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In the Land of Oil and Jute.

Exploring Yau Ma Tei.

rain

Yau Ma Tei.

Yau Ma Tei.

Today, despite the torrential rain, I decided to visit the district of Yau Ma Tei. I took the MTR to Yau Ma Tei Station and exited at exit B2. There are quite a few historical buildings and markets here. Most of the things I wanted to see were close together.

Yau Ma Tei MTR Station.

Yau Ma Tei MTR Station.

Art in the MTR, Yau Ma Tei.

Art in the MTR, Yau Ma Tei.

Yau Ma Tei is a working class area which is fairly ethnically diverse. Lots of Indians, Pakistanis and Nepalis live here. Some residents are very poor and live in cage homes or subdivided flats. The origin of the name Yau Ma Tei is unclear as the meaning of Cantonese words depends on the tone they are said in. Yau can mean oil, Ma can mean jute or sesame and Tei can mean place, so it could be the oil and jute place.

Ethnically diverse Yau Ma Tei.

Ethnically diverse Yau Ma Tei.

At one time Yau Ma Tei was a village built along a bay. Its sheltered harbour was frequented by many Tanka fishermen who lived here on their boats. They built a temple to Tin Hau, goddess of the sea, on the shoreline. The temple still exists but it is no longer next to the sea due to land reclamation.

Yau Ma Tei and its surroundings were one of the areas in Hong Kong to be hardest hit by covid and for a while residents here were subjected to frequent overnight lockdowns and compulsory testing. During my visit there seemed to be covid testing centres everywhere here.

I began my explorations at Yau Ma Tei Theatre. Unfortunately, at this point, rain was pelting down, making it hard to take photos. Yau Ma Tei Theatre was built in 1930 and originally showed films and Kung Fu demonstrations. As Hong Kong’s only remaining pre-World War II cinema, it is currently a grade 2 historic building. It has two pillars at the entrance which depict alternate happy and sad faces like the Ancient Greek tragedy and comedy masks. It also has a Chinese pitched roof and an Art Deco façade. This theatre was closed down in July 1998, but re-opened fourteen years later in July 2012 as a venue for Chinese opera.

Yau Ma Tei Theatre.

Yau Ma Tei Theatre.

Yau Ma Tei Theatre.

Yau Ma Tei Theatre.

On one side of this building is the Yau Ma Tei Wholesale Fruit Market. This was starting to flood a bit in the rain, so I had to wander around it carefully amidst the crowds. This market dates from 1913 and originally sold fruit and vegetables, then later fish. The vegetables and fish were eventually moved out to markets in Cheung Sha Wan and this market now deals only in fruit. Although it's a bit run down, this is also a historic listed building. It has a bit of a shady past involving triads, protection rackets and armed robberies. Fruit is a serious business here!!!

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market.

On the other side of the theatre there is a Red Brick Building dating from 1895. This is a grade 1 historic building and was formerly the Engineer’s Office of the Old Water Pumping Station on Shanghai Street. There is a huge mural on the wall behind this building. I took a picture of it, but it was way too dark due to the rain, so I deleted it.

Engineer’s Office of the old Water Pumping Station.

Engineer’s Office of the old Water Pumping Station.

The Engineer's Office of the Old Water Pumping Building is located on Shanghai Street, one of the oldest streets in Kowloon. This section of Shanghai Street specialized in kitchenware, though there were also shops selling shrines and household deities. In one area of the street, I watched a man beat pots into shape. The sound of him beating the metal filled the nearby streets. Shanghai Street stretches for around 2.3 km and passes through Jordan, Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok. This street dates from 1887 and was originally called Station Street. Later it was renamed to pay homage to the fact that the street was as prosperous as Shang Hai with whom Hong Kong traded at the time of the renaming. This was Kowloon's major transportation and commercial thoroughfare before Nathan Road took over.

Kitchenware.

Kitchenware.

Kitchenware.

Kitchenware.

Kitchenware.

Kitchenware.

Kitchenware.

Kitchenware.

Kitchenware.

Kitchenware.

Shrines and Deities.

Shrines and Deities.

Shrines and Deities.

Shrines and Deities.

Shrines and Deities.

Shrines and Deities.

The reason Shanghai Street was once called Station Street was because Yau Ma Tei Police Station used to be located here. In 1922, the police station was relocated to 627 Canton Road nearby. This police station is a beautiful old colonial building. It is now a centre for reporting crime rather than a fully functioning police station. During the 1966 riots against British colonial rule this police station was stormed by an angry mob but the police managed to suppress them. Apparently one of the gates to the right of the main entrance at this station is considered unlucky and has been kept permanently locked since the late 1970s, following a number of shooting incidents involving officers who left the station through this gate.

