Discovering Sham Shui Po
Located North-West of Mongkok, this area is famous for its button, textile and ribbon boutiques.
Another centre of attraction is Apliu Street: a unique market dedicated to second-hand everything: electrical and electronic products, pans, lights, fishhooks to name a few, it is very likely you will find what you are looking for in Sham Shui Po.
In Yu Chau Street, a side street of Apliu Street, you will find a local hairdresser, stuck between two buildings, right next to an “art dealer”.
Further along, appears the Sam Tai Tsz Temple.
Built by the Hakka tribe in 1898, the temple is dedicated to Na Cha – as a matter of fact, it is only temple dedicated to Na Cha in Hong Kong – who is also called the Third Prince. This god is usually represented as a young boy who is able to move on wheels of fire. The legend says that a plague epidemic ended after a statue of Na Cha was brought to Sham Shui Po from nearby Guangdong. The temple was built to thank him.
Sham Shui Po’s residential buildings are also linked to the plague epidemic, which spread in Hong Kong towards the end of the 19th century. In 1903, the government decided to pass a law to improve the hygiene conditions of buildings in order to help eradicate the plague. Ventilation, access to natural light, a maximum height of 4 floors and a maximum depth of 12 meters per unit became mandatory in order to improve air circulation in buildings. Architects then added balconies to increase the floor area, as well as provide shelter above the streets. These designs can be seen in old Tong Lau which date back to the 1920s and in more recent structures built in the 1960s and ’70s.
Air conditioning revolutionized ventilation and cooling and most balconies were closed to increase the floor footage of units.
In Tai Nam street, all sorts of recycling stores are everywhere.
At the intersection of Lai Chi Kok Road and Yen Chow Street, Sham Shui Po Police Station is the main attraction. It was built in 1924 on newly reclaimed land. It is still in operation nowadays.
Opposite, a mini shantytown market sells fabrics, this is Yen Chow fabric market.
A few yards away, Sham Shui Po military base has been converted into a park where children, not aware of the war atrocities that took place here, can enjoy its playground.
After the Japanese invasion, the base was converted into a POW jail. Once retroceded to England, it was used to accommodate Vietnamese boat people until the beginning of the 1980s. Nothing was kept of this heavy past.
Tonkin Street is a large avenue where many changes are taking place. Old slums are neighbours to public housing buildings and new modern high rises.
Here, like in many areas of Hong Kong, everyone is doing his or her thing without taking notice of others.
Taxi drivers or workers, no one shall give in, even if it means creating an accident.
At the end of Tonkin Street and at the foot of the hill is Lei Cheng Uk residence that consists of buildings from the 1960’s. A hill had to be flattened in 1955 and workers discovered a tomb made of bricks and 4 chambers forming a cross. The tomb dates back to the Han Dynasty (25-220 after JC) and a small museum relates the discovery of this site.
Castle Peak Road offers another constellation of old slum buildings. But further down is the head-quarter of the biggest cookie factory of Hong Kong: Garden.
Opposite stands an H shape house, Mei Ho House.
It is the only surviving building of Shek Kip Mei, which was destroyed by a fire on Christmas Eve in 1953. Before the fire, the area was a giant slum where Chinese migrated to after WWII.
53,000 people lost their dwellings that night and the governor, Alexander Chatham, decided to relocate them as quickly as possible. 2-storey bungalows were first built before being replaced by 8 blocks of 6-storey buildings. Higher buildings were built until 1962. In the last phase, 7 blocks of 13-storey buildings were finally added to the area.
In order to house a large number of people, the “H” shape building consisted of units of 25sqm, which could allocate 5 people or more, communal kitchens and bathrooms which were placed on bridges linking the 2 aisles and rooftop schools.
In the 1970s, living conditions improved as units were combined and kitchens and bathrooms built-in inside each apartment.
The photographer, Michael Wolf, captured this way of life in the 2000’s.
The apartments which look like cells, allowed generations of Hong Kongers to live under a roof.
Shek Kip Mei was also the start of a large public housing program which makes Hong Kong government the biggest real-estate owner of the Territory. More than 2 million people have access to public housing which is 1/3 of the population!
The area has been going through renovations since 2006 and the older buildings have now disappeared. Mei Ho House was saved and graded into a historical building. It now operates as a guest house and a museum.
There are lots to see and discover in Sham Shui Po …. And buttons are just part of this fascinating area.