Sun-tanning laundry in public.
All text and photography by Yanda.
It has been ten years since this blog started and stepped into Hong Kong. Now back there and looking at things as a designer, with curiousity being alarmed, questions being raised and politics aside, how does one design a city? How does a city creates its image then?
To clarify certain things before you read on. I am not a writer. I am not a design critic. I don’t have any journalism background neither do I have a design background as I am a self taught. I teach myself to design through incessive blogging and that led from trend or talent spot to analysing and over-analysing things. Maybe I could call myself a design observer. So without being subjective and objective, please read on with a light-hearted mind.
First, I often wonder how do a country gets its revenue to pay the public works and maintenance and whatever that the nation needs. Hong Kong is a tax free city, with no goods and service tax, no sales tax or value added tax. The absence of a GST makes things cheaper in Hong Kong than if purchased in China or Shenzhen which is just a road and a toll fee away, actually fights the competition away from their neighbours? Also, in the bigger picture, attracts to the tourism and boosts the economy?
Then could this whole tax thing and where their property market not being controlled by the government be the cause of the raising rental? If sources are correct, it could cost up to SGD25,000 a month to rent a refurnished shophouse unit like Mido Cafe in a location near the sea side. Yes, you might have heard of their shoebox spaces or their concrete jungle. And with that, is that the reason why there’s actually a night life culture in Hong Kong as compared to Singapore. They have their street stalls that opens till 3 am? Who knows, it could be just a way to brainwash people so they will head out as they refuse to be cope up in their small house or rooms. And come to think of it, our weekend shows on TV tend to be very bad here in Singapore. Was it also done on purpose so that no one stay at home and will be forced to head out?
Bamboo scaffolding and Post-no-bills.
Shop front signages and neon lights.
I have always liken Hong Kong to a city with much defined identity despite being British colony before and now China bound. Their easily recognisable post-no-bills culture could be the graffiti of Bushwick in New York. Their neon signages is apparent everywhere, day and night, even more in the red light district. Maybe these form the overarching theme of the visual culture—the visual communication through typography, illustration or graphic design or altogether sometimes. The other recognisable identity probably is their bamboo scaffolding. It’s hard to wonder why we still see them in the today’s context. For all we know, at least the buses and taxis are majority in red, a keen to Hong Kong’s flag colour.
Red and blue patterns.
Apart from the lovely old school greenish looking tiles, the red and blue bags where Stanley Wong of anothermountainman or G.O.D has used in their artworks or merchandise, everywhere seems boring or pretty commercialised here. Sell sell sell is what the print ads and billboards say repeatedly. They all seems to me look like they are approved by the same people—those who runs the bank. I never feel inspired looking at most, far from what I would expect from the visual orgasm I can find in Wontonmeen. One a closer look at the ads, they all seems to be bilingual, so are their road signs, way-findings and maybe except menus. It might be a good thing for designers to me as they will be trained to be comfortable to design in both or either Chinese and English and Japanese too perhaps cause they can look similar to Chinese characters. Then again on another thought, if there’s a small changes to the copy, it could also mean double the changes. Is it still a good thing then? Would having in all English like in Singapore a way to be westernised to fit in the majority as most in the world knows and speak English? And was it made to draw that line with Chinese and the Chinese then?
Commercial world aside, there’s an art (PMQ, Para/Site Art Center, Edouard Malingue Gallery (designed by Rem Koolhaas), M+ (designed by Herzog & de Meuron), Oi!, Spring Workshop, Hanart TZ Gallery, Ben Brown Fine Arts, Jockey Club Arts Center) movie and music culture (There’s HMV, White Noise Records Zoo Records here in Hong Kong) here it seems that I would envy. One that Chow Yun-fat, Tony Leung, Karena Lam, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee to Wong Kar-wai, John Woo to Eason Chan, Sandy Lam might be born with or out from. When I was younger, I would look at the works by Allrightsreserved or Communion W, and seems like a dream for designers here in Singapore to be able to design a movie poster or a music album like them. There isn’t really much bookstores around in Hong Kong either. The bigger ones being Eslite, Basheer, PageOne and the independent ones are Kubrick, Flow and the recent four months old, Book B. I always wonder if there’s actually a buying culture in Hong Kong as there’s huge one in neighbouring countries or cities like Taipei and Japan.
The other probable distinct trait I have noticed is the people here don’t tend to look up or look at you or look in your eyes or steal glances when they walk. They are not loud either. The only time that is probably loud is in their ‘Cha Chan Teng’ where dim sum, ‘bo luo bao’, a pineapple bun with no pineapple lives—Kam Wah Cafe, Yee Shun Milk Company, One Dim Sum, Australia Dairy Company, Tim Ho Wan, Dimdimsumsum, Mak’s Noodle, Honolulu Coffee Shop, Capital Cafe. They have the best delicacies in the world it seems—Syut, Butao, Yardbird, Little Bao, Mrs Pound, Ted’s Lookdout, The Fat Pig. It also seems the people here are generally not too happy. Maybe it’s how living in the one of the most hectic and most expensive cities in the world like. I am still able to find a 10 HKD or equivalent to SGD2 meal though and their bus and train fares are not too expensive. Maybe only their housing, cars are. Is it still livable? Is it still livable when the wages of their entry designer at a design studio (fresh graduate) is around 10,000 HKD.
On a better side, the architecture in Hong Kong are of international standard. There’s Zaha Hadid’s Innovation Tower at Poly University, there’s Lippo Centre by Paul Rudolph, there’s Run Run Shaw Media Centre by Daniel Libeskind, there’s Hong Kong Design Institute by CAAU, there’s Broadway Cinematheque, there’s Pacific Place by Thomas Heatherwick, there’s The Forum by AEDAS, there’s Opus at Victoria Peak by Frank Gehry, there’s Hong Kong Space Museum. I even spotted a church at Mong Kok which is built vertically up like a high rise apartment. On other hand, having that pride or something worth shouting out about has got nothing to do with the citizens and they do not affect their life directly.
Public basketball court.
What might, perhaps could be their basketball courts and street soccer courts in the city area and even parks. And I have been told they are for the residents nearby. Isn’t it nice to do some sports or a gathering or some winding down without having to spend? Not every weekends is about food, movies or shopping. Sometimes having a singular and not multi-functional, like our community centres, is good and good enough. I always enjoy pubic spaces, one that is not contrived, one that is not branded with fancy identity or built to be meant for tourists.
I certainly can’t imagine why the decision to try to demolish their lovely old school trams which run across the Hong Kong city island. We might even get to see another yellow umbrella movement when it really going to happen. And you will be surprised to find out there’s no design festival/week here in Hong Kong. The closest Design Festival/Week you have is the BODW which is more business related. There’s a recent Design Biennale though but it’s a paired Hong Kong-Shenzhen one.
Hong Kong, I thank you for the food though not able to find chilli is kind of weird.