Wan Chai MTR station has been super crowded since last Thursday. It’s the annual Hong Kong Book Fair and Sports & Leisure Fair. It feels like all of Hong Kong’s residents decided to come.
Crazy crowded isn’t it. Literally walking shoulder to shoulder, the bridge must be at almost maximum loading. It was very slow moving, there was no way to overtake people and there were choke points where people were trying to “change lanes” to get to the other side of the foot bridge (separated by steel barricades) or decide which exit to take.
With the typhoon gone, it was a hot, steamy afternoon. I guess the organisers are making up for lost time today.
Most people going to the book fair and Sports Leisure Fair were advised to turn off here and walk through those Greek key mazes to the convention centre.
If you made it to Immigration Tower, police are in full force and everyone has to follow the lines and signs.
No, no I didn’t go. I was just running an errand at Immigration Tower.
Tip: Get your walking shoes on and walk everywhere.
This weekend is especially crazy in Wanchai due to the Chinese President’s visit. Police are all over Wan Chai, in the MTR stations, patrolling the streets, policing bad street parking. It’s never been so quiet on the roads on a weekday. No honking of cars, no fire engines and ambulances roaring by every half an hour.
The MTR station is chock-a-block, full of people every minute of the day. No one wants to use the buses due to diversions and possibly long traffic jams in any given direction.
If you’re planning on catching the fireworks in Wanchai, it’s best you secure your spot well before 7pm when the lockdown begins. And police have full discretion over when the roads re-open… it could be early tomorrow morning. Here’s my hand drawn map (based on information from the traffic department) to give you an idea of the chaos that could ensue given that half of Wanchai could be closed tomorrow evening.
The area around the Convention centre and Grand Hyatt and Renaissance hotels is already on lockdown as the President is staying there with his entourage. The hosting and toasting will also happen there so count on the roads being exclusively used for anyone going to the party.
The Stubbs road closure for heavy goods vehicles and all lay by areas is in anticipation of lots of people heading up to the Peak to watch the fireworks. It will really be mass pandemonium up there since the weather is perfect for fireworks right now.
Here’s a few events happening in Wanchai. (I took these from the HKSAR 20 website which has the full list.)
This dinner is on tonight at 6pm. But we’re not invited so just stay away!
Then the VIP entertainment at 8pm. It’s on TV so you can watch it at home (if you have a TV).
Some other celebratory stuff going on in Wan Chai over the weekend:
A dragon dance on Sunday at Southorn Playground between 4-9pm.
A football match you can view tomorrow (Saturday) between 9am -2.30pm at Southorn Playground.
Free rides on the Star Ferry between TST and Wan Chai and TST and Central all Sunday when the festivities are over and the VIPs have left.
At the Comics Home Base 動漫基地 on Mallory Street, Urban Canvas has put up a booth along side an exhibition of artworks by children and teenagers from different school districts. The resulting art is very interesting and provides an insight into what local kids are into and how they view their city.
The opening installation is a large wall of graffiti with a quote from world famous graffiti artist Banksy.
“Graffiti is an honest way to express yourself as an artist. It doesn’t cost much to create, you don’t need special knowledge to appreciate and you don’t have to pay to see it!”
There’s one gallery space dedicated to Cantonese opera rod puppets. I’ve personally always found these to be somewhat freakish to look at but suppose they are essential to storytelling. Move over Jim Henson.
In another gallery, students used cardboard to shape life sized portraits using a lettering technique. I thought it showed the textures and reliefs beautifully. So simple yet it required careful measurements and cutting skills to get the shapes right. A great statement of versatility in an everyday packing material.
The next gallery featured clay work. Students were given head models on which to depict a theme or storyline. None of these had titles so I’m making up my own.
There are many more of these busts, some more twisted than these. I highly recommend you check them out.
The final student artwork is of lampshades. Each red lampshade (typically used in the markets), has a painted interior reflecting some aspect of Hong Kong. I really liked this one showcasing the typical constituents of a meal at a cha chaan teng (茶餐厅，local coffee shop).
If you’re planning to be in Wanchai and would like to check it out, here are the exhibits and opening hours.
The Urban Canvas exhibit is a small panelled display with photos of the collaborators. There’s a short clip with the artists talking and explaining their conceptualisation of the project. There’s also a booth up with two staff to promote their app. I had already downloaded it earlier in the week but they can guide you if you need some help with that. If you show them that you’ve got the app, you get a free roll of tape. There are three to choose from, each with a unique design of an old Hong Kong profession or image. If you “like” their FB page, you get a set of 4 postcards to decorate your own stall shutters. Very thoughtful and creative.
The Urban Canvas project promoted collaboration between the city’s young artists with old shops plying their trade around Wan Chai or Central. The artist gets to decorate the shutters of the shop with a graffiti style spray. The image reflects the shop’s trade, at least stylistically. It’s fun and it helps shop’s stand out when they are shut. Of course this means that you’ll need to go after office hours if you want to see it for yourself. After hours could be the best time of day to be on the streets anyway.
