Tsuen Wan: see it while it’s still there

Hong Kong reels in shock on learning that the police have been enforcing parking laws in certain parts of town on some occasions. Not that it makes any difference, as the HK$320 fine is so low – it hasn’t changed in 20 years – that getting a few tickets works out cheaper in the long run than using proper car parks. The Standard quotes district council members whose dazzling powers of lateral thinking lead them to conclude that the problem is a shortage of parking spaces, which haven’t kept pace with the number of cars, and which are being crowded out by allocation of land for housing. The answer is therefore obvious: demolish residential developments to create space for cars.

But, some smart-ass trouble-maker is bound to ask, where do you put the people who need somewhere to live? By coincidence, two small rival groups of protestors highlighted the solution to this problem over the weekend. One urged Mainland shoppers, as undesirable aliens from afar, to go home as Hong Kong is full; the other offered a welcome to the visitors as intimately close fellow countrymen, and (we infer) echoed our tourism industry’s demands that many more tens of millions come here. The obvious answer: relocate Hong Kong people to some other place (presumably the Mainland, as some say a new incinerator could also be).

The whole of the city’s area can then be devoted to car parks and tourists, and all our problems will be over.

Wanting to see the old place one last time, I dropped in on sunny Tsuen Wan over the weekend. Not for nothing is it known as the Land of Contrasts. Grimy old industrial areas abut gleaming malls and skyscrapers (well, a couple of skyscrapers), and expanses of moderately modest but non-loathsome public housing sprawl around clusters of similarly nondescript but inoffensive private estates.

Thus you have abandoned silk mills and godowns, haunted by the ghosts of Shanghainese textiles tycoons and their colonial-officer patrons. And you have the well-known Nan Fung Centre – the archetype down-market Hong Kong shopping mall, stuffed with little shops selling tacky T-shirts, earphones and small objects with flashing lights. Almost the entire population of Tsuen Wan are obligated to cram themselves into this place at weekends and shuffle around aimlessly for hours. And next door, you have Discovery Park, the unglamorous and poorer sibling of the famous Bay in Lantau.

Much of the mall here is vast and weirdly empty, like a new airport terminal. Even the Park N Shop feels strangely vacant, with great expanses of floor area where you would expect tightly packed shelves or teetering piles of special offers (you could fit a Central 7-Eleven into some of those empty spaces). Other parts are semi-bustling, like the Pokka Café, with its justly famous ice-cream-on-tiramisu-toast combo, and the furniture and piano stores. Then there are the tutorial centres, tightly packed with upwardly mobile 30-something mothers delivering toddlers to mathematics, English and even art classes.

The one that caught my eye was the magnificently named Shelly de Mozz Ballet and Jazz Academie. Even better than the name is the logo. This glorious heraldic design features silhouetted dancers surrounded by a stage curtain with a sunburst in the background; silhouetted winged angel-princess-ballerina things support the shield on either side, and the whole coat of arms is mounted on a crossed pair of ballet shoes. Compare it with the depressing history of design crimes created for the Olympics over the years, and you see the genius of this branding, aimed at the aspiring lower middle-class of Tsuen Wan and a few similar neighbourhoods – and no-one else. It is the sort of thing the world will miss when everything has been shut down and everyone shipped out to make way for the parked cars and the Mainland shoppers.

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10 Responses to Tsuen Wan: see it while it’s still there

  1. maugrim says:

    You give a pretty good description of suburban HK (yes, the ‘dark side’). I can’t believe you haven’t come across the Shelly de Mozz Ballet and Jazz Academie before. The pic of the two kids in jungle attire and the number of establishments Ms. de Mozz runs gives a further insight into ‘things HK people like’. The comparatively declasse Ms. DM isn’t to be confused with the more pukka sounding Ms. Jean M Wong’s school of ballet. Presumably a different demographic.

    The protest was interesting, not helped by the colonial flag and the sheepishness of their spokesman on last night’s news in trying to explain what it was they were doing. It was though amusing to see Mainland tourists complaining of the ‘rudeness’ of the protestors. Perhaps they should have crapped outside the stores instead.

  2. Gumshoe says:

    I always wonder what these parents who force their kids into art classes would do if their children decided they loved it and wanted to become a career artist…

  3. Sojourner says:

    Your sneering at the kitsch taste of the lower middle-class of Tsuen Wan is a delight to my lower-upper-middle class sensibilities.

    I imagine they even commit the egregious faux pax of referring to lavatories as toilets.

  4. Scoff Law says:

    Regarding parking and the police.

    The other day I saw about four HK police officers swarming around a vehicle that had been illegally driven onto a Hong Kong emergency access village road in the NT.

    This is a road upon which I’ve watched the police completely ignore blatant and routine illegal parking and driving.

    A closer investigation revealed the driver was of Indian or Pakistani origin.

    I couldn’t help but rather unkindly think of the officers as a bunch of racist pigs.

  5. maugrim says:

    I had a District Council survey to respond to regarding the creation of a lay-by which would change the advertised parking rules from parking being verboten at all times, double yellow lines and all, to parking allowed between midnight and 7.00am. I replied, translated into Chinese that there was no point when parking rules which are plainly obvious that you caould not park there, were ignored as it was. How would a 12-7 rule be inforced?

  6. nulle says:

    forget about the parking tickets and stuff while HK Gov’t orders anyone picketing and protesting against mainland tourists are to be arrested immediately.

    I guess another nail in the coffin of Freedom of Speech…

  7. Veritas. says:

    @Nulle. According to the newspapers no one was arrested. If you know different then present some tangible evidence.

  8. HKP says:

    @ Gumshoe

    Their parents force them into a slightly more respectable field, which is why there are so many architects with a chip on their shoulder.

  9. Ex Tax Payer says:

    Today, Hemmers, your cynicism goes beyond normal limits

    But having said that, so does my cynicism

    A couple of weeks ago there was some big ‘thing’ one morning at the British consulate ( @ top of Justice Drive). Dozens of police on guard … every kind of police ( bike -mounted – whatever)

    But did they bother with the illegal parking half-way up Justice Drive until – I , on my morning walk, begged “why cannot 6 policemen in a van book 6 illegally parked cars?” 2 policemen reluctantly dismounted , moved on the parked-illegally-on-double-yellow-lines – vehicles ( without booking the driver for stopping on double yellow lines ) and very grudgingly booked the remaining vehicles there parked.

    SH1T !

    I give up

    It’s obviously cheaper to park illegally than to pay for licensed parking

    So, lest I betray my conscience ( which I’m sorely tempted to do) I have decided to sell my car and quit driving in HK forever

    Anyway … I can never work out the latest one-way driving routes


  10. nulle says:

    HK Gov’t could arrest you if you protest against the gov’t and the mainlanders.


    I guess in a decade or so, HK will be nothing but a concrete jungle…


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