Tuesday, 18 August 2015

A Walk Down Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon

A Walk Down Shanghai St (行上上海街)

If you're 1st time visitor to HK, I guess Nathan Road would be the natural choice. It's the main street in Kowloon. Apart from the many eateries on it and its side streets, there're many businesses that are catered for - in the past and in fewer instances today, ripping off - tourists.

Yau Ma Tei area around Tin Hau Temple
Part of the Shanghai Street I cover in this walk
(click to enlarge)

But if you're repeated visitors, Nathan Road holds fewer surprises. Since I visited Tin Hau Temple in Yau Ma Tei, I want to take a stroll around the nearby Yau Ma Tei area afterwards. I was thinking of doing Temple Street, which really only comes alive in the evening. And since the HK Tourism Board suggests Shanghai Street. They say that this street shows more of a local flavour. Well, who am I to argue with HK tourism authority?

So Shanghai Street, here I come.


Shop sign of hardware stores, Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
Shop signs of hardware stores. I guess these aren't shops that tourist usually go to.
You know you're in locals' territory.


Steelworks shop, Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
Another store that tourists don't normal go.

As this block is right next to Tin Hau Temple (which has been around for more than 200 years), you would expect there're shops selling stuff related to the temple. Chinese pantheon of deities is as panoramic as those in Hindu or Greco-Roman mythology, I find myself unable to recognise some of them. It's one thing to know the names of deified mortals, immortals, spirits, deities, or buddhas, it's another matter to be able to attach names to faces. I don't even recognise some of their names, and I thought I know my Chinese religion.

Shop windows showing figurines of Chinese pantheon, Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
Shop window showing figurines of Chinese pantheon (mostly Taoist immortals here)

Shop windows showing figurines of Chinese pantheon, Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
Figurines have name tags just for customers who don't recognise their religious icons.
These are something that are sold to locals but tourists can take home as souvenirs at local prices.


5-foot-ways - or sheltered arcades - as part of shophouses are common heritage building sights in Singapore. While shophouses are fewer in HK, but those with 5-foot-ways are even fewer. Perhaps because HK's climate is cooler than that of Singapore and SE Asian countries with Chinese communities, and so shades become less of a necessity. In fact, HK can be considered the northernmost country in SE Asia, and therefore has the coolest climate.

Top and left:  5-foot-ways on Erskine St, Singapore
Top:  Shophouses with 5-foot-ways, South Bridge Road, Singapore.
Right:  5-foot-way, Amoy St, Singapore


Don't blink, here's a rare example of a shophouse on Shanghai St (or HK for that matter). The heritage building authority should keep an eye on this building before it disappears under the bulldozer in a blink of an eye.

Shophouses, Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
Shophouse with a 5-foot-way. A rare find in HK.

Going from the architecture of this building, during the days of shophouses, HK was less prosperous than Singapore in the same era. Its facade is plain and utilitarian quite unlike the more decorative and showy shophouses of Singapore.

Strictly speaking, whether one can describe the extra supporting columns for the cantilevered upper stories of the shophouses as 5-foot-way is a moot point. Indeed, just a little distance ahead, I come to a row of 8-storied buildings that precariously cantilevered out into the pavement/sidewalk/footpath (depending if you're from UK, USA, or Australia).

apartment block, Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
It looks like an apartments block stacks on top of a row of shophouses.
No columns to support the overhangs. It's a newer building.

I guess all that business about 5-foot-way in Singapore or HK or anywhere is so that the buildings could gain extra premium space by extending it as far into the street as possible. Of course, it could only extend over the walkways, but not into the the actual streets (where the city's building ordinance prevents them. Not to mention the Law of Gravity).

What you normally see hanging outside a buildings are balconies, not living spaces. This is only designed for prosperous places with leisure in mind, not places where its population want to maximise living spaces and too busy for leisure. Building overhangs naturally occur in SE Asia where population is dense and lives are busy, where overhang is a way of maximising the use of spaces. This becomes an architectural character of that place. You won't see this in countries where populations aren't so dense. If you see them, it's likely that they've only done for architectural style reason, not practical purposes.

In Singapore where it's located in the tropical, the building overhangs also provide the 5-foot shades for pedestrians and shoppers (in some cases, trades people and street vendors), and so it's a win-win solution.


I also come across the heritage Red Bridge House.

Red Brick House sign, Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
A brief outline of the Red Brick House on Shanghai St
(Click to enlarge)
Red Brick House, Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
Red Brick House

It's a mighty hot day - one of the hottest day of the year in the northern hemisphere - I decide to stop at Waterloo Rd before I do my usual routine, keel over with a heat exhaustion. Not all experiences are worth repeating. This is one of them. I take a quick peek at Yau Ma Tei Theatre before heading home.

Yau Ma Tei Theatre, Hong Kong
Click to enlarge

Column, Yau Ma Tei Theatre, Hong Kong
Yau Ma Tei Theatre, Hong Kong
Top:  Yau Mau Tei Theatre
Left:  Column decorated with Cantonese opera masks design

Yau Ma Tei is located at the corner of Waterloo Road and Reclamation St (look at the top left corner of the map at the top of this article). I suspect the name Reclamation comes from land reclamation as I understand that the nearby Tin Hau Temple was situated next to the water once upon a time. And Reclamation St was probably in water not long ago.

Land reclamation, along with building overhangs are constant reminder of HK's unceasing need to solving space issues.


BTW, there's a Hong Kong International Hobby and Toy Museum that on the section of Shanghai St that I walked past, but it's closed on Tuesday. Maybe next time I'm in HK when I would probably walk the rest of Shanghai St to get a traveler's closure.



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