HONG KONG: SIGHTS THAT SPOKE TO ME IN THE CENTRAL AREA

By Hanna Dumlao - 5:10 PM

Walking along the streets of Hong Kong felt like immersing yourself on different scenes from a film. Every angle is a possible plot, every accidental discovery adds up to the narrative - the density and the unknown somehow seeps through you and lures you in. That's how it felt like for me. I came to Hong Kong with a drained creative spirit, seeking for some visual refuge and delight. I knew that I was not here to shop, I intentionally came here to get lost and understand the feeling of discovering things by chance and at your own slow pace.

On our first day, we found ourselves exploring the Central area. For various reasons known to us, our common goal was to discover art and observe how each of the neighborhood thrives and if there really is a different culture for every zone. From my perspective, things that caught my attention would be the hovering heights of buildings of different style and function. Many of them had traces of the past and most if not all had to adapt to the current changes and needs of both the people and the business in order for them to keep thriving. Still one thing remains to be visually consistent in all these scenes, the presence of the traditional bamboo cladding in construction sites. Indeed it always amazes me how this vernacular material plays a huge part in the daily lives of the Hong Kongese.
Looking up felt like being at a gallery where the artworks speak of the infinite, colorful, fresh, young, classic, and yes, even the voids and the forgotten. I liked looking up, knowing that I will see all these colors and stories hover and prance over our small little souls. The Central area boasted a lot of interesting storefronts and creativity in both the visual merchandising, branding, and business typology. It's definitely a one stop spot for someone who is in the country for a short period of time. 
While we were moving up the hilly Aberdeen Street, my short attention span took my eyes on a street full of quirky store windows. My instincts took my feet to a right turn and I found myself standing in front of this charming store called Audrey. I remember telling my husband that I felt like Holly Golightly as I immersed my vision toward the pretty trinkets inside this store.
My fancy for dried flowers were probably one of the main reasons why this store spoke to me the most. Somehow, the store felt very bespoke and reminiscent of all things classic and vintage. The store carried out bouquets of beautifully arranged dried blooms, a myriad of flowering tea, vintage decor, and organic skin and body care products.
One thing that I really admired about the store would be how each product and vignette was carefully thought of and presented. I love the idea of dedication and pure love given to how everything was curated for people to see and experience. Being visual and experiential beings that we were built to be, nothing beats the interaction between yourself, the space, and the objects that come around with it.
What came as a surprise was the fact that the store was actually breathed by the elegance and classic attitude of Audrey Hepburn. True to its name, Audrey really is a must go to for those who love organic and vintage trinkettes. I'm really glad I ran into this place and somehow had a what I would call Golightly eureka moment!

Cruising along Gough street made us discover more layers of the place. For a designer like me, it was indeed a visual feast. There was so much possibilities and the limits are dictated by our imagination. Take Gogh's on Gough for example! The loud patterns and its contrasting monotones scream of killing paradigms and welcoming ideas and child play.
Yes, kitschy to most I would say. But the pandemonium of texture play with one's ability to narrate what is in front of them - in an order that best floats their boat. Gough's offer a strong welcome to anyone walking by it, it demands for attention and encourages curiosity.

Looking above and resting my eyes from the visuals of Gough street, I took my time to reflect on what Grace Coddington said on the documentary film September Issue. Being a creative director for Vogue, the ideas needed to keep running, and they had to stand out. To be honest, being a creative myself, it gets very draining and discouraging. You constantly question if you're still creating, you're always debating with yourself and battling with the fear of repetition and becoming too mundane.

I will never get tired of narrating what Grace said : 
Always keep your eyes open. 
Keep watching. 
Because whatever you see can inspire you.

As I was cruising along the street, I was reminded of this. Whatever didn't always mean beauty, Whatever didn't always have to be ubiquitous or arbitrary, I was reminded yet again that Whatever can even be something that strongly reminds you of what is in your heart and what you're currently experiencing in life.
 I found my Whatever accidentally, while looking up and observing a lone dove while on fleet with its group. There was something so cinematic with that encounter. I remember quickly taking my phone out of my bag to try and capture what I'm currently seeing. The dove flew the opposite way, it pranced along different levels and directions as opposed to the rest of its kind. Somehow it was amusing how I saw myself in that dove. I felt lost, I felt irrelevant, I was in a constant battle between what I believed I could do and what I'm already doing that's giving me stability and security. 

I felt homeless. Homeless because I felt like I was slowly losing my core. Seeing my life now and what I'm doing in the present just didn't align with what I originally pictured it to be. I felt robotic and I suddenly found myself fearing the unknown and unusual. That's the kind of homeless feeling for me. Lo and behold, while in the midst of taking a photograph and reflecting on my thoughts, the photo above was taken. A home store named Homeless. The bright interior and the nordic style reminded me of my younger days as an Editorial Assistant for a Design and Lifestyle Magazine.
Coming inside the store took me back eight years ago where I saw myself walking around the malls and lifestyle shops with my small notebook and camera in tow as I sourced around for new stores and products to feature in the store. That was my life after college and I dearly enjoyed every moment of that. It took me back to times where I imagined myself owning a store or coming up with my own lifestyle brand. It took me back to times where I spend the whole day shooting products and listing down each and every single one of those items on top of scheduling the next shoots to come.
Contrary to its name, Homeless felt like home to me. While giving me flashbacks here and there, I suddenly and slowly felt like coming home to what I originally dreamt of becoming - becoming a designer that would make people feel at home. It was that simple. It was simple yet from everything that I've been through, it is indeed hard to achieve. For homes are not strictly within the confines of enclosed spaces, homes are people, memories, emotions, experiences, and expressions all put into one vignette or scenario.

