Category Archives: History

Preserve the Curve: Wan Chai Architecture

In Hong Kong, the grubbiest residential buildings stand insolently next to flashy skyscrapers, mirrors reflecting sunlight and steel glinting like unsheathed swords against the sky.
Buildings weren’t always designed to maximise square footage by being square. Neither did they incorporate angles which could “cut” their neighbours feng shui. The rounded corners are a style snapshot in time 1960’s or before, incorporating the best design for feng shui… especially in Wan Chai where roads and intersections can go off at crazy angles.

A few old and modern buildings retain the curves,   let’s take a look at the ones in Wan Chai.

Here are buildings that have incorporated the curve into the design.

1. Queens road east & Anton Street

Nice pink curve

 

2. Church on intersection of Johnston Road, Hennessy and Arsenal Street 

Church with rounded corner

3. Johnston Road  and Fleming Road 

Tai Yau Plaza, nicely curved

4. Newly renovated Takan Lodge, Johnston Road

Takan Lodge, nice curve

5. Curved building on Hennessy, Stewart Road intersection

Large pink curved building

6. On Wan Chai road, near Wan Chai outdoor market

Curved Building near Wanchai market

 

7. Almost circular building, Johnston- Fleming Road intersection

8. The building on Johnston Road and Wan chai Road & Hopewell Center


Of course the only completely round building in Wanchai is Hopewell Center.

Then there are the buildings that “cheat” and incorporate a rounded ledge.

Curved ledge, Tai Wong East Street
Curved ledge for the Jenga building
Curved ledge, near Wanchai mtr
Curved ledge, Johnston Road and Tai Wo Street
Curved ledge, Lockhart Road
Curved ledge, Lockhart Road

 

Curved Ledge, Lockhart road and Tonnochy Road

 

Curved ledge, corner of Fenwick & Hennessy, Wanchai
Curved ledge, corner of Fenwick & Hennessy

Try spotting these buildings on your next walk around Wanchai.

You can read a little more on the fate of a curved Pawn Shop. It’s already been torn down.

There’s also the haunted house of Wanchai which is curved. However it’s not accessible to the public as Hopewell is constructing its new hotel and convention center, so you can read about it here.

The building in this photo no longer exists.

A very famous curved building, Old Wanchai market.

Wan Chai Traditional “Dragon Beard Candy” Sweet Shop moves to Sheung Wan

When my friend VL visiting from Jakarta asked me this morning by whatsapp whether I knew this traditional Hong Kong dessert:

  
I immediately responded ” is that dragon beard candy?”

She said she loved them and asked if I knew where to get them. I recalled a shop along Wan Chai Road that sold them and a quick search online showed that they are also sold at the gift shops of the Conrad and Shangri-La hotels by a company known as Dragon Rich Profits under the brand Bamboo Garden. How very Hong Kong! It goes to show how these desserts are mostly relegated to foreigners buying them as gifts. 

Buy me two boxes please, she said. I popped the small person in the pram and took her for her morning walk along Wan Chai road. Disappointingly, the entire row of shops which included a little bakery among other little shops were shuttered. Perhaps it was further along? I continued along until I reached Mallory Street, which was when I knew the shop was truly gone. I stopped at Queens Cafe Bakery to ask if they sold it or knew where might. The lady manning the store was singularly unhelpful. She told me she had no idea what it was and to go ask someone else.

I hung around outside the store for a bit wondering who else I should ask, when a guy who happened to be walking by asked if he could help. I showed him the picture and he said “Oh… Long So Tong“. Well at least he knew what it was. 

Then he said that there used to be a store on Wan Chai road but that had shut down. There were no others in the neighborhood that he knew selling these candies. His very important tip, was that the shop in Wan Chai moved to Sheung Wan

Where in Sheung Wan? I asked.

Near the Wing On departmental store. He said. Do you know where?

Yes I said

It’s in the lane right beside the store.

I thanked him profusely for his information.

After dropping the toddler off at playschool, I headed over to Sheung Wan by MTR. A few minutes were spent considering which exit I ought to emerge from. I decided to try the one that took me out to Bonham Strand where I knew there were lots of little shops.

It was a rainy day which made s search like this more awkward and difficult than usual. An umbrella to shield from rain, negotiating wet and uneven pavements without slipping… While keeping your eyes open for the right store. 

I emerged from the exit and walked west toward the Western Market. A quick peruse through it and like the game of blindfold, I knew it was cold. 

