Category Archives: Wan Chai Amenities

Watch repair and battery replacement part 2: (the real Si Fu)

My brother-in-law arrived from London for a visit two weeks ago. “Jie“, he said stepping off the airport express, “do you know a place I can get my watch battery changed?

Oh have I been waiting for that question. Almost jumping out and down, I exclaimed “yes, there’s a Sifu right outside the MTR station who does that sort of thing.” 

A Sifu is a term meaning “master” usually used to address a professional tradesman who has a particular skill set or expertise.

We marched up the stairs out of the Wan Chai A3 exit, crossed the road and stood in the queue behind two others at the little repair shop I blogged about previously. Our turn came up pretty quickly. “Din chi yao man tai“(it’s a battery problem). The Sifu took his watch and turned it upside down, this way and that. He took out a little black magnifying glass which he stuck in his eye socket and peered at it again. Hmm.  This wasn’t going as smoothly as I’d hoped. 

After two to three minutes of him inspecting the watch and peering at it from every angle, he pronounced “mm tak, dui erm qi” (Cantonese for can’t do it, sorry). I persisted. “Dim gai mm tak?” (Why can’t it be done?) he replied “hoi mm dou, hoi mm dou” (can’t open it, x2 for emphasis).

Well that was a disappointment. But I was undeterred. “I know another place” I said, “Let’s go try there instead“. 

We walked over to Tai Yuen Street and headed into the crowded corridor of shoppers. 

All the way at the top of the street at the intersection of Cross Street, a watch seller Sifu plies his selection of watches and clocks along with the watch battery and watch strap replacement service. His stall is lit by a few energy saving bare fluorescent bulbs and fronts a corner cha chaan teng that does brisk business during breakfast and lunch.

Watch stall on Tai Yuen Street, Wanchai market

Repeat drill. 

This Sifu took the watch and immediately popped his eyeglass in his eye socket. He examined the watch very carefully and showed us how the back of the watch was sealed shut and there was no obvious way to open it. Then he looked closely at the bezel and crown. 

The Sifu changing the watch battery

Ok“, he said. “Ngor sek jor ge la” (I know how to do it). He took out his tool box and rummaged for a tool. Then he took the watch to his velvet work top behind the stall and proceeded to pop the watch open via the crown, lifting it almost bizarrely from its front. The whole procedure took less than five minutes and he handed the watch back. HKD 40. Great stuff.

Find the watch Sifu who is friendly and up for a challenge here.

What is a Cantonese wet shave? Find out at Oi Kwan Barbers

Despite being a resident, it’s fun to view daily life through a tourist lens. It never gets boring.

Spring Garden Lane for example, looks a little different every day and the mood of the street also varies according to the hour of the day. It’s tidal. The ebb of people heading towards Queens Road East for work in the morning and the flow back to the MTR station at 5pm. The smokers and queues at the Hong Kong Jockey Club branch on Saturdays, the queue for Kam Fung during breakfast and lunch hour seven days a week.

On a bright November afternoon last year, I happened to be strolling down Spring Garden Lane and saw a film crew right outside Oi Kwan’s barber shop. Most people wouldn’t even notice this hole in the wall. The barber shop occupies a narrow space between a florist and a very busy local restaurant. The reason why I noticed it at all is because I have an interest in barber shops. Well, ever since SW asked me to find one for him in Singapore many moons ago. The where can I get a good shave question just had to be answered.

If you did a search for shaves in Hong Kong, you’ll probably find the most famous and classiest one in the Mandarin Oriental hotel where the barber also offers waxing and pedicure services (hey, guys only). Then you’ll get the hipster barbers in Central up by Soho where guys sport instagrammable haircuts and a couple of tattoos on each arm and an earring. Some will offer you a glass of whiskey or brandy to get you in the meditative mood. To go to these, you’d either have to be rich or trendy, probably both.

Not so at Oi Kwan. This little barber shop that started in the 1960’s seats three and there are no luxury bells and whistles. Goodness, there isn’t even a door.

Oi Kwan Barbers closed on Wednesday
Shop is closed, all boarded up
It’s well lit and open on weekdays for hair cuts and shaves. You get your hair washed by sticking your head over a sink and a rudimentary shower hose douses you with water. Check out this review from a customer. 

This little old barber shop has survived despite the gentrification of Wan Chai and has opened a branch at the Comix Home Base in Mallory Street.

