Architect Scott Weston’s Hong Kong Sojourns.
As we are both away in Tokyo this week, working on the plans for our pop up shop and also writing The Moustache Guide to Tokyo, more of which we will tell you later. We thought that we would hand the reins of this blog over to Mr. Scott Weston this week. Scott is a dapper and fabulous fellow and a very well known architect and interior designer who lives in Sydney. He travels often to Hong Kong and we thought it would be interesting to capture the viewpoint of Hong Kong through the eyes of a visitor on this blog. We share with Scott a love of colour, design and good food , But most of all we share with him a love of our home town, Hong Kong. But we will let him tell you all about that as he shares his view of the city that he has discovered on his travels here. Take it away Scott……
I have been asked by the stylish boy’s of Moustache to impart words of knowledge on what I tend to do on my annual pilgrimage to Hong Kong.
A city that always gives me great exhilaration and a feeling that there’s something else just around the corner if I keep looking, looking, looking.
I tend to come in July-August and stay for around 6 days and have a diary of things and places I need to explore, Alas , there’s never enough time.
This is my personal insight in to a city that I have a great connection with now that I have been going there constantly for the last 7 years.
As a child I grew up in Port Moresby and was not overwhelmed by the sticky humidity of tropical climates and Hong Kong delivers that in great abundance of a staggering 85% humidity .
I look back now on these photos of me in Moresby and realise my sense of fashion was quite evident and I had a great sense of attention to detail as a child.
Now as a practicing Architect based in Sydney www.swad.com.au I have an eclectic design sense that straddles the great divide between innovative architecture and interior design.
I seamlessly merge these design disciplines and create bespoke well-crafted design solutions to our wonderful Clients.
Every July my partner (Andrew) and I make the 9 hour journey over to Hong Kong.
With Octopus card in readiness we quickly depart with cabin luggage (another case packed inside) and head for the train to whisk us into Kowloon Station.
From there we jump into a taxi and head for Tsim Sha Tsui our home for the next 5 nights.
We love the Kowloon side and we compare it to being in the Sydney CBD looking across the water to boring North Sydney.
We tend to steer away from the local tourist haunts and plunge ourselves into the backstreets of this fragrant neon metropolis.
Our home in Sydney is a treasure trove of items that we bring back from travels overseas and in particular the quirky finds from Hong Kong expeditions.
A lot of people who come to our home ask me “do I have Asian family members?”
To which I reply “no but, I do have a deep fascination for Asian culture and my home reflects this powerful attraction”.
Sometimes we catch-up with friends that first evening and are whisked away to a bar or restaurant that we would never find by ourselves.
Up 5 flights of stairs, through a dimly lit corridor and three taps on a door and we are sitting in a very crowded restaurant at 1am (3am Sydney time).
By this time we are well and truly welcomed with the intense smells, buzz and energy that is Hong Kong.
The Kowloon Hotel greets us as family and we are upgraded to a harbour view room and the staff know us personally which is wonderful.
This is our friend Yolanda who sometimes can’t quite understand my fascination for shopping/exploring in the New Territories from 10am till shops close but every morning always asks what finds I have made.
In return we are given fascinating insights as to what the locals do and where they shop to avoid the insanely overpriced goods on Nathan Road and tourist traps.
Normally we unpack and head straight down to Seibu Department store that used to straddle the Kowloon Hotel but due to the economic climate it closed about a year ago, taken over alas by Harvey Nichols.
So now we normally high tail it on foot up to Mongkok and there is a smaller sister Seibu and Langham Place that always has a great selection of Paul Smith, Kenzo and Alberto Guardiani clothing and shoes.
Mongkok always has that feeling of Blade Runner with 1000’s of people all jostling along amid lurid neon signage and fascinating eating houses offering sea creatures that I never knew existed or that you could consume.
The thick smell of Hong Kong reminds you that it is a city constantly working 24 hours a day and at times seems there’s no respite.
So by about midnight we gratefully jump on the ever efficient MTR and are whisked backed to Tsim Sha Tsui and collapse.
We love Temple Street for the Hawker food and being able to sit outside and have a beer and wonderful fresh seafood.
Food is inexpensive and is delivered with hot white towels to clean yourself and is such a great visual feast to watch tourists wander by and purchase all that fake nonsense that is the Temple Night Street Markets.
