A Nostalgic Introduction to Wan Chai

My usual route home from work is the company shuttle bus to Tsing Yi Station, then MTR all the way back to Wan Chai Station, but today I was kept in at work for quite a while. I obviously missed the company shuttle bus, and instead, I took the airport bus back to Wan Chai. There’s actually two types of airport buses. The A-series buses leave directly from the airport and skip a lot of stops, while the E-series buses wander all around the terminal to places like the cargo area, and they stop at a lot more places. They’re both quite a bit cheaper than the Airport Express, but the E-series buses are about another half price off the A-series ones. To get home, there’s actually the E11 bus that takes me from right outside my work place to Southorn Playground in Wan Chai, and then it’s another 20 minute or so walk back home.

That bus ride home today brought back so many memories. It was three years ago when I first came back to Hong Kong pretty much completely on my own, with nobody to constantly look out for me. I’ve visited Hong Kong before then, but there was always someone with me to take me around. Hong Kong roads are hard to get used to if you’ve lived in a city with perfectly-gridded neighbourhoods for most of your life. Street signs are a mess. Roads can pretty much lead you anywhere. The worst part is, everything looks the same. It’s hard to even find a marker, because there are so many stores (such as 7-11, McDonalds, Hang Seng Bank, Watsons) that all repeat every now and then. I remember trying to get home on my own that day. I had an address, but I didn’t actually know where I was going. I didn’t even know where Wan Chai was. I ended up having to stalk myself on Google Maps (A-series buses have Wifi, just for the record), and when I saw my little blue marker in an area around Wan Chai, I just got off and hopped on a taxi. I made it, but it was scary.

Looking back, that summer of Hong Kong was the summer where I learned the most about this city. And it’s not just the fact that I learned – it’s the fact that it was memorable. Having different senses to stimulate memories really helps. Some songs in particular remind me of very specific moments or scenes. It’s a long story, but Empire State of Mind always brings back the day after my winter formal in my grad year – a beautifully bleak winter morning,  cruising along the streets of downtown Vancouver in my friend’s SLK. There’s also that disgusting, yet addicting smell of dirty exhaust gas, which has Hong Kong written all over it. Those are two particular examples that I’m very conscious of, and I’m sure there are others lurking around in my unconscious mind. But the thing I love the most about these memories – the thing that makes it so unique – is that these moments are completely unpredictable and unplanned. You can’t go out and say to yourself “I’m going to make an unforgettable memory today”. It just doesn’t work like that. You have to go and let whatever happen happen while opening your heart to every opportunity.

The original topic I had in mind was just a short introduction about Wan Chai, but my journey stimulated too much nostalgia. (Thank goodness this is just a casual blog and I can do whatever I want :D). So I got off at Southorn Playground at Hennessy Road, and I noticed this sign indicating a point that was once the coastline on Wan Chai… back in the 1930’s. Crazy. Go check a map, and you’ll see how much of the ocean they’ve filled in already.

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Then I remembered, I also saw a similar sign previously at 石水渠街 (Stone Nullah Lane) – about 10 minutes walk south from Southorn Playground. The time stamp on that coastline must be even older than this one! No wonder people keep saying that eventually there will no longer be an ocean. I’m sure there’s also more signs lurking around the district elsewhere too. I’ll go hunt them all down one day when I have time.

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Continuing on. There seemed to be an actual organized game of soccer going on at Southorn Playground, with a commentator and a bunch of people watching from the stands. The field is tiny though, and they don’t even have fake grass. It’s almost literally green cement, except maybe a bit softer than real cement. That’s not uncommon in Hong Kong though. While there are a handful of good artificial grass fields, there are a lot more non-grass fields like this.

When you come out of the Wan Chai MTR Station, there’s a few stalls of street food, and they’re all quite decent. Today, I felt like having a 雞蛋仔 😀 That stall in particular is deliciously crispy, and I made sure they didn’t have any pre-made snacks for sale before I went ahead and ordered mine. It’s always best when it’s fresh out of the oven.

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Continue south, and you’ll hit another busy street – Johnston Road. Hennessy Street has a pedestrian overpass next to the MTR Station exit, so it’s busy with cars. On the other hand, Johnston Road handles the trams and it’s right next to the Wan Chai market, so you’ll immediately notice a lot more people walking around. Every day when I step out of the MTR Station, this is pretty much what I see.

(Short aside – I keep wanting to say that I’m heading north, because I’m heading in the direction of the mountain. Vancouverite problems.)

You’ll pass through the Wan Chai market next – an area with a bunch of stores selling toys, clothes, phone cases, groceries, and also quite a few 茶餐廳. It’s nothing high class, but all the good food I know about Wan Chai is in this area. If there’s anything you should know about Hong Kong, it’s that food doesn’t need to be expensive to taste good.

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When you get to this street (Queen’s Road East), the road starts getting steep and you’ll have to head up something that feels like a mountain. I don’t actually live that high up, but when you have to walk everyday, it always feels far.

That’s the area of Wan Chai I’m familiar with, especially since I walk this route to and from the MTR Station every day. There’s actually still a lot more of Wan Chai beyond Hennessy Road, all the way out to the Convention Centre, and all I know is that it exists. I’m not actually sure what it looks like.

Time to go and get lost in a new random place! It’s always easy to learn when your cup is empty.

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