Homeless had a lot of fun things around the store, it broke the mundane. It encouraged the presence of personality and even what seems to look like flaws to us (childlike ways, toys, unconventional objects and patterns). It felt like home because each object speaks and connects to the right people, and in the right time, those objects come home to its soulmates.
My personal favorite corner at the store. If I had a home to myself, I would build it by the hill or the fields, have a huge window that would envelop the greens and the blues, set a long table and sit there and work or eat, or converse with the people that matter to me.
As if knowing what was troubling me, this sign became a farewell to my visit in Homeless.

Repeat after me.
We are all travellers of life. We cruise through everyday filled with unknowns, bound for detours and occasional turns. There is no fixed arrival, nor can we plan for the exact time. Only by God's grace and guidance will we get there.
Cycle Repeat.
 At the end of Gough street, you will be welcomed by this sight. It was one of the many voids in the city that serves as a passage for the people going around the area. I would definitely not want to pass here at night. Even at daytime, the space felt lonely, dark, mysterious - melancholic for the lack of better terms. We stayed here for a bit to rest our feet and in that amount of time spent here, I only saw a few people using the stairway in this swell.
Looking across, I saw this and thought, this day couldn't be any better! It was as if destiny has pulled our feet in this place for me to be lured in to past memories.
Take a break and watch this if you have not seen it yet to understand why this accidental stop in our trip became memorable to me.

Back in 2012-2013, I was very much into shorts. It was my way of coping with stress from the routinary life of a Design Assistant in a small design studio. I found refuge and inspiration from watching videos that Wong Fu Productions made. Left on Shing Wong was and still is my favorite short by Wong Fu. It tackled on streams of consciousness, routinary life, and memories. It was very much reflective of how society in general has become so busy and focused on surviving and thriving that we forget to stop and look at things, scenes, and even faces. 

Running into the actual site where my favorite short was breathed into reality is indeed a charm and a reminder to slow down, stop if necessary, process the good and the bad, learn from them, value the people who walk with you, look for inspiration from everything, and do not forget to appreciate what's in front of you.
Exiting Gough street took us to another detour. We thought thrice if we were going to take this route because, well, it was uphill, a long uphill. But we decided to go after it because along this challenging slope came interesting shops with different visual cues and personality. This street is called Mee Lun Street. If you are in the area, this is definitely a strip that you should not miss! Lined with small boutiques, a few galleries and coffee shops, Mee Lun feeds the creative soul.
As if the stretch was not interesting enough, we were left standing in front of a small white space that screamed gallery from the outside. What made us curious is the mystery of figuring out how to get in that white classic distressed arch door only to find out that you need to buzz in. That funny experience was indeed a delight for us! Sometimes you just need to let good curiosity take you in and see where it will lead you!
The place is called Aishonanzuka, dubbed of being one of the best galleries in Hong Kong. We were able to view Goro Murayama's exhibit entitled "The Museum on the Plastic Nation". The gallery sits inside the Mee Lun House and showcases itself as a great example of adaptive reuse for designers like myself. 

After our short gallery visit, we realized that we actually came to Central for a specific reason. We wanted to see the PMQ or the Police Married Quarters found along Staunton and Hollywood Street. PMQ is indeed one of the best places to see how creatives from all walks and kind thrive in one community. Aside from the community, I was very much interested in seeing the byproduct of good adaptive reuse and conservation.
The PMQ used to be one of the school buildings of the Queen's College. It was destroyed during the first Wold war and was rebuilt to become the first Police Married Quarters for junior police officers who are married and with families. The building was left unused since the year 2000 until the Development Bureau included the building as one of the eight projects under the "Conserving Central" Policy. In 2010, with the support of the Hong Kong Design Centre, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and the Hong Kong Design Institute of the Vocational Training Council, the site was transformed into a hub for different creative industries.
 The property is quite huge and occupies a whole block. Navigating it from Google maps could be a task, not to mention the steep hills that could be quite a climb, but the fulfillment of seeing yourself in front of the entrance will reward you. The architecture is nothing but mundane yet classic, it's nothing abstract being a heritage building that was preserved and reused.
However, once you come inside the courtyard, the spirit of youthful creativity and curiosity thrives and extends to you as a visitor. You're not allowed to take photographs of the store or the products inside and we respected that. I was however allowed to take photos of the compound and the vicinity!
Left (A welcoming visual directory representative of what PMQ stands for) Right (A view of the towering heights around the PMQ from the balcony)
 Hallways and staircases curated with graphics and art
 Two wings of the PMQ is adjoined by a bridgeway that also serve as an event space and commercial area
 I remember telling my husband, I could work here everyday. There's nothing more inspiring than being around people of the same virtues and passion. Being around the PMQ for the afternoon gave us an initial concept of how people thrive and grow here constantly. The building does not only host or cater to shops but also offer spaces for design and art studios. One might feel disoriented or overwhelmed by the scale and amount of shops inside but the PMQ is zoned quite well. Restaurants can be found in the ground floor and some in the second floor, commercial spaces are found from the third to the fourth floor and the creative studios and offices start from the fourth to the seventh floor.
Every frame is like a scene, a story, a conflict, a shift. I enjoyed viewing each frame from the other side of the wing and zoom out to observe everything happen all at once.
Some scenes we saw at the studio floor would be a few artists and designers at work.

