tenement buildings in the area have been torn down for new apartment towers. Many vendors have retired, and old shops being replaced by new ones. No matter how much has changed, the intimate and tranquil scenery of Ladder Street remains as an icon of an old Hong Kong. Late poet Yesi (也斯), Leung Ping Kwan, in his 1990 poem Ladder Street, imagines himself on a pair of wooden clogs wandering in Ladder Street like a flaneur, mourning for the loss of the old days and yearning for a re-connection to bygone voices. Who knows, we probably would share a similar sense of loss in a few years’ time.

Ladder Street contains 316 steps running from Queen’s Road Central to Caine Road. [Sectional Diagram of Ladder Street, steps and landings are indicative only]
A small street eatery (popular with construction workers in the area) marks the top entrance of Ladder Street. [Junction of Caine Road and Ladder Street]
Decades ago, Victoria Harbour was clearly visible from the upper sections of Ladder Street. [Ladder Street between Caine Road and Caine Lane, 1954. Various online sources.]
Viewing from the same spot today, the sea is completely hidden by layers of modern buildings. [Junction of Caine Road and Ladder Street]
At night, a moody tone of yellow blankets much of the Ladder Street. [Junction of Caine Lane and Ladder Street]
The curved retaining wall between U Lam Terrace and Rosario Street remains as one of the few things that we can pick out in historical photos. [Junction of Rosario Street and Ladder Street]
Branching off from Ladder Street to Tank Lane, U Lam Terrace, a residential lane with only five apartment blocks, exemplifies a middle upper Chinese neighbourhood in the 19th century. [Junction of Tank Lane, U Lam Terrace and Rosario Street]
For 10 days in March each year, blossoms of tabebuia chrysantha would completely transform the scenery of the terrace. Native to South America, the deciduous tree was introduced to Hong Kong for aesthetic reasons. [U Lam Terrace]
Further down from U Lam Terrace is Bridges Street. In 1883, American missionary Rev. Dr. Charles Robert Hager arrived at Bridges Street in Tai Ping Shan and embarked on the Hong Kong Mission. In 1898, he bought the land at Ladder Street and Bridges Street and established the China Congregational Church. Charles Robert Hager is well known for baptizing Dr. Sun Yatsen in 1884. [Junction of Bridges Street and Ladder Street]
Linking the artsy Tai Ping Shan Street to the west and SOHO to the east, the 300m Bridges Street is frequented by tourists to check out the historical buildings in the area. [Outside Island Christian Academy on Bridges Street]
Completed in 1918, Chinese YMCA at Bridges Street was designed by American architect Harry Hussey in an attempt to integrate the style of the Chicago school with traditional Chinese features. As a result, red bricks, concrete and green glazed roof tiles were used. [Junction of Bridges Street and Ladder Street]
Currently a community centre, the building houses Hong Kong’s first indoor swimming pool and the last surviving running track made from wood. [Junction of Bridges Street and Tank Lane]
Constructed with the most modern facilities at its time, YMCA building has witnessed a century of changes in Hong Kong. Being a community hub for the locals ever since completion, Famous Chinese writer Lu Hsun once hosted a lecture at the YMCA building’s auditorium in 1927. [The cornerstone of the 1st Hong Kong YMCA was laid, 1917. University of Minnesota Libraries, Kautz Family YMCA Archives.]
Further down from Bridges Street, the upper section of Ladder Street ends at Man Mo Temple (文武廟), where Square Street makes a sharp turn out to Hollywood Road. This historic street junction featured frequently in films, including American/ British movie The World of Suzie Wong. [Junction of Square Street and Hollywood Road]
A century ago, the very same spot at the junction of Square Street and Ladder Street was home to street vendors. Looking upwards, the profile of Victoria Peak could still be seen. Today, the hill is totally hidden behind tall apartments. [Ladder Street as viewed from Square Street near Hollywood Road, with the side wall of Man Mo Temple on the left, 1920, copyright expired]
Situated at the junction of Square Street, Ladder Street and Hollywood Road, Man Mo Temple (文武廟) is one of the oldest temples in the city. Based on inscriptions on a brass bell, the temple was presumably built in 1847. [Man Mo Temple from corner of Hollywood Road and Ladder Street]
Not much has changed for Man Mo Temple in the past 150 years. But the urban context surrounding the temple has dramatically evolved. [The Joss House temple ornamented with lions and Chinese dragons, by William Pryor. Floyd, 1873. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)]
Yue Po Chai Curios Store (裕寶齋) occupies the corner of Hollywood Road and Square Street, where the filming spot of the fictional Nam Kok Hotel in The World of Suzie Wong was once located. Today, the circular shop entrance is a popular spot for Instagram selfies. [Corner of Hollywood Road and Square Street]
Another landing or two down the Ladder Street from Hollywood Road would get us to Upper Lascar Row (摩羅上街) and Circular Pathway (弓絃巷). Upper Lascar Row is a major antique market street in Hong Kong. East Indian sailors known as Lascar in the colonial era once lived in the street during the 19th century. As the Indians moved to other areas in the city, the small street was transformed into a shopping street for antiques and curios merchandises in the 1920’s. [Near junction of Upper Lascar Row and Ladder Street]
In the old days, all kinds of merchandise could be found at Upper Lascar Row. Merchandise from illegal origins were referred as “mouse goods”. Shoppers who came seeking for these goods were nicknamed “cats”. Thus Upper Lascar Row was also called Cat Street by Westerners. [Near junction of Upper Lascar Row and Tank Lane]
Hidden in the antique shops of Upper Lascar Row is June Woonamy, a bespoke tailor shop specialized in making “sleekly vintage” suits. [Junction of Upper Lascar Row and Luk Ku Road]
In the midst of old shops, Halfway Coffee has emerged as an urban magnet attracting the younger generation coming into the antique market. [Halfway Coffee’s exterior seating area in Upper Lascar Row]
Before the shops open for business, Upper Lascar Row is a peaceful venue for morning stroll. [Near junction of Upper Lascar Row and Tank Lane]
The Ladder Street landing cthat branches off to Upper Lascar Row and Circular Pathway is a popular spot to get “fai chun” (揮春), traditional calligraphy decorations used during Chinese New Year. [Junction of Upper Lascar Row, Circular Pathway and Ladder Street]
The landing of Ladder Street that branches off to Upper Lascar Row and Circular Pathway is a popular spot to get “fai chun” (揮春), traditional calligraphy decorations used during Chinese New Year. [Junction of Upper Lascar Row, Circular Pathway and Ladder Street]
As Chinese New Year is approaching, four temporary “fai chun” (揮春) booths were being set up at Ladder Street. These booths would usually last for about two weeks each year. [Junction of Upper Lascar Row, Circular Pathway and Ladder Street]
All of the fai chun writers are elderly, with the oldest being almost 96. [Near junction of Upper Lascar Row, Circular Pathway and Ladder Street]
After 316 steps, the Ladder Street reaches Queen’s Road Central, the first main street in Hong Kong. [Junction of Queen’s Road Central and Ladder Street]

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

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

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

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