Yau Ma Tei Police Station Entrance.

Yau Ma Tei Police Station Entrance.

Yau Ma Tei Police Station Entrance and Side.

Yau Ma Tei Police Station Entrance and Side.

At the side of Yau Ma Tei Police Station.

At the side of Yau Ma Tei Police Station.

Yau Ma Tei Police Station Sign.

Yau Ma Tei Police Station Sign.

After looking at the police station, I walked back towards Shanghai Street to visit Yau Ma Tei's Tin Hau Temple. The square the temple is situated in is known locally as Yung Shue Tau which means banyan tree head. There is a temple gateway and many banyan trees here. This square together with the Tin Hau Temple is considered to be the heart of Yau Ma Tei. The square to the front of the temple was once located on the waterfront, though nowadays the sea is around 3km away due to land reclamation. The square to the back of the temple is home to the Yau Ma Tei Community Centre Rest Garden. Many senior citizens gather here to sit in the shade and play chess. There is a nine dragons wall here and some bridges, ponds and pagodas. In the evenings this square fills up with hawkers, Cantonese street opera performers and fortune tellers from the nearby Temple Street Night Market.

Gate at the Front Entrance to temple.

Gate at the Front Entrance to temple.

Front Entrance to the Temple

Front Entrance to the Temple

The Rest Garden.

The Rest Garden.

Gateway to the Rest Garden behind temple.

Gateway to the Rest Garden behind temple.

Bridges in Rest Garden.

Bridges in Rest Garden.

Elderly man watching the fish in the rest garden.

Elderly man watching the fish in the rest garden.

One game of chess.

One game of chess.

And another game of chess.

And another game of chess.

Nine Dragons Wall.

Nine Dragons Wall.

Nine Dragons Wall.

Nine Dragons Wall.

The Tin Hau Temple Complex is made up of five different temple buildings. One is the Kwun Yum temple dating from 1894 and dedicated to the goddess of mercy. Another is the Shing Wong Temple which was built in 1878. In the centre of the complex is the Tin Hau Temple which is the oldest of the temples and dates from 1864. When this temple was in front of a shallow bay, fishermen would come here and pray for calm weather before heading out to sea. Next is Shea Tan dating from 1878 and dedicated to the district god, She Kung. The final building is Hsu Yuen, a disused study hall built in 1897. The Shea Tan and Hsu Yuen were used as venues for the free schooling for the children of the Tanka boat people until 1955.

The Temple Complex.

The Temple Complex.

The Temple Complex.

The Temple Complex.

Hsu Yuen.

Hsu Yuen.

Hsu Yuen.

Hsu Yuen.

The second temple here is dedicated to Shing Wong, the city god. It is his job to care for the dead. Ancestor tablets line the walls of this temple. Around the entrance there are intricate paper models of buildings and clothes. These are offerings for deceased relatives. When these are burned, they enter into the spirit world for the dead people to use. This building was filled with chanting Taoist priests. Shing Wong's statue is surrounded by statues of the ten judges of the underworld. They are weighing the sins of the dead. Next to them are statues of the soldiers of the underworld who are carrying out suitable punishments according to the judges' findings.

Entrance to the temple.

Entrance to the temple.

Paper offerings.

Paper offerings.

Paper offerings.

Paper offerings.

The main temple is the Tin Hau Temple. Tin Hau was once a real person. She lived in Fujian in the tenth century and came from a fishing family. During storms and typhoons she would stand on the shore wearing a red dress to help guide sailors home.  Once she fell into a trance during a typhoon and saw her father and brother drowning.  She was able to use her powers to save her father, but her mother woke her from the trance before she could save her brother and he drowned. Tin Hau ascended to heaven as a goddess at the age of twenty-eight.

In front of the image of Tin Hau are four figures: two are human and two are demons. The humans are the book keeper and the keeper of the gold seal of Tin Hau.  Both of these record the virtues and failings of people.  The demons are: Thousand Li Eyes who can see over very long distances and Favourable Wind Ears who can hear things over long distances.  They are Tin Hau's faithful servants and guardians. 

Tin Hau.

Tin Hau.

Tin Hau with guardians.

Tin Hau with guardians.

Shrine in Tin Hau Temple.

Shrine in Tin Hau Temple.

The She Tan Temple is dedicated to the ancient district god, She Kung who is represented here by an inscribed standing stone in the centre of the courtyard. She Kung is the god of the harvest and the protector of the area.  There are statues of many other gods and goddesses here, too.