 
 PMQ was the perfect way to end our first afternoon in Hong Kong. It summarized our romantic encounters in Gough Street and Mee Lun. It gave us creative ideas, inspiration, and energy in more ways than one. Central indeed is a huge gallery of ideas waiting to be discovered if only one is willing enough to go beyond the usual route, get lost, and find yourself in the middle of the journey up and down the paved concrete hills of Hong Kong.
 Small space, no problem. Small space, more time to design and curate experience!
Another way to enjoy and experience most of Central Hong Kong would be mapping out your walk and discover the HK WALLS. Tucked in the most unexpected and random spots in the bustling streets and random alleys around Central, one could enjoy outdoor art by going through the art walk. There are actually tours for this but since we wanted to see them by chance, we just went on our own route and see if we will run into some of the most photographed outdoor murals in Hong Kong.
 Probably the most photographed wall among all HK Walls. One of the sad things that I realized about this way of touring would be the redundancy of enjoying the concept of traveling and appreciating what you randomly discover along the way. Why do I have to line up and go through the motions of taking a photograph of this spot? Why does this feel all scripted to me? I saw myself and people in the sidelines looking for the perfect angle and pose, it probably took days or weeks for that outfit to be put together as well.

The sad part about what I saw was not the fact that we took photos in front of the wall, it was more about the quick change of action after the photograph was taken. Rarely did one look back at the art, or even took time to see who painted it or debated what the message was behind the art. The subject was rarely about the art. The subject was the person, it was the outfit, it was the scripted scenography. And though the photographs are beautiful and another layer was added to the story by placing ourselves as part of the art, I still believe that we should all take time to look at the art, form our own understanding and context of what or who was it made for. This way, the experience and interaction between the person, the art, and the place become one, and it is one strong message to convey to other people as well.

Art lives and breathes as well, we should also take care of it and get to know it well. Please do not get me wrong, this is a very personal journal entry for me so if there are things I say, this is more or less the same things I reminded myself of in the process.

At this point I already stopped taking photographs of the walls and enjoyed them by myself. It felt different yet liberating at the same time. You can take your own time, you are able to look from a further view or perspective, and you get to realize that these are actually visual voices of the city and its people. As we went deeper in Central and the daylight slowly gave way to the dark, I witnessed the romance between alleys and warm lights slowly overpowering the dark.
And during this part of the day, the usually dark alleys are in contrast with the well lit main roads who are still somehow celebrating the fading daylight. It's also the perfect time to discover different vanishing points, you will see the long winding road and get swept by the overwhelming and contrasting architecture waiting for you at the end of that road.
The Tai Kwun Contemporary complex is indeed one of the best examples of this scene. This massive beauty was designed by Herzog & De Meuron and Purcell. Practicing conservation and adaptive reuse, the former Police Station, Central Magistracy, and Prison was turned into a cultural center by combing contemporary Architecture and preserving the colonial style that was already a rare sight for the area.
As the dawn got deeper and the shop interiors became the main characters of the scene, the artworks on the wall performed as a supporting character and plot to every scene around the area. To me, this was also the perfect time to cruise along the famous and cinematic mid-level escalators.
True to how Wong Kar Wai has described the mid-level escalator experience, one would find a possible plot or frame in every scene or angle that you see while cruising along the longest outdoor escalator system. The cruise gives you ample time to think of dialogues, it gives you ample time to reflect on how the day went, what you could do tomorrow, how you can add or improve your process or work, and so on.
Sometimes walking around gets tiring and emotionally draining, with all the physical pain you feel in the process. But this walk was indeed something that I needed to personally go through. I have to time to illustrate how long we walked but we walked the whole time, uphill and downhill. In the middle of these climbs and encounters, I am reminded that I am not alone nor homeless. That our whatevers are always present and that it is all a matter of perspective and looking at our circumstances. I found my answers during this walk, from seeing the most complicated scenes and the mundane, I know that I am who I am and I do what I am doing in order to contribute to a specific cause and purpose.
Indeed or at least in my case, sometimes all we need is to take a walk, get tired, rest, and process the best parts and even the complex parts of that journey.

  • Share:

You Might Also Like

0 comments