Monday, September 27, 2010

Hopewell Centre and Wanchai redevelopment in Hong Kong

When I was told to come to the Hopewell Centre for a meeting this afternoon, it did not ring a bell to me that this was the tower that housed the famous revolving bar/restaurant on the 62nd floor. The name sounded familiar from the moment I read it, but I suppose I must have completely forgotten about it until today. So, it took me nearly half an hour of wandering around Wanchai before finally identifying the 64-storey tower, which used to be the tallest tower in Hong Kong during the 1980s.
Hopewell Centre's name comes from the Hopewell Holdings Limited, a HK-listed property company, and the top floors of the Centre accommodate headquarters of this company. The CEO of the Hopewell Holdings, Sir Gordon Wu, is ranked the 38th richest person in Hong Kong earlier this year, according to the Forbes report on Hong Kong's Richest. The tower's revolving restaurant is a must-visit place for those who would like to have a bird's eye view of Hong Kong while enjoying a drink. It seems to have taken about one hour to make one full circle today. A pint of beer, Heineken, cost about 60 Hong Kong dollars, which was actually not too bad, given what I could take away as a memory in return. Sadly, my camera battery ran out early on, and these two pictures were what I could shoot. Another excuse to come back when I make my next visit to Hong Kong

As mentioned earlier, the Hopewell Centre used to be the tallest building in Hong Kong until the late 1980s. I remember coming to this tower with my parents and to the revolving restaurant (less often than going to the Victoria Peak though). I cannot clearly remember now, but I suppose the view from the restaurant must have been magnificent, as the tower looked down upon every building around it at the time.
On the other hand, the view from the ground level is very different. Thanks to my earlier confusion that led me to wander around Wanchai for nearly half an hour, I was able to have a closer view of latest redevelopment projects in this part of Wanchai. Several pockets of Wanchai's old district are now demolished, and construction workers are laying the foundation for reconstruction. While the bird’s eye view from the top of the Hopewell Centre projects Hong Kong's more global image, the Wanchai district within which the Hopewell Centre is located provides a rich life of Hong Kong’s ordinary residents. The district is home to not only many night clubs and bars, but also to street markets, vendors and specialized small firms, which are frequented by local Hong Kong residents. Visitors to Hong Kong tend to associate Hong Kong with luxury goods and duty-free shops, but what lie behind buildings, hidden from the view from main streets, are what truly enrich the time and space of Hong Kong.

These endogenous characteristics seem to face a great pressure of extinction due to a series of redevelopment proposed and implemented in this district. During my one-hour walk today, it was easy to find many sites of demolition and redevelopment. Interestingly, they were mostly bearing the name of the Hopewell Holdings Limited, strongly suggesting that the property firm is behind these projects. I haven't yet had a chance to find out the extent of the company's involvement in these projects or their ownership/finance structure. The scale of intrusion of these projects into people's life, however, is simply amazing and difficult to describe. Perhaps the on-going process here typifies what an urban renewal project means to local people in contemporary Hong Kong. It is difficult to argue against any kind of demolition and reconstruction when one observes the status of severe dilapidation of some of the old, poorly maintained buildings. However, when projects are largely promoted and designed by developers to meet the taste of the rich who have a very different notion of urban life, they become a serious threat to people who pursue their daily life under current use of space, which may not be the highest and best use of land from the perspective of developers. Hong Kong seen from above at the top of the Hopewell Centre is certainly different from that experienced on the ground.

(The bottom left picture above shows the round-shaped Hopewell Centre in the background)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hong Kong, The Peak and childhood memory

To me, Hong Kong is like my first love. It's a city where I used to live for some years when I was young. Although Hong Kong has changed substantially since then, it still retains areas that are associated with my childhood memory. For instance, whenever I approach Hong Kong University campus on Bonham Road, I am always relieved to find the old apartment block still standing. It may get demolished and reconstructed someday, but for the moment, it is still there and I am happy for it. When I approach the Star Ferry on the Kowloon side, I still walk by the shopping mall that used to house my favourite electronic games centre. The Hong Kong side Star Ferry pier  no longer retains its previous look, as the original one was demolished and relocated due to land reclamation. I think it was Hutchison House that used to have a bookshop where I used to buy my beloved SF novels such as those by Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke. At that time, it was one of the few English bookshop that sold SF novels from these authors. Asimov's robot series was my biggest collection item at the time.

