The Stairway … uh, wait a minute, Escalator to Heaven

30 07 2010

One of the fascinating things about Hong Kong is how simple names that are attached to some of the places or features are. One such feature is the Central Mid-Level Escalators, Central because of its starting point in the Central district of Hong Kong, Mid-Level because of its end point which is on the Mid-Level area, and Escalator, because it is indeed an escalator or a set of escalators that was built in 1993 to ease congestion on the narrow streets at a cost of $245 million Hong Kong Dollars. It is estimated that some 54,000 pedestrians use it a day, twice what was originally estimated. The 800 metre long set of escalators moves downhill from 6 am to 10 am and uphill from 10.15 am to midnight, climbing some 135 metres in height. The escalators also provide the visitor with opportunities to see some of the older parts of Hong Kong and a notable building along the route of the escalators is the classical styled former Central Police Station main building with a façade featuring Doric columns, which was completed in 1919.

The Mid Level Escalators were built in 1993 and provides quick and easy access from Central to SoHo and the Mid-Levels.

The Mid Level Escalators were built in 1993 and provides quick and easy access from Central to SoHo and the Mid-Levels.

The escalators make ascending the steep slope of Victoria Peak a breeze.

The escalators make ascending the steep slope of Victoria Peak a breeze.

The Mid-Level Escalators provides sightseeing opportunities to the visitor - the Main Building of the Central Police Station on Hollywood Road constructed in 1919 is seen here.

The Mid-Level Escalators provides sightseeing opportunities to the visitor - the Main Building of the Central Police Station on Hollywood Road constructed in 1919 is seen here.

The escalators provide many a photographic opportunity.

The escalators provide many a photographic opportunity.

The escalators also provide an opportunity for the visitor to get up close to day-to-day lives of the working folk of Hong Kong.

The escalators also provide an opportunity for the visitor to get up close to day-to-day lives of the working folk of Hong Kong.

A shop window seen from the escalators.

A shop window seen from the escalators.

The escalators when built, also served to revive some of the areas higher up which had up to then been rather inaccessible and forgotten, particularly the area that has become known as SoHo. Sharing a name with the red-light district of London’s West End, and with New York’s trendy area South of Houston Street, Hong Kong’s SoHo, in this case South of Hollywood Road, has since been transformed into a trendy nightlife hub with a cluster of cafés, restaurants and bars, as well as trendy outlets that cater to the young and upwardly mobile.

The area south of Hollywood Road along the route of the Escalator is referred to as SoHo and has been transformed by the construction of the escalators.

The area south of Hollywood Road along the route of the Escalator is referred to as SoHo and has been transformed by the construction of the escalators.

Hollywood Road.

Hollywood Road.

The SoHo area features cafes, bars, restaurants and trendy shops.

The SoHo area features cafés, bars, restaurants and trendy shops.

A trendy SoHo cafe.

A trendy SoHo café.

The Mid-Levels area that the escalators are intended is not an area that I can claim to have visited, but from descriptions that I have read of the heavenly views of Victoria Harbour the location halfway up Victoria Peak provides to its exclusive and upmarket residents, it can perhaps be described as being heaven on earth. What I did have the opportunity to visit, together with some of my fellow bloggers on the guided walk with Mr. Leon Suen (please visit the post on Wing Lee Street in Sheung Wan), is perhaps a surer stairway to Heaven – the stairway that leads to the Jamia Masjid, off the escalators on Shelly Street. The mosque that we see today is built in an Indian Islamic style and is the second mosque building that has stood in its place, having been rebuilt in 1915 by a certain Essack Elias of Bombay. What is interesting is that the name of the benefactor who would probably have been a convert to Islam, is of Jewish origin, and can probably be traced back to the numerous Baghdadi Jews who settled in Bombay in the 1800s and could perhaps be linked to the Eliases of Singapore who left us Elias Road and the David Elias Building. The original mosque was apparently named the “Mohammedan Mosque” and built in 1890 and wasn’t large enough to cope with the growing Muslim population in Hong Kong.

A surer Stairway to Heaven ... the steps leading up to the Jamia Masjid, off Shelley Street.

A surer Stairway to Heaven ... the steps leading up to the Jamia Masjid, off Shelley Street.

