If you were part of the British navy who first touched down in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan more than a century ago you would have found a sleepy district filled with fish vendors and traditional Chinese medicine shops, quite disparate from the vibrant arts scene the area now incubates. Though the setting remains much the same—think ageing Chinese low-rise apartment blocks and overflowing antique shops—the constructs of this centrally located neighborhood are changing. Hints of the hip and haute are springing up: one moment you’ll be shuffling through a wet market set up generations ago and the next, among sleek bars open well past neighbors’ bedtimes. While brash and bright Central has long been the obvious choice for Michelin-starred cuisine and the latest bar du jour, Sheung Wan is slower, quieter, and quirkier. Along with artisan coffee shops and contemporary art galleries comes the pains of gentrification, but for now the territory maintains the precarious balance between cheap rents, hipster credibility, and curious clientele that provide fertile ground for a neighborhood like nowhere else on Hong Kong island.
Graffiti plastering the stairway up to Cat Street in Sheung Wan. Photo by Cindy Chan