Since mid-2000, I seem to come back to Hong Kong at least once a year. Somehow, I haven't had a chance to re-visit The Victoria Peak, and today, I finally made my way. My choice of transport was the Peak Tram, which always gave me the joy of riding in the old days. Today's tram is not the same as what it used be in the 1980s, but the steep track is not replaceable. The most disappointing part was the Peak Tower, which has become too commercial and does not retain the old shape and memory any more. In front of the Peak Tower stands the old tram. I am not completely sure, but I think this is the same model as the one I used to ride. It was kind of funny to see this on exhibition in this way, as if my childhood is fossilised in time together with the retirement of this tram.

It was already 6 pm when I arrived at the Peak, and it was getting dark. My main aim was to be able to take a short walk along the Peak Path, which was to some extent a ritual for me. My family visited the Victoria Peak frequently when we lived in Hong Kong. On Sundays, we often came here for a walk along the Peak Path, which took a little more than an hour to complete one round (or may be longer), and had late lunch before heading back home. The old Peak Tower used to have a nice restaurant that commanded a very nice view of Hong Kong.

While the Peak Tower and the surrounding area have changed substantially, it is relieving to find that the Peak Path is there without many changes. It is a lovely place, a good one for both couples and families. I suppose people have different preferences regarding which point of entry they would choose to start the journey. I think my family always used to take our walk in an anti-clockwise manner, enjoying the view of Hong Kong downtown first and then the remaining part of Hong Kong as we moved away from the Peak Tower. A bit difficult to explain, but you will see what I mean when you visit this place...

Luckily, before it got too dark, I was able to take a few pictures of Hong Kong island and Kowloon. Obviously, there are quite a few high-rises, which were constructed after I left Hong Kong, but the overall impression that Hong Kong presents has not changed until now. The high density of buildings is simply amazing and breathtaking. Due to the continuous land reclamation, the surface area of Hong Kong island and Kowloon seen in this picture must have increased accordingly. I must look up my old albums when I get a chance to visit Korea next time, and see if I can find any picture of 1980s Hong Kong.

I am leaving Hong Kong tomorrow, but I am sure I will be longing for my return.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

51 days before the Guangzhou Asian Games

Guangzhou is busy with the preparation for the Guangzhou Asian Games that will take place in November. Some people in Guangzhou say the timing is not good, as the opening of the Games is only a few days after the completion of the Shanghai Expo. In any case, lots of construction works and beautification projects are taking place all over Guangzhou, and the government of Guangzhou wants to finish the originally planned refurbishment and beautification projects in time for the opening of the Games.

The photos above show some of the scenes around the Guangzhou East Station where fast trains to Hong Kong depart from. Everywhere you go in Guangzhou nowadays, it is fairly easy to find these Games-related slogans and electronic count-down billboards.  The whole station area was in a mess yesterday when I went there to take my train to Hong Kong. Three weeks earlier when I first arrived in Guangzhou, it was even messier. I suppose the remaining 51 days would see more intense mobilisation of resources by the government to complete the beautification and major construction projects considered crucial for the city to make it presentable to Games visitors.

When a guest visits one's house, everyone would usually try to clean his/her house to make it presentable and comfortable for the guest. When a city engages with beautification and refurbishment, it becomes a whole different story, affecting far too many residents who may find quite a few projects absolutely unnecessary. The decision to decide the extent of the clean-up, beautification and refurbishment often rests with high-ranking officials, reflecting their own notion of what a city should look like.
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Monday, September 20, 2010

From Guangzhou to Hong Kong

My official schedule in Guangzhou is over as of tonight. Just came back from giving a guest lecture on Olympic Games and Mega-event Politics to the students at the School of Urban Planning and Geography. When I gave talk on the same topic to some students at the School of Government a few days ago, I did an impromptu survey on how many of the people in the lecture room were in favour and against having the Asian Games in Guangzhou. About 30% of the attendants said they were against it, and 15% in favour. Tonight, I did a similar survey, and about 15% said they were in favour of it, while 5% said they were against it. Well, it's difficult to know the full picture until one finds out what the silent mass really thought about the issue, but it was an interesting exercise. I wonder if there was any difference in the disciplinary approach that produced contrasting results...

I will be off to Hong Kong on Wednesday, the mid-autumn festival day when families get together in South Korea, and lantern festival takes place in Hong Kong. As was the case last year, again mid-autumn festival while being on the road...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Police 'partol' car

Today, I had a walk around one of the study sites in Guangzhou. The area was completely empty of its residents, as the whole area is now being demolished. I will talk more about this at a later date, but for now, I could not resist my smile when I first saw this rather cute police car next to the demolition site, and even bigger smile when looking at the English word, 'partol'. A cute but unnecessary mistake for the police force...

