One evening in Hong Kong we found our way to the night market stretching many blocks from Jordan Road to Kansu Street in a crowded area of Kowloon near the main arterial, Nathan Road. The transition from the glittering waterfront bejeweled with lights and high-end hotels and shops to what seemed a darker and more real corner of the city was startling. Instead of Gucci, Prada wares and the Peninsula Hotel, we entered the world of Wing Hing Hostel and the Dragoon Francais Tailor Co.
We had strolled through the laid-back (dare I even say genteel) market at Stanley with high-style clothing and even art, a seeming outpost of Colonial times, but now, the moment we entered the archway on Temple Street we were in real China.
The street was lined with stalls and their shouting proprietors desperate to sell their wares, all of which were repeated from one stand to another – CDs of Chinese opera or pirated pop from around the world, souvenir trinkets, sunglasses, smartphone cases and cheap tee-shirts decorated with Mao’s plump face or the “I Love Hong Kong” logo. Not must-have items for either of us but fun to look at the endless products of Chinese efforts to make a living.
Far more interesting was the dark sidewalk on the far side of the market and the bustling side streets crammed with outdoor restaurants. When we walked along the back side of the market, a more realistic picture of life for the poorer inhabitants emerged. The street is lined with old two- and three-story tenement buildings, all in various states of disrepair. Dingy stairwells lit by a single low-watt bulb cast shadows making me think of plots for a novel (A World of Suzie Wong knockoff?)
Scantily-dressed young women stood nearby waiting for customers. In between the forbidding stair entrances we looked through the dusty windows of tiny shops on the ground level: small altars and statues of Buddha, Chinese medicinal herbs, a barber shop, odds and ends of electrical supplies and ever more CDs. Closer to the main market stalls, vendors and their families sat around electric pots bubbling with meat and vegetable mixtures eating and listening to radios.
The streets leading toward Nathan Road in the other direction were alive with people, tourists and locals, all outside in the warm night for dinners or snacks. Busy outdoor restaurants offered ducks, chickens or other indeterminate flesh.
Other venues specialized in fresh seafood and wiggling fish kept alive by pumping water into plastic tubs. Customers sat at tables with bowls held to mouths, chop-sticks in motion.
Not a destination I would recommend for bargains but definitely a location to see what Hong Kong has to offer in the way of a very small look at China.