On Hollywood Road

Tai Ping Shan and Macdonnell Road: A Tale of Two Cities

Posted in Uncategorized by Alex Daye on July 23, 2010

Now that we’ve decided to relocate the tailoring studio to our Aberdeen Street shop and move from our big Hollywood Road studio, we’ve been looking at old neighborhoods with new eyes, as you do. We’re very enamored with life on Hollywood Road and would like to stay as close by as possible, both so we can walk to work and also because it is one of the more interesting parts of town. Though it is a neighborhood increasingly popular with the expat set, and fancy restaurants are as common now as noodle stalls, it still feels very old Hong Kong, even if some of that is engineered for tourists and people like me.

Outside the antique shops on Cat Street

Definitely worth framing

Obviously there are certain drawbacks living on one of the city’s main drags, particularly one that’s gentrifying at such a brisk clip. Luckily, one needn’t stroll too far onto the side streets, alley ways, and terraces to find those same qualities that make life on Hollywood Road so pleasant. Tai Ping Shan Road runs parallel to Hollywood Road one level up the hill and was, during the colonial years, the dense centre of the island’s Chinese population, as the British claimed for themselves Central, the Mid-Levels and the Peak.It is still a very charming area of old low-rise buildings and temples, some of them little more than alters by the side of the road, some of them quite ancient and enfolded into housing estates and the like.

This temple, I believe, is one of the oldest in Hong Kong. The back is all that remains of the exterior, as it has been completely engulfed in the housing estate with which it is now joined

The next street up from Tai Ping Shan Road is Po Hing Fong, a lovely street sheltered by two giant banyan trees in a neighboring park. In the colonial era, the whole area around these streets was called Tai Ping Shan. Now the area is a mix of tenements, schools, parks and the Tung Wah Hospital complex.

Now

Then

Sometime in the 1950s, the entire neighborhood was razed and rebuilt due to an outbreak of Plague in the late nineteenth-century that killed thousands over a thirty year period. One of the few surviving relics of the era is now the Museum of Medical Sciences (pictured above); housed in a lovely Victorian mansion that served as a sanitarium during the outbreak, the museum is as creepy as it is quirky.

In house hunting mode, it is futile to think how much nicer it might be with new tenants

On second thought, the current occupants don’t look like they’re going anywhere…

To this point, the exhibition has been only mildly disturbing…

Behind this door, though, it turns to crazy nightmare territory….

The refrigerated autopsy room, complete with ax, pincer and crowbar set

Just as Tai Ping Shan and it’s surroundings are so evocative and rich with relics from of Chinese life in the old days of Hong Kong, there’s no other neighborhood that feels quite so quintessentially British as the Eastern Mid-Levels. Later in the evening, we went for dinner at our friend’s house on Macdonnell Road and after a few glasses of wine needing walking off, decided to stroll home. The typhoon Chanthu was still making its way towards us, so it was breezy and slightly electric feeling. Though there are as many high rise apartments as there are anywhere else on this island, there are also quite a few low-rise apartment buildings from the 1940s and 50s, though they are decidedly posher than their counterparts on the Western side of town, and where there were temples before, here there are churches and colleges.

At the start of Macdonnell Road, on Kennedy Terrace, sits what used to be Manks, an antique shop specialising in mid-twentieth century furniture but now standing forlornly empty, waiting the wrecking ball that has reduced so much of this city’s remarkable past. We indulged in a moment of fantasy, as you do: an apartment on the top floor, shop and studio on the ground floor.

And then, of course, reality, as it always does, reared its sometimes un-lovely head.


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The one day holiday, perfected…

Posted in Uncategorized by Alex Daye on July 13, 2010

After our last excursion to the swimming pools of Hong Kong Island, Ellis and I decided on something a bit more adventurous for our Monday vacation this week- especially given how absolutely stunning the weather has been and remains here. We’ve long heard that the beaches and hills of Sai Kung are the loveliest in Hong Kong, but we’ve strangely never visited, except on weekend boat trips, which always obliterate my sense of direction (among other faculties) and which I tend to stay on the boat. When one’s living in Shek-O, the incentive to travel hours away to get to the beach is somewhat diminished. Now that we are living back in the city, though, and looking for the perfect one day holiday, making the long trip doesn’t seem such a chore. So after a hookah at our new favorite watering hole, Sahara on Peel Street, we called Brandice up and asked her to brief us on the best of Sai Kung’s beaches – as there are many, and many islands to explore as well. Without hesitation, she recommended Long Ke Wan to us which I will go ahead and say is not only the nicest beach I have been to in Hong Kong, but probably the nicest beach I have been to anywhere ever.

First, though, a few caveats: it is not so easy to get to. You can take the MTR and then a minibus, or, if you’re feeling self-indulgent, a taxi to Sai Kung town, a charming, ramshackle little seaside neighborhood in the New Territories, not far from the border with China (about which, more later). Long Ke Wan, though, is the furthest away of Sai Kung’s beaches, and though there are boats for hire all along the pier, they are apparently not always willing to make the trip out, particularly on a Monday. She recommended that we try a ferry pier closer to Long Ke Wan- a good deal further from Sai Kung Town in the Country Park. I would not recommend it, particularly on a Monday.

Despite the driverless boats, which was obviously a disappointment, we were thrilled and amazed to see something we never thought possible in Hong Kong: clear water.

Luckily, as it was now approaching one o’clock, we didn’t have to wait too long for a taxi back to the Sai Kung ferry pier. There we discovered that while it wasn’t all that difficult to find a boat willing to make the trip, it was really expensive. The first one we inquired after costs HK$1400, though various other closer beaches could be reached for much less. But we were determined at this point, if not a bit irritable. After putting Brandice on the phone with another company, we managed to secure a motorboat for HK$1000, but only after a really, really long bit of back and forth. Obviously this is a grand sum of money for a thirty-minute boat ride (and I would imagine at the weekend when there are more passengers to split the cost with the amount would be proportionally less), but allow me to say that the minute we stepped on the boat, all the money and trouble were immediately worth it.

Sai Kung golf course- almost, almost!, enough to make me want to play golf

Chinese cemetery

crazy rock formations

this dam looks like an art piece

eureka!

sea urchins!

lots of rock pools too

this one was literally as hot as a jacuzzi

if you’ve got the legs and lungs for it, you can also hike here (I think it’s a four or five hour hike) – you can even pitch a tent next to a bbq pit for an all night party…

back at the Sai Kung pier, filled with pretty wooden sampans


And the obligatory Chinese seafood restaurants, with tanks of giant prawns and crabs and other fishes. After a day enjoying the beauty of the ocean, though, all the plunder on display seemed wrong and even a bit unsettling, so we opted for one of the many open air restaurants in town for some vegetarian tapas. Best to leave the fishes where they belong:

On giant neon signs!