Ellis and I had such a pleasant time last week being tourists in Hong Kong that we’ve decided to give ourselves one day a week off and make it a habit; rather than spending the day in bed or in front of the TV, Mondays will henceforth be reserved for sightseeing. And what better place to start than Kowloon, a part of town I know about as well as I know Timbuktu? Despite the fact that, by almost every measure- land mass, population, etc., – Kowloon is Hong Kong, it’s got the same rep as Brooklyn did for Manhattan folks about twenty years ago: suburbia, bridge and tunnel, the hinterland, huh? where? A lot of it is just your garden variety city / island mentality, some of it is well earned, but, venture beyond the tourist ghetto of Tsim Sha Tsui, and you’ll find that a lot it is simply silly, as you would expect in a neighnorhood with the population of California. For starters, because the old airport was there, building heights were kept in check until recently. And then I suppose because there’s more room to expand than on Hong Kong Island, there’s a surprising number of lovely old buildings left hanging around. I won’t remark on the renovation of the old Kowloon Police Station beyond asking if Hong Kong really needed another shopping mall (even though I know the answer to that question is always a resolute YES!) That, the clock tower and the Peninsula are the most famous relics of old Hong Kong, but coming in not too far behind must be St. Andrew’s Church on Nathan Road. Built in 1903, it’s not exactly an antiquity, and it’s not exactly a Notre Dame or St. Mark’s either, but still there is something wonderfully serene about this simple little church and the old English school of the same name next door, sitting almost completely buried among the towers and traffic of Nathan Road.
A bit further down the road in Yau Ma Tei, the Tin Hau Temple is a bit older and busier than St. Andrew’s. It’s been expanded considerably since it lost it’s waterfront view (not the only Tin Hau temple in the city to meet that fate), and now plays host to a lively scene of elderly Chinese painting, doing Tai Chi, or just simply sitting around.
The real reason we trekked out to Yau Ma Tei, though, wasn’t to visit churches and temples, it was to eat at the legendary Mido Cafe, which Brandice wrote about in the j. a. daye Guide to Hong Kong. Overlooking the Tin Hau Temple, this graceful old building with its large, airy dining room is all the argument needed for a more robust preservation strategy in Hong Kong. The food- egg sandwiches, french toast, stir fried meats and vegetables, simple curries served with big bottles of San Miguel, or, more probably, milk tea- is basic Cantonese comfort food; the real draw is definitely the building, the lovely view of the temple, the old tiles and wobbly tables, a feeling of authenticity and continuity which is not easy to come by in this city.
There’s not too much else to do in Yau Ma Tei. You can check out the bookshop Kubrick’s next to the Broadway Cinemateque, the closest Hong Kong gets to an arthouse theatre; they’ve got a DVD lending library for members, an espresso machine, and some pretty interesting English language titles buried among the stacks of Chinese books. There are some old market buildings and of course the dreadful Temple Street and Jade Markets, but by and large Yau Ma Tei is a working class residential neighborhood. Mongkok, a crazy dense neighborhood not too far from Yau Ma Tei, is full of markets, food stalls and teenagers, as well as many fine examples of tropical modernist architecture, especially around Kadoorie Avenue, a pleasant hill of posh houses above the Prince Edward Flower Market- also worth a visit at any other time of year besides now, when it is completely given over to the orange trees tossed around like Halloween Candy at the Lunar New Year.
Despite all the lovely buildings and fonts, though, at the end of the day, one’s only too happy to hop the MTR back to Hong Kong Island for a cozy dinner in an alleyway off Gough Street- it is “the city” after all…
Hu Zi is the pinyin spelling of the Chinese word for Moustache. It’s also my new Tumblr blog / Moustache mood board. I’m trying to get Ellis and Brandice to post to it as well, so hopefully you can look forward to more frequent entries than I make on this blog. IN any case, since it’s just pictures, I think it’s safe to say you can… I’m happy to take submissions too!