I popped the umbrella back open and headed out into the rain. This time down Wing Lok Street. Halfway down, I stopped to ask if any of the local dried seafood specialists standing on their little shop patio had any idea… Nope. All just pondered the photo, shook their heads. They were local and yet had absolutely no idea of their own traditional dessert, much less where to get it. No wonder it’s a dying trade. All just told me to keep asking someone else. 

Ok I’ve had enough of the seafood sellers, time to head back towards Wing On departmental store and walk around it, maybe it was on the perimeter although I recall the store owning the block, with walls, glass and entrances on three sides. No room for shops on its doorstep.

I cut back onto Des Veoux road and retraced my steps past the Wellcome and back to the B entrance of the MTR that I emerged from. Nearing the traffic light junction, I looked ahead and couldn’t believe my luck. There, right in front of me was a large sign for traditional desserts. My excitement was palpable. I skipped across the road and indeed this was the shop that sold the Dragon Beard Candy. 

  

Speaking with the young man running the shop, I remarked that there were only 5 packets in the display cabinet. 

No problem, how many do you want? I have more in the fridge.

I asked for 10 packets. Each packet was quite small and HKD 18 each.

As he wrapped them up for me, I asked if this was the store in Wan Chai before. 

Yes, he said. But rents went up and it was too expensive to maintain. We sell things for 10-20 dollars each, how much would we need to sell to pay the rent?

I nodded in understanding. Wan Chai’s gentrification was forcing out small businesses as landlords run their hands awaiting higher yields on rent. I hope that landlords will understand that all neighborhoods need a mix to survive. The shops in the Avenue for example, are not catering much to locals except for the upscale western cafes. 

If St. James settlement could somehow include an aspect of this in their Blue House revamp, perhaps a traditional candy store could be a feature worth preserving. Tourists and interested locals could watch the process of constructing these pastries and also buy some… Not limited to purchasing from gift shops in the five star hotels or other usual tourist traps. I see many tour groups daily coming to Wan Chai for their architectural or heritage tour, wouldn’t it be appropriate to include a food tour as well if it could be done cleanly and nearly?

I presented the 10 packets to VL later that afternoon, she was overjoyed and will be hand carrying it back to Jakarta tomorrow as a treat for the rest of the family,

If you need to satisfy your Dragon beard candy craving (or indeed any traditional cookie craving), look for the Hillier Street Exit B, turn left as you emerge and the shop is directly across the street. 

 

Hillier Street Exit B, Sheung Wan MTR
 
 
Map of Dragon beard candy shop in Sheung Wan
 

Chinese New Year Festivities at the Blue House

The Blue House in Wan Chai is a historic site that serves the community as a place to gather weekly for an assortment of talks, view small exhibitions of Hong Kong’s past and a hodge podge of books and toys.

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The event space is a small area of roughly 250 square feet, furniture and randomly placed bric-a-brac reduces it to roughly 100 square feet of walkable area. Pretty small. It’s up some stairs (possibly to avoid flooding in the old days) and this is certainly an inconvenience to the disabled or those confined to a pram.

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The extensive renovations taking place behind this facade is estimated to continue for the rest of this year, but it looks like there’ll be some open areas and  rooms to hold yet more bric-a-brac.

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Of the four little rooms on the ground floor, the first and second are blocked off with simple plaster board and serve as a makeshift notice board.

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The third is the current event space area and the fourth is often full of guys wearing white undershirts sitting around. I’m unsure of what they do in there but perhaps it’s a rest area of sorts. Maybe it’s where the mahjong table is placed.

An open-air rectangular clear glass aquarium full of small koi and goldfish make a nice pit stop if you have kids in tow.

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The Blue House has its own decorations for this Chinese New Year. Red lanterns hang out front, a very cute knitting of a monkey couple adorn the corner street sign.

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On the “notice board”, a range of announcements compete for attention. If you’re looking for something to do in Wan Chai, you might want to stop by and have a look.

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You can volunteer to help out with the Southorn community during Chinese New Year (2016) though you’d have to speak Cantonese, or take part in the stamp making workshop later in the month on the 27th of February.

The old, the re-painted and the new

Sometimes old buildings just get a clean up and a new lick of paint. The residents don’t change, no new additions to the structure. For example this one.

Old and New
Old, Re-painted and New

The building on the left is what the block used to look like. The orange one awkwardly angled, is the building that was just re-painted. The building with the tinted glass on the right is the very fashionable Indigo Hotel.