I have never understood the reason to buy fakes or knock-offs but wandering along these streets makes you realise that it’s a whole different consumer world out there (Who buys that stuff?).
The trick to Hong Kong is not to become overwhelmed and if an opportunity arises to explore a building or jump in a lift you can almost be teleported to another environment.
If a door is open my philosophy is to confidently walk straight in and you can find the most amazing design stores tucked away in the most obscure buildings and Mongkok is definitely worth exploring.
‘New Fei Optical’ is one such find that used to be located in the commercial backstreets of Prince Edward.
Streets were lined with plumbing and tiling shops and I always enjoyed walking through this area rather than being picked up by a courtesy car.
Walking the streets you really do see so much more rather than wrapped as a cotton wool tourist that only goes from shop to shop in air-conditioned comfort.
The shop has relocated to Mongkok but I loved the elderly gentleman that used to sit on a stool operating the loading dock lifts that ever so slowly took you up to this wonderland of glasses.
I normally have my eyes tested and chose 1 or 2 pairs of glasses and they are then delivered to the hotel within 24 hours and are incredibly cheaper than Sydney prices.
I have always thought glasses were so over priced in Sydney and coming to Asia where glasses are seen as fashion accessories makes it very affordable to buy and update yearly.
Being an Architect I really like the commercial aspect of putting together a window dressing of themes and events throughout the city and Hong Kong knows how to put on a visual show.
From the Luxury Landmark, Shatin ‘New Town Centre’ to the furthest reaches of the New Territories there is always a splendid show of theatrics and drama of visual merchandising that constantly keeps you smiling.
The landscaping and urban spaces are always beautifully manicured and great areas to retreat to during those long hot days pounding the pavements.
Speaking of long walks one of my favourite is along Hollywood Road via the art galleries and antique stores with refreshing squeezed bamboo drinks along the way.
Going past the Man Mo Temple I turn right into Upper Lascar Row, Sheung Wan to buy a Mao porcelain figurine to add to my permanent collection.
They know me so well on Cat Street in particular ‘Hang Lung Trading Company’ that they don’t haggle with me.
I offer what I think is fair (sometimes there’s a lot of drama and eye rolling) but being a good customer we strike a great deal.
The store manager kindly places the figure into a beautiful chinese box then binds it with red or pink nylon string that cuts into your hands for the rest of the day.
But it’s a rite of passage that I do almost ritualistically as I enjoy the whole process of going there, catching up with the manager and then closing the deal.
Ray Hughes an Art Dealer in Sydney has a vast collection of the Mao porcelain figurines and I think this was the catalyst for me wanting to source and buy them here.
There’s a shop in Sydney that sells all manner of these type of wares at ridiculously over inflated prices and I know what the huge mark-ups are and I grin every-time I go in to see what they have on offer.
Normally we wander back to Central and have a late lunch and within the Pedder building I loved going to the first floor ‘China Tee Club’ the floor tiling was very cool.
A great dining institution that reminded me of a colonial time of old Hong Kong and such wonderful service rather than corporate global brands moving in and swallowing the character of these treasured spaces.
Alas another institution including Shanghai Tang (although they have re-opened in a larger independent building) bites the dust due to landlord rental increases.
I have been known to disappear and get among the locals and one of my favourite destinations is Tseun Wan.
I love shopping like a local and discovering the supermarkets, stationary outlets and cosmetic shops catering specifically for the Hong Kong resident.
It’s here that you will find exactly the same items as in Kowloon but at a fraction of the price and there’s great choice and most of the time it’s greatly reduced.
I bought some woven leather belts as gifts for friends back home and they were half the price that I would have paid in Central.
I also love the concessions in department stores where they look after you and write a receipt for which you present at another counter, you pay and then return to the concession where the item has been beautifully wrapped.
I think the local sales staff get great delight in seeing me unexpectedly come into their shop as I don’t think too many gweilos go to these places.
The other extreme is the wonderful array of men’s clothing stores that Sydney just does not have due to a small population and I suppose my taste is a niche market.
I can wander from one extreme to the other where I pick up a great velvet Etro jacket at ‘Harbour City’ with silk lining and then within half an hour be sitting at a Hawkers stall in Ap Lei Chau eating a wonderful lunch all for $15 AUS after rifling through 25 floors of South Horizons Plaza.
Or I can wander through a door to a shop and find the most amazing silk boxes perched on a racing green steps and its just the composition that makes it a visual delight.
