Sung Wong Toi Road
Alex Frew McMillan
The traffic thunders down Ma Tau Wai Road into the neighbourhood of To Kwa Wan. The blocks southwest of the old airport are gritty, tightly packed and still dominated by the air freight, storage and mechanical-repair businesses that grew up around Kai Tak.
Sung Wong Toi Road marks one boundary of the airport, which closed in 1998. To the south, ageing 10-storey warehouses and walk-ups hark back to the 1960s and 70s, when jumbo jets roared in low over the roofs, rattling windows and setting clotheslines aflutter.
With airport-imposed height restrictions no longer an issue, the six faceless skyscrapers of the Sky Tower - an early redevelopment in an area that's one of the most affordable in Kowloon - reach up more than 50 storeys. The nearby Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees hotel provides a striking counterpoint to the subdivided tong lau where rooms cost HK$78 a night.
The park on the road, once on the coastline, provides a link to ancient history, containing a 'monument' - a fragment of the Song Wong Toi boulder - dating back to the final days of the Song dynasty, in the 13th century.
Pet stores and mechanics' shops line the tightly packed streets next to Sky Tower. At Kong Kee Garage (17 Luk Ming Street, tel: 2337 3572), Mr Wan is elbow-deep in the engine of a white 40s MG saloon. There is a red 60s Volvo sports car behind it, with a vintage Mini and orange roadster to its side. 'I'm just fixing them for my friends,' he says, adding he hopes the neighbourhood doesn't change too fast. 'There's a lot of interesting stuff around here.'
On Ma Tau Kok Road, gasworks tower over the red brick buildings of the Cattle Depot, now an artists' village. If you ignore the hulking Grand Waterfront development behind the former slaughterhouse, and the fact the place is no longer awash in bovine blood, it's a scene largely unchanged since the 60s.
However, it's likely To Kwa Wan will soon see significant changes, not only with the redevelopment of the Kai Tak site but also with the extension of the Sha Tin-Central MTR line through the neighbourhood, due for completion in 2018.
The fatal collapse of a 55-year-old building on Ma Tau Wai Road last year highlighted the dangers involved in subdividing old buildings into tiny flats and shops
Around Sung Wong Toi Road
1 Sung Wong Toi Garden
This park's claim to fame is a carved rock bearing the characters for 'Sung Wong Toi', or 'Terrace of the Sung em- perors'. In 1277, in the dying days of the Song dynasty, boy emperor Zhao Shi fled from Fuzhou to Hong Kong to escape invading Mongol troops. He often rested in front of a large rock on the Kowloon Bay shore, which was later carved with inscriptions to memorialise his stay. The rock was blasted into three by the Japanese as they expanded the airport during the second world war, but the portion with the characters, inscribed in 1807, survived.
2 Hong Kong Aviation Club
A yellow helicopter sits under wraps on the grassy landing strip of the flight club (31 Sung Wong Toi Road, Kowloon City, tel: 2713 5171), the successor to the Hong Kong Flying Club, founded at Kai Tak in the 1920s. Though its fixed-wing flights have been moved to the old air-force base at Shek Kong, helicopter flights are still operated from this club. There's an old hangar on site, as well as the Aero Bar and Kai Tak Bistro. Two-thirds of the 1,000-strong membership don't fly.
3 Cattle Depot Artist Village
The single-storey brick structures of the Cattle Depot (63 Ma Tau Kok Road, To Kwa Wan, tel: 2104 3322) were built in 1908 and served as a quarantine station and slaughterhouse. They've since been transformed into an artists' colony, which moved from similar digs in North Point's Oil Street in 2001. Videotage, a collective devoted to avant-garde video and new-media productions, is based here, as is On & On Theatre. But several of the units stand empty, and the complex is eerily quiet during the week.
Average house price HK$7.3 million for a 924 sq ft flat in Sky Tower
Average rent HK$8,000 for a two-bedroom flat in an old building, or HK$16,000 for a 689 sq ft flat in Sky Tower
Nearest shops Family-run stores dotted around the old streets south of Sung Wong Toi Road
Nearest ATM A 10-minute walk to HSBC on Pau Chung Street
Nearest MTR Mong Kok East and Hung Hom stations are 10 minutes' drive away
Nearest restaurants Cha chaan teng and noodle stalls along Ma Tau Kok Road