A famous spot for tourists Montane Mansion is located in Quarry Bay, on Hong Kong island. It has become famous for illustrating Hong Kong’s architectural claustrophobia and is a favorite spot for urban explorers.
Hong Kong’s paradox
For most foreigners, that place is claustrophobic and nightmarish to live into. For some Hongkongese, it is still home. That’s why, according to the record of recent transactions, houses are still sold up to a maximum of 5 million HKD for 490 ft.²!
The location of Montane mansion is on King’s Road, with tram and MTR nearby, so nobody will dispute the convenience of the place. However, the cost of the housing seems delirious given the claustrophobic atmosphere.
The pricing of housing in HK
Let us compare with another condominium, located in Ngau Chi Wan, where I am currently living. It was originally commercialized at about 7 million HKD on plans. It is a high-end luxury building with about 1,000 ft.² for my apartment.
However, that building was completed in 2010, and probably initially sold towards 2005-2007. At the time, the housing market was still recovering. Today, that same apartment is worth 12 million HKD.
If need be, it is a living illustration of the runaway Hong Kong housing market, under the influx of Chinese capitals over the last ten years.
Architecture witnessing the cramped conditions
Montane mansion serves as a visual reminder that Hong Kong deals with three economic constraints: greed of investors in real estate, limited space, and a growing population. So far, the Hong Kong government has not found a miracle solution, short of alluding to opening natural parks of Hong Kong to construction.
In the meantime, visitors and tourists still flock to Montane Mansion to see this visual illustration of Hong Kong’s evils.
How to get there?
In terms of ease to reach the place, you can get down either at Quarry Bay MTR station or Taikoo station. Both are very close to Montane mansion and you can reach the place on foot.
Captured in a a cafe near Quarry Bay, this is as beautiful as a scene can get for intellectual men. A lady reading a book in a cafe is always lovely to behold, especially when the lady is elegant as this one.
It is a stolen picture, but one to remind to all ladies (and all gentlemen!) that there is something inherently seductive in a lady interested in books.
In our age of smartphones and perpetual stimuli, a person capable of putting her soul at ease with a book is a very precious person.
When there is no clouds, haze or fog, Hong Kong can provide some spectacular sunsets, just like the one featured in this post.
Somehow, a previous post of mine with the same title garnered some attention, but I believe it was more because of an understanding about the title referring to the political and economic situation. So, let us try to do the perilous exercise of combining a photographic post with some political and economic analysis and look at what announces sunsets over Hong Kong.
The 2014 turnaround
The consensus in 2014 was that, while Hong Kong grew more dependent of the mainland capital inflows, its economy fared pretty good for the situation.
Some special tax statuses such as the offshore status did a lot to attract capitals, not to mention the general view of the city as the doorway to mainland China.
But the influx of mainland capitals had as side effect of making everything more expensive for the locals, in particular cost of housing. As mainlanders grabbed everything for sale in HK, hongkongers were left with no option but to pay increasingly higher rent. For some categories, like the cardboard ladies, this precipitated the fall into poverty.
A constriction of the future
At the same time, wages and perspectives for future did not follow for the locals. The increasingly self-centered education system of HK, became more and more a hindrance, as its products came out of school with maybe a good academic training, but severely lacking in language mastery, both in English and in Mandarin. Only Cantonese survived, but was increasingly relegated to a useless role, as mandarin or putonghua is becoming the business language, and obviously, foreigners expected English in a former English colony.
The accumulation of these factors resulted in a constriction of the foreseeable future for the local HongKongese. While costs increased, wages did not follow suit and neither did the perspectives for future. Once able to move easily from country to country in the English-speaking world, the Hongkongese are increasingly locked down in their city. T
hey are part of China, but China imposes upon Hongkongese the same restrictions that they impose on foreigners. At the same time, Hongkongese are not terribly excited to go and live in what is for them (and many foreigners) a lawless and arbitrary land.