As night falls once again the wonderful visual merchandise of paper sculptures come to life in vivid saturated colours for everybody to enjoy.
Traveling to Hong Kong for me is about experiencing the local food and not necessarily going to the latest smartest restaurant.
There is a very special place just at the start of Temple Street in Jordan (265-267 Jordan Rd Temple St) called ‘Bamboo Village’ which like many places looks very nondescript from street level.
Again it’s local haunt as I have never seen tourists venture in side and it looks like it was fitted out in 1972 and nothings been cleaned or changed since then.
The menu is on the place mat and the chilli crab and pissing prawns are the best I have ever tasted.
It’s local, fun very delicious and a hidden gem and the waiter takes great delight in showing you show how fresh the produce is.
There are the other restaurants that are frequented by ex pats which we tend to avoid however, the experience to the following is well worth at least one visit.
The ‘China Club’ harks back to a bygone era of British colonialism mixed with Walt Disney theatrics and you just need to sit back and be immersed in the magical moment.
‘Dragon I’ is a wonderful lunch time experience ( I have only been there as a nightclub once) where lunch is a set price and you can graze for as long as you like on dim sum.
Its great to just relax and sit outside on the dark and moody terrace with finches suspended in black cages while giant fans blow moistened air into the room to keep the humidity at bay.
I love the dark silvery bathroom where a gorgeous cleaning lady adds those perfect finishing touches to the bathroom experience.
I have been over the border to Shenzen and again I stress I don’t go there to buy the fakes and counterfeits.
I go to the main hotel just across from the station and hire a taxi driver for the day to whisk us off to various town centres.
The further I travel into Shenzen the more I enjoy going to the local shopping areas and once again there’s that look of surprise when they see a gweilo walking the streets far away from the tourist mall at the train station.
We have been known to have restaurants full of customers stand around and watch us eat (we are the entertainment) or be followed in department stores to watch what we are doing.
I found a beautiful dinner set in red porcelain and gold dragons that was so inexpensive and once again beautifully boxed on purchase.
The only problem I encountered after an exhausting day was not to have the Mandarin translation of ‘take us back to Shenzen train station’ but eventually with some dramatic miming the penny dropped and the driver realised we wanted to go back to Hong Kong.
They say the cultural activity of the people of Hong Kong is shopping and I do follow their mantra but every day I like to take time out and have some respite amid the intense frenetic day we have planned.
Kowloon Park is my favourite to watch the locals exercise and practice tai chi or oversee them play mah jong under a beautifully pruned willow tree.
Just to escape to ‘Spoil Cafe’ in Sun Street Wanchai or jump on the Star Ferry and be mesmerised by the harbour foreshore slowly rocking towards you makes it feel momentarily as though no one else is around.
One of my favourite escapes is to Shatin and alight at Exit C and go to 10000 Buddhas Monastery a calming and tranquil contemplative space and such a contrast from the ‘New Town Centre’ and the odd Pizza restaurant and housing developments (One place is clad in Paul Smith Stripes) you pass on your journey to get there.
I have walked this part of town many times before and following my last trip to Hong Kong in February I took the advice of the Moustache boys and visited ‘Mido Cafe’ in Kowloon.
A very quirky old style cafe that has beautiful tiling throughout and sits on the corner of Temple Street and pays homage to 1920s modernist architecture with curved steel frame windows.
Up a narrow flight of stairs you come into a room of perimeter booth seating with great views of the surrounding streets.
The menu is a funny fusion of eastern and western foods but it was the coffee cup that made me smile with the very cool graphics of the cow.
I’m going back in July to try the evening meal menu as I spotted some very interesting dishes and the prices are very cheap and sound intriguing.
I also like to explore via the internet and investigate private dining kitchens and I came across ‘Ying Yang’ in Wanchai.
It was a degustation menu of about 8 courses and we had the pleasure of Margaret Xu to cook for us and it was such an educational and intimate evening.
There were items on the menu that also challenged me as I had not eaten them before plus a lot of the ingredients were locally farmed or grown nearby which for Hong Kong is a rarity.
Another hidden gem but you have to book well in advance to snare a great table as it is intimate and caters for small numbers.
If you suffer from claustrophobia then Causeway Bay is probably not the best stop for you.
The foot traffic is intense and you tend to be swept along with the people rather than fighting the tide.