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Guangzhou heat beats me

Somehow last time in Guangzhou was also in September. This time again, I am spending three weeks in this city. I must have forgotten about the heat and humidity - no, to be exact, the cool/cold London weather must have tainted my memory, and forged my thought that it was not too bad, and that I would survive.

Yes, I would survive eventually...but today, after having spent four hours outdoor under the sun, I could see myself loosing concentration. A student assistant of mine was telling me some interesting issues about his own hometown, and I could feel myself that I was only 50 percent focused, and eventually less than 10 percent. I had to apologise to him in the end, telling him my situation frankly, and our conversation continued again when we were in an air-conditioned taxi on our way back to the university. I must be better prepared from Any advice I can get would be appreciated.

p.s. I was checking the today's temperature on my Google gadget. No wonder I was sweltering in Guangzhou. I really look forward to going back to London.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

[Travel] "Mein Kampf" in Beijing

Belated posting this time. When I paid a visit to Wudaoying in Beijing (see my earlier posting below), I was having a quick rest (meaning that I had a bottle of cold beer...) at this cafe somewhere half way into Wudaoying hutong. It was a three-storey building, and from the owner, I was told that he had to tear the previous building down and reconstruct. The cafe was open first in December 2009, so I suppose it is one of the new breeds in this so-called 'next Nanluoguxiang'.

The owner rented this place from a local resident on a five-year rental deal. I am not sure if he'd require to return this building to its original shape upon the expiry of his lease period. I suppose that's not something to worry about at this stage... It was a cosy, small cafe, rather quiet during the day-time. There is a roof-top terrace, which has a fairly good view of the neighbourhood. Roof-top terrace seems to have become a popular addition to cafes and restaurants operating in hutong areas nowadays. Quite an interesting development, given that roof-top terrace structures were ordered to be removed in Nanluoguxiang back in 2008, for they were regarded as illegal structures.

The cafe had an interesting menu book, recycled from the Chinese version of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" (or My Struggle). Perhaps the idea of using a book in this way is not so new, but the selection of Mein Kampf in mainland China to be recycled in this way was rather amusing. I haven't had a chance to ask the owner why he selected this. Perhaps I should next time when I'm there. I wonder if Mao Zedong's little red book or Das KapItal would get to be used in this way sometime in the future. I suppose the latter has a higher possibility than the former, given the direction of China's development at present.

Monday, September 06, 2010

"Which country is China's best friend?"

While driving in a taxi to go to the Guangzhou Book Center on Sunday, I had an interesting chat with the taxi driver. Having heard that I am a South Korean, he was obviously making some jokes and teasing me with various questions. One of the questions, after a brief exchange of views about the South Korean navy vessel that sunk recently,  was why South Korea does not attack North Korea to reunify the peninsula. Below is a simplified version of what went on between us two:

Driver: Why doesn't South Korea attack North Korea?
Me: Why do you say that?
Driver: To re-unify the peninsula.
Me: That would result in many deaths.
Driver: That doesn't matter, if the countries are re-unified [some sort of human costs to be accepted].
Me: What would you say if the United States attacked China and many people died?
Driver: That would not matter. There are so many people in China anyway.
Me: What if your brothers and sisters died?
Driver: Oh, then, it's not good.

Obviously, this line of argument, while very much simplified, tends to dominate some of the international relations discourses with regard to the Korean peninsula, often led by right-wing conservatives that do not seem to mind the use of military power.

Another discussion then followed about which country was the best friend of China. To my question, the driver said that North and South Korea were the best friends, though I would reckon he said this after having known that I was South Korean. Then, he asked what I thought, and I replied, "the USA would be the best friend of China at the moment". This reply seemed to have been something he didn't expect to hear. After pondering on this for a few seconds, he asked, "what do you do?"

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Hong Kong's army of cranes

Due to some complicated (but not so complicated) reasons, I had to come to Guangzhou via Hong Kong. On my way from Kowloon airport express train station to Hung Hom station where I could take my train to Guangzhou, I happened to catch this amazing sight - an army of cranes. In May 2009 when I made my last visit to Hong Kong, this did not exist. Now, the whole site is full of cranes, and initially, I was wondering if this place was some sort of new parking space for cranes. But then, the sign post on the fence was reading "West Kowloon Terminus".

