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Hong Kong Wan Chai

Valerian Ho discovers age-old customs and comfort cuisine in the heritage district of Wan Chai

1) Da siu yahn

According to traditional Hong Kong beliefs, if your daily life is consumed by stress, this could mean that there are little ghosts attached to your body. Why not get rid of them the local way before starting your four-hour tour of the city?

An ancient practice originating from Guangdong, da siu yahn (“petty person beating”) is a ceremony to drive away said ghosts. Under the bridge at the intersection of Hennessy Road and Canal Road, you will find old ladies perched on small stools. Sit down, tell them your difficulties, and then one of these “professional beaters” will light candles, put a person-shaped paper cut-out on a brick and chant a curse while hitting it with a shoe. Next, she will pour pig grease oil on a white paper tiger, burn it and scatter with raw rice to drive the ghosts away.

It costs around HK$50 (£4.60) to rid yourself of the evil spirits (although you will need a grasp of Cantonese). Alternatively, observe the spectacle from a safe curse-free distance.

2) Tai Yuen Street

From the bridge, hop on a westbound tram for about five minutes (HK$2.30/20p) and alight at the Wan Chai MTR station at O’Brien Road. On your left you’ll see the bustling Tai Yuen (Toy) Street. This thoroughfare attracts people from all over the world looking for collectible items and out-of-production treasures no longer available in stores, such as movie-themed models and Japanese capsule toys. While it is called Toy Street, you’ll also find watches, slippers, clothes and antiques here.

3) Kam Fung Cafe

If you’re feeling tired after shopping, pull up a chair at Kam Fung. This traditional cha chaan teng (Hong Kong-style tea restaurant) is located at 41 Spring Garden Lane, next to Toy Street, and has been serving Cantonese café classics since 1956 – an eclectic mix of Hong Kong-style Western food. While its décor and service are basic, fusion favourites such as the chicken pie (HK$10/90p), beef and egg sandwich (HK$18/£1.60) and cold milk tea without ice (HK$19/£1.70) are comforting and delicious. It’s open daily from 6am to 7pm.

4) Hung Shing Temple

Back on Queen’s Road East, walk west for about five minutes to reach the Hung Shing Temple at number 129. Hung Shing was a Tang dynasty official who championed advances in astronomy and geography, making him celebrated by fishermen and sea traders, and temples were built to honour him as the God of the Southern Sea. The Grade I Listed temple was built around 1847, and once stood overlooking the ocean. Following extensive land reclamation, the structure is now buried behind a sea of skyscrapers. Open every day 8.30am-5.30pm.

5) The pawn

Go north from the temple until you reach Johnston Road, and at number 62 you will see a grand four-storey Chinese tenement building. Constructed in 1888, it once housed the Wo Cheong Pawn Shop. In 2007, the government renovated the property and transformed it into the Pawn, a high-end British restaurant and bar complete with a rooftop garden sprouting crops for farm-to-table dining.

Helmed by the UK’s Tom Aikens, it’s the perfect urban sanctuary for winding down with a cocktail  – infused with herbs grown on site, naturally – while people-watching on the buzzing balcony. Bar open daily 5pm-1am (2am Fri and Sat); restaurant open 12pm-2.30pm, 6.30pm-10pm. Tel +852 2866 3444; thepawn.com.hk


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