If you live in Wan Chai and looking for a flea market today, you’ll find it at the Blue House（藍屋）. It’s a lively scene. A small courtyard with music and packed with lots of traders each occupying a mat no larger than a meter square. I’m not sure who is buying… perhaps it may have been busier earlier in the day. It shuts at 6pm and with only an hour to go, I can still see lots of items on display.
My point is this. It’s poorly publicised. I wouldn’t have known about it except that I happened to walk right by it on Queens road east. Not a brochure, poster or banner anywhere in the neighbourhood until today. Why?
I’m keen to find out if the traders thought it was a worthwhile economic activity… perhaps just to get their branding and name featured on the launch of the Blue House.
I headed back there at 6pm to catch everyone tidying up. I wasn’t terribly impressed with what was for sale, it looked like bric-a-brac and some handicraft, a couple of purse stalls that looked like they were bought from Sham Shui Po (no offence meant, it’s just that they didn’t look special).
A lady was singing “moon represents my heart” by Teresa Teng accompanied by a guitarist. It was a bit karaoke and folksy.
There was a sign indicating where the snack booths were so I went in for a look. It was disappointing. The two booths had packed up and the room was small and cramped. Can’t have been much fun being stuffed into a corner.
On the bright side, there was a lady there who was selling twisty balloons. She was giving a few away free to the kids. One girl got an Elsa (from the Disney movie Frozen) and I was handed a Spider-Man for the baby. Well, why not. I asked her how business was today and if the event was well attended… “ma ma teh ler” (so-so in Cantonese) was her reply.
At the intersection of Stone Nullah Lane and Queens Road East, there was an interview taking place. It looked like a PR stunt for a company making “cargo bikes”, essentially stalls hitched onto a bicycle (think ice cream man, 1950’s style). A model of one was parked just outside Stone Nullah Tavern and another by the fruit farm chicken shop. I couldn’t quite figure whether the company plans to sell or rent them to small enterprises for use at flea markets and art fairs. Or perhaps it might be legal in Hong Kong to hawk wares on sidewalks and pavements again?
I’m really hoping that the St. James settlement (who managed the renovation of the Blue House and decides its fate) is going to hold nice events and not turn it into a dumpy, junky kind of event venue. I’m certainly less impressed with what they’ve done with the renovation (quality wise) vis-a-vis the Comix Home Base in Mallory Street where there is a theme, distinct sense of purpose, a nice library where kids hang out to read and updated Cha Chan Teng (茶餐厅）where you can have a decent milk tea in air conditioned comfort.
La Station, one of my favourite neighbourhood coffee shops just celebrated their second anniversary.
I met up with a friend, (founder of Ookus) at La Station for breakfast early in the week. As I was leaving, the eternally effervescent blonde manager Kat (a sort of Asian version of Jessica Alba) chased after me and presented me with a card.
“It’s our second anniversary this Thursday” she breathed, “will you come?”
I was in a bit of a hurry but promised that I’d be there. I marked it down in my calendar, it was a party running from 7-10pm on Thursday evening. What fun. I haven’t been out at night in the neighbourhood for quite a while.
We got there around 8pm and as we turned the corner at Eric Kayser onto Tai Yuen Street, a wonderful party scene greeted us.
Very hip-looking friends of the owners had turned up in full force and they were drinking beers and champagne on the pavement, faces lit by the La Station signboard overhead.
The perch counter near the fridge display area was converted into a makeshift bar where Alan bartended ice chilled beers in bottles, champagne and lemonade for the non-alcoholics. The funky lounge tunes made it seem as though everyone was queuing outside a newly opened club.
Inside, people were gathered in chattering groups, taking selfies and photos of the fabulous food.
There were mini sausage rolls, quiche, ham and cheese croissants and Croque Monsieurs.
We sampled each one and it was all consistent of the La Station / Paul Lafayet standard.
After half an hour, the desserts were put on display. This is Julian figuring out how they should sit on the tray.
Each dessert was no bigger than your thumb but packed a huge flavour punch. The chocolate squares of cake and ganache were moist and addictive. I had to restrain myself from devouring a second piece.
These desserts were mini masterpieces… I kid you not. LPQ and Kayser attempts at these sweets are left in the dust.
Small person grabbed a Paul Lafayet creme brûlée and chiselled away at the caramelised topping, gleefully shoving it into her mouth. This is after Pete had gifted her a pink macaroon and she had polished off a ham cheese croissant. Well, it isn’t every day that she gets to indulge.
Somehow the delicious breakfast food went super well with the booze and dessert. I can see how this scene can be replicated successfully elsewhere. Apparently the team has been hired frequently for stylish Lane Crawford events.
La Station is one of those coffee shops that hires people who bother to remember your name and beverage preference. It’s this familiarity and excellent food and beverages that keep the loyal customers returning despite not having much of a seating area. If you do decide to sit at their counters, you’ll see that the tables are small but there’s room for your bags. Just hang them on the hooks underneath by your legs.
I went for another beer which Alan happily obliged.
These guys know how to throw a good party.
