Exploring one of Hong Kong’s oldest districts

In historic and hip Sheung Wan let’s find the street where the cool cats are. On your GPS it says Upper Lascar Row. But for everyone in Hong Kong who loves art, shopping and just hanging out it goes by a different name – the Cat Street Market. The street itself has a bizarre history. […]

In historic and hip Sheung Wan let’s find the street where the cool cats are. On your GPS it says Upper Lascar Row. But for everyone in Hong Kong who loves art, shopping and just hanging out it goes by a different name – the Cat Street Market. The street itself has a bizarre history. The story goes that during Hong Kong’s colonial era at the turn of the 20th century, Indians in the British military – referred to as ‘lascars’ – began to congregate in the area. Later on, markets selling contraband started up. People who deal in stolen merchandise are referred to colloquially as ‘cats’ in Cantonese, and the area gradually became known as the Cat Street Market.

The stolen goods are a thing of the past, and these days, you’re more likely to find vintage Hong Kong knick knacks and curios from street stalls that line Cat Street, as well as Chinese antiques and furniture. The distinct green-coloured hawker stalls on Upper Lascar Row are more eclectic – there’s everything from antique art and Chinese furniture to jade sculptures and life-sized Buddha statues. Shops to check out? Entering the Cat Street Market through Ladder Street, you’ll soon spot Man Po Court. A shop offering Chinese decorations stored inside, it also has a collection of knick-knacks spilling out onto the streets: you’ll find jade and silver jewellery, statues of Buddha and the Goddess of Mercy, mahjong sets and old-school teaware. The owner’s dog is quite a celebrity in his own right.

Down the road is Michael Furniture Gallery, a family business that has been around for twenty years, offers antique Chinese furniture and decorations. Following in his family’s footsteps, Hongkonger Michael Wong now manages the shop. Most of Michael Furniture Gallery’s products are sourced from China, while the rest are second-hand pieces acquired locally. Nga Bo Kok sells handicrafts, alongside other art pieces sourced mainly from China and Taiwan. Owner Chan Kai-kin, who moved to Hong Kong from Fujian, opened up shop here two decades ago. ‘Upper Lascar Row hasn’t really changed over the years. Every time a shop closes, another one opens up in its place,’ he says. Eastern Dreams, which originally opened on Hollywood Road in 1978, is managed by Kitty Chan, who has been in the industry since the early 1970s. The shop specialises in Qing Dynasty antiques, including an extensive selection of Chinese fans decorated with intricate designs. The rent was increasing in Eastern Dreams’ original location, Chan says, and it made more sense to move here where shops of this kind are concentrated. Cat Street Market is a hub full of antique treasures should be on your Hong Kong to-do list.

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