Tai Hang is adjacent to Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, an L-shaped area bordered by Tung Lo Wan Road and Wun Sha Street. Tai Hang is a miniature of what you will find in many places in Hong Kong, a mix of the old and new, contrasting but coexisting perfectly together. On one end, you will see seniors selling eggs, salted fish, fruit, and incense, chatting away or most likely nodding off in the afternoon sun. However, just behind these tiny metal shacks or makeshift stores, there is an up and coming hip dining area, comprised of little restaurants with an array of cuisine, all yours to explore. Tai Hang is rich with cultural traditions that happen to fall on one of the biggest Chinese Festivals, the Mid-Autumn Festival. Tai Hang is situated right behind the Hong Kong Central Library and one street away from Victoria Park. The area though small is big with personality and beckons you for a leisurely visit.
Tai Hang is a tight knit community where everybody knows everybody. All the basic necessities can be found in these tiny streets. People who live in the area do not have to venture far from these streets to get what they need, be it basic household supplies to fresh food. There is a tiny wet market selling vegetable, fish and meat, tiny meaning one stall each. Feeling a little under the weather? Both western and Chinese doctors, again one each, are at your disposal. There is even a modern clinic offering Chinese acupuncture and pressure point therapy. It’s amazing what this little neighborhood can hold. The bond is made even stronger with The Tai Hang Resident Welfare Association, which oversees the neighborhood. The camaraderie is none more evident than in the collective effort to bring the biggest event in the district, the “Fire Dragon Dance” to a blast every year.
Photo by ynwa2005
Fire Dragon Dance
Tai Hang is famous for the Fire Dragon Dance held during the Mid-Autumn Festival. In the weeks leading up to the grand event, long time residents will gather at the Tai Hang Resident Welfare Association to make the infamous dragon. The dragon is made with fragrant “pearl grass” and its whole length measure more than 200 feet long, so you could imagine the amount of grass and work needed.
The Tai Hang Fire Dragon has its origin in 1880 . At that time , Tai Hang was only a small Hakka village and the villagers , most of them farmers and fishermen , Led a simple and peaceful life . The tale started when the villagers once killed a serpent in a stormy night , but in the next morning , the dead body of the serpent had disappeared . A few days later , a plague spread out in Tai Hang and many people died of infection . Meanwhile , a village elder saw Buddha one night in his dream and was told to perform a Fire Dragon Dance and to burn fire crackers in the Mid-Autumn Festival. The sulphur in the fire crackers drove away the disease and the villagers were saved. Since then , every year the Tai Hang residents would perform the Fire Dragon Dance for three nights in the Mid-Autumn Festival in memory of the incident. The Fire Dragon is altogether 220 feet long with its body divided into 32 segments , all of which are stuffed with straw and stuck full of incense sticks , So it is known as the “ Fire-Dragon ”.
Excerpt from Tai Hang Resident Welfare Association website.
Photo by edwincheese
Photo by ehoba
Locals and tourists alike will gather on Wun Sha Street to watch the dragon dance, which will be held on three consecutive nights. The first night is Mid-Autumn Festival eve, so you are “welcoming the moon”, the second night is Mid-Autumn Festival proper and you are “enjoying the moon”, the third night is the last chance to glimpse the white, round moon and you are “chasing the moon”. Prior to the dragon dance, there will be Chinese drumming, with each beat adding to the excitement thumping in you. When the incense on the dragon is lit, a thunderous roar will erupt from the crowd. It takes more than 300 people to hold up the dragon and complete the dance. Since the dragon is really heavy, every 20 seconds or so, you will see a change of hands, thus the need for so many valiant volunteers. The climax of the dance is swinging of the dragon tail and swirling the length of the dragon into a circle known as “Dragon pie”. The dragon at this time will be aglow with lit incense and the street with a sea of flashlights. Quite a few photo fanatics come back year after year to capture the dance.
