Sheung Wan - New Beginnings
Written by Nick Walton
Nick Walton explores Sheung Wan, one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods of his adopted home of Hong Kong, and finds the traditions of the past fusing with the trends of tomorrow in a kaleidoscope of colour and culture thats proving to be a popular drawcard for locals and tourists alike.
Its late on a bright Saturday morning, and in one corner of Hong Kong Island contrast is taking place. While expats and tourists feast on eggs benedict at chic pavement cafés, and tourists follow maps to the Man Mo Temple, elderly Chinese women perform delicate fan dances under the shady trees of Hollywood Road Park. Nearby, in the shadow of luxury apartment complexes, their husbands crowd around stone tables playing games of jeuhng keih (Chinese chess), while across the street the grilles roll up at the Lomography Gallery Store, a reincarnation of the neighbourhoods original lomo camera shop.
This is Sheung Wan, a dynamic, colourful, eccentric neighbourhood only a stones throw from the glass-encased towers of Hong Kongs central business district. Despite its close proximity to the banks of Central and the affluent residences of the Mid-Levels, Sheung Wan has managed to retain a very local persona; there are fresh flower and vegetable markets that open before sunrise, noodle stands with street-side seating, and mahjong parlours which burn the midnight oil. There are coffin workshops and open-air butchers, and a fantastic antiques market, its stalls and stores stained with age.
But its also a suburb undergoing change. As rents in the bustle of Central continue to rise on the worlds most space-strapped island, the citys hip persona is venturing west, into Sheung Wans shopfronts and alleyways, creating a diversity that's both kaleidoscopic and enthralling. Heritage is in vogue in Hong Kong, and this tiny district is turning into the citys chic capital.
It is not the first time Sheung Wan has found itself evolving. One of Hong Kongs most historic precincts, it was once a key component of the British settlement known as Victoria City. Today Hollywood Road, one of Hong Kongs oldest thoroughfares, runs through Sheung Wan like a vital artery and travels past Aberdeen Street, the official border, down to the ancient Man Mo Temple. Steps away, Gough Street is one of many lanes where new bars and restaurants cash in on the subtle address change.
First to make the move west from Central was Hong Kongs arts scene. Sheung Wan was already home to the Sheung Wan Civic Centre, a popular arts venue, while high rents in Central, Wan Chai, and Admiralty led to other dance troops and theatre groups moving west, including the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, and the Hong Kong Dance Company.
The contemporary art scene has quickly followed, building galleries in the spacious factory buildings and creating a new hub for modern art in Hong Kong. Cat Street Gallery, one of the first contemporary art galleries to make the move to Sheung Wan, and its adjacent The Space venue, housed in a former meatpacking building, have both helped to bolster the neighbourhoods arty credentials. They have been quickly followed by the likes of Sin Sin and ParaSITE, as well as design stores like Innermost and a host of design-savvy start-up companies.
Hong Kong residents like to follow their taste buds into uncharted territory, which has worked well for Sheung Wan as a kaleidoscope of eateries has set up shop in the heart of the district. Recent openings include Yardbird, a boisterous yakitori restaurant with a sensational Nippon-themed cocktail list; the Blue Butcher, a prohibition-themed steakhouse; and Three Monkeys, a Japanese gastropub on Hollywood Road.
Shopping is another great reason to explore Sheung Wans steep pedestrian-friendly streets. There are Chinese collectables in the antiques markets which run parallel to Hollywood Road, modern art galleries, fashion boutiques, and design stores all within easy reach of each other. Tung Street is especially popular as it emerges as an arts community in its own right. Diane Beatrice Nitte opened her chic Ellerman flower shop here, and just a few doors down is bijou ceramics boutique Loveramics and concept store Signed-By, which brings in collections from the likes of Ccchu, Droog, Molo, and Jaime Hayon.
Nearby Konzepp Space, with its bright egg-yolk yellow façade, is a place where the citys artists can share ideas and cross-pollinate over cups of Mariage Frères green tea, served with locally harvested honey and Mays cookies. Alternatively, browse the racks of design magazines and shelves lined with creative lifestyle products such as Nasomatto fragrances, Fennec iPad covers, and stylish Mute watches so youll always look the part in this new hipster hangout.
Hong Kong, China
Magnolia is one of Hong Kongs most popular private kitchens small, chef-run restaurants hidden away in residential towers or factory buildings. Serving up homestyle Cajun cooking in a series of private dining rooms reminiscent of a New Orleans boudoir, Magnolia was at the forefront of Sheung Wans new incarnation, offering a dining destination with a difference. With no corkage charge and a menu laced with Cajun classics like melt-in-your-mouth ribs and fluffy cornbread, be sure to book well ahead for a coveted reservation.
Man Mo Temple
Man Mo Temple is the unofficial symbol of Sheung Wan. Located in the heart of the neighbourhood, on Hollywood Road, the popular Taoist shrine is the largest of the citys temples dedicated to the civil or literature god Man Tai, as well as the martial god Mo Tai. These two gods were popular in ancient China with scholars and students looking to progress their studies, and today parents and children will visit the temple to light incense in the smoke-filled main hall and pray for good exam results or luck in the coveted civil service entrance exam.