I’m still wary walking around this week as there are still lots of broken off tree branches, loose signage and chips of granite and glass on the pavement. It’s already a whole lot better, salute to the cleaning crew who work with such clinical efficiency.
I am feeling sad today for a particular tree that has been uprooted in Wan Chai. The massive and shady tree that stood as tall as the Hennessy Primary School looks to have a similar fate to the one in the news in TST. It has provided shelter to taxi drivers on their mid day break, pedestrians who just need that cover for the crossover and a green canopy (for those looking over that crazy intersection that cars need to manoeuvre) to get on to Wan Chai road from Fleming road.
On Lee Tung Avenue, all the smaller trees that fell over are back upright and the lanterns have made their reappearance. Nothing’s gonna stop the commercial celebration of lantern festival this weekend.
At the Blue House this Saturday evening, there’s a gathering for the mid autumn aka lantern festival. The promo leaflet is all in chinese. Essentially there’s a lantern competition for the best handmade one, a dumpling making activity and lots of general hanging around with the residents of the Blue House. I rang the organizer and was a little disappointed that you can show up but none of the listed items were actual “activities”. She postured that if you lived in the neighborhood and had “nothing else to do that evening…” you could drop by. 🤔
She also said that everyone had to bring their own food to share with others as no snacks are provided…
I attended a mid autumn festival village party in Shek O last year and it was a marvellous effort by the community to putting on a fun event for families and a whole spectrum of society, with sitting areas for eating Tong yun for the duration of the evening (made and shared for a small donation of $10-50 per person). And kids got to help out too. There were games areas with an array of prizes, a beautiful area where everyone displayed the lanterns they made. Unfortunately this year the devastation inflicted by the typhoon is so severe that the residents will probably not be in the mood to celebrate.
I’m curious to see how the Blue House organizes this and whether they can make it really nice or if it turns out to be a sloppy sort of event confined to pavements with no fun or colour to it. Let’s see.
It’s quiet because there’s not much economic activity going on there. The stalls nearby must have a love-hate relationship with the two stalls that are perpetually covered up, full of cartons and crates.
On one hand, it’s not competition, so that’s a plus. Maybe they get to store boxes beside those stalls, also a plus. But then again the crowd doesn’t get drawn in. That’s a negative. So those stalls need to build up their business with regulars and the stumble-uponers, that is, the people who just happen to pass by en route elsewhere.
I’ve seen the representatives of the government landlord come round, handing out their papers near the end of the year, the stall owners heaving a sigh at the increase in rent. They are probably thinking of how to handle the questions from clients about the increase in prices for all the produce while everyone adjusts to the inflation while accepting that salary increases are almost negligible.
Renting a stall in the indoor market costs around ten thousand Hong Kong dollars for about 30-40 square feet of space. That’s not cheap for a very basic layout in a rather cramped environment. On the upside, the stalls get fantastic foot traffic from a very mixed crowd. The army of domestic helpers wearing their caps and dragging their trolleys, all jostling for a stall position. The tai tai grandmas who choose to peruse the chaos and when the opportunity arises, shove themselves to the front while loudly complaining how crowded it is to the fishmonger.
The army of MPVs with drivers waiting for their owners gives you a big clue as to the patrons of the various stalls. Wouldn’t a stall owner from outdoors prefer an indoor space? The clients sure do if it’s hot or raining… they already cause major traffic congestion by double parking.
Another example of an abuse of subsidized space must be the Blue House. The renovation of the usable space and it’s tenants has been rather disappointing.
Firstly, the commercial areas.
1) There is no one using the chinese clinic space. Is this space just for show? They should offer a group of bone-setting chinese physicians to use the space. Wouldn’t it be so cool to have a rotating number of chinese docs doing acupressure for clients or even the community? Great PR.
2) The House of Stories is nice and the curator and the young lady docent do their best to promote the history through talks and activities but it’s plain disappointing that you can’t also tour the living quarters of the Blue House. I mean…what did they do in that multimillion dollar renovation?! It would’ve been really fantastic if Hong Kong could pull off a reality museum where you could see what it was like before in photos and what it is now (maybe similar!). That would’ve won some awards and should’ve been a pre-condition to the tenants.
3) The chinese dessert shop is not nicely designed. It’s a pity that they couldn’t learn a design trick or two from Samsen (which manages to replicate the atmosphere of a Thai diner).
4) The organic goods shop is a real mish-mash of random dried and fresh produce. I’m not really sure who they supply. There is a market around the corner y’know.
5) The St. James donation shop is always a fun browse, it’s a whole flea market by itself. But why is the ventilation so poor? There’s a great book collection in there and they should do a proper job making it into a children’s resource or relaxation library… instead it smells like most of the books are being consumed by damp fungi.
6) The other Hong Kong House of stories room (which is rarely open) should have been amalgamated with the other room to make it a more spacious usable area. The local crafts workshops should run more regularly. It’s a real shame that local artists who regularly paint or photograph in the area can’t exhibit their works more often.
7) The vegetarian restaurant which barely has 4 tables is shoved into a lonesome back area that reminds you of where the bin lockers should be in any building. It’s an afterthought and the menu has no appeal at all. For a similar price, you can have a set lunch comfortably at Green Common or at the OVO restaurant, all within 3-5 minutes walk.
8) The small field or lawn should be landscaped more pleasantly. Right now it’s just looks like a disused plot and very attractive to breeding mosquitoes. Lots of photographers and models come to pose at the Blue House. If this could be set up as a nice garden -(yes, with real flowers and plants) for wedding / magazine photos -that would certainly add some sentimental and social value. Lee Tung Avenue’s wedding industry has all but disappeared due to the change in tastes and trends. It would be just fantastic if the Blue House could claw some of that back as part of the storytelling mission.
Taking photos at Lee Tung Avenue would be nice but look no different than photos taken in the Venetian (Macau) or Bicester village. But the Blue House would be unmistakably and definitively Wan Chai.
The mandate of the Blue House should be changed after a study of 2 years and updated. Conservation and preservation should work hand in hand with real education if not for entertainment. I’d like to see St James put in a nice kids area, for reading, for party rental, performances, community gatherings that bring the younger generation in. Kids in urban areas lack good affordable facilities to play in. Those playgrounds nearby are barely good for 10-15 minutes at the most.
Right now, the most famous thing about it is the photo spot next to the supposed chinese docs clinic and a wooden chair right outside the HK House of Stories which invites most people to post that pic on social media to say they’ve been. I just think that after all the effort of Pokemon getting all sorts of people to hang around outside the door of the Blue House catching poke monsters, that there is no other way to really draw them in.
Ps. have you noticed that it’s always the same cars parked in the same place on the street right beside the Blue House? They are pretty much fixtures there. Whoever owns those vehicles is most certainly abusing public space.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Blue Househas 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.
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.
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.
Digging beneath the dirt… To find the good and the gritty