4

Tai Hang

intro Tai Hang

 

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.

 

flowers under scrutiny

flowers under scrutiny

 

 

 

oh no Mr Dragon, don't hurt me!

oh no Mr Dragon, don't hurt me!

 

 

 

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.

 

smokin' :: 1

smokin' :: 1

 

 

 

smokin' :: 2

smokin' :: 2

 

 

 

smokin' :: 3

smokin' :: 3

 

 

 

it's a serious business

it's a serious business

 

 

 

the offerings

the offerings

 

 

 

no thanks, I couldn't possibly eat another cookie

no thanks, I couldn't possibly eat another cookie

 

 

 

the Goddess of Mercy and er, Barry

the Goddess of Mercy and er, Barry

 

 

 

God of wealth

God of wealth

 

 

 

Santa like

Santa like

 

 

 

school's out for Chinese New Year

school's out for Chinese New Year

 

 

 

but can a dragon ever be truly happy

but can a dragon ever be truly happy?

 

 

 

Chinese New Year it may be but PJs still need washing

Chinese New Year it may be but PJs still need washing

 

 

 

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.

 

the mechanic and the cafe

the mechanic and the cafe

 

 

 

pray, eat

pray, eat

 

 

 

floating fish

floating fish

 

 

 

meat and rice

meat and rice

 

 

 

I pray that the food is gluten-free

I pray that the food is gluten-free

 

 

 

and purple

and purple

 

 

 

new kid on the block

new kid on the block

 

 

 

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.

 

home sweet home :: 1

home sweet home :: 1

 

 

 

home sweet home :: 2

home sweet home :: 2

 

 

 

Ground floor

Ground floor

 

 

 

so 70s

so 70s

 

 

 

cards at my place tonight okay?

cards at my place tonight okay?

 

 

 

I'm seeing circles everywhere I look

I'm seeing circles everywhere I look

 

 

 

tropical yet cold and wet

tropical yet cold and wet

 

 

 

lonely no more

lonely no more

 

 

 

yay, we're on the top floor

yay, we're on the top floor

 

 

 

view from 26

view from 26

 

 

 

and especially no throwing globes off the roof okay kids

and especially no throwing globes off the roof okay kids

 

 

 

but they see green :: 1

but they see green :: 1

 

 

 

but they see green :: 2

but they see green :: 2

 

 

 

pink

pink

 

 

 

I wonder if Roger the cleaner guy lives here

I wonder if Roger the cleaner guy lives here

 

 

 

Guggenheim-ish

Guggenheim-ish

 

 

 

And for what it’s worth, this is what I saw of Haw Par Mansion. Better than nout I guess.

 

glorious decay

glorious decay

 

 

 

The Wrap

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.

 

Coco on 18

Coco on 18

 

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!

 

 

3

Sheung Wan

SW intro

 

Having ventured north in week one and south-ish in week two, I thought we’d head west to Sheung Wan for suburb No 3. I also chose it because it’s our local hood and feeling less than 100% recently, I didn’t want to roam far.

A lightening quick lesson on Sheung Wan before we set off. Located on Hong Kong Island, between Central and Sai Ying Pun. Name means either Upper or Gateway District; the latter would make sense considering Sheung Wan is where the British stabbed the Union Jack in the ground and declared Hong Kong their own.

But that was way back in 1842. What’s the place like in 2012? Glad you asked…

 

Part 1: Sassy Sheung Wan

If Sham Shui Po was a nice old man and Cheung Chau a gentle aunty, I reckon Sheung Wan is your glamour girl. Smart glamour girl that is, striding confidently forward into the modern age with a respect for the past and an understanding of both East and West. This is where cool cafes and chichi art galleries rub shoulders with temples, markets and lots of dried stuff in jars.

 

a great leap forward

a great leap forward

 

 

 

A line

A line

 

 

 

light and sound

light and sound

 

 

 

preferably delivered to my door

preferably delivered to my door

 

 

 

west east

West East

 

 

 

chic

c'est vrai

 

 

 

pretty boy

pretty boy

 

 

 

look left, look right, look left and right again

look left, look right, look left and right again

 

 

 

mieow

mieow

 

 

 

shooting hoops

shooting hoops

 

 

 

Have you noticed how much yellow, red and green there are in the images by the way? It hit me this week how so much of everything is one or more of those colours and now I see them everywhere. Yellow is earth, red, fire and green, wood. Three of the Five Elements that Chinese hold so dear.

 

everything's yellow, green and red, from the sacred to the sorted

everything's yellow, green and red, from the sacred to the sorted

 

 

 

even oil drums are red and green

even oil drums are red and green

 

 

 

Part 2: Old Sheung Wan – the faces

Forward looking and fast changing it may be, but Sheung Wan is still very ‘old Hong Kong’ in many ways. From the people who’ve worked and lived here forever to the buildings that house them.

 

the street vendor

the street vendor

 

 

 

the printer

the printer

 

 

 

moveable type

moveable type

 

 

 

the cook...

the cook...

 

 

 

and his customers

and his customers

 

 

 

the barber

the barber

 

 

 

Part 3: Old Sheung Wan – the places

Lower Sheung Wan, near the MTR, hustles and bustles with great gusto. But heading away from the harbour, climbing up the mountain, the neighbourhood calms down. This is especially true around the old terraces (as in large landings not buildings). With no cars and large outside communal areas, they are literally a breath of fresh air. Helpful on washing day in particular.