The She Tan Temple.

The She Tan Temple.

Doorway, She Tan Temple.

Doorway, She Tan Temple.

Doorway, She Tan Temple.

Doorway, She Tan Temple.

Shrine, She Tan Temple.

Shrine, She Tan Temple.

Offerings, She Tan Temple.

Offerings, She Tan Temple.

Incense Coils, She Tan Temple.

Incense Coils, She Tan Temple.

After visiting the temple I walked back across the front square and headed into the Jade Market. I think this is a temporary site for the market while there is building work around the usual site. I'm not really very fond of jade but Chinese people love it and consider it lucky. It is supposed to promote longevity and ward off ghosts and bad luck. Nearly all Chinese people have a lucky jade charm, necklace or bracelet. The market sells interesting stuff, but the vendors are too hassly and aggressive. This was made much worse by the fact that on a rainy day during covid I was the only customer and I was quickly surrounded by stall holders. That just made me want to leave as soon as possible rather than buy anything. Apparently some of the jade here is real and some is fake, bargaining is expected and it helps if you know what you are doing. I knew what I was doing - getting the hell out of there.

Entrance to Jade Market.

Entrance to Jade Market.

Entrance to Jade Market.

Entrance to Jade Market.

Goods in the Jade Market.

Goods in the Jade Market.

Goods in the Jade Market.

Goods in the Jade Market.

Goods in the Jade Market.

Goods in the Jade Market.

Goods in the Jade Market.

Goods in the Jade Market.

Goods in the Jade Market.

Goods in the Jade Market.

After the jade market, I took a very quick look at Temple Street Night Market. Just a quick look as being a night market, it wasn't open when I visited. This is the only night market in Hong Kong. I have been here years ago and remember it being really crowded. It has places to eat, stalls, fortune tellers and sometimes Chinese opera performances. Maybe in the summer holiday I'll come back at night to see this market in operation. I liked the look of a traditional looking drinks store next to the market. A Chinese friend says this will sell herbal teas and turtle jelly.

Temple Street Night Market.

Temple Street Night Market.

Deserted Lane near Might Market.

Deserted Lane near Might Market.

Shop selling herbal tea or turtle jelly.

Shop selling herbal tea or turtle jelly.

Lastly, I strolled along Nathan Road a bit. I liked the stairways brightened up with flowers and there were some interesting places to eat and drink. I also noticed a strangely out of place cat sculpture.

Dim Sum Restaurant.

Dim Sum Restaurant.

Tea Shop.

Tea Shop.

Cat Sculpture.

Cat Sculpture.

Floral Stairway.

Floral Stairway.

Floral Stairway.

Floral Stairway.

Floral Stairway.

Floral Stairway.

Floral Stairway.

Floral Stairway.

Next day I should have been working but the bad weather continued. I awoke to find the thunderstorm and red rain storm signals were raised, meaning schools and businesses are closed. The red signal was later replaced with the even worse black signal and the land slip warning was put into effect.

Posted by irenevt 02:17 Archived in Hong Kong

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Comments

Another interesting walk you took is on … thank you!

by Jojes

Hi Jessika,

I'm missing travelling very much so I'm exploring here in Hong Kong. Thankfully I'm finding there is lots to see and lots to learn. Thank you for visiting.

Irene

by irenevt

Where do you get the warning signals from? Is there actual signs raised outside somewhere or do you need to check website or...?

I have always wanted to visit a fortune teller, I am not believer but still very curious!! :)

Very understandable to get away from the market, I hate when people try to push to buy something..or actually try to push anything, for example if someone say that "You have to buy a black car" that alone makes me want to be without a car, or buy red one ;)

by hennaonthetrek

Hi Henna, the signals are issued by the Hong Kong Observatory. You can check them online, have alerts sent on your phone. They will also appear on TV screens and be announced on the radio. We have 3 rain storm signals and 5 typhoon signals for strong winds. Everything shuts on red or black rain, typhoon 8, 9 or 10. We also have heat warnings, cold warnings, landslip warnings, flooding warnings.

by irenevt

I'm very behind on reading TravellersPoint blogs as I don't spend so much time here these days - too busy with my own Word Press blog. I enjoyed my walk with you today, despite the rain. The shops and markets are always interesting and I loved your temple shots, especially the incense coils and the Nine Dragons Wall :) The floral staircase looks lovely too, and the cat sculpture made me smile!

by ToonSarah

Hi Sarah, thank you for visiting. What's your word press blog? How is life in GB? Fortunately we weren't going back this summer, all flights between here and the UK cancelled again.

by irenevt

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