Central Part 1

Hong Kong has a rather muddled identity, referred to as a colony, a region, a territory and always seen with a comma, Hong Kong, the Crown colony and Hong Kong, China after the handover. Strangely enough, Central is clearly recognizable as the capital of Hong Kong. The presence of the Government headquarters, the Governor’s House, now the Chief Executive’s residence, the Legislative Council, and the Consulates of many countries have made Central a center of governance. As a strictly European district in the early colonial era, it is the business center for western companies. When overseas corporations such as HSBC expand into the territory, it is the natural landing place. Since then, other international financial institutions have followed suit and made their headquarters in Central, endorsing Central as a financial powerhouse, an Asian Wall Street.

Hong Kong Central Street Sign
Central Street Sign
Photo by lbphotos

A trusted measure of world class cities is the expensiveness of land and Hong Kong has continued to qualify in this aspect. Having an address in Central confers prowess. The same company with an address elsewhere in the territory automatically diminishes its status. Working in Central thus has long been a lofty goal of many locals. The term “OL” is the acronym for office ladies and stands for the well heeled ladies working in big companies with loads of buying power. Before the emergence of the “OL” culture, working in Government Hill as civil servants is just as enviable because of the “iron rice bowl”, meaning you will receive a lifelong pension during retirement.

Hong Kong Central
Central, Hong Kong
Photo by nl469

Central rides high in heritage value as seen in the many colonial style architecture preserved in the area, whereas imprints of sovereignty are seen on the streets that bear the names of the British royalty and Governors. The three main thoroughfares that crisscross Central, Queen’s Road, Des Voeux Road and Connaught Road are named after Queen Victoria, Sir George William Des Voeux, the 10th governor of Hong Kong and Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught respectively. Other landmarks include Statue Square, built towards the end of the 19th century with statues of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Edward VII, George V and Sir Thomas Jackson erected at different times. However, during the Japanese Invasion, these statues, except Sir Thomas’s have been ordered to be melted along with the two signature lions of HSBC. Fortunately, most of the statues have been returned and Queen Victoria now reigns once more at Victoria Park and the two lions still guard the HSBC Headquarters. Sir Thomas Jackson is the lone statue in Statue Square now.

Hong Kong Central HSBC Lion
Photo by lbphotos

Hong Kong Central Sir Thomas Jackson Bart
Sir Thomas Jackson Bart
Photo by canolais

Moving on to Edinburgh Square, it houses the City Hall, the Memorial Gardens and the Star Ferry. The City Hall Library is the oldest library in the territory and the Hall itself is a venue for concerts and performing arts. You may wish to catch a performance by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. City Hall also has a marriage registry and on auspicious days on the lunar calendar, you will see newlyweds and their family and friends vying for a prime spot to take photographs. The now demolished Queen’s Pier has once been the ceremonial place where new Governors arrive. The Square is also one of the terminuses of the Star Ferry Pier, built in 1957 and still in service today. The ferry continues to be a cross harbor transportation method favored by locals and tourists alike. The ferry moves along in snail pace and you can slowly take in the spectacular skyline on both sides of the harbor. The skyline changes every few years. Even locals will marvel and point out a familiar skyscraper is now hidden by yet another taller one. Is it an illusion? How can such a densely packed place like Hong Kong to be endlessly expanding?

Hong Kong Central City Hall
Hong Kong City Hall
Photo by rzs

Hong Kong Central Star Ferry Pier
Star Ferry Pier
The “Star” Ferry Company Ltd. is a passenger ferry service operator in Hong Kong, China. Its principal routes carry passengers across the Victoria Harbour, between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

The fleet of twelve ferries operates four routes across the harbour, carrying over 70,000 passengers a day, or 26 million a year. Even though there are now other ways to cross the harbour (by MTR and road tunnels), the Star Ferry continues to provide an efficient, popular and inexpensive mode of crossing the harbour. The company’s main route runs between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, which is what most people mean by “the Star Ferry” in common parlance.

This route continues to be popular with tourists, and has become one of the icons of Hong Kong heritage. The ferry itself, and the layout of the Kowloon pier are completely recognizable in the 1961 film The World of Suzie Wong. From the ferry, one can take in the famous view of the harbour and the Hong Kong skyline.
Photo by mischiru

Yes, there always seem to be land for another skyscraper in Central. Aside from demolishing old buildings to make way, land reclamation is another option that dates back to 1904, where the Praya Reclamation Scheme has added 59 acres to the Central waterfront. Hong Kong has many iconic skyscrapers. The Bank of China Tower designed by I.M. Pei has been the talk of the town and shrouded in rumor due mostly to its shape in the form of a blade. One rumor has the blade cutting off the feng shui of the then Governor’s House under British rule, another is to undermine that of the bank’s rival, HSBC. Incidentally, the rumor surrounding the HSBC headquarters with its open design is to take in water from the Victoria Harbor, water meaning prosperity. The IFC has usurped both buildings’ shine as the tallest building in Hong Kong, the third tallest in the Greater China Region and the seventh tallest in the world, boasting the highest rent and changing the skyline of Hong Kong yet once again. The IFC has two towers, one housing the IFC Mall and the Four Seasons Hotel and the IFC Two office tower bearing the tallest badge.

