Abandoned Ma Wan Village

Ma Wan Island connects the two bridges that link Hong Kong Island with Lantau all the way to Chek Lap Kok Airport. Before the bridge was built, up to 3,000 people lived in the old village of Ma Wan. Its population began to decline after the 80s with the development of Ma Wan New Village, built originally to rehouse villages in the old village to new housing as part of a plan by Sun Hung Kai and the government to develop the area. Yet as of today, remnants of the town are still clearly intact, it’s obvious that the area was once filled with seafood restaurants, shrimp paste making factors, and a fishing industry, not too different from Tai O. In fact the existence of abandoned stilt houses makes it appear as a mini Tai O!



Abandoned stilt houses

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VIllage Houses

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Former Businesses

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Traditional Qing Dynasty village houses

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June 4 Commemoration at Victoria Park

Photojournalist Jeff Widener
Photojournalist Jeff Widener, the man responsible for the infamous “tank man” photo is in Hong Kong this week. Due to word of mouth, I was fortunate enough hear him speak at the University of Hong Kong Art Museum last night.


Victoria Park on June 4, 2014 Source: Reuters

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. As with every year since 1989, a mass candlelight vigil has been held at Victoria Park to remember the students that were killed by armed forces. Despite growing censorship and overall control over Hong Kong by the central government, this is one event that continues relatively free of interference. But also for that reason, the number of attendees to the vigil have grown in recent years and this year up to 180,000 showed up at Victoria Park, beating even the number at the 1st anniversary of the crackdown! Part of the growth, ironically may lie on the increasing number of mainlanders attending. It heartens me that despite absolute censorship of the events on the mainland and the risks that it entails that so many, including the young have come to Hong Kong to remember.

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Abandoned ATV studios at Ho Chung, Sai Kung










On the way to Sai Kung is the village of Ho Chung. Before it was abandoned as a TV studio for ATV in 2007, this building was an abandoned factory. The premises are believed to be haunted as reported by a number of media outlets including Eastweek. In the last few years, it’s been taken up by graffiti artists until the gates into the building were closed and chained up!

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Queenslander Houses in Brisbane

The inner suburbs of Brisbane comprise of a particular type of house not seen anywhere else in the Anglosphere or the world for that matter.  Built from the 1840’s onward, these timber structures typically feature verandahs that comprise a large proportion of the home and elevation of the main living quarters on stilts.  This helped facilitate ventilation and keep pests away.


As a casual observer, they resemble stilt houses in Indonesia built with Anglo features. At least one historian believes there is a connection between vernacular architecture on the island of Sulawesi and the Queenslander house.

Sydney: “The Block” at Redfern


As some of you may know, I am in Australia at the moment and I spent a few days in Sydney last week. Since coming to Australia, I couldn’t help but make comparisons with North America. Sydney itself would fit right in with west coast cities like San Francisco or Vancouver, both physically but culturally.


Apart from that bridge and the Opera House, Sydney’s inner city neighborhoods are vibrant places, full of 19th century housing stock. Some of them even surprisingly resemble the shophouses of Singapore. Singapore is relatively close to Australia after all.

The most valuable piece of vacant land in Sydney: “The Block”. There were once over 100 houses standing here.

Not far from the University of Sydney is the neighborhood of Redfern. While most of Sydney has’t suffered urban decay to the extent found in many US cities, parts of Redfern have been synonymous for crime, poverty and racial tensions, notably an area known as “The Block”. Unique in Australia, “The Block” was the first piece of urban land deeded to ownership by Australia’s indigenous population in 1972 under the Aboriginal Housing Company. Bounded by Everleigh, Caroline, Louis, and Vine Streets, the terraced houses on “The Block” were rented out as subsidized housing for the community. For a number of reasons, the area became plagued by drug use, crime, and continued deterioration of the housing stock. While it has been seen as a ghetto from the outside, it also symbolized indigenous rights and a spiritual home for the community.

The Elouera-Tony Mundine Gym is one of the few remaining structures on “The Block”. It features an Aboriginal flag mural by Alex Tui and will also be demolished as part of the Pemulwuy Redevelopment Project.