Mallory Street entrance, Oi Kwan Barbers
I think it’s pretty funny that it took them half a century to open a branch, but that’s the way opportunities show up. They just launched this new branch on the 30th of March 2017. From the looks of it on the FB page, it’s a bit more upmarket and swanky, I’m sure the prices will reflect it too.

Perhaps this is to compete with all the swanky barbers in Central…

Their write up (above pic) tells you a bit more although the translation is a little dodgy. Just in case you can’t read it in the picture, I’ve typed it up here.

Living in history and a living history- best describes Oi Kwan barbers Hong Kong and China.

We walked with Hong Kong’s growth, reminded ourselves the treasure the prosperity earned through hardships.

In Spring Garden Lane where the ceiling fan turns slowly, the old radio gives its broken sound and the cut-throat razor gives you a gentle stroke, you recline on the chair, close your eyes, forget Hong Kong’s hot humid weather, forget the crowded alleys…. hold a old comic book and immerse yourself in this street corner… and 50 years passed.

Our fathers came from war shaken 1950’s China as most of the Hong Kong populations, started this little workshop. Enduring the hard times, Oi Kwan served generations to generations, from the neonates to their grandfathers, they all walked from this little alley with a refreshing and neat look.

Succeeding our fathers, we stood fast against the economic bubble of Hong Kong.

You can check them out if you need a shave in Wan Chai.

Customer getting a hair cut at Oi Kwan Barbers

Read more about its current owner Mark Lau here.

Hong Kong Monetary Authority – Coin counting and exchange service on wheels

I love quirky Hong Kong

Take this service run by the local monetary authority for example. A mobile truck equipped with coin sorting and counting machines, going district to district to help vendors unload their heavy bags of metal discs, and the rest of us who enjoy hoarding coins in glass bottles, shelves and cookie tins.
What a great service! Everywhere else in the world you’re condemned to finding a bank that will allow you to deposit any coins. In Wanchai market, vendors don’t accept anything smaller than a dollar. So the small denominations mostly get dished out at the supermarkets. 

Better yet, they help you put the money on your octopus card :).

My sincere apologies to Jack F. and J.Y. who have been waiting to unload their hundreds of dollars worth of change. I was supposed to send you an alert when the truck came round to Wan Chai (usually parked outside Wu Chung house)… 

CORRECTION! It’s still here til the end of this week!

You can check the schedule for your district here.

Wan Chai Gap Road Playground

Some of Wan Chai’s playgrounds are tucked away in little hidden areas, almost like private courtyards for in-the-know residents. It’s nice that these spaces are reserved and gazetted as public parks, though I wish the local district council would consider upgrading them (not just maintaining them) as a matter of routine.

One example is this playground at Wan Chai Gap Road. Not many would know of its existence unless you’re a regular commuter along the Wan Chai Gap Road, or have a habit of ducking down narrow alleys for a look around.

There are two access points to the playground, one down a narrow alley off Stone Nullah Lane (past popular drinking spot Stone Nullah Tavern), the other is via the steep Wan Chai Gap Road off Queens Road East. That’s the steep little road just by the old post office. Then down some stairs to the left.

Playground entrance

It’s surrounded either by high walls or buildings on all sides, and there are steps for both entrances, so this isn’t one that I recommend going with your monster stroller.

Play area for children 2-5years old

It does open up to a fairly wide concrete area, with very small facilities for young kids. By that I mean that the age catered for is 2-5 years old. There are three little ride-ons which can provide a ten minute respite, and a tic tac toe grid if you fancy a quick game. I thought it was a real pity the very large under-utilised space had no swings or slide.

Instead it serves more as an air well  and walk through connector for residents. Not much of a playground is it? 

Wanchai Gap Playground “Connector”

I suppose kids could take their toys there to play… but if that was the idea then a ramp should be made in place of steps.

Hong Kong needs to step up a notch in playground design. As one of the top financial centres in the world, the public playgrounds are lagging behind Tokyo, New York, London, Singapore. 

Find the playground here if you need to get off the busy streets and catch a breather.

Location of Wan Chai Gap Road Playground

Glass recycling in Wan Chai

Ok. Found some places where you can send your glass bottles for recycling. I read this article in the SCMP about April, the green activist who organizes dump trucks and volunteers to collect glass from various parts of Hong Kong. 

They are spread out over different days, times and areas so I’d advise you to check before lugging all the glass you have down there. 

This is the information for Wan Chai.

Green Glass Collection point Wan Chai
Glass recycling collection sites Wan Chai

You should also refer to this link to confirm that the glass you’re sending is suited for recycling

But here’s a quick graphic from their site to tell you what they do take (check out their site to see what they don’t).