The Jamia Masjid seen from Shelley Street.

The Jamia Masjid seen from Shelley Street.

The mosque was rebuilt in 1915 by a certain Essack Elias.

The mosque was rebuilt in 1915 by a certain Essack Elias.

Wandering around the grounds of the mosque and inside the mosque itself, one is somehow transported away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Hong Kong just down the escalators, into a world that seems so cool, calm and peaceful, and I could almost imagine myself being brought to another world (that is on a quite Monday – I am not sure if that would be the case on Fridays when I guess the compound and mosque would be teeming with Muslims coming for Friday prayers). It was a certainly a nice respite from what was an extremely hot, humid and hurried day, and should anyone be in the area and seeking a respite from the hurried pace of life around, this is certainly the place to be.

The mosque and its grounds offers a respite from the backdrop of the busy Hong Kong that surrounds it.

The mosque and its grounds offers a respite from the backdrop of the busy Hong Kong that surrounds it.

It also offered us respite from the midday sun...

It also offered us respite from the midday sun...

Views of the very tranquil Mosque and the grounds of the Mosque

IMG_1539
IMG_1504
IMG_1513
IMG_1509
IMG_1510
IMG_1519
IMG_1520
IMG_1521
IMG_1523
IMG_1525
IMG_1527
IMG_1528
IMG_1529
IMG_1531
IMG_1532
IMG_1535


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy My Hong Kong Travel Blog site. Please visit the My Hong Kong Travel Blog where you can vote for you favourite blogger and stand a chance to win a trip to Hong Kong. Details would be provided at the voting page.





Echoes of the Sheung Wan of the 1960s: Wing Lee Street and the ladder streets

28 07 2010

If you haven’t already noticed from my blog, The Long and Winding Road is that one of the things that I have a soft spot for is in old places which would be mixed with bits of nostalgia of those places in the days that have passed. While The Long and Winding Road isn’t so much a nostalgia blog as it has sometimes been labelled as – being about how I see what is around me, it does have a large dose of nostalgia for the Singapore that I grew up in, and when I am in a place like Hong Kong, I can also identify with the places and things that the local people have a nostalgia for. Hong Kong does provide a lot of that in some ways: the tramway and the Star ferry being some of the older things that are still around. There is another part of Hong Kong where it is possible to enjoy hearing the lingering echo of a forgotten past, which on this trip was introduced by Mr Leon Suen, a professional photographer who had kindly and patiently served as our guide for two hours in an thoroughly enjoyable walk around the Sheung Wan area of Hong Kong Island.

Down Shing Wong Street in Sheung Wan with Mr Leon Suen.

The highlight of the walk was the walk along the staircases and terraces of Sheung Wan around the area where Wing Lee Street is. Wing Lee Street is a terrace that was made famous by Alex Law’s award winning movie 歲月神偷, 岁月神偷 in simplified Chinese or when translated into English, “Time, the thief”. It goes by the title “Echoes of the Rainbow” in English, a reference to the double rainbow I suppose, that features in a scene in the movie. I guess the walk would probably have been more meaningful if I had watched the movie before taking it, but somehow, walking down the staircases and terraces did take me back to a time as the street that Wing Lee Street was used to depict was in, to the Sheung Wan of the 1960s, much like how my walks in some of the older parts of Singapore would bring me back to a time that I would have remembered.

A building from the past along Shing Wong Street. Many of the old buildings have been demolished and replaced by high rise buildings, altering the character of the area.

Wing Lee Street served as the set for the award winning movie 歲月神偷 or “Time, the thief” which goes by the title “Echoes of the Rainbow in English.

Wing Lee Street served as the set for the award winning movie 歲月神偷 or “Time, the thief” which goes by the title “Echoes of the Rainbow in English.

The building that served as the school on the set of the movie.

The building that served as the school on the set of the movie.

Ventilation and light openings in the stairwell were a common feature of the old buildings.

Ventilation and light openings in the stairwell were a common feature of the old buildings.

Wing Lee Street and the movie Echoes of the Rainbow provide a doorway into Sheung Wan's past.

Wing Lee Street and the movie Echoes of the Rainbow provide a doorway into Sheung Wan's past.

