When I was ‘researching’ some potential Hong Kong suburbs before I left Sydney, I got excited about one called Tai Hang. I read that this was where the famous Haw Par Mansion was located, built in 1935 by the family who developed Tiger Balm.
Exotic mansion aside, I’d also heard that Tai Hang was an interesting albeit small neighbourhood west of Central that was worth a squizz.
So off I set off this week to our fourth and final Hong Kong hood, excited to see the mansion. No go. All locked up with scary female guards hanging around.
To make up for it, the universe offered me another architectural gem in Tai Hang. A public housing estate called Lai Tak Tsuen, built in 1975 and unusual because it’s round. Guggenheim-ish type of round.
But I’m jumping ahead. Before all that happened there was Chinese New Year. Let’s go Tai Hang…
Part 1: Kung Hei Fat Choi
Biggest event all year in these parts and surely the smokiest. I feel like I’ve inhaled a pack of cigarettes this week with all the incense and paper offerings being burnt around the place.
But before the temple visits kicked off on Monday, we caught the tail end of the spending frenzy at Victoria Park, just around the corner from Tai Hang.
When Monday rolled around it was time for all of Hong Kong to head to both temple and family, bearing gifts in red paper curiously adorned with a Hello Kitty motif. Tai Hang’s temple, Lin Fa, was all go.
Part 2: Tai Hang’s foodie side
Tai Hang is amazingly tranquil and calm considering it’s only minutes away from chaotic, crowded Causeway Bay. And it has an interesting mix of car/motorbike mechanics and local restaurants. I have no idea why but there you go. At least you can get a good feed while you’re waiting for your vehicle to be serviced.
Part 3: Lai Tak Tsuen
As I already said, I was after 1935 Renaissance style mansion and instead I got 1975 public housing estate. But Lai Tak Tsuen ain’t no characterless slab of concrete. Two of the three buildings are a bicyclindrical design – two cylinders stuck together essentially. I was completely captivated by the curvy structures, so much so that I snuck in with Coco when the guard wasn’t looking to explore. For once my risk-adverse child entered into the spirit of adventure and tip-toed around with me while I snapped.
And for what it’s worth, this is what I saw of Haw Par Mansion. Better than nout I guess.
People talk about Tai Hang’s appeal as being a quirky little corner of Hong Kong with a handful of good restaurants, both old style and ‘now’, interspersed with greasy old mechanic shops. But what I really enjoyed was spiraling up the inner core of a public housing estate, imagining what its residents were like by examining the little bits and pieces on display. It was a fitting way to end our stay in this enigmatic city, a city that pretends to put it all out there but in reality, hides so much away.
On the ‘home’ front
Coco and I just want to say a huge thanks to our friends in Hong Kong, Dennis and Anna, for their input and friendship over the past four weeks. And to the wonderful Nurul, for holding Coco’s hand tight and saving her from endless hours out ‘blogging’ with boring old mum. You guys were awesome.
This suburb has been brought to you by Gavin Blue
See you next week – in New Delhi!