Pricks and cunts of Caroline Hill and Haven Street

5 05 2013

I went back to the Caroline Hill/Haven Street neighbourhood I have blogged about here and here again this week.

It really is an undiscovered Hong Kong gem. Nowhere else in the city has quite the same winning combination of oldskool Hong Kong charm (and squalor) and arch urbanista hip, with the added bonus that it is so tucked away and little-discussed you get a feeling of ‘discovery’ every time you go there.

The dingy tenemant building at the centre of the little precinct was undergoing plumbing repairs. This gave its dim but atmospheric ground floor arcade an even grimier appearance than usual. As a fun contrast to this however, the hip stores hidden in its recesses were teaming up for an exhibition of Keith Haring-ish neon art, seemingly done with magic markers and fluoro paint. The mini-eshibition was titled, cheerily, Pricks and Cunts. The artworks were on display at all my favourite Caroline Hill stops, the wonderful closet-spaced store “Inbetween”, the Bunkaya Zakkaten Japanese kitsch store and – a new discovery for me – the R&C design cafe, a coffeeshop/ cretive workspace with a single communal table, Australian-style coffee and a mannequin playing the guitar.

Its also good to see the local stores collaborating on projects like this:

Hong Kong’s coolest corner

24 02 2013

A while back I shared on the blog of a very cool little corner of Causeway Bay known as ‘Caroline Hill‘.  Located on a single block of aging tenement buildings and one way streets, it is a peaceful oasis of old-style Hong Kong with the added bonus of a small run of some of the city’s coolest stores tucked away in dim arcades and odd corners. I went back this week to show a friend and he was just as impressed as I had been.

Just inside one of the dingy arcades is a closet-sized space called “In Between” with a perfectly curated stock of dried sea anenome doorhandles and lamps made out of driftwood, colourful Top Shop socks, beautiful jewellery, leather camera straps, antique bird prints, viny records and 1970s Polish film posters like the one below for – of all things – Jodorowsky’s “Sacred Mountain”.

As a bonus, the staff were super friendly and the store was hosting a one-wall exhibition of queer photography by a local artist, Donald Lung.

After this we checked out a cluster of other funky stores in the retro arcades.

There is a classic mens tailor (with a hipster twist) Hola, Gasset Liberal for homewares and Luddite, another menswear store, specialising in battered canvas bags and old medals incribed with Russian and Arabic.

But the other standout store for me was Bunkaya Zakkaten, a store located in the bowels of one of the old buildings, behind a buzzing green neon sign. Inside, and even outside, it brims full of cheap and cheerful Japanese accessories and homewares that veer between chic and cheesy. Think novelty sunglasses, rings in the shape of cats’ heads and sofa cushions shaped like babies, gaudy jewellery, cute printed pencil cases and vintage mens and womens clothing.

Afterwards we headed over to Wonderdog  for one of its delicious kimchi-dogs, only to find that the menu has changed. Oh no! We got wasabi-dogs instead and admired the orange painted pop art wall mural.

Apparently there are plenty of other little places to explore to that I missed out on this time – see this article from Timeout HK a while ago.

Causeway Bay surprise

6 11 2012

This weekend I made a thrilling discovery – a whole new neighbourhood tucked away at the back of Causeway Bay. Five minutes walk from the gleaming stores and incessant crowds of the Lee Gardens Centre sits another, much older slice of Hong Kong life. Here a lazy torpor falls over dead-end streets and laundry flutters on poles in dingy arcades. It is an enclave ignored by the rest of the city but with a that rarest of commodities on Hong Kong island – character.


Hidden away from rushing passers-by, this different Causeway Bay lurks, one I had never suspected. It is a neighbourhood of old tailor shops cooled by whirling fans, chipped tiles and rat-infested alleyways. But then, when you least expect it, there are signs of stealth gentrification. There are hip, charming stores in locations that seem designed to confound any customers, and great places to eat. It all adds up to a real sense of discovery.

Visiting for the first time, I felt like I had just stumbled on to the city’s best-kept secret.

The small but perfectly formed stretch centres around an inconspicuous, dead-end cul de sac called Haven Street, which comes to an end with an amusing mural of a country road. Although at first sight it seems like a sleepy little backwater, tucked out of the way from the nearby retail frenzy, closer inspection reveals a wealth of interesting little bars and restaurants, with arcades snaking off into nearby buildings.

I stopped by a hot dog shop here (Wonderdog) to try the Kimchi variation of its signature dish. It blew my mind. This was possible the best hotdog I have ever had – worth a taxi-ride across town on its own.

Inside the shabby, dim arcades there were grafittied walls and clusters of brightly-scarved Indonesian women sitting on the floors. But there was also a bizarre cluster of upscale tailors, a tattoo and art gallery, and an amazing shop called Bunkaya Zakkaten. Like something out of Tokyo’s Koenji or Kichijioji districts, it sells kitschy-cute Japanese pop culture detritus – erasers emblazoned with 80s Pop stars, cutesy purses and sunglasses, fold-up stools in the shape of animals and vintage clothes and shoes.

Around the corner was an even more un-Hong Kong shop, InBetween, which sells colourful socks, camera-straps and cute little pieces of jewellery. I loved it.

Then before you know it, you have emerged next to a dusty-looking mens hairstylists, a bakery that has barely changed since the 1960s or an old-skool fruit shop, onto the busy trffic and heaving crowds of Leighton Road – back into the “other” Causeway Bay again.

For more on this fascinating area, read this aritcle from the Wanderlister HK design blog The author, who refers to the area as Caroline Hill, shares my enthusiasm for its character and visited most of the stores listed above, even taking many of the same pictures!