While this might look like a portico off the coast of Lisbon (or maybe I’m just wishing it was), it’s actually a house in a small neighborhood about 45 minutes from me and walking distance from the largest financial district in Hong Kong.
If you’re going to visit Sheung Wan, you might as well bring your camera because you’ll want to take pictures of everything. It seems the HK Tourist Bureau is aware of this as that would explain the large number of tour buses that trammel through the tiny streets every hour, releasing curious tourists to scale hilly stairways in search of all the character Sheung Wan has to offer.
But it’s not just the historical sites that make this part of Hong Kong such an iconic staple amongst tourists. From a small altar at the end of a doorway to a “front yard” of Astro Turf, all contemporary details and traditional remnants in this neighborhood seem perfectly placed, as if part of some larger, more deliberate portrait. The funny thing is they’re not — everything is where it lays because it serves a larger purpose than being placed on someone’s photo blog. And yet, that’s what everybody seems to love about this hood.
Coming from the Central MTR stop, it’s next to impossible not to ingest some amount of car exhaust or completely avoid any physical contact with one of the 93 million people who walk past you on your way there. But it would be inaccurate to say all of Hong Kong is like this. No sooner than you were starting to feel a bit suffocated do you find yourself in the bucolic solace of this quirky, quiet area.
Unfortunately this particular WordPress template isn’t very conducive for displaying photos but I’ve included a good number here anyway and will eventually post the rest on my photo blog (link will be up soon!). All photos were taken on an iPhone so any shakiness can be directly attributed to the amount of walking and stair climbing that took place that day.
It’s always fascinating to see what you can tell about a place by the buildings that occupy it. Sheung Wan is a good mix of old and new Hong Kong. It offers a representation of how varied Hong Kong’s architecture is, contrasting other areas like the Westernized federal edifices in Central, which hosts large European-columned and corniced buildings.
In some senses, there is a bric-a-brac feel to Hong Kong architecture. Not counting the ominously massive malls built in the past ten years, other neighborhoods look completely different than Sheung Wan while still managing to offer a layer of this SAR’s history: the Opium Wars, Japanese occupation, British colonization, more wars and post-modernism, and now, resuming its identity as China’s first “special administrative region”.
My interest in re-visiting the area came about after watching a short report Monocle had produced on Sheung Wan that highlighted a shop called Fungus Workshop. As it turned out, finding the workshop became way more difficult than I could have imagined — like trying to locate the 9-3/4 platform at King’s Cross Station as a muggle. For those unversed in Harry Potter speak, it’s virtually impossible.
The directions I had scribbled down along with my super crude hand-drawn map and the screenshot of Google Maps’ directions all had failed me (I have no wifi on my phone, just like the old days). So before the novelty of this little adventure completely wore off, I relented and started searching for a place to ask for directions. I passed this place twice before deciding, “Oh alright, I deserve a San Miguel.”
If you come visit me, I will take you here (without getting lost). I had read that Sheung Wan is an emerging magnet for trendy restauranteers and shop owners (just around the corner is a Lomography Gallery Store — so essentially this entire neighborhood is hipster paradise too) and true to life, 208 is one of many chic eateries on Gough Street.
Being fully quenched, I set out again walking up about 500 more streets/hills/stairs and back down until finally — F I N A L L Y — I found it, wedged in between two other tiny streets that were smashed in between two medium sized streets that were no where near the main roads. It made me feel not so bad about getting lost and now I know Sheung Wan well enough to be a tour guide on one of those buses, or at the very least a tour guide on how to get to Fungus Workshop.
And all in all, it was completely worth it. The shop was beautiful, owned by two couples who craft their own leather goods and offer classes to anyone who wants to learn how to work with leather and make their own goods. Participants learn hand-stitch, lining, fastening and leather finishing, ending up with several small products like a small camera bag, handbag, coin purse, an organizer.
I hope if I end up staying here long enough, I can try my hand at a handmade leather class at Fungus. It makes me happy knowing that people make a living off their passions and those passions include returning to bespoke crafts. And that people seek out these places and keep them alive is a really wonderful thing as well. The class was packed for the size of the room with everyone thoroughly engrossed in their individual projects.
I get tired just thinking about all the walking and climbing stairs entailed with this trek but the amount of mobility you have to have to live here is slowly becoming a reality for me. And anyways, I’ve always thought the best way to get to know a place is by foot. That was a peek into one area of Hong Kong. More on the way! 🙂