Go back in time

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 July, 2010, 12:00am

Wan Chai - one of the oldest developed areas in Hong Kong - provides a wealth of heritage gems. This summer, nostalgia buffs can learn the stories behind the district's historic sites on tours specially designed for young people.

The tours have been organised by St James' Settlement for students who want to use their long holiday to explore Hong Kong's past.

Long-time residents, acting as tour guides, will describe the history behind the landmark buildings. Through words and photos they will explain to the visitors how the places looked like decades or even 100 years ago.

One afternoon tour will take visitors to five heritage locations, while two other tours offer themes of restaurants with a strong local flavour and ghostly places in Wan Chai.

The heritage tour will start at Pak Tai Temple. The historic structure is an example of an early Cantonese temple in Hong Kong. It was built in 1863, and most of its architectural features - including a 400-year-old three-metre statue of the god of the sea, wall paintings, and roof sculptures - are well-preserved.

The temple is where the original coastline was. It was built by local residents, who were mostly fishermen. Before setting sail, they visited the temple to seek blessings for a safe voyage.

'During traditional festivals and when they were about to set sail, residents would pray for peace. They also held rituals for the deceased, sought oracles and even consulted the resident priest for medical advice,' says tour guide Zeng Jiewah.

Another stop will be the four-storey Blue House built in the 1920s. The Grade One historic building has been revitalised and now hosts cultural and heritage exhibitions and programmes about Wan Chai.

It features living conditions in Hong Kong 50 years ago. Its steep, creaking wooden stairs lead to a dozen 300-square-foot flats, each partitioned by wooden panels into smaller rooms. Each dimly lit room could have housed up to 30 people in the 1950s.

'The Blue House is a mirror of life in the 1950s and '60s Hong Kong. That was after the end of the second world war and saw an influx of immigrants from the mainland. Public housing was under-developed and many people could only afford to rent a small corner of a flat,' Zeng says.

Visitors can take a look at government preservation efforts when the tour stops at the former Wan Chai Post Office and the Woo Cheong Pawnshop.

The historic former post office has been converted into an environmental education resource centre. Its facade and interior have been retained as have examples of the office's functions from a cast-iron stamp selling machine to a series of large letter boxes.

The pawnshop is now the site of several restaurants. But visitors can still view the building's original decorations and features.

The tours run all summer. Students must book in advance. For more information, visit www.wclive.net

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