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Representing Ugliness

R0010672L (Ricoh GX200; The two big jewellery billboards are common sights along Nathan Road. At night the powerful spotlights lightening up them have been a long-time source of light pollution to which the government, under the reign of the out-going, pro-business Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, has been turning a blind eye.)

Walking on Nathan Road, the lifeline of the Kowloon Peninsular, is becoming an experience of continuous eyesores. Whereas Nathan Road was once an epitome of the quintessential Hong Kong streetscape with a variety of local shops on both sides, it is very regrettable to see an increasing number of jewellery shops, cosmetics stores and Chinese medicine pharmacies running almost the full length of the road. The springing up of these shops is a corollary of the relentless money-shelling by troops of Mainland Chinese visitors who, for some cultural reason maybe, seemingly prefer flashy and remedial kinds of goods. Nathan Road should now be more aptly thought of as an uninspiring, flattened-out one-level shopping mall.

What was the original Nathan Road like? Martin Booth wrote in his memoir, Gweilo, the streetscape of the place in the 1950s:
As the weeks passed, I grew bolder and – more confident in facing traffic – I traversed Nathan Road, the main artery running up the spine of Kowloon, to enter the district of Yau Ma Tei, as area that was more residential than Mong Kok. Many of the three- or four-storey buildings were old, with arcades, their balconies lined with green-glazed railings patterned to look like bamboo. The roofs of some were covered in green-glazed tiles and curved upwards at the eaves. A few bore ceramic ridge tiles of dragons and lions in faded blue, red or gold. I felt an added excitement coming upon old rusty signs at the entrance to some side streets declaring Out of Bounds to Troops. It was as if I was the first explorer of my race to tread these urban jungle paths. Even soldiers had not come this way before.

Then he went on with what you can still find in the open-air Mong Kok and Yaumatei wet markets:
The shops here were more traditional than those in Soares Avenue. A bakery sold soft bread buns with red writing stamped on them. Dried fish shops displayed desiccated shrimps, squid, cuttlefish, scallops, mussels, sharks' fins and other unidentifiable seafood. Butchers offered raw meat hanging from hooks under 100-watt bulbs beneath red plastic shades. Poultry shops sold chickens, ducks, quail, exquisitely plumaged pheasants and geese but, whereas the butchers' fare was  slaughtered, the live poultry was crammed into bamboo cages. No self-esteeming Chinese housewife bought fowl that was not still breathing and it was commonplace to see someone walking down a street with two trussed hens clucking with avian irritation.

For the last part of the illustration, Hong Kong has now banned the selling of poultry alive unless in a few numbers of registered outlets after a near miss of an Avian Flu outbreak some years ago.

So next time when you come to Hong Kong, you may skip Nathan Road and take to the side streets direct.


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