apartment / Culture / History / Hong Kong / Lifestyle / Living in Hong Kong / Photography / Recreation / Scenery / travel

The hidden (Modern) history of Sai Ying Pun – Part 2

Earlier in the week I took you on a stroll through the University of Hong Kong and a couple of its hidden historical buildings. Continuing on from there, we then took to the streets of Sai Ying Pun and uncovered a few more surprises.

I’ve been walking the streets of Sai Ying Pun for a couple of years. I used to live in a neighbouring suburb and regularly venture to the markets, so I didn’t think there would be any surprises, and I couldn’t remember seeing much in the way of notable buildings.

I was very wrong and realised just how oblivious I had been, and how limited my exploration of Sai Ying Pun had really been. I also discovered what a fabulous area it is to take photographs…

This wonderful old building built in the late 1800’s was once nursing quarters for a hospital before spending much of its time as a mental asylum until 1971. I’m not sure what it is used for these days. Admittedly I just couldn’t find an angle to do this beautiful old building justice with my camera. It is long and symmetrical and I just loved it. I want to go back and see if I can figure out a way to capture it better at some point as the day we walked by there was a lot of construction on the opposite side of the road restricting access.

Across the road is a current methadone clinic housed in yet another historical building which also served back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as a lunatic asylum for Chinese patients. Much of it is hidden behind high walls. I couldn’t help wondering if the 8 patterns on the walls were intentional given the superstitious nature of Chinese culture.

Some of the windows have been bricked up. Did they do that to keep people out, or the inmates in …

One of the things that always fascinates me with historical buildings is the mystery of what kind of secrets and stories these old places hide within their walls. Stories lost to the passage of time, hidden until some clue is discovered, or secrets kept so close to it’s heart they will never be revealed as all those who knew anything of the mystery within the walls pass into dust while the building stands silently against the test of time (and hopefully against urbanisation as well).

Of course … perhaps there is no mystery at all … but I’d like to think there are always stories hidden behind every closed door … or bricked up window.

Sai Ying Pun is one of the few areas on Hong Kong island where you can still see a lot of old low rise apartment blocks. They are old and often grotty, but the character oozes from them – a mish-mash of disorganisation and yet to those of us from the Western world, so strange and interesting. Unfortunately, we realised as we walked around that a few of the historical apartment blocks we had wanted to see had been demolished and were in the process of being replaced by high rise apartment projects. I wonder what this street will look like in 10 years time…

And so as we wandered on we came to yet another old building, this time in the process of being renovated for preservation… where we came across something I never would have expected in modern Hong Kong…

Is that a British colonial post box?!

This piece of history is hidden off a side street in Sai Ying Pun and indeed it is real although retired from service. These post boxes were used from 1952. I’m not sure the exact age of this one, but I was surprised to find anything with the Queen’s crown still on it. Maybe Hong Kong does take a little pride in preserving its history after all!

From colonial relics we walked into an area with a street of small Chinese shrines towards Sheung Wan.

The haze and fragrance of incense filled the streets. Every now and then people would go into one of these shrines, wave their own incense sticks, close their eyes, stand in silence and then place them into an urn or pot to continue smouldering.

I love the coils of incense. They spiral around creating a cone reminiscent of a chinese coolie hat. I had never experienced incense other than as straight sticks until I moved to Hong Kong. This temple/shrine was on the second floor of  an old building and had the incense coils hanging out over the street. So many coils were on a slow burn they created their own mist which made it hard for me to photograph through.

Another small shrine down a quiet side alley had nothing but this box of incense slowly smouldering away. The smoke from the incense seemed to linger and dance in the humidity.

One of the things I love about Hong Kong is that I am always surprised by what I discover as I explore, and that no two streets hold the same surprises. Hong Kong changes as quickly as the wind changes direction and it’s streets are no different.


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