Haiphong Road

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 January, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 January, 2000, 12:00am

Haiphong Road is one of the few roads in Hong Kong not named after Chinese or British cities, counties or provinces. Instead, it was named after a northern Vietnamese port in 1909, when dozens of streets in Kowloon were renamed after cities that had close commercial ties with Hong Kong. Before then, it was known as Elgin Road after Lord Elgin - the British plenipotentiary who officially received Kowloon from Qing officials in Beijing in 1860. He in turn handed Kowloon over to Governor Robinson of Hong Kong. Five years later, when Tsim Sha Tsui was still what its name means - a sharp sandy spit - two roads were laid out on the peninsula: Nathan Road (originally called Robinson Road after the governor), and Elgin Road (now Haiphong Road), the shorter road leading off it.

The roads were the government's first attempt at infrastructure in this new addition to the colony. For almost a century Haiphong Road had grass verges and was hardly used, servicing only the army battalions stationed in the Whitfield Barracks (now located in Kowloon Park) and the traditional Chinese hamlets scattered around the area. It wasn't until the 1960s that the road began to bustle the way it does today, with pedestrians strolling between Nathan Road and the large shopping arcades that sprouted along the west end of Canton Road.

The whirlwind of Tsim Sha Tsui's recent development has somehow bypassed Haiphong Road which still boasts a few reminders of the past. The old colonial house atop the grassy knolls to the north of the road, for instance, dates back to the 1890s. Originally a barrack, it later became the temporary site for the Museum of History. The earth god shrine, said to be at least 100 years old, is still filled with the smoke from joss sticks that would have drifted next door, stinging the eyes of those in the market all those years ago. The rest of Haiphong Road is a jumble of post-war buildings and tourist shops. But no, there is nothing even loosely related to Haiphong here - not even a Vietnamese snack stall.

Fok Tak Temple No one remembers the exact year when the Fok Tak Temple was built, but the temple plaque claims it is 'well over 100 years old' and has 'helped Hong Kong weathered through the storms'. Once the centre for worship for Kowloon residents, the shrine is dedicated to Fok Tak Pak Gong, the local earth god. He and his thousands of counterparts elsewhere were so respected in imperial China that it was decreed every village and town should build a shrine in their honour.

When the government announced its plan to demolish the temple in 1978 to make way for a new market, the public was infuriated, fearing dire consequences. Following a petition, a tiny lot next to the site of the market was allocated for the construction of the present building, which was completed in the same year.

Henderson and Co.

There is no Henderson at Henderson and Co.. First opened in Shanghai in the 1930s, the shop was named during a time when businessmen in this Western-influenced city believed that the success of foreign trade houses lay in their conspicuous names.

The antique-style furniture shop moved to 41 Haiphong Road 50 years ago, and for several decades did well enough to sustain its four-storey showroom in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui, perhaps due to its good fung shui location. Directly opposite the shop is an old camphor tree, towering over the road like an advertisement for the camphor wood chests sold in the shop. Behind it is the former site of the Whitfield Barracks, which before the handover was home to British soldiers and their families - the shop's main market. Today, Henderson and Co. survives on the occasional tourists and servicemen from visiting warships, who come to buy Shanghainese or Guangzhou-made chests ($300-2,000), traditional Chinese screens ($1,400-5,800), and rosewood dining table and chair sets ($7,800-16,000).

Shanghai Onsen Shanghai Onsen (3/F, Zhongda Building, 38 Haiphong Road) seeks to revive the forgotten pleasures of Shanghainese bath houses, all of which have practically disappeared since the government tightened regulations on massage parlours. Packaged in modern surroundings with clean, comfortable massage and sauna rooms, the services are traditional Shanghainese, and include massage, old-style 'back rubbing' for deep-cleansing, pedicures, and leg or feet massages - all for $230, including a sauna and steam bath.

In the old tradition, Shanghai Onsen caters for men only.

Haiphong Road Temporary Market Tucked beneath the elevated highway running across Haiphong Road is perhaps Hong Kong's oldest temporary market. The market was built in 1978 to relocate hawkers operating in Canton Road until a permanent building was completed. The promised building never materialised and the present makeshift structure is set to remain for some time, which is not exactly bad news for those living and working in the area: it offers one of the largest collections of halal meat stalls in Hong Kong and some of the area's finest Dai Pai Dongs and noodle shops.

Unique Treasury The items displayed in Unique Treasury's shop at M/F, Bo Fung Building, 32-34 Haiphong Road are only a taste of the large variety of Indian-made furniture, pottery, linen and ornaments on sale here, such as the Indian hardwood jewellery chest ($480) and CD rack ($440) shown in the photograph. Larger items such as tables ($1,300-1,600) and cabinets ($2,200-3,000) can be ordered through the shop's catalogue.