Living in Sheung Wan
I often get this nod of approval when I tell people that I live in Sheung Wan. For some reason this suburb has the ability to make people think you are quite “cool” in choosing to live here. I find myself doing the same thing, nodding with approval when someone else tells me they also live here.
I chose to live in Sheung Wan because I like the older style apartments where I can feel that my ceilings are towering above me. I don’t mind a walk up, although that’s not for everyone and there are much newer buildings than mine with lifts. I like that I can walk to Central, and pretty much everywhere I need to get to. At night if I’m out I’m generally no more than a five or ten minute shuffle down the hill. I'm so close to the many restaurants and bars of Soho and Wyndham Street.
But apart from the convenience of living on the fringe of Central, what makes Sheung Wan so great?
The neighbourhood is one of great diversity. Rows of shops selling everything in the food, dried food, dried seafood, animal parts, birds, grains, nuts, sweets and more. There are the Sheung Wan cooked food and fresh produce markets and the Western market selling silks and fabrics. There are cake shops and bakeries, tea shops and Chinese herbal medicine shops aplenty. There are loads of specialty shops selling everything from outdoor sports equipment, to barbecues, to home wares. Wing On department store has everything down on DesVoeux Road. The area has a number of quaint pedestrian laneways that specialize in making Chops (chinese company seals) or sell locally made fashions, scarves, bags, luggage and shoes.
Sheung Wan was one of the earliest settlements of the British occupation and formed part of Victoria City. There were quite spectacular looking large colonial buildings along the waterfront, sadly most of which have been demolished over time. Some of the existing retail premises are however hundreds of years old and often still run by the same families who’ve run these businesses for generations dating back to the times of first trade and piracy.
Today Sheung Wan is still a thriving business location, and has attracted quite a selection of companies in the creative and media sectors. Gaining more space than in Central and yet only a five minute walk away, has major benefits. Financial firms and agencies have taken up premises here along with start up companies and office providers. Massage and beauty specialists are here too.
Sheung Wan foodies
All these diverse working people create an energy and buzz to the area, which has given rise to the variety of food outlets that have opened up in the streets. Every type of food imaginable is available for you to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. From western chains to French coffee houses, Lebanese, Greek, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Korean, you’ve got bespoke salad bars, English pub food, Italian pasta houses, cake shops, bread shops, it’s all here for you to try. There are small sit down local venues that get packed around the middle of the day, often with long lines stretching down the street patiently waiting for a bowl of hot beef and noodles. These are mostly only chinese language, however a few display enticing photos of what they cook, so that anyone can order. Some of Hong Kongs best known and favourite restaurants have opened up amidst all of this such as Yardbird and the new Spanish Pica Pica. Man Mo Dim Sum serve up a French take on the traditional dim sum and Gaia Restorante has been a firm Italian avourite for many years.
Scattered amongst all of these commercial outlets are apartments. Peoples residences. There may be the odd house mixed in here but for the most part Sheung Wan has apartments. Some are full residential buildings, others start above ground floor shops. Doorways with letterbox grills sometimes being the only indication that there are residences above. In a way, this appeals to my more anti-suburban desires, to live in a more industrious, chic, not outwardly residential area. You can find places with huge terraces, outdoor areas, shared roof tops and balconies.
I have visited what I would call the ultimate Hong Kong homes. Older styled apartments that have been completely overhauled, converted from 3 or 4 bedrooms down to say 2, with massive open plan living spaces, ultra modern and high tech fit-outs, and magical views of the neighbourhood and out over the harbor. To rent or buy these will still set you back, but compared to other suburbs in the mid levels and the Peak areas, it’s still affordable and it’s the extra space that you can acquire that makes it so worth it.
The people who live here tend to be young professionals and couples. It’s probably less a family area, for whom Pok Fu Lam and Kennedy town are perhaps more suited, although there is access to schools by taking the MTR which can be accessed from a number of Sheung Wan entrances to the station. There are the trams that run along Des Voeux Road, taxis galore, and buses. There is no need for a car this close in, and parking is always at a premium in any case. This is another reason why the area is mostly populated by young professionals as opposed to families.
On a Sunday or public holiday, many of the commercial enterprises are closed, so parts of Sheung Wan can feel deserted particularly around Dried Seafood Street area. This is heaven to those who live here, peace and quiet surrounds. But you are still only a casual stroll from everything else that an inner city suburb can provide. Hong Kong is after all a 24 hour city so whatever you wish to do, buy or find, there is no other inner neighbourhood where you can have so much so close by.
Café’s like The Cupping room are open 7 days a week as is The French Rotiseria, so in effect there is no real need to leave the “hood”. These are perfect meet-up places on the weekend, where Sheung Wan takes on it’s village vibe and the local residents come out to enjoy.