Redfern is rapidly becoming gentrified and terraced houses adjacent to “The Block” are under renovation.
Maybe not every house

2004 marked not only the the Redfern riots resulting from the death of an Aboriginal boy at the hands of the police, but the start of AHC’s plans for redeveloping “The Block”. By 2011, the entire area had been vacated and most structures demolished.

Rendering of the Pemulwuy Project

The replacement known as the Pemulwuy Project, will be a multimillion dollar multistory commercial and residential development that itself is causing much controvery not only within the Aboriginal community but also with city authorities. The commercial part of the development will be the centerpiece of the development and there is concern that profit will take precedence over providing subsidized housing for the Aboriginal community. For now, the vacant piece of land remains the most valuable piece of land in all of Sydney!

More murals at “The Block”


Housing on “The Block” before it was demolished



Shenzhen Urban Villages: DaXin

Abandoned Cantonese village house turned shop in Chongxia Village to be demolished

The Shekou peninsula is dotted with historic villages and towns, that have all become urban villages. One of these is the 1394 built town of Nantou, which was once the administrative seat of the surrounding county which included all of Hong Kong. This county has been called various names in the past including Dongguan, Xinan County or Baoan county. Today the walls of Nantou are still visible, but very little historical structures actually remain inside the original city despite its designation as a historic site. Most of the built environment is composed of typical urban village handshake buildings from the 90s.

Nantou Walled City gate

On the other hand, just south of Nantou is Daxin, which actually contain far more pre-republican era structures. The term “Daxin” is relatively new, having been coined in 1954 and this large village is actually the amalgamation of 4 smaller ones, namely  Guankou, Jiebian, Yijia, and Chongxia. According to Mary Ann O’Donnell, this related to the economic status of the respective villagers in the 90s.

Here are some photos from Guankou and Yijia:

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Unfortunately, there are plans to redevelop these villages, starting with Chongxia where demolition has already commenced.

Redevelopment plan of Chongxia Village

As of April 2014, Chongxia has been vacated and is being reduced to rubble:

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Some village houses are also under the redevelopment area:

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Shuidong Street, Huizhou City

Shophouse streets fascinate me. There is this surreal feeling walking through the streets of Shantou after pictures of Hong Kong from the 30s. While shophouses may be rare in Hong Kong these days, they are still common in Malaysia and around Southern China. Huizhou might seem like a random place to go for a tourist but there are some cool historic relics that make it a worthwhile day trip from Hong Kong.



Shuidong Street is a fully intact shophouse street. Developed between 1078 and 1087, it’s also one of the oldest streets in the city. The street began as a Song Dynasty military outpost before evolving into a transport hub by the Tang Dynasty. During the late Qing Dynasy, Shuidong Street grew to become a very prosperous area and was Huizhou’s center of commerce. The street was rebuilt with the existing shophouses in 1928. Most are 2-3 stories in height and 40-50 meters in depth.

Half demolished Shuidong Street:

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Since most of the building façades have been modified from their original appearance, it might not be the most spectacular shophouse street, but the fact that the street is the center of some development controversy makes it a worthwhile visit. Since 2001, there has been talk about developing the street for tourism. A 2006 plan for the street called for the promotion of “heritage” of the street through the demolition of all existing buildings on or adjanct to Shuidong Street. These new buildings would supposedly restore the street to its historical, illegal-addition-free appearance. Oh the irony! The project began in 2009 and would be completed in 3 phases.

The plan:


New buildings from the redevelopment:


Although the first phase of has been completed to the horror of any sane preservationist, the project was put on hold in 2012. This buys time for the city government to figure out what the heck they want to do. The project has become the center of ridicule and the new buildings quite evidentially do not look like anything that would’ve been built in the 19th century. There is talk that the project may be halted completely and the shophouses will simply be renovated.

More from the street:

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This one has been designated a heritage listed building:DSC_0811

Photoblogging urban change in Hong Kong and southern China


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