Tuesday, 28 November 2017

forty years ago: hong kong street scenes

While I was in the UK this summer, I spent some time looking through old photographs, including ones that I took while working in Hong Kong between 1974 and 1978. There was no accompanying text to identify where or precisely when the photos I’m posting here were taken, but from evidence provided by personal photos taken on the same roll of film, I feel confident in stating that the year was 1977. I left Hong Kong in January 1978, and from the wintry clothing being worn by people in the pictures, I believe that they were taken in November or December, prior to my departure.

I can be less precise about the locations, except to say that all these photos were taken in Kowloon. Even now, I rarely if ever cross to Hong Kong Island. In fact, I can narrow it down to West Kowloon, probably Yau Ma Tei or Mong Kok; I’m certain that a couple of the photos, at least, were taken on Shanghai Street. If you can provide more information on any of these photos, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Even though the padded jackets are out in force in the first photo, the man in the T-shirt is clearly comfortable. He’s cooking stuff that people can eat as they walk along, so why wouldn’t he be?

The next photo shows a typical back street. Although there are commercial premises on the ground floor, all the upper floors would be residential units. The baskets would have contained vegetables, almost certainly imported in bulk from China.

Although Nathan Road—the only street in Kowloon to be named after a past governor—carries much of the north–south traffic, Shanghai Street, a parallel thoroughfare to the west, is much more interesting. I don’t think you could walk casually across it nowadays though, as several pedestrians are doing in the next photo. Incidentally, I can see a pawnbroker’s sign in the distance, and that is one surprising feature of Hong Kong that persists to this day.

The subject of the next photo is a shop selling roast meat: goose, duck and chicken, and char siu (a special type of roast pork).

It is still common for access to entire streets to be restricted to pedestrians because the stalls on both sides are semi-permanent:

I cannot imagine that the building in the next photo is still there, given how dilapidated it looked 40 years ago.

Although the road is wet in the next photo, it isn’t raining, because there is no sign of an umbrella anywhere. Someone has clearly been hosing down the pavement to remove the detritus that has accumulated as a result of whatever they were doing.

The next photo shows a cooked food stall, or dai pai dong, where one could enjoy a bowl of congee (rice porridge) or noodles. The objects hanging up include lap cheung, a type of air-dried pork sausage. Because I hardly ever venture into town nowadays, I have no idea whether such stalls still exist, or whether more stringent food hygiene regulations have driven them to extinction.

Talking of food hygiene, I can’t imagine seeing pig carcasses being butchered on the pavement nowadays. I seem to remember taking this photo on Shanghai Street:

When I look at my final photo, which shows more eat-as-you-walk food being prepared, I think that it should be obvious where it was taken. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.


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