Living in Hong Kong you quickly discover there’s a large divide, both physical and social, between Hong Kong island and the Kowloon peninsula. While the island has all the trappings and excesses of absolute wealth (largely generated by the financial sector) the story is often very different in much of Kowloon.
Despite being only a matter of ten minutes apart by MTR train the communities on either side couldn’t be further apart psychologically and it’s not unusual that people on either side of the harbour rarely cross over. I once met an expat who told me the only reason he ever leaves Central is to go to the airport – Hong Kong Island is to Manhattan, as Kowloon is to The Bronx.
While cramped living conditions generally persist on both sides due to the constrained land space, buildings on the Kowloon side often appear to be in a constant state of urban decay with the effects becoming more clearly visible the further north you head.
All the photos here were taken around Sham Shui Po (深水埗) which is in northwest Kowloon. Much of the housing stock here consists of public housing estates built in the 1960s (after a massive fire in 1953) and a few even older Chinese Tong Lau (唐樓) tenement buildings.
During the 1980s, mainland China’s reform and opening up led to the decline of the textile industry in Hong Kong and the area became notorious for its poor living conditions which included caged bed spaces and wood-plank divided apartment cubicles. There were also racial tensions between local residents and Vietnamese refugees.
Today Sham Shui Po is best known for its markets and in particular The Golden Shopping Centre where the upper floor, Golden Computer Centre (高登電腦中心), mainly sells games and software, while the lower floor, Golden Computer Arcade (黃金電腦商場) focuses on the sales of computer hardware. Think of it as Hong Kong’s answer to Akihabara in Tokyo.
The are a number of urban renewal projects taking place in the area funded both publicly and privately including The Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre (JCCAC) which was converted from a former factory building (opened in 2008). It’s situated right next to Shek Kip Mei Estate (石硤尾邨) which was the first of its kind and currently undergoing regeneration also.
In addition to studio space for artists, the centre features a theatre, galleries and communal workshops for resident artists and the community to use. Members of the public are free to wander around inside and it’s a nice space to get away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds in the nearby markets.
Since moving to Hong Kong I’ve visited Sham Shui Po on numerous occasions, often for great dim sum at the weekends, but have become increasingly fascinated by the sights and sounds of the area which provide a glimpse into another side of the city.
If you’re looking for a break from the uniformity and homogeneity of the many modern shopping malls in Hong Kong then Sham Shui Po is well worth a visit. Even though the area is undergoing renewal you can still find a slice of life here which quietly persists much the same way it has for decades. SSP is easily accessible via the Tsuen Wan Line, just 15 minutes from Central.