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