 

drying machine

drying machine :: 1

 

 

 

drying machine :: 2

drying machine :: 2

 

 

 

(By the way, have you tweaked that something is a little different with the above two images? I got my hands on a tilt shift lens for the first time, just to borrow. Tricky little gadget that allows you to play with focus, softening it where you couldn’t with a normal lens. In the image below, for example, the ledge over the window is strangely soft. Like?)

 

metal windows

metal windows

 

 

 

Anyway, two terraces really caught my eye. The first is Wing Lee Street where a row of dilapidated tenement buildings from the 1960s was set to be demolished until a film made them famous; the government has backed off for now but as far as I could gather, the future of the dear old things is still in question. Funny thing is, just around the corner a couple of very similar buildings look in much better shape and are obviously well cared for. Here’s hoping their neighbours follow suit.

 

Wing Lee Street

Wing Lee Street

 

 

 

neglected

neglected

 

 

 

nurtured

nurtured

 

 

 

this could be...

this could be...

 

 

 

this

this

 

 

 

The other terrace that I found interesting is Tai On Terrace. In one short street you can see Sheung Wan’s past and future.

 

what does this have in common with...

what does this have in common with...

 

 

 

this?

this?

 

 

 

they're neighbours

they're neighbours

 

 

The old carpenter’s shop and the funky new design agency. It is sad to think that the carpenter will one day be pushed out – but at least they’re not knocking the whole street down and putting up some ugly, obnoxious tower. Not yet anyway.

Not a terrace but a shop on Jervois Street in lower Sheung Wan, Yuen Kut Lam, also caught my eye. A beautiful, almost century old shop that sells herbs and medicinal teas. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I stumbled upon it. 

 

Yuen Kut Lam

Yuen Kut Lam

 

 

 

100 years of herbs

100 years of herbs

 

 

 

film star looks

film star looks

 

 

 

a remnant of older Hong Kong

a remnant of older Hong Kong

 

 

 

Part 4: Another New Year

Come this time next week, Chinese New Year will have come and gone. But right now, it’s all go. Every self-respecting Chinese is busy choosing their kumquat or peach blossom tree and buying decorations, food and sweets for the big day. To me it feels like Christmas all over again, minus the reindeer.

 

like Christmas but not :: 1

like Christmas but not :: 1

 

 

 

like Christmas but not :: 2

like Christmas but not :: 2

 

 

 

like Christmas but not :: 3

like Christmas but not :: 3

 

 

 

only peach blossoms may park here

only peach blossoms may park here

 

 

 

wall to wall kumquats

wall to wall kumquats

 

 

 

it's their time to shine

it's their time to shine

 

 

 

flower shops are at full tilt

flower shops are at full tilt

 

 

 

stocking up on sweeties

stocking up on sweeties

 

 

 

get me home

get me home

 

 

 

Aside from organising one’s bits and pieces, there are temples to visit and gods to worship. In Sheung Wan there are a couple of beauties, including the very old and original Man Mo Temple.

 

quick, to the temple to pay our respects, and don't forget the oranges

quick, to the temple to pay our respects, and don't forget the oranges

 

 

 

Part 5: Eat street

Aside from a handful of modern cafes aimed largely at the western market, Sheung Wan is filled to the brim with zillions of tiny eateries serving local fare. And although 7-11s have sprouted up everywhere, there are still enough corner shop types to make the neighbourhood seem, well, neighbourly.

 

eat and be merry

eat and be merry

 

 

 

staples of the Chinese diet, fish and rice

staples of the Chinese diet, rice and fish

 

 

 

mmm, dried fish

mmm, dried fish

 

 

 

the corner store

the corner store

 

 

 

fruity

fruity

 

 

 

On one day I hung around the corner store and the ‘fruity’ place for a good hour experimenting with the tilt shift lens. I don’t know what was more entertaining, the Rubik’s Cube nature of the lens or the constant stream of bodies rushing past me; Hong Kong is a busy place. Busy I tell you.

 

busy

busy

 

 

 

coming and going

coming and going

 

 

 

dreaming

dreaming

 

 

 

The Wrap

There seems to me to be two very different Sheung Wans. The one further up the hill, above Hollywood Road, is relaxed and aside from the temples, seems quite western and modern. Whereas the Sheung Wan that’s below Hollywood Road, closer to the MTR, moves at full pelt and feels more Chinese and old style. Might explain why the place has really grown on me these past few weeks; depending on what you feel like, East or West, slow or fast, modern or traditional, you can swap between the different worlds just by crossing a road.

 

enjoying herself before 'school' starts

Coco, enjoying herself before 'school' starts

 

On the ‘home’ front

Thanks to everyone who wished Coco and I a speedy recovery. We’re back to normal more or less, save for a paranoia about air quality that’s fueled (excuse the pun) every morning with yet more news about how bad the situation is here. I spit the dummy regularly and find a good rant at belching exhaust pipes to be helpful. Coco meanwhile just slaps on her kiddy surgical mask and gets on with it. Such wisdom in one so small.

Introducing a new element to the weekly post – something I completely forgot to do in the first two weeks – where I thank a different supporter of the project each week, like so…

This suburb has been brought to you by Jacquelyn Nolan

See you next week, our last one in Hong Kong before we hit Delhi. (Yes, I know, not exactly the home of fresh air either. Yikes.)

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