On Hollywood Road

A Sense of Place

Posted in Uncategorized by Alex Daye on October 26, 2010

When the threat (or promise) of Megi passed us by last weekend, disabusing us of our hopes of being forced to close the shop, Ellis and I took matters into our own hands and closed anyway Sunday afternoon. My apologies to anyone that might have stopped by, but I got the feeling a lot of people ended up on a big night Saturday night drinking off the anti-climax of the “storm of the century.” Sunday morning, in fact, was beautiful and sunny, and those not sleeping off hangovers seemed to all be hopping in cabs for the South Side beaches and beyond. Since we spent the morning working and saw the clouds rolling in, we took the ferry out to Kowloon to visit the Hong Kong Museum of History. The museum itself is certainly worth a visit any time of year as it’s permanent exhibition is mind bogglingly epic: Hong Kong from pre-history to the post-colonial era, with movies, dioramas, recreations of apartments, shops, even whole streets. If anything, it errs on the side of tedium- there are many, many rocks!- but definitely a good way to spend a rainy day. The real draw for us, though, was an exhibition of photos from the Royal Asiatic Society of Hong Kong. The photos were commissioned in the mid-1970s to document architecture and street life across Hong Kong, though the project seems to started and stopped in the Western districts. Surely the photographers were unaware how wildly prescient the project was, as just a few years after the photographs were taken the razing and rebuilding of the entire city began in earnest.

Though the exhibition was something of a letdown in terms of it’s mounting- there were no individual prints, just a long cardboard collage, the book from which the photographs were taken, A Sense of Place: Hong Kong West of Pottinger Street, was available in the bookshop. The book is fantastic and filled also with immensely interesting essays, but one quibble: there’s a wonderful photo of the man in the picture on the left walking down Hollywood Road that is very Moustache which is not in the book! I suspect that he is involved with the Royal Asiatic Society, as the man in the photograph on the right is one Mr. Tony Rydings, one of the coordinators of the survey. Both the photographs are literally steps away from Moustache, our apartment on Square Street, and our old studio on Hollywood Road. Though you don’t see such wonderfully decrepit buildings around here anymore, the neighborhood still retains something of the same low-rise charm. The real shocker of the book though is the section on Caine Road in the Western Mid-Levels, where the world’s most expensive apartment ever recently sold. It goes without saying that it looks nothing like these graceful old buildings…

I spend a fair amount of time walking along Caine Road, as it’s just a couple of levels up from Square Street and is full of delis and supermarkets and I can safely say there are very few streets in the world that look less like these photographs. What’s truly astonishing is that it looked like this in the late 1970s! It’s quite a swish area, despite the fact that architecturally speaking it’s just steps away from a giant ghetto (a fancy one, sure, but a ghetto nonetheless.) Imagine how chic it would be if Caine Road looked like this today! Instead it is buckling under the weight of empty trillion dollar skyscrapers primarily intended to launder money for mainland Chinese tycoons. It’s enough to pray that this bubble bursts sooner rather than later and people learn to think of neighborhoods as being for people rather than speculators.


3 Responses

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  1. Suzy said, on October 26, 2010 at 10:47 am

    so, so, sad 😦

  2. brunchclub said, on November 3, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    i never imagined Caine Road looked so beautiful before. Thanks for sharing

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