Few places in Hong Kong sell classy, original, and interesting things any more, but one has popped up right under our nose in Central. It’s the shop attached to the new Hong Kong Maritime Museum. The museum sits on Pier 7 of the Central piers, next to the Star Ferry pier. One third funded by the government, the rest by its own endeavours and sponsors, the new museum is packed with features from South China’s seafaring history and fun high-tech gizmos, including a touch screen that locates any ship sailing in Hong Kong waters in real time.
There’s a huge 360 degree animated scroll depicting the capture of coastal pirates off Lantau in centuries past. Add to that Basil Pau’s celebrated photos and one of the best harbour views in Hong Kong and you’ve got somewhere refreshingly different. And somewhere to take the kids on a wet weekend or those tiresome out-of- town-visitors.
As I reported earlier this year, Bulgari managed to be the first big brand to spot its potential as a cool party venue, much as London’s Natural History Museum is a hot event location. It’s more fun to host a bash in a classic venue surrounded by history than in a five-star hotel. A maritime museum bar will open shortly, according to museum director Richard Wesley and given that it’s right by the Star and outlying ferry piers, it could become a hot drinking spot.
Expensive toys for boys
But back to the shop. It seems that unless they sink unexpectedly, when those vast ocean cruiseliners are scrapped, their fixtures and fittings are retrieved first. The interiors of luxurious ships from the twenties, thirties, fifties and sixties were often the work of top architects and designers and make for appealing retro items today. Cruising was an exclusive activity catering to the rich in those halcyon days. The new maritime museum’s shop, along from Subway upstairs opposite Pier 7, is a mine of treasures salvaged from these luxurious liners, much of it looking like a James Bond set. Cabin chairs, coffee tables, old-fashioned ships’ wheels, vintage sets of ships’ drinking glasses, table ware, a bizarre 1950s silver lobster dining dish decoration - it’s stuffed with presents for anyone who feels nostalgic about shipping and the sea. You can have a coffee table that was part of the palisander-paneled smokey ambiance of the TIS Hambrug’s Alster Club that later survived, mostly intact, as Maxim Gorky’s Volga Bar.
The SS Lurline was built in 1932, commissioned for the Matson Line Pacific Service and worked the west coast to Hawaii before being used by the US Navy as a troop carrier during WW2. In 1948 she was re-modelled as one of the most luxurious passenger ships of the Hawaii service. She starred in many films, such as Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Hawaii. In 1963 she was sold to the Chandris Line and renamed Ellinis, for the UK to Australia service. She probably transported many older Hong Kong expatriates on their journey here. In 1986 she was scrapped, but now you can buy a first class chair from the SS Lurline stateroom in the museum shop for $6,800. Every item has a story behind it, evoking a romantic, bygone era. The museum scours the world for international and local items for the shop. There are deep green leather wing back armchairs for $17,500 each. Not to mention liner deck chairs, historic maritime photos, period pictures, gorgeous old leather suitcases and, captain’s hats and globes.
You can pick up everything from a bit of 1960s ship’s kitch for a few hundred dollars or fork out $250,000 for a genuine miniature steam driven wooden ship from the late 19th century. Presents for the man or woman who has designer everything no longer seem such a challenge.