Wun Sha Street, Tai Hang
Mid-autumn celebrations came to Tai Hang last week with the usual riot of incense smoke and clang- ing cymbals brought by the fire dragon, which sets off every year from Lin Fa Kung temple and winds its way through the district.
On a recent visit, it seemed appropriate that a white Porsche was parked in front of the temple. The narrow streets south of Tung Lo Wan Road were once lined with shops run by mechanics and traditional chop carvers, but the area is being gentrified fast and is witnessing an influx of trendy cafes and boutiques.
Down the road from the temple, Ghiaspeed Motors Service is the old face of the neighbourhood. The garage displays an ageing sign from the Sauber Petronas Formula One team, but it's mainly BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes that await servicing.
Tai Hang ('big water channel' or, less charitably, 'big ditch') gets its name from a watercourse that led floodwaters to the sea. After Victoria Park was reclaimed to the north of Tai Hang, flooding was a regular problem until the channel was covered over. It now runs under Wun Sha Street to the harbour.
The narrow lanes off Wun Sha are still lined with tong lau walk-up buildings but there's the occasional empty plot and one or two shiny new buildings- property companies are snapping up whatever they can, driving up rents.
'Tai Hang is emerging as a new SoHo,' says John Au-yeung, a broker with Fidelity Realty. 'A lot of developers are acquiring properties here and they intend to redevelop them fast.'
Let's hope the area retains its idiosyncratic charms. Tai Hang is one of the few parts of Hong Kong where chain stores have almost no presence. There may be a ParknShop on Wun Sha Street now, but the alleyways and its charming old-school buildings are draw cards for artists, Canto-pop stars, design- ers and architects looking for laid-back hangouts.
Tai Hang?s fire dragon is made of grass, with burning incense resembling glittering scales. In days gone by, women were not allowed to touch it.
Around Wu Sha Street
1 Work out and play The white-washed walls of the Chinese Recreation Club (CRC) mark the northern edge of Tai Hang and the first of a series of sports fields that reach around Victoria Park. The CRC may look like an industrial building, but it's one of the most exclusive clubs in the city. Membership costs HK$400,000 and gets you access to 13 tennis courts, badminton courts and two swimming pools.
2 A healthy bite Aznat Products (3 School Street, Tai Hang, tel: 2415 0505) has been in the old school house for just more than a year. It sells organic produce from Australia, such as plump tomatoes and a tasty apple juice blend, as well as olive- oil balm for dry skin. The owners selected the location for the high ceilings and thick walls of the century-old build- ing, which only needs air conditioning at the height of summer. Vanessa Ng, who manages the store, says she hopes the rising rents won't force out the quirky shops.
3 Flower power Lin Fa Kung (lotus flower palace) is a temple dedicated to Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, and dates back to 1864. At the back of this temple is a rock where, according to legend, the goddess is said to have appeared. Lotus flowers are symbolically connected to Guanyin and many Buddhists believe that after they die, they are transported by the goddess to Sukhavati, or the Land of Bliss. The temple is recognised by the Hong Kong government as a grade one historical building.
Average house price HK$4.5 million for a 500 sq ft flat at Wun Sha Court
Average rent HK$11,800 for a 400 sq ft walkup
Nearest shops Family-owned stores dotted around the neighbourhood
Nearest ATM A bit of a hike to the Hang Seng Bank ATM, at St Paul's Hospital
Nearest MTR Tin Hau station, a 10- to 15-minute walk away
Nearest restaurants Noodle and dumpling shops jostle with hyper-hip small cafes