Lin Fa Temple
The Lin Fa Temple worships “Guan Yin”, the Goddess of Mercy. The temple is originally built in the Qing Dynasty in 1863 and is renovated in 1986. The temple is a grade 1 preserved historic building. Stick incense can be bought inside the temple to honor “Guan Yin”. The temple has a very high ceiling and you will see big coiled incense with red papers, which are wishes from worshippers. The most prominent feature of the temple is its shape and the two 12 feet high pillars in front of the building. The two windows on each side of the pillar are decorated with a pair of peaches and a crane and have a very feminine and delicate feel to it. After all, the temple does worship a Goddess. The interior is very colorful, decorated with frescos of flying dragons and phoenixes. The Fire Dragon stops at the temple to get its blessings and some of the dragons on the murals commemorate this event.
Photo by LOTUSO from Wikipedia
There are a lot of myths surrounding the Guan Yin and her deification, but all will agree it has to do with Guan Yin rescuing sufferers on a lotus rock. There are oil lamps in the shape of the lotus everywhere in the temple. The belief in Guan Yin as merciful is so deep rooted a tradition has arisen on the 26th day of the Lunar Chinese New Year. A wave of believers will gather outside the temple to wait for an event known as “Guan Yin Open Treasury”. Believers all come to “loan” from Guan Yin, usually in millions, sometimes up to billions. It is a gesture of asking Guan Yin for prosperity and blessing in the coming year.
Ambience and Cuisine
Tai Hang has every cuisine imaginable, from Chinese Dim Sum, French, Fusion, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Hot Pot, dessert houses and local eateries weaving among the streets. Breakfast and lunch is brisk business at the local eateries. Hong Kong is known for being efficient, thus you don’t have to wait long for a table. You might be surprised at the shouting going on at the local eateries because the way to order is to shout at the direction of the owner, where he will confirm it by shouting towards the kitchen. Asking for the bill is much the same. Despite the cacophony of voices, you will see people enjoying their meal whilst leisurely reading a newspaper.
Dinner time is when the area comes alive. In contrast to the cacophony during the day, dinner is a mellow affair. Most of the restaurants can seat only 6 tables and almost all of them will expand to the pavement area, offering al fresco dining. Since the lifting of the wine tax, wine drinking has become more widespread, which is one of the reasons “slow dining” is de rigueur. A lot of times you will see diners sipping wine or having coffee and dessert, chatting till late night. Some restaurants stay opened till 2am.
Sunday is another different scene. Tai Hang is a very dog friendly neighborhood with a brunch culture. You can see people with their pooches occupying almost every available seat on the pavement every Sunday. Dogs are not allowed indoors. The greetings amongst the regulars extend to the pooches, with the owners saying “hello” to each other and the doggies sniffing each other saying “Happy Sunday”.
If you’ve had enough of the jostling crowd and shopping in Causeway Bay, Tai Hang can offer you a breather. It is a great neighborhood that demonstrates slow living, which is pretty hard to imagine in Hong Kong.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit is of course during the Mid-Autumn Festival, where you will see the spectacular Fire Dragon Dance. Actually it is an area you can visit year round, but if you want to dine al fresco, it’s better to come in the autumn, unless you can brave the 30c heat and humidity dining without a drop of sweat and actually enjoy the meal. As for the Lin Fa Temple, the opening hours are 7:30am to 5pm. Temples usually close before it gets dark so make sure you go a bit early in the winter.
Mid Autumn Lantern Celebration – This September 2010
Date: 21-23 October 2010
Time: 7:30 PM
Venue: Tai Hang, Causeway Bay(Along Lily Street, Ormsby Street to Tung Lo Wan Road)
Directions: Tin Hau MTR Exit A1
Photo by edwincheese
Not trying to slack with recommendations of restaurants, but ever since the area has become hip almost every restaurant has magazine coverage, which are taped on restaurant windows, albeit in Chinese. Since Tai Hang is a relatively small area, you can just stroll down the streets, read the menus along the way and pick one that makes your mouth water. The hardest part is choosing between two or three restaurants rivaling for your stomach. Bon appetit!
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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 [+]