Hong Kong Central Bank of China Tower
Bank of China Tower
Photo by stephenchipp

The skyscrapers are canvases for the Christmas lights display every year, attracting locals and tourists to the harbor front to take photographs. There are photography competition held every year luring amateurs and professionals alike. The Hong Kong Tourism Board has taken an even bolder step forward showcasing the skyscrapers by organizing a large light and sound show, called the Symphony of Lights. With the participation of 44 skyscrapers on both sides of the harbor, every night at 8pm the exterior of these buildings will have a synchronized lighting display, complete with laser and LED lights. The pyrotechnic fireworks shooting off rooftops of the IFC during New Year and Chinese New Year always bring a roar in the crowd of spectators.

Some buildings in Central are not iconic as skyscrapers, but as the revered address of haute couture stores. The Landmark is the first prestigious shopping mall in Hong Kong and the launching platform of many haute couture brands as most of them have their beginnings here. This is where Carrie Bradshaw will pay homage as the location of the first Hong Kong Monolo Blahnik store. Almost 20 years since its inception, the Landmark has an extensive renovation in 2003, with parts of its office building converted to the 6 star Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel. At the same time another stellar tenant has moved in, the prestigious Harvey Nichol’s store. The 4/f restaurant in Harvey Nichol’s is a hushed jewel with great service and menu, yet manages not to draw a crowd. New shopping malls have sprouted across the territory but none can rival the status of the Landmark as the epitome of style and luxury. The Landmark is owned by the biggest landlord in Central, Hongkong Land. The office buildings are linked by passageways above the streets, providing a route to the flagship stores on street level. To some people whose visual memory is better with brand names than streets, waiting at the Chanel store is a great indicator of where you are.

Hong Kong Central Pedder Building
Pedder Building
This is the Pedder Building in downtown Hong Kong. It was built in 1924. The lighting made it very dramatic. It was right next to the MTR station.
Photo by Dilian K

Another iconic building is just across the Landmark on Pedder Street. Pedder Building is a narrow building built in 1923 and is the last surviving pre-war building of its kind. It is declared as a “Grade II Historical Building”. The architecture is Neo classical with arches and columns. Once an office building, it now houses the garment retailer Shanghai Tang and a Chinese eatery, the China Tee Club. One other tenant, Blanc de Chine has garnered the hype and popularity to open a flagship store on New York’s Fifth Avenue. The designer has taken elements of Chinese styled garments and turned them into modern classics. One example is layering a see through patterned chiffon “cheong sam” with a one piece dress to create a flowing versus a tight fitted “cheong sam” seen in traditional styles.

Hong Kong Central Lane Crawford
Lane Crawford
Photo by mjaniec

When it comes to the evolving of style and elegance in the city, you must know a little about Lane Crawford and the style icon Joyce Ma. Lane Crawford is the first luxury store in Hong Kong. The first shop is opened on Des Voeux Road, it has then moved to Queen’s Road Central in the 70’s and finally to the IFC mall in 2004. Despite all the moves, the flagship Lane Crawford store has remained in the heart of Central, which is telling proof of the lure of Central. Its long history in luxury retailing has made the store as venerable as Berdorf Goodman and Saks. Joyce Ma is pivotal in introducing most European brands to Hong Kong and to her signature boutique, Joyce since 1970. At the height of Joyce’s expansion from fashion into home style and beauty, sporting a Joyce shopping bag is a status symbol. Joyce Ma is so influential in cultivating style and fashion in the territory she has been awarded the highest civilian distinction in France, the Legion of Honor. Her legendary refined elegance can still be felt in her boutiques around Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Central Night
Central @ Night
Photo by mbphotography

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Connaught Road is a 5 star hotel which has won many awards over the years for its impeccable service and elegance. The Forbes magazine has listed the Mandarin side by side with the Ritz in Paris as the greatest hotels. This is back in 1967, but the Mandarin has continued to be on the list of the 500 best hotels in the world and on Conde Nast’s gold list 2009. The hotel has ten restaurants of which Pierre is Michelin-starred. The Clipper Lounge offers tea service and the best scones in town. It is also a place to see and be seen for local socialites with its open design. What a better place to sip tea and gossip after a day of shopping?

Central is a true powerhouse of finance, luxury and style, blazing the way for Hong Kong as a vibrant region, territory or city.

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Bonnie Wong is a full time writer, bilingual translator and founder of Pastel b. cards. She hopes to share the uniqueness of Hong Kong with everyone through her writing. Learn more about me [+]

One Response to “Central Part 1”

  1. Tyler says:

    Very informative, just what I am looking for. Do you have any suggestions on where to stay in Central? I’m looking for options on budget stays, hostels will be nice.

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