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HK Magazine Archive

The Lost World: 11 Disappearing Hong Kong Icons

There was great news for giant pandas this week: The patch-eyed goofballs are no longer an endangered species, thanks to years of concerted conservation efforts. Here in Hong Kong, however, we’re having a little more trouble with our own endangered icons… 

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 5:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:26pm

1. Dim Sum Trolleys

In the late 1960s, Hong Kong restaurants began serving dim sum with the trolleys used in Western fine-dining, because servers found traditional trays and platters too heavy to handle. The trolleys were later fitted with heating elements to keep food warm. But thanks to the space trolleys take up, they’re now a dying breed, disappearing in favor of the often baffling dim sum order sheet.

Get trollied: Lin Heung Tea House, 160-164 Wellington St., Central, 2544-4556; London Restaurant, Good Hope Building, 612 Nathan Rd., Mong Kok, 2771-8018.

2. Good, Decent Politicians

Is there a good man left in politics? With the passing of the legendary Szeto Wah in 2011, are there any truly honorable men or women left? The Martin Lees and Anson Chans aren’t in Legco any longer, and their replacements seem far more interested in bickering, filibustering and vetoing than trying to fix the problems Hong Kong faces. Meanwhile, the civil servants we thought to be at least OK turn out to have been crooked—take former Chief Secretary Rafael Hui, convicted of misconduct and accepting bribes. Perhaps our new crop of young, upstart Legco members can bring some honor back to politics? Sure, and pigs have a habit of taking wing…

Read More: The Who's Who of Legco: Meet 6 New Radical Lawmakers

3. Animals

If there’s a candidate for official Hong Kong animal, it’s the Chinese white dolphin—known in Hong Kong as the pink dolphin. In fact, they were the official mascot of the 1997 Handover. And like so many things since then, they’re facing extinction—thanks to polluted waters, overfishing and extensive construction projects. The number of pink dolphins around the city plummeted from 158 in 2003 to just 62 in 2015. Other wildlife facing the same fate include the hawksbill turtle, for similar reasons; the Chinese pangolin, rapidly diminishing due to poaching; and Romer’s tree frog, first discovered on Lamma Island in 1952 and entirely indigenous to Hong Kong.

How to save them: Volunteer or donate to the WWF at wwf.org.hk

Read More: Samuel Hung Ka-yiu Can Save Hong Kong's 60 Endangered Dolphins

4. Street Hawkers

Grabbing your fix of fish balls and “stuffed three treasures” is getting tougher by the day—and it’s not because of all the carbs. When the government stopped issuing new hawker licences in the 70s, the number of legal hawkers took a big dip, from 50,000 in 1974 to less than 6,200 by the end of 2015. The sounds of “zau gwai”—the cry that went up between hawkers to escape roving enforcement officials—might never be heard again.

Get street hawked: Look out for the roasted chestnut hawkers, who still sell their piping-hot bags of brown gold on the streets in the cooler months.

Read More: Out of Touch: Is Hong Kong Ditching Talk for Tech?

Read More: Time Hopping: Revisiting Hong Kong's Old School Games​

5. Dai Pai Dongs

After World War II, the government began issuing licenses to families of deceased civil servants, permitting them to operate open-air food stalls. Dai pai dongs reached their heyday in the 1950s by offering cheap, quick meals and a place to socialize. But they also caused problems with traffic and hygiene—so in 1956 the government stopped issuing new licenses. Today there are just 24 licensed dai pai dongs in Hong Kong, concentrated in Central, Sham Shui Po and Shek Kip Mei. 

Find them: Sing Heung Yuen, 2 Mei Lun St., Central, 2544-8368; Bing Kee Tea Stand, 5 Shepherd St., Tai Hang, 2577-3117.

6. The Written Word

“No one reads anymore,” say older people the world over. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Hong Kong, a city so hyperactive that we need to bed fed bright noises and loud colors 24/7. The city’s bookshops are dying out, with Singaporean brand Page One cutting its Hong Kong operation to just two stores and Dymocks, formerly a household name, almost gone. Yet there are some out there who clearly recognize the power of the written word: Hong Kong booksellers are carted off north of the border for selling the “wrong kinds” of books; advertisers are pulling support from papers that voice dissenting opinions; and the city’s ranking on the Press Freedom Index has dropped from 18th in 2002 to 69th this year. The written word is looking pretty damned endangered to us.

