A great walk today, along Cheung Sha Wan, Sham Shui Po, Tai Kok Tsui, and Mongkok. I kept running into local market days, streets closed off to traffic, fresh fruits and vegetables and more, all along the route.
I woke up towards 4am, after a dozen hours´ good sleep. Breakfast in the regular hotel restaurant had a buffet with congee, steamed vegetables (can´t beat cabbage and broccoli for breakfast!), small barbecue pork buns, and I again avoided the ubiquitous baked beans (sorry, Rachel, must be the Irish in me ;-). Had the hotel staff photocopy some maps from Jason Wordieś excellent ¨Streets: Exploring Kowloon¨, and off I went.
I crossed Nathan Road into Jordan about 8am, and it was so much quieter than during the day... they say Hong Kong people stay up late, and it was easy to see this as true during the weekendś lack of rush-hour. But quiet as it was there seemed to be a crowd over towards Reclamation Street (one of the earliest landfill areas), and when I went over I saw the street was closed to traffic, and vegetable stalls were set up, crowded with people shopping. Lots of fruits and vegetables I had sold during my specialty-organic produce days in the 1980s, but a few that were new to me, lichee/longnan relatives, maybe some gooseberries. I followed it north until the grid changed, and continued north through Yau Ma Teiś shuttered massage parlors and karaoke bars, and took the subway at Mongkok Station up four stops to Cheung Sha Wan Plaza.
¨Cheung Sha Wan¨ means ¨long sandy beach¨, but the beach was filled in long ago. This area now had light industry and tall housing estates, and was pretty quiet. Ssssssouth along Lai Chi Kok Road (¨Lichee Corner¨, although the lichee orchards were long gone), then northwest, towards the Kowloon hills, up to the Lei Cheng Uk tomb.
This empty burial structure, built of brick and earth, was discovered while excavating one of the earliest housing estates in 1955. Its design was similar to that of the Han in northern China back in the first century AD. No oneś quite sure why no human remains were found inside, but itś one of the most ancient relics of human habitation in the region, and shows significant migration activity very early on. The tomb was closed, but I was able to see it from the outside, protected from the rain by a giant tarp.
The street grid runs towards the northwest in this area, and I doglegged due south until I reached Appliu St, or ¨Duck Coop Street¨, also known as ¨Thieves Market¨. This had some fresh produce, but is also a flea market, with many different types of goods. I bought a 28¨ wallet chain.
Interesting bit about ¨Duck Coop¨... many people moved to Hong Kong from rural areas, and they often brought agrarian habits with them... many stores selling vegetable seed, and some selling baby chicks and ducks. In the days before Avian Flu some used to keep small coops on the verandahs of their apartment buildings.
(Speaking of apartment verandahs, I figured out why people have to fly ¨the Hong Kong flag¨ of clothing out the window... itś a little too humid for clothes to dry indoors, and the breeze helps.)
Some of the places I tried to see were apparently renovated away already. The Sham Shui Po police station (yes, the Po Po´) was stately British brick, and has been used as background in many Hong Kong films... it was built five years after Britain was ceded the land north of Boundary Street as ¨New Kowloon¨.
One place I passed on seeing was ¨Fook Tak Kwu Miu¨, the ¨Happiness and Virtue Ancient Temple¨, which was a repository for statues of ¨Household Gods¨ -- you can´t just toss a porcelain visage of a god in a bin, you know, must practice proper recycling. But it was up a hillside of uncertain height and distance, so I kept on going south instead.
I tried to find the small plaque in Sham Shui Po where prisoners were kept during World War II. Couldn´t find it though... either I didn´t look in the right place, or the new Sham Shui Po park replaced it, not sure. The new park is spic and span, with lots of signs telling you not to do this, and not to do that... there are plastic tarp signs in most parks now advising of the new ¨No Smoking¨ rule in parks. But these parks are pretty empty, and people congregate playing Shang Qi chess and various card games nearby instead. Even the older gents taking the birdcages for a walk tended to avoid the over-planned newer parks.
Kept going south into Tai Kok Tsui, ¨big point promontory¨. Itś landlocked now by land reclaimed from the sea, but used to be the big shipbuilding area. There are still names like ¨Anchor Street¨, and it does have a maritime feel, but thereś´no boatbuilding around here anymore.
Speaking of landfill, I´m learning that you can often date an area by the type of street grid it has. Landfill tends to have much larger avenues, without the narrow streets found within the original coastlines. If you look at a streetmap of Kowloon itś visually apparent when an area started being inhabited.
From Tai Kok Tsui I walked east, into Mongkok. They say this is one of the most densely-populated areas on earth, but I didn´t ¨get it¨ before -- turned out that itś the area *east* of Nathan Road where most of the activity is. Good gosh, a lot of foot traffic... felt like New York City, only moreso, people everywhere.
I was hungry, and scored a small triumph, with my first ordering in a Cantonese restaurant. Not a big triumph -- I just said ¨char siu fan¨ (barbecued pork rice), and the universal ¨Coca Cola¨, but with my usual reticence this was a big deal. Now Iĺl go on to big things, I´m sure.... ;-)
I walked a little more through crowded Mongkok, and found Yin Chong Street (¨Smoke Factory Street¨) where tobacco leaves were brought to be rolled into cigarettes before World War II. Those factories are gone, now replaced by Saturday produce markets, and during the week by Indonesian markets. There was a small park nearby, which fortunately did not have the ubiquitous ¨No Smoking¨ banners, and I had a small pipe in homage. Some Indonesian domestic workers gathered nearby, laughing with each other, and one offered me an apple. It was fun.
Back down through Yau Ma Tei and into Jordan, past the crews setting up for Temple Street Night Market, past the streetwalkers from the PRC giving me the come-hither look, and into my hotel for a shower and nap.
Not sure yet what I´ĺl do this evening... thinking of a pint of beer at the pubs at Knutsford Terrace, maybe brave the clamor of Tsim Tsa Tsui.
It was a great walk. I saw lots of different areas where people lived, shopped, and socialized. Some of the housing and quality-of-life is pretty grim... gave me a better idea of the drive people must develop, in hopes of getting a better life for themselves.