On their site, they list restaurants and bars who actively work with them to recycle glass bottles… you can check out if any of your favourite watering holes are among them….!

P.s. You might also like to know that if you buy the glass bottles Kowloon Dairy milk, you can rinse and return for a dollar at any 7-11, PnS or Wellcome.

Is Hong Kong’s recycling effort just lip service?

The children’s book “Michael Recycle” is about a town full of trash and a superhero who changed their perceptions and encouraged them to think about the planet… ultimately where the process of recycling saved the day.

The book Michael Recycle about recycling for a better world

Encouraged and inspired by Michael Recycle, we decided to put some papers and wine bottles in the recycling bin. However the one in the basement of our building only has paper, plastic and metal recycling bins. None for glass. Hmm. I ended up hoarding the glass bottles for half a year and have only disposed of it last week when I finally found a glass recycling bin. Note that if you buy glass bottled Kowloon dairy milk, you can get a dollar back for each bottle returned at 7-11. Here’s a site discussing it.

A search online for recycling bin locations  in Wanchai is confounding. I almost gave up.
I also discovered that I had some old DVDs and CDs but where would those go? It certainly doesn’t belong in the metals bin. I checked online and found a blogger who also has an interest in the subject and listed out recycling bins in Hong Kong. She sent me this link. Ok fair enough. I’ve checked them out and also included ones that I’ve found which are unlisted on the site. Here they are for your reference.

Here’s what I found:

Recycling Bin on Wan Chai Road & Queens Road East

On the corner of Wan Chai Road & Queens Road East, the bin takes metals, plastic and paper. General trash goes on the orange bin.

Recycling bin at Wanchai Convention Center

These bins found along the corridor of Wan Chai Convention  Center opposite the main gift shop allow you to drop batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, metals, plastic and paper.

Recycling bin, corridor of immigration building
Tucked away in the corner of the corridor in immigration building (walking towards the Wan Chai Convention Center) are these bins for batteries, metals, plastic and paper.

Recycling bins on the corner of Luard & Hennessy outside the HSBC

These bins on Luard and Hennessy look like they need a good clean and clearing out. Only metals, plastic bottles, paper are accepted. Everything else goes into the leftmost trash bin. You can see the plastic bottles overflowing… not surprising after a weekend.

Recycling bins outside Wan Chai Post office, Queens Road East

Here’s the recycling bin outside the old Wanchai post office on Queens Road East. Only metals, plastic bottles and waste paper accepted. It looks like the bin man needs to clear the bottle compartment and shut the doors properly.

Recycling bins at Spring Garden Lane Park

These look like newly installed recycling bins. Same deal but with a new graphic sticker overlay. Metals, plastic, paper and general trash on the left reminding you it goes to landfill.

Recycling bins outside Southorn Playground, Johnston Road

These are the recycling bins outside Southorn playground, Johnston Road exit. Accepts only metal, plastic, paper and general trash.

Recycling bin, Hennessy Road exit

This bin on the other side of Southorn playground takes the metal, plastic bottles and paper. Note that there are two  boxes for the plastic bottles, presumably because sports elicits thirst and reasoned that an extra bin for bottles would be warranted.
Recycling bins, Tai Wong East Street Sitting Out Area
Clothes recycling bin, Tai Wong East Street

At the Tai Wong Street East Sitting out area, the recycling bins accept metals, plastic bottles and paper. There’s an additional used clothes bin opposite it too.

Recycling bin for metal, plastic, paper

Outside Lockhart Road Market Building, this recycling bin accepts metals, plastic bottles and paper.

Last but not least…. (drum roll)….
By far the cleanest and most comprehensive recycling bin is found in the lobby of Central Building. It’s on the left of the corridor as you’re walking towards the Convention Center. This recycling bin takes batteries, compact discs and DVDs, metal, plastic, paper, glass and copier toner. 

It wasn’t easy to seek these bins out. I had to be on the alert to spot them and I’m so glad I’ve found a bin which takes more that the usual metal, plastic and paper. I wonder why there aren’t more glass recycling bins? 

I also noticed that most of the bins filled up quickly with the plastic bottles as no one bothers to crush them before throwing them in. These machines by reversevending should be installed instead. The machines would compact the bottles and are very neat. I bet that it’d be super popular in Hong Kong.

How can recycling get more attention? Is it just about leaving bins everywhere and decorating them with stickers? 

It really is a state of despair in Hong Kong.  We can sort out our trash and make an effort to take it to these bins but what happens after that?….. check out this article.