23 Sep Hotel Jen’s Neighbourhood Guide to Shek Tong Tsui
Perched under the iconic Hill Road flyover is a neighbourhood that holds many surprises. Once a flourishing red light district with famous theatres and a bustling night market. Shek Tong Tsui’s playful past may have slowly faded, but the area still holds a unique slice of old Hong Kong with many family-run businesses and café’s. These days it’s the students from nearby Hong Kong University that add a new flair and a hipster vibe. We wanted to view the place through the lens of locals, find out what makes it tick. In a unique partnership, long- time local charity Caritas joined hands with their neighbour Hotel Jen – positioned in the heart of the hood, right under the ubiquitous flyover – to create a community guide for this slice of old Hong Kong. We catch up with Jen’s General Manager Michel Scheffers and iDiscover’s Tiffany Tang to find out what makes this place unique, why community matters and … to find out their favourite places in the neighbourhood.
1. What makes Shek Tong Tsui so special?
Tiffany: Shek Tong Tsui is often overlooked, but it there’s so much to discover. Even for me as a true Hongkonger, this neighbourhood was full of new discoveries. I love the steep streets and small alleys where you have traditional eateries and indie coffee shops side by side. Because of its immigrant culture, there’s a lot of authentic places here you wouldn’t find elsewhere in town. There is this little café Kuen Kee on Queen’s Road where they have great Chiu Chow wonton noodles. What I love about the place is that they remember exactly how you like them cooked. One day we were having lunch there when we heard loud drumming noise and found that a makeshift bamboo theatre had been built under the flyover for the annual hungry ghost festival. The Chiu Chow diaspora is so big here, and so were the burning rituals to revere the ghosts. A pretty amazing experience right in the middle of a busy city street.”
Michel: “Many of our guests like the vibe of Sai Wan (Shek Tong Tsui and neighbouring Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town). This district marks the transformation of old Hong Kong. You can still find traditional wet market, local bakeries and shophouses, but also many modern cafes, art galleries and restaurants that have been integrated in recent years. Both the vintage and new elements seem to blend in a harmonious way. Because our hotel is easily accessible by transportation with HKU MTR station just at our doorstep, we are only 10 minutes away from the Central District, but the quiet and cosy atmosphere make it feel a world away. As a district rich in Hong Kong traditions and uniqueness, our Hotel Jen team inspires our guests to uncover and explore a different side of a city.”
2. How did this partnership come about? Why did Hotel Jen choose to support this community mapping project in Shek Tong Tsui?
Tiffany: “iDiscover has worked with Caritas community centres on numerous occasions in different places around the city. They are so strongly rooted in the community that also for this project they were a logical choice. Through them we were able to find long time locals that were happy to share their stories and memories. One of Caritas’s community centres is located right next door to Hotel Jen, so that is how it was a logical choice.”
Michel: “Our unique selling point is that we don’t just sell our hotel, we sell our neighbourhood. Hotel Jen shares iDiscover’s passion for forming a strong connection in Sai Wan by bringing community-minded people together, and promote a “we” culture. We believe that, by joining together, we can accomplish even more and closely connect with our neighbourhood community. At Jen, CSR is not just a slogan, but a way of running the business. For example we regularly deliver soup and rice to our neighbour, the Western District Elderly Community Centre and we take the elderlies on outings in the neighbourhood. The community mapping project also reflects Hotel Jen’s key beliefs, which is to support art and culture. Artwork by local artists is displayed on the walls of the hotel and exhibitions that feature individual artists are organised throughout the year to support local emerging talents to reach a wider, international audience. So this project ticks many boxes for us: community care, artistic creation and also a useful product for our guests.”
3. Tell us a bit about the making of the Shek Tong Tsui community guide
Tiffany: “iDiscover is about the spirit of place. We work with locals who show us their favourite places and tell us their stories. We put them in a handy map and savvy app to create honest and authentic visitor experience for urban explorers. We hope that our tips help people to spend their money locally, support local businesses and keep heritage alive. In Shek Tong Tsui we put residents in the role of curators. It’s their favourite places that make this map what it is, a true tribute to the spirit of place. We worked with Caritas Mok Cheung Sui Kun Community Centre to facilitate the sharing sessions and the students of CUHK School of Continuing and Professional Studies (CUSCS) helped recording the stories. In the end we selected 22 places that really define Shek Tong Tsui, the authentic eateries, street temples and busy dai pai dongs. We interviewed shopkeepers, researched stories of old theatres and famous people and had a lot of fun wandering around. The 22 stories are accessible in the iDiscover app and we asked the talented Miss Quai to draw the Shek tong Tsui community map; her style has really brought the unique neigbhourhood character to life.”