7. Music Venues

Hong Kong has few spaces for bands and gigs. The government has ruled that industrial buildings cannot be used as gigging venues, and absurd rental rates elsewhere are prohibitive. But there are glimmers of light amongst the gloom: Indie music haven Hidden Agenda, which announced it would close its Kwun Tong venue in October, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance a new venue and get around Lands Department restrictions—check out facebook.com/hiddenagendahk for details. A few other determined souls are also soldiering on—for example Focal Fair, a Causeway Bay joint that opened last year to host independent acts. 28/F, Park Avenue Tower, 5 Moreton Terrace, Causeway Bay; facebook.com/focalfair

Read More: Indie Hotspot Hidden Agenda is Crowdfunding for a New Venue

Read More: Hong Kong's Top 8 Live Music Venues

8. Soy Sauce Restos

One of the most memorable scenes from Wong Kar-wai’s classic “In the Mood for Love” features Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung dining at an old steak house. The sequence was shot at Goldfinch Restaurant in Wan Chai, and this style of eatery was a mainstay of 60s and 70s Hong Kong. Now, one by one, they’re closing down—Goldfinch closed in September 2015, and Louis’ Steak House in March 2016. 

Still want a taste? A few restaurants remain: Check out The Prime Steak Restaurant, 1/F, 218-220 Sai Yeung Choi St. South, Prince Edward, 2380-3938; Boston Restaurant, 3 Luard Rd., Wan Chai, 2527-7646.

Read More: “In the Mood for Love” is the Second Best Movie of the Century, says the BBC

Read More: Hong Kong's 10 Most Iconic Restaurants

9. Winter

Hong Kong winters have been getting so mild that, before long, we won’t have any opportunity to wear our Burberry scarves and boots with da fur. The Hong Kong Observatory’s predictions about the effects of climate change on the city in the 21st century make for disturbing reading: Cold days (12ºC or below) will become a thing of the past, going from 21 days per year to less than one. At least we won’t have to worry about White Walkers. Very hot days (exceeding 33ºC) will double, from 11 days to 24. Sea levels are rising between 2.4 and 2.7mm per year. In general: warmer, wetter, more extreme.

Learn more at hko.gov.hk

10. $100 Cocktails

Whatever happened to the $100 cocktail? Seems like around 2008 we blinked—and all of a sudden a dirty martini was $150. Yes, you can blame rising rents for upping prices. But you can also blame a credulous drinking public. All bars have to do is throw in a slightly more premium ingredient and BOOM: That’ll be $200 for your gold-leaf-infused weirdly shaped glass of pretentiousness, please. 

Where to get a $100 cocktail: Happy hours are your best bet. We’re big fans of The Optimist’s Optimistic Hour: Well-crafted cocktails from $48, daily 3-7:30pm, 239 Hennessy Rd., Wan Chai, 2433-3324. 

Read More: 8 Hong Kong Happy Hours to Tide You Through to Payday

Read More: Hong Kong's 17 Hottest Rooftop Bars

11. Wet Markets

Sure, there’s still a wet market in every neighborhood. But slowly and surely, these icons of Hong Kong life are being squeezed out of our lives. The city’s most famous—Graham Street Market in Central—may still be around, but it’s a shadow of its former self thanks to the Urban Renewal Authority, which closed a huge chunk of it to be developed into luxury flats. Across the rest of the city, rising rents and the convenience of the supermarket means that wet markets are struggling. There’s only one way to reverse this situation: shop at your local market more.

Which Endangered Species are You?

Ever wondered which of our many fast-disappearing animals you share kinship with? Take our quiz to find out!

1) You are in line to vote in the Legco elections when someone insists that you vote for their candidate. You...

a)Refuse, but then discover that your ballot has been filled in already.
b) Hesitatingly agree. If someone else believes it so strongly, they must know what they’re talking about.
c) Break down into floods of tears. You weren’t ready for this level of emotional conflict.

2) You match with someone on Tinder, but after a few messages they stop replying. You...

a) Repeatedly point out that you’re the best looking thing in the ecosystem. They block you. 
b) Accept that you’re going to occupy the friendzone for life.
c) Panic. How are you ever going to have kids at this rate?

3) After a Sunday champagne brunch, the bill arrives and everyone makes to split it evenly… but you didn’t get any alcohol. You...

a) Make sure everyone knows that you object. You end up paying anyway. 
b) Put in extra money just so no one makes a fuss.
c) Weep at the injustice of it all.

4) You receive a rude response to an Instagram photo you took. You:

a) Refuse to acknowledge the comment, whipping up a social media storm in which so many people report your photo as inappropriate that Instagram deletes it.
b) Take it down immediately. The rude commenter forgets you ever existed.
c) Hide for the next six weeks until it all blows over.

How Did You Do? 

Mostly a) 

You are a pink dolphin! You’re a cause celebre, but no matter what, you never seem to catch a break.

Mostly b) 

You are a Romer’s tree frog! Unique, friendly, but often overlooked.

Mostly c) 

You are a giant panda! Once, you were endangered, but now you’re just vulnerable.

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