I don’t really go there too often except for Times Square to see the public art in and around the building and then catch the glass elevator up to Level 13 for lunch.
The food on this floor would have to be some of the of the best dim sum I have ever eaten and it tends to be a haven for well-heeled middle aged Asian women with chic designer clothing, a ‘Proenza Schouler’ handbag and great shoes.
I then normally go downstairs Level 9 to ‘Page One’ to buy books and directly opposite a very cool stationary store that stocks great cards and you pick a coloured envelope to match or contrast.
Around the corner GOD has a coffee shop so a short black and dessert gives me the sugar rush to continue pushing on through the crowds.
I have also stumbled across families selling goods that have somehow ended up in there apartments (don’t ask) and their homes are decked out like shops complete with eftpos and visa card facilities, very strange and I always look but don’t buy.
As a designer I tend to be attracted to areas that feel as they are going through a ‘Renaissance’ where rents are cheaper, like minded businesses move in and breath new life into decaying older suburbs.
I love how old businesses sit shoulder to shoulder with new enterprise and for this reason in the last 7 years I have seen a subtle shift in great interesting retail relocating to different areas and Sheung Wan is one such place.
Shunning the malls and setting up a shingle on these wonderfully narrow streets is one of the most exhilarating things to happen to Hong Kong.
Young designers and creative businesses are establishing enclaves and co-operatives that make for a very lively environment while still the old school cotton t-shirt shops, coffin shops, stationary stores and daggy department stores (Wing On) still thrive with the locals.
I have been known to discover wonderful knitted Lanvin cufflinks in the ever so daggy but wonderful ‘Wing On’ Department store at a fraction of the price for what Joyce is selling just down the road
I love packaging and presenting gifts within boxes so when I came across Lee Kung Man Knitting Factory (thanks to Moustache) I bought up big time.
They have the best t-shirts and finely knitted woolen undergarments and they still produce all these items in Hong Kong.
Also just around the corner is a sensational coffee shop called ‘Barista Jam’ where I can sit and have lunch, a great coffee and have free Wi-Fi to catch up on emails. Hong Kong has free Wi-Fi everywhere!!!!!!
Another favourite and it too is listed in Moustache’s Guide to Hong Kong 3rd Edition is a nondescript store that sells everything including great cotton t-shirts (better than BONDS) and I have been buying here for 3 years.
The owner looks you up and down and tells you your size and then has his wife dispenses the items from behind glass cabinets all beautifully wrapped with the Chrysanthemum logo.
Once I finally discovered Ellis and Alex’s quirky guide to Hong Kong I really needed to get in touch with them as they seemed liked kindred spirits.
So on my last visit Ellis offered to take me for the day over to Zhongshan and discover the Aladdin’s Cave of wonder that Chinese suppliers have to offer just over the border.
It was such a great experience to be taken by Ellis and to see these amazing places where there are old building components re-cycled and to be sold or beautiful glazed tiles that I could use on some of my residential projects.
I just need a large ship freights container and I think I could fill it with the most exotic furniture, building materials and wonderful porcelain for future projects.
So Ellis if you ever want a job to go on a buying trip with me again I would love your keen eye and ability to translate what the locals are saying to me!
So my brief but very fulfilling exploration of Hong Kong draws to another close where once again I have only too briefly scratched the surface of this exotic and mysterious place.
One of our last rituals is to take the elevator up to the 29th Floor of Number One Peking Rd and treat ourselves to a bottle of VC and some great bar food.
The views at ‘Aqua’ are spectacular but mind getting out of the lift as it’s so dark you can almost step into the fountain, hence they have a staff member constantly greeting people as they blindly step out into the dimly lit dramatic space.
We have packing down to a fine art and what we cannot squeeze into nooks and crannies within our luggage we wear on the plane.
We have managed to take a vast array of porcelain, lamps, jackets and far too many shoes on as hand luggage but, confidently smile at the flight staff when they see you struggling to get all your goodies into the overhead lockers.
We are returning to Hong Kong in late July for the summer sales and once again I have a list of things we must see and do and I can already feel that 7 days is never enough time.
Hong Kong you’re dramatic, charismatic, over the top, subdued, intense, far too hot, offer too much choice, make me nervous, exhilarate me and most of all I feel like I am just starting to get to know you.
Scott Weston Architecture*Design