Umbrella movement: an economic as well as political protest
The issue of democracy was not the only one worrying the 2014 protesters. They wanted also to have the guarantee that the city would look out for their economic interests and invest into its population, not only facilitate the Chinese takeover of the economy. This side was pretty much occulted both by Western medias and by China.
Similarly to Thailand, as long as the economy would have been handled in a fair manner, and they would have felt being protected and invested into, I believe the population would not care much about democracy. The Legislative Council was always a game among few leaders. The powerful conjunction of political and economic unsatisfaction gave rise to the umbrella movement… Before it fell again into oblivion thanks to its leaders.
Nevertheless, China’s reaction to the movement was blunt and to some extent dumb. They have an opportunity with Carrie Lam to regain hearts and minds, but only to the extent a real social politics is implemented in HK.
The real sunset: becoming part of China
Hongkongese might have been able to accept becoming part of China if they were guaranteed their freedom and their unique character would be preserved. Unfortunately, the Chinese reaction went right to the opposite of protecting the unique nature of Hong Kong. Beijing is going to tear away its last embers of independence and focus innovation and investments on other cities, like Shanghai.
From that point of view, the increasing opening of the Chinese economy to foreign capitals may finally be the last blow to Hong Kong. With no foreign capitals, a housing market out of control and no hopes for social mobility or evolution, hongkongese might resort to the last possible exit strategy: immigrating before they become fully Chinese.
Doing street photography in Central Hong Kong is an interesting exercise for capturing people walking in the city. The very urban framework provides a very localized view. At the same time, the occasional tourist and the beauty of many ladies passing in the area makes for good photographic subject. All together, you can suggest sophistication, beauty, and occasionally, mix it up with tradition.
Occasionally, you will have some tourists (often from mainland China) who will be willing to take selfies in odd places, like in the middle of the street…
In other locations, you will find tourists looking for their way, which provides also the occasion to test the use of reflectors (in the case of these ladies, the map). I decided to produce this picture in black and white, as the color version was providing too much distraction from the main subject… Look also at the face reflected in the shop on the right. Seems an interesting counterpoint to the two ladies.
One interesting thing of girls talking on a phone: they will look very “natural” and will not necessarily notice you. The inclusion of the tram in the background localizes the shot, while the horizontal and vertical lines guide the eye of the viewer.
Wall art in Central
People posing for pics in front of wall art in Central are also interesting when, like the girl above, they attempt to mimic the art and you manage to capture the right moment.
Now, except for the last picture in the series, I adopted a technique of street photography, which is to stay stationary and to shoot from a same place (namely sitting down in front of a bank). It is a good technique for obtaining candids as people pay less attention to someone staying in place rather than someone moving around.
This being said, if someone makes eye contact and is aware I took his/her picture, I always smile and bow to thank. In general, people are appreciative and generally ok with pictures. If someone does not want me to take his picture, I will respect that desire. Respect of your subject is paramount. Similarly, I am very reluctant to photograph homeless people or people who are living through hardship – artistically it brings nothing, and to these persons, it would not bring anything at all, except maybe shame.
During a photography meetup, a couple of weeks ago, I visited this quaint little temple called the “Man Mo temple”. It is peculiar for its location among high-rises in the very touristy area of Central. As this area is frequented by a lot of tourists, so is the temple too.
What is special about Man Mo temple?
Located on Hollywood road, this is one of the oldest temples of Hong Kong dating back to at least 1847 according to the temple’s website.
For Chinese, the temple is dedicated to the Gods of Literature, Man Tai, and the God of War Guan Yu (also called Mo Tai, hence the name “Man Mo” for the temple).
Today, because of the number of Asian tourists who come to burn incense, the place is pretty frequented, but the low light and the candlelight allow to shoot some pretty atmospheric pictures of the worshippers.
How to get there?
You can see the exact location on this map. Either you take a taxi to Hollywood road, or you can simply get down at Central MTR and then take a stroll up in that typical area. Upper Lascar Row, the famous antique shop street is nearby, so you might add it to your itinerary.