Despite dramatic urbanisation in recent years, Tsuen Wan retains a few clues to its industrious past
IN THE EARLY 1960s, when Hong Kong was a manufacturing hub for textiles, most of the colony's factories were situated in a far flung rural town - Tsuen Wan - which is still home to some of them.
Among factories still manufacturing textiles in the area is Central Textiles, a factory founded in 1948, which holds the distinction of having been visited by every colonial governor since Lord Murray MacLehose. Its most recent top level visitor was Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.
Alex Woo, the factory's chairman, can offer no reason for such high level interest in his factory.
Tsuen Wan, where new residential buildings and sparkling commercial office complexes are replacing rundown buildings and banishing the rural ambience, is the largest satellite town in the New Territories.
The town is situated at the foot of Fu Yung Shan, and one can still find squatter huts at its base - in stark contrast to the modern high-rise commercial and residential buildings in front of them.
Stepping out from the Tsuen Wan MTR station, one is struck by the surrounding fast-paced life, the crowded roads, the shopping hordes and the old residential buildings.
Tsuen Wan has seen a recent spurt in construction activity and there are many new single developments and large housing estates.
'Though the place is somewhat disorganised and buildings are cramped, buyers are offered a wide range of choices in terms of prices and size of flats,' said Sammy Po, sales director of Midland Realty for the New Territories.
Many residents find Tsuen Wan convenient for shopping and recreation needs and have lived there for generations.
Annie Chan, who lives in Tsuen Wan with her parents, said: 'I grew up here and I am used to the crowds. But there are many choices [of flats] here to suit my budget, so I'll buy a flat in Tsuen Wan later on.'
A pleasant break from the high-rise monotony is provided by a museum, situated not far from the MTR station, which is also considered a historical heritage site.
The Sum Tung Uk (literally three-beam dwelling) has a little garden and a porch and was converted from a walled Hakka (a Chinese clan) village. It offers a glimpse of old village life and the small garden provides refreshing shelter from the heat of summer and the crowds outside.
Among the modern high-rises that have sprung up recently, Discovery Park boasts some of the most expensive apartments in the area.
The estate, which also has a commercial complex, was developed by HKR International and New World Development.
It has a stylishly designed lobby and a clubhouse, both of which are comparable to a those of a five-star hotel.
Also, in the typhoon season, its residents appreciate the air-conditioned bridge that links the residential complex to the MTR station.
In a survey conducted by Fortune Realty and Ricacorp Properties in May, Discovery Park was found to be among the top five most sought after residential developments in Hong Kong.
With Hong Kong buyers beginning to return to the property market, mainly because of historically low interest rates, Discovery Park has become a popular choice.
'Over the last few months, we've seen a trend that those people renting apartments at Discovery Park are beginning to buy the apartments. It takes up about 2 per cent of the sales transaction in Discovery Park,' said Iris Leung Po-ling, associate director of sales for Centaline Property Agency in Tsuen Wan.
'Six cuts in interest rates have made [property] purchases attractive and they really like the environment and facilities in Discovery Park,' Ms Leung said.
A full range of recreational and shopping facilities are available in the complex including a huge multi-storey shopping centre, a clubhouse with indoor sports courts, karaoke and mahjong rooms, reading rooms for children, outdoor tennis courts, a golf putting green and a carpark.
Discovery Park, consisting of 12 blocks, divided into three phases, was completed in May 1998 and contains a total of 3,360 units. Two-bedroom apartments range from 593 square feet to 610 sq ft and three-bedroom ones range from 723 sq ft to 848 sq ft.
Those apartments on the top floors also come with a roof-top terrace. Average prices range from HK$3,000 to HK$3,600 per sq ft and rentals average HK$16 per sq ft.
Unlike Discovery Park which attracts mostly upgraders, the older (17-year-old) Luk Yeung Sun Chuen was popular among Tsuen Wan's first time-buyers, said Mr Po.
'The apartment sizes are smaller, hence cheaper to buy. With a budget of HK$1.4 million, buyers can easily get a good quality apartment,' said Mr Po.
Most importantly, Luk Yeung Sun Chuen is also situated next to the MTR station and has a shopping arcade. Other shops and commercial offices are all within walking distance of the complex.
Here, two-bedroom apartments range from 511 sq ft to 555 sq ft and three-bedroom ones have an area of 671 sq ft.
The average sales price in the complex is HK$2,700 per sq ft and rentals stand at HK$13 per sq ft. A two-bedroom apartment rents for HK$6,800, which includes rates and management fees.
Tsuen Wan MTR station is the last stop along the west-bound line and it takes passengers about 30 to 40 minutes to get to Central. It is also just a few minutes MTR ride to Lai King MTR station, which connects to the Airport Express.
Tsuen Wan has become one of the busiest towns in the New Territories, serving as a centre to the more remote areas of Castle Peak Road and the Gold Coast, where many local residents head for barbecues and seafood.
It is not surprising then that a ParknShop supermarket located next to the Tsuen Wan MTR station has one of the highest turnovers in sales in Hong Kong, catering for holidaymakers and barbecue-bound revellers.
Tsuen Wan's wet markets are popular throughout neighbouring towns for their cheap, wide range of foods.
The construction of new expressways in the last few years has eased the once-problematic crowding in Tsuen Wan MTR station.
'There used to be a mad rush of office goers at the MTR station every morning. Now, residents can use public buses and minibus services, and some even drive,' said Ms Leung.
The importance and strategic location of Tsuen Wan would be further enhanced once the West Rail project is completed in 2003, linking it to Tuen Mun, Yuen Long and all the way to the border at Lowu, said Mr Po.
Next week: Sha Tin