Tag Archives: wan chai market

Abuse of subsidized space

This recent article “Management of the city’s public markets must be improved” -about the abuse of subsidized space- made me think about a quiet corner in Wan Chai market.

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.

Well past 11am on a weekday and it’s closed.

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.

Not big, not small. And not very nice.
Struggling grass… not enough light, soon to be trampled..

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.

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.

Best Fishballs in Wan Chai Market

I’m a fishball fan who has been disappointed many times in Hong Kong. What’s often touted as famous or good Fishballs tend to be rather dense, over salted or just chewy. 

Worse, some just taste artificial or “fishy”. Ultimately each stall has their own recipe and preference for the type of fish used. 

So my favourite stall so far is this one, F3 in Wan Chai indoor market. The other stalls in the outdoor market simply disappoint in flavour and texture.


My recommendation is to get the white Fishballs made of sea fish meat. It’s pretty popular and depletes quickly. I usually buy HKD 60 worth for three people. 

You can use it to make a fantastic omelette – dice the Fishballs into small cubes, pan fry with spring onions and drizzle the egg over it- or boil it and eat with noodles and green vegetables.

The stall is in the busy corridor connecting both sides of the market. So it’s best if you wriggle yourself in there, but what you need and get out quick. Or you’ll find yourself jostling for space.