Here’s a shout out to their team – Pete, Kat, Binny, Stella, Alan, Vivian, Julian. It was a great party and we look forward to more 🙂
After our lunch at Maureen’s, we decided to walk off a bit of those noodles. SW suggested we walk up towards the Pak Tai temple where he had noticed a new cafe.
Just when you’ve walked up as far as you can go on the tarmac, the road bends to the left (straight ahead is a path that takes you up to Kennedy Road). Here was a promising sign under the street sign. It was a blackboard with a fairly simple menu touting coffees, tea and a few pastries.
Encouraged by the menu, we proceeded down the street. Lung On Street really is a beautiful street. The banyan trees, conserved and cared for by the temple, provide shade and a sense of nature’s calm.
At the end of the street is a cul de sac, and this is where the cafe is located, looking all cool outfitted in black and glass.
It really reminded me of neighbourhood cafes I’ve been to in London, New York or Sydney. Simple, with some alfresco seating areas and a signboard that isn’t screaming full attention. Nicely designed.
There was a kids cooking class that was going on. About ten children were creating a ruckus just talking to each other. All equipment had been laid out, they were definitely doing some baking.
There wasn’t a whole lot of space internally as half of it was devoted to a professional kitchen. There was a proper large stacked oven for breads, pizzas or grilling a whole suckling pig. A nice looking fridge and some pots and pans. Importantly there was a deep wide sink and a work top. Bite Unite offers chefs a licensed kitchen for hire.
Khun Tanarak, the owner, is there as the site also serves as his office (he’s a photographer specialising in weddings).
I asked him about his choice of location.
“Wong Chuk Hang where most kitchens are, is too far away. Most chefs just need a convenient space to pop in, prepare and get back to whatever else they need to do..”
Since he lives up on Kennedy Road, it is also convenient for him to site his office within walking distance.
He apologised as the coffee machine was under maintenance. Well, that’s a perfect excuse to come back to try the cafe another day.
Most of the time, Wan Chai’s sidewalks are bustling with office workers in their suits, exhausted mothers with a baby in a sling and a kid in tow rushing for the bus, domestic helpers dragging their shopping trolleys full of food, cardboard and garbage collectors whose carts take up most of the pavement, some hip European dude wearing jeans and puffing on a cigarette, buskers, beggars, some promoters trying to either to sell you a flag sticker by preying on your conscience or handing out brochures for a new cafe, elderly or intellectually disabled people walking side by side with their helper… it’s pretty crowded.
So, when you see super hip and glamorously dressed people walking around Wan Chai MTR and around Queens Road East, you know something major is going on.
This event can be described as one of the most high-heeled and sought after by anyone with a bit of disposable income and an interest in seeing how the wealthiest live. Well, of course it’s to see the most avant garde and upcoming artists’ work and to see if you’re able to make an emotional connection to a particular piece or obtain a new perspective.
But no. For most people, Art Basel is the most fantastic Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat selfie opportunity where every backdrop is probably worth at least 50K USD (up to millions). This particular exhibit drew a huge number of photos and selfies.
The event has become so large it takes up two floors in the Wan Chai Convention and Exhibition Center. The daily queue for the on site tickets starts at the main entrance and winds its way all the way onto the pavement towards the Renaissance hotel.
It looks so intimidating that I’m surprised people bother to queue at all. Half the day is probably wasted standing in line. Or maybe that is the point. Hmm.🤔
It must be the absolute pits when you spend the day standing in line and then you see the dude with this signboard. (Please try not to strangle him, it’s not his fault.)
In previous years, we queued early on the first day to buy our tickets. We never made that mistake again. Now we buy them well in advance so that we can breeze in and out during the day. It’s almost impossible to see and appreciate everything going on in there in one go. Especially since they only open the exhibit at 1pm (forget trying to get in early).
There have been several improvements over the years.
1) strollers and prams are permitted in (unlike the first year, which they stupidly told parents to leave strollers and all belongings in the cloak room)
2) much more F&B selection and outlets
3) benches for resting and admiring the large works in the exhibition halls (like any good art gallery would have)
There are also some annoying additions:
1) continuous loud announcements about how the exhibition is getting crowded and for everyone to move along and mind their stuff. It was so loud that it would wake babies up.
2) 2 VIP entrances and one entrance for the general public at the very far end of the corridor. What is this all about? Why do VIPs need two entrances? For crowd control they should just assign entrances depending on the number of people coming in. There were disproportionate numbers of staff at the first two entrances.
3) what is it with only opening the exhibition at 1pm…? Wouldn’t 11am be a presentable enough hour for exhibitors to get their hair done? Unless you’re coming in from Shenzhen.
I really enjoyed the exhibits this year and I love it that the gallery owners gamely allow everyone to take as many photos as one likes, just as long as you keep your hands off the artwork.
Here’s a small selection of what I liked best.
I wasn’t able to see all the exhibits due to limited time and the need to refuel frequently. But the Art Baselapp is beautifully designed and well worth downloading if you’d like to see what was shown this year. Unless you have a favourite artist or gallery, be prepared to scroll through more than ten thousand exhibits before you find the one you like the most.
Digging beneath the dirt… To find the good and the gritty