[Photos taken on 1 September 2010]

This was in fact the site to build the underground Hong Kong terminus of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, located at this part of Kowloon. The MTR web site provides a summary of this project, which turns out to be quite useful: Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link

The Hong Kong section of this express rail link will be 26 kilometers long, and will be entirely underground. For mountainous Kowloon geography, this is really going to be costly in terms of construction costs. Expected to be completed in 2015, it will take less than 50 minutes to reach Guangzhou from Hong Kong (much less than two hours by train at the moment), and long haul services to Beijing will only take 10 hours. The funding comes from the government. When all these cranes disappear and the terminus opens its service, Hong Kong will surely be much more integrated with mainland China. The army of cranes indeed shows how much the government is committed to this project.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Listen to these frogs(?) at Sun Yat-sen University

It was raining heavily in Guangzhou. Really heavy rainfall, which continued almost 24 hours. Then, all of sudden, it stopped at around 8 am today. As I was walking towards the School of Urban Planning and Geography to be part of a workshop, I came to notice this very funny sound. Some people were gathering around the area, also finding the sound amusing. I couldn't help recording it. I think they were frogs, but they could also be toads? If you look carefully, you will find quite a few of them in the first picture. The second picture is a zoomed-in version.

Photos and recording all taken just before 9 a.m. at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China

Friday, September 03, 2010

Unwelcome guests to my room

In Guangzhou, I am staying at Sun Yat-sen University's guesthouse. The university campus is a beautiful one with a green space along the central axis and trees lining the main street. While the scenery is quite pleasing, summer in southern China cannot be discussed without the presence of all sorts of small species. Upon my arrival, a dead tropical cockroach was lying on the floor of my bedroom, which worried me a lot - one cockroach in sight usually denotes at least several dozen more somewhere in hidden places. So far, no more cockroaches spotted but I cannot rest assured...

Then, before going to bed, a giant spider-like creature crawling up the wall in the hallway next to the entrance door. I had no idea where it came from. Apparently it had only six legs, and if fully stretched, could be more than 15 cm long. It was moving quite quick.

Then, today, it was raining all day long, and on my way out, I spotted a giant snail, whose shell was as big as a child's fist. From head to tail, it would have been about 15 cm long. It was crawling up the staircase.

Finally, a lizard that was spotted just now. It was moving fast on the floor in the hallway. This was a tiny one, so not threatening. Rather cute actually.

I wonder I am going to see tomorrow. No more in my flat please...

Anyway, my greater concern now is that I have to make a presentation at a workshop tomorrow, and I have early symptoms of cold. Still to make some changes to my slide. Would it be wiser to sleep and rest first and wake up early to complete the work? Time to decide...

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Shanghai Bund and Pudong in 2010: Shanghai's Past and Future

The rise of Shanghai has been subject to academic scrutiny during last few decades. The study of Shanghai and other major coastal cities provides an window to understand China's past, present and future, but sometimes, misdirects observers to believe that Shanghai (and a few other major coastal cities such as Guangzhou) represents China's urbanism. As one of leading cities, what Shanghai does sets an example for other inland cities that admire Shanghai's re-emergence as a world city. In this regard, understanding Shanghai's urbanism is an interesting and necessary endeavour. On the other hand, it is necessary to understand China's inland cities experience a differing degree of exposure and possession of economic, political and geographical assets (both existing and expected) that would influence the particular trajectory of their growth. Shanghai's rise may not be something that can be easily replicated by other inland cities.

Shanghai Liujiazui (top) and Bund (bottom) (c) Hyun Shin 2010 
The view of Shanghai Pudong (top picture, left) from the Bund would probably represent the present and future of Shanghai. The dense cluster of modern high-rise office buildings with some additional commercial luxury condominiums may represent the kind of wealth and power that Shanghai as well as China as a whole would like to achieve on the globe. On the other hand, the view of the Bund from Pudong's riverside promenade represents Shanghai's past and present. The Bund is already a densely built area, but as seen in this picture (bottom picture, left), the hinterland of the Bund experiences denser, commercial development. The historic buildings along the Bund that date back to the early 20th century would probably remain conserved, possible to be dwarfed by taller buildings behind themn. These historic buildings would probably stay for much longer than any other historic buildings, as I would assume they represent the time and space of Shanghai's early period of 'globalisation' (though reactive to imperial intervention), which the municipal government would like to highlight in its pursuit to make Shanghai a 'world city'. But, Shanghai still has a long way to go. It aspires to become a world financial centre, but still, most international investment banking firms for instance are based in Hong Kong. A couple of them including the Goldman Sachs have a licence to operate in mainland China, but are based in Beijing where face-to-face contact with the central state officials would be much easier.

