Reminiscences: Life in Hong Kong's Built Heritage
Recently Visited



The “floral tribute scramble” on Hung Shing Festival was the most exciting event of the year in Kam Tin Heung. Another memorable festival was Chau Yan Kin Chiu (Thanksgiving Ritual), held every ten years to give thanks to Chou Yau-tak and Wong Loi-yam, two government officials whose pleading with Emperor Kangxi led to rescission of the Coastal Evacuation Edict. In 1925, when I was five years old, a massive open-air bamboo theatre was erected on the ritual field in front of Chou Wong Yi Kung Study Hall. There were Cantonese opera performances for a few days, which attracted many villagers. We kids loved the wide variety of snacks and grocery stalls beside the bamboo theatre on the ritual field.

Later on, after I moved to my uncle's home in Yau Ma Tei, I got to see my first film at Yau Ma Tei Theatre. The film was Light of the City, starring Charlie Chaplin. I can still remember those happy moments, watching the movie while eating delicious snacks.

Sometimes I would hang out at Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market with some of my cousins or watch street performances, singing, story-telling and fortune-telling in Yung Shue Tau (Banyan Tree Stump) on Public Square Street. One of my cousins, who loved street performances, would even sing and dance along with the beat, catching the sights of passers-by.

Chou Wong Yi Kung Study Hall

Chou Wong Yi Kung Study Hall was built in 1684 to honour Chou Yau-tak, Viceroy of Guangdong and Guangxi, and Wong Loi-yam, Governor of Guangdong, whose pleading with the Emperor ended the forced coastal evacuation and allowed the clan to return to Kam Tin. The study hall houses the soul tablets of the two officials and a number of stone tablets recording the history of the coastal evacuation and the study hall, making them valuable artefacts.

Yau Ma Tei Theatre

Built in 1930, Yau Ma Tei Theatre is a blend of Chinese and Western architectural styles. The two pillars at the front entrance are engraved with crying and laughing masks. The theatre features a Chinese tiled roof, an Art Deco facade and gable walls. Yau Ma Tei Theatre is the oldest surviving theatre in the urban district, and has been revitalised as a performing arts centre for promoting Cantonese opera.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market, founded in 1913, was originally a wholesale market for vegetables and fish. From 1965 onwards, it has been used solely by fruit wholesalers. The rectangular market consists of several blocks of one to two storeys high brick-and-stone buildings. The gables and pediments of some of the buildings are in Dutch Colonial style, while some facades are engraved with shop names, which are the architectural highlights of the Fruit Market.

Yung Shue Tau

This is a square located in front of Tin Hau Temple in Yau Ma Tei. It is well known as Yung Shue Tau (Banyan Tree Stump) because of the big banyan trees there. In the old days, entertainers gathered in this market commonly known as Poor Man’s Nightclub, offering fortune-telling, Cantonese opera singing and storytelling, which attracted large numbers of spectators.

▲ Back to Top


On holidays, my parents would take my siblings and me to Bing Tau Fa Yuen (chief commander’s garden, presently known as Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens) to enjoy the plants and animals there. I loved to play around the fountain and watch military music performances in front of the Western-style iron pavilion. Once we met my British music teacher in the garden. She said her favourite activities were walking in Bing Tau Fa Yuen and going to exhibitions and reading books in the City Hall.

We also used to visit Tiger Balm Garden, a popular theme park at the time. You could see colourful but peculiar sculptures throughout the park. The most impressive one depicted gruesome torture scenes in the eighteen layers of Buddhist hell, such as tongues being ripped out and bodies being fried in a cauldron of oil. Other surprising scenes included the amusing “wedding of pig and rabbit” and “Wu Song fighting with a lion”. My parents told us the meaning behind the Chinese mythology and folklore, which were mostly related to reward and punishment, based on retribution, reminding people to do more good deeds during their life. Next to the garden was Haw Par Mansion, the home of the family of Mr. Aw Boon Haw, the “King of Tiger Balm”.

Sometimes we would visit Lin Fa Temple and Tin Hau Temple near Tiger Balm Garden as well. I remember going to Wun Sha Street, next to Lin Fa Temple, to watch the fire dragon dance on several Mid-Autumn festival nights. Incense sticks were inserted in the fire dragon, which danced in the street. It was both exciting and dangerous, leaving onlookers in awe.

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens (Bing Tau Fa Yuen)

The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens were opened to the public in 1864, making it the oldest public garden in Hong Kong. It was first named the Botanical Garden because it was intended to be for research on plants in Hong Kong. Later animals were introduced, and in 1975 it was renamed the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens. The site of the Botanical Garden once served as temporary Government House, and subsequently, the official Government House was built on northern side of the garden. Since the Governor commanded the armed forces, he was called Bing Tau (chief commander) and the garden was called Bing Tau Fa Yuen (chief commander’s garden).

Tiger Balm Garden

Haw Par Mansion and the adjoining Tiger Balm Garden were built in Tai Hang by Mr. Aw Boon Haw in 1935. Part of the garden was open to the public. It featured sculptures depicting Chinese folk stories and stories of retribution, which are now part of the collective memory of the older generations in Hong Kong. Tiger Balm Garden was demolished in 2004, but Haw Par Mansion remains and is being revitalised as Haw Par Music Farm.

Lin Fa Temple

Lin Fa Temple was built in 1863 in honour of Kwun Yam (Goddess of Mercy). Its front hall has a rare octagonal lotus shape. On the fourteenth day of the eighth lunar month every year, the “fire dragon” visits Kwun Yam and is consecrated at Lin Fa Temple before starting the parade of the fire dragon dance in Tai Hang. The Fire Dragon Dance of Tai Hang is inscribed on the national list of intangible cultural heritage.

Tin Hau Temple

Tin Hau (Goddess of the Sea) has more temples dedicated to her in Hong Kong than any other deities. The Tin Hau Temple in Causeway Bay is believed to have been completed before 1747. It has a two-hall layout and is one of the best-known Tin Hau temples in Hong Kong. The roof ridges in the rear hall are exquisitely decorated with Shiwan ceramic figurines, depicting scenes from Cantonese opera. The trencadís works in the temple are a rarity in Hong Kong.

▲ Back to Top


  • Chou Wong Yi Kung Study Hall

  • Yau Ma Tei Theatre

  • Facade and gable walls of Yau Ma Tei Theatre

  • Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market


  • Thanksgiving Ritual of Ha Tsuen

  • The Thirty-third Decennial Thanksgiving Ritual of Kam Tin Heung