The movie, which I made a point of watching in the plane on the voyage back to Singapore, is filled with sights, sounds and images of the Hong Kong of the late 1960s. In watching it, I felt very much that I was back in that Hong Kong, back to a time when I had my own childhood in Singapore, with strains of music of the era that echo in the background of the many warm nostalgic scenes that fill the movie. I didn’t think very much of the plot though, while it may have centred around a heart wrenching tale of a family of a shoemaker struggling to make ends meet and desperately trying to save a favoured son in his prime diagnosed with cancer as seen through the eyes of the younger son finding hard to live up to the comparisons made with his elder brother. The story which is in a sense an autobiographical tribute to the director’s own brother who died of cancer in his teens, I felt was rather shallow and predictable, but still watchable for the poignant look of the Hong Kong of old. I understand that it was only after the shooting of the movie that a decision was taken to conserve the buildings along Wing Lee Street which would otherwise have been demolished.

A gate on Wing Lee Street.

A gate on Wing Lee Street.

Windows on on Wing Lee Street.

Windows on Wing Lee Street.

A wall along Wing Lee Street.

A wall along Wing Lee Street.

Grilled windows.

Grilled windows.

A broken pane on a window.

A broken pane on a window.

The terrace that is Wing Lee Street.

The terrace that is Wing Lee Street.

An interesting part of Wing Lee Street is at the corner of Shing Wong Street (one of the “ladder streets” – named such as they are literally staircases up from the lower reaches of the Central and Sheung Wan areas to the Mid Levels higher up), where the Wai Che Printing Co. is located. It is also interesting to note that opposite the entrance to the Wai Che is the building that was used to depict the school in the movie. Entering the printing shop through the half opened collapsible gate, you would immediately be transported back in time – more so because of the sight of old wooden racks of lead type against the wall and an old Heidelberg cylinder movable type printing machine, which although still being operated by the owner, the very friendly Mr. Lee Chak Yue who is in his eighties, has become obsolete. Mr. Lee, had been using this traditional method of printing which harks back to the days of ancient China in which it was invented (it is considered one of the great inventions of China), for some 60 years and was patient enough to explain how printing is done in this traditional way where typesetting can be a lengthy task. It is a shame to have to hear from him and Leon that the shop and the wealth of history that can be found in the lead type and machines is not something that the heritage body in Hong Kong is looking at preserving. It would certainly be nice to see that at least the shop and the contents of the shop be kept where it is and preserved as a museum, but from the sound of things, that is quite unlikely.

Wai Che Printing Company's entrance at Wing Lee Street.

Wai Che Printing Company's entrance at Wing Lee Street.

A sign at the entrance.

A sign at the entrance.

Mr Lee Chak Yue, the proprietor of Wai Che is in his 80s and has been doing movable type printing fro 60 years. It is with his kind permission that the set of photographs have been taken.

Mr Lee Chak Yue, the proprietor of Wai Che is in his 80s and has been doing movable type printing fro 60 years. It is with his kind permission that the set of photographs have been taken.

IMG_1586

IMG_1593

IMG_1587

IMG_1585

The Heidelberg moving type press.

The Heidelberg moving type press.

At the other end of the terrace there is a charming old apartment block – looking somewhat dilapidated. If not for the evidence of clothes hanging to dry on lines and letter boxes stuffed with the mail, I would have thought that they were not lived in. A feature of buildings of that era can be seen on the façade of the building, which has slots to serve as ventilation openings on the stairwell and more importantly to provide a source of light, one that you will see on many of the buildings around Sheung Wan. Other notable sights in the vicinity are the old Chinese YMCA building – a red brick eclectically designed building that dates back to 1918 which served as the headquarters of the Chinese YMCA on Bridges Street until it moved in 1966 and the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road.

A dilapidated apartment block.

A dilapidated apartment block.

Old letter boxes.

Old letter boxes.

Signs of life ...

Signs of life ...

More signs of life?

More signs of life?

The former Chinese YMCA building on Bridges Street.The Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road.IMG_1654

IMG_1651

IMG_1642

IMG_1635


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy My Hong Kong Travel Blog site. Please visit the My Hong Kong Travel Blog where you can vote for you favourite blogger and stand a chance to win a trip to Hong Kong. Details would be provided at the voting page.