Shanghai's (and indeed China's) pride of socio-economic transformation and the rising confidence in their future can be seen from the flags that now wave on top of every historic building along the Bund (see the picture below). I cannot remember if these flags were there back in 2001 or 2003 when I last visited Shanghai, and am not sure if there are regulations that dictate these buildings to fly national flags in this manner. In any case, the view of red national flags with five stars along the Bund shows that for China, capitalism or socialism may no longer matter as long as it puts China at the centre of the world.

Shanghai Bund (c) Hyun Shin 2010
Then, how would one make of China's socialist history in a few decades to come? The lonely statue that stands next to the Bund promenade (see the picture below) is typical of socialist realism, which may no longer be a fashion among the post-80s generation in particular. Shanghai's future and past may become as wide as the width of the sea that lies between the Bund and Pudong. Bridges and tunnels are constructed to link them with each other. It would be interesting to see how stable and solid these bridges and tunnels are going to be in the near future.

Shanghai Bund (c) Hyun Shin 2010

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Urbanism in Shanghai - its representation

Well, not much to say here except for sharing this picture that I took. Signs of Expo with its symbols and slogans are found everywhere you go in Shanghai, but one slogan caught my eyes. Unfortunately, this picture that I took while travelling on metro is the only one available, so let me write down in full below what the two lines say just above the hand-grip:

Better City, Better Life

When you just read the English phrase, it does not particularly strike you as such, but when it is written together with its Chinese version, there is a big difference. The Chinese version can be literally translated as "City makes life better", which may mean a very different thing than what the English version says. To me, this sounds as if Shanghai is proclaiming the next phase of China's emerging urbanism - 'Long live the city!' Quite a few interesting thoughts come to me, but this is not the space to expand on this.
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Shanghai World Expo 2010

A day visit to Shanghai Expo on 27 August. Together with the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, I'd imagine the memory of Shanghai Expo is going to be something that the city is going to keep for some more years, if not decades. It has been publicized for many months now that many pictures of national pavilions set up on the site would probably be available with a simple google search. I had to make this visit to have a look at it myself, and as is always the case with this kind of event, I have to admit the visit was not that exciting.

Fortunately, the four days in Shanghai this time were cloudy with some breeze, so it was relieving that the kind of heat and humidity that I experienced back in 2003 did not exist. A friend of mine in Shanghai told me that one week ago, the weather was deadly hot, so I suppose I was quite lucky. But, this meant that all the worries about visitors suffering from heat wave were real (see a news article, 'Shanghai Expo braces for heat wave'). Even the cooler weather that I experienced still made me sweat while walking around the site. I have to say there were not much to see, unless you are 'really' interested in those fancy-looking pavilions, which are going to be demolished fairly soon, once the Expo nears its conclusion. Visitors would have to enter each pavilion if they are to have any unique experience, but then, the huge number of local Chinese people visiting the site meant that non-VIP visitors were to normally wait in a very long queue for quite some time.
To prevent people from being hit adversely by the unbearable heat while waiting in queues, the Expo organisers seemed to have come up with a rather unusual measure - a cool, moisturised air blow that switches on every few minutes (see the picture below). At first, I was caught unexpected when this first struck me while walking past another queue. It looked like some sort of hot-air disinfectant that I used to see during my childhood, but then, I quickly realised what it really was. Yet, it somehow does not make me feel comfortable, and I'd prefer not to be exposed to this...

All in all, vising Expo appears to be something of a must for tourists who can afford to travel to Shanghai. Daily counts show that more than 300,000 people visit Expo everyday. But then, given the long queue one has to stand in order to get into each pavilion, I wonder how many pavilions each visitor could actually manage. I would probably not recommend Expo to be your main purpose of visiting Shanghai.

Some small facts. One piece of Belgian waffle is sold at 40 yuan outside the Belgian pavilion. Not a realistic price for normal Chinese tourists. Also, the metro service between Madang Street station and the Expo site is free of charge. I am not sure if any other countries would be as generous... Well, I have not visited many pavilions, hence not many pictures of them. Just a couple of them below...



Inside Belgian Pavilion (I was lucky to get a VIP pass...)