4. And did the locals like their map?
Tiffany: “It’s a great tool for hotel guests to explore the neighbourhood, but also the locals loved it! The annual lantern festival was a great occasion to share the map and stories in the neighbourhood. We picked a busy spot, right next to the MTR and Hotel Jen and soon we had residents, hotel guests and by-passers mingling and taking part in an urban memory game with all featured shops handing out free snacks and souvenirs”.
5. Why is Jen a great place to stay for urban explorers?
Michel: “Hotel Jen aims to bring a fresh, personable approach to the mid-scale hotel category. We inspire curious travellers to leave boring behind through unconventional perspectives, lesser known insights and spontaneous experiences. All Hotel Jen properties enable their guests to seize the stay, meet the locals, and unravel the city through experiential programmes focused on after-dark exploration, artistic discovery as well as local flavours and food producers. Catering to urban adventurers and business travellers, who seek a fuss-free stay alongside distinctive local experiences, Hotel Jen delivers quality, comfort, connectivity and efficiency with a playful twist and upbeat service. One of the benefits of staying at Hotel Jen is that you are not in the central business district and have a chance to see a more authentic Hong Kong neighbourhood: a very different, interesting side of Hong Kong.”
6. What for you is the true spirit of Hong Kong and where can we still find it?
Michel: “I appreciate the persistence, hard work and flexibility of the Hong Kong people, and that is the Hong Kong spirit for me. In Sai Wan, there are lots of local and family run businesses which are rich in history. I love the traditional street markets along Des Voeux Road West, especially Medicine Street (Ko Shing Street) and Dried Seafood Street (Des Voeux Road West). I’m also a big fan of small local bakeries, convenience stores and handicraft shops that you still find here in the neighbourhood. I often go to Life Bakery on Queen’s Road West that has authentic Chinese traditional pastries like shortbread, pineapple buns and steamed egg white. Hong Kong is a fast-paced city and it keeps changing every day. Sai Wan is unique – a perfect combination of vintage and the present.”
Tiffany: “I learned so much in this mapping project, especially about the Chiu Chow heritage in Shek Tong Tsui. One of my favourites must be the 70 years old Lam Pan Chun on Queens Road West run by a Chiu Chow family. It is one of the oldest shops here in the neighbourhood and one of the few things that has always stayed the same. Walking into this historical tea shop is like walking into old Hong Kong. The signage, floor tiles, wooden furniture, couplets, even the tea tins are precious antiques. 3rd generation owner Mr Lam told us about the poems written by his uncle based on an 18th century Kangxi Dictionary and how he needs to consult a dictionary to read these poems. I still go there to buy Tieguanyin, a sweet and floral variety of Oolong tea that has been the shops bestseller for many years. A few doors away is snake shop Se Wong Kau, another of these otherworldly places. This is where locals go for a bowl of snake soup. Owner Mr Chan started his career as a helper of the famous snake master Sin in Wan Chai. When his wife moved to Hong Kong from China the couple opened their own shop. Ms Chan shared with me how scared she was the first time she touched the snakes, but that they now feel like loafs of bread.”
About Hotel Jen
The Hotel Jen brand was launched in 2014 by Shangri-La International as a mid-range hotel for lovers of life, fun, adventure and discovery. You can find Hotel Jen in some of the best cities across Asia Pacific region: Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing, Shenyang, Penang, Johor, Manila and Malé. Located in up and coming neighbourhoods each destination is packed with surprising adventures, cultural twists and local secrets, from inspiring rooftop views and swimming pools to vibrant street art. In Hong Kong you find Hotel Jen at 508 Queen’s Road West, right next to the HKU MTR station in Shek Tong Tsui.
WANT TO EXPLORE SHEK TONG TSUI?
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