North of Queen’s Road East (皇后大道東), Stone Nullah Lane (石水渠街) continues to head north until it hits Johnston Road (莊士敦道), one of the main road in Wan Chai where the tram passes back and forth. This section of Stone Nullah Lane forms the main north-south artery of the outdoor market network that extends to Cross Street (交加街) and Tai Yuen Street (太原街) to the west, and to Wanchai Road (灣仔道) and the historical Streamline Moderne Wan Chai Market Block to the east. In 1990’s, a section of Stone Nullah Lane was erased from the map of Wan Chai in 1990’s. Part of where the outdoor market of Stone Nullah Lane once stood has been roofed over and transformed into an indoor market, above which erected the Zenith (尚翹峰), three 40+ storey residential towers that signified the arrival of a new Wan Chai, an affluent neighbourhood catered for expats and young professionals. Soon after, the 1930’s Streamline Moderne historical market was also taken back by the government and became another real estate development known as One Wanchai. Despite the dramatic changes to the area and occasional threats from the government’s Urban Renewal Authority (URA) and real estate developers, the outdoor market at Tai Yuen Street and Cross Street somehow manage to survive, while the wet market of Wanchai Road continues to go strong. Years have passed. This 90 year old market network has become a unique feature of Wan Chai, attracting both tourists and the local community to enjoy a part of the old Wan Chai.
A decade or so ago, a community interest group did a survey of the outdoor market of Tai Yuen Street and Cross Street. Back then, they found that the average age of the market stalls was 35 years old: 1 stall even has a 70 year old history, 2 with 60 years, 9 with 50 years, 7 with 40 years, 10 with 30 years, 9 with 20 years. It is obvious that many stall owners have been in business for over a generation after the war. These stores and their owners are essentially living memories of the community. When Tai Yuen Street is mentioned, many Hongkongers would immediately associate with toy stores. Still regarded as the official street of toy stores on Hong Kong Island, the remaining toy merchants at Tai Yuen Street remind visitors of the 1970’s and 1980’s, when Hong Kong was the largest toy manufacturer and exporter in the world. Instead of toys, we often come to the wet market at Wan Chai Road and Cross Street for local produces, chicken from New Territories, shellfishes, hand sliced beef, and dried herbs for Chinese soup. We love the vibrancy and diversity of Wan Chai Market, as well as its convenient location from Downtown Hong Kong.
During my short stay at the oasis, the people left me with the most lasting impression were the Siwan children. No matter how hot during the day, I could still find these kids outside their homes having fun. I often stopped my bicycle and asked these kids for directions. Some would point me towards the right direction, while others might introduce me to their friends from next door or show me their self-made toys. Sometimes I would ask if I could take a photo of them, and just holding my camera towards them would make them laugh for a long long time. It was June 2006, when Siwa was still a relatively unknown travel destination except for backpackers, and the world was far less connected before the emergence of iPhone and Instagram. The kids belonged to a much simpler world back then. It is interesting to look back at their photos. For me, they represent some of the warmest memories of my Egyptian experience.