Hong Kong Asia's World City

East Meets West

East Meets West

A fusion of two worlds

With a remarkable history that moves through Chinese immigration, colonization by the British and subsequent handover into a Special Administrative Region of China, it should come as no surprise that Hong Kong is such a melting pot of Eastern and Western characteristics. Below you’ll find examples of this in the city’s architecture, traditions, food and fashion. You can also take a walk around the Central and Western District to understand how this East-meets-West heritage has given the city a style that is just its own—that has to be seen to be understood.

Everywhere you step in Hong Kong, you’d be hard-pressed to miss signs of the city’s unique fusion of East and West—a complex multicultural vibe that makes it such a unique and easy-to-navigate travel destination. Hong Kong’s Chinese and British make-up runs through its fabric: it’s in the very stone of its preserved buildings and the old-fashioned street signs, on the racks of local fashion designers and the tables of the best restaurateurs. From this cultural fusion—these leftovers from the past—emerges a new, modern Hong Kong.

Statue Square in the middle of downtown Hong Kong is a fine symbol of the city’s architectural complexity. First named “Royal Square” when it was built in the late 19th century, it was later dubbed Statue Square due to the number of effigies here: Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Edward VII were all honored in kind. The only statue still standing after World War II is that of Sir Thomas Jackson, a former HSBC chief. Bordering the square sits the Legislative Council Building: neo-classical in style, its designers—who had previously worked on the British monarchy’s Buckingham Palace—incorporated Far Eastern characteristics such as airy balconies and double-layered Chinese tiles on the roof. Its foundation is made from hundreds of Chinese fir tree trunks that were driven into the reclaimed ground. Another colonial remnant here is the oval-shaped Elizabeth II postbox: this red pill box is the last of its kind and you’ll notice that it’s now been painted green—a symbol of post-1997 Hong Kong.

HSBC Main Building

Overlooking the square towers the iconic HSBC Main Building, a thoroughly modern take on an ancient Chinese concept. Designed by British architect Lord Norman Foster (London’s The Gherkin), components were brought in from all over the world, but it is the building’s distinctive feng shui that really gives it character. Its ideal orientation (water in front; mountains behind) is enhanced by the unusual alignment of external steel columns believed to ward off evil spirits; an internal layout that is divided into five zones to mirror the five elements of fire, earth, water, wood and metal; and a pair of lion statues (Stephen and Stitt) marking the entrance that are said to guard the building’s wealth.

The Pawn

To take a look at some of Hong Kong’s older buildings, step out on the Wan Chai Heritage Trail. This self-guided architectural and cultural walking tour takes in some 15 spots that reflect a confluence of design techniques: from early 20th century French windows to Chinese wood carvings. At 60-66 Johnston Road you can see a fine example of four tong lau—old Chinese tenement buildings that were once seen all over southern China. Used as shophouses, these structures are characterized by their distinctive narrow frontage, high ceilings, French windows and spacious verandahs. Downstairs would be a business such as a pawnshop, with the family living upstairs.

Many of these tong laus have been preserved today and have been refitted for modern purposes. Number 66 Johnston Road is now the refurbished lifestyle store Tang Tang Tang Tang, owned by entrepreneur Sir David Tang. The windows, archways and high ceilings are still intact, but inside you’ll find retro-colonial Hong Kong products for the home that have been given a modern Western twist. You’ll see that it’s not just architecture that reflects the city’s East-meets-West fusion, but its fashion sense too.

Swiss Cafe

Dining is another side of Hong Kong where you can see a variety of cultures and flavors at work. Take the old-school Hong Kong diner—the bing sutt—as an example of how the city has put its own spin on Western food. Originating in the 50s and 60s, these canteen-style restaurants are reminiscent of 1950s Western cafés and attract Hongkongers who are after simple, comforting fare. Swiss Cafe may serve nothing like what you’d find in Switzerland, but its 60s décor is complemented by local breakfast favorites such as egg toast, Hong Kong milk tea and vermicelli with soup, or lunch items like minced beef in tomato sauce with rice and fried egg, and luncheon meat and spaghetti in soup.

Whether it’s the food, fashion, architecture, or simply the atmosphere pervading the city, you’ll discover a culture here that is completely unique: it has adopted the best developments of both the East and West to create a third entity—a culture that is indescribably and inexplicably Hong Kong.

Get Going

  • Statue Square
    Statue Square
    This square is scattered with touches of British and Chinese architectural design such as the former Legislative Council Building.
    Address:
    Des Voeux Road Central, Central, Hong Kong Island
    How to Get There:
    MTR Central Station, Exit K.
  • HSBC Main Building
    HSBC Main Building
    This thoroughly modern interpretation of an ancient Chinese concept blends feng shui elements into a distinctive design.
    Address:
    1 Queen's Road, Central, Hong Kong Island
    How to Get There:
    MTR Central Station, Exit K.
  • Wan Chai Heritage Trail
    Wan Chai Heritage Trail
    An architectural and cultural walking tour that takes in some 15 spots that reflect a confluence of design techniques.
    Address:
    Start: 1 Mallory Street; Finish: 31 Wing Fung Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island
    Tel:
    +852 2588 2333
    Website:
    How to Get There:
    MTR Wan Chai Station, Exit A4. Walk east along Hennessy Road and turn right at the junction with Johnston Road. Mallory Street is the first road on your left. It’s about a 4-minute walk.
  • Swiss Cafe
    Swiss Cafe
    This old-school diner—a bing sutt—is kitted out in 60s fashion and serves a Hong Kong version of western comfort food.
    Address:
    12-16 Li Yuen Street West, Central, Hong Kong Island
    Tel:
    +852 2111 0841
    How to Get There:
    MTR Central Station, Exit D2. Turn left on Theatre Lane and then right along Queen’s Road Central. Turn right on Li Yuen Street West. It’s about a 5-minute walk.

East Meets West 'Musts'

  • HKSKH St Mary’s Church
    Admire Chinese-Anglican design
    HKSKH St Mary’s Church
    The HKSKH (Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui) St Mary’s Church began life as a small chapel in 1911, serving the Anglican population of Causeway Bay. The current building, constructed in 1937, is one of the city’s best religious examples of East-meets-West architectural design. A mix of Chinese and Renaissance styles provide for noteworthy features such as the flight of granite steps and Chinese-style eaves under a large white cross. Opening hours: Mon-Fri, 8:30am-5pm; Sun at 8:30am and 11am for group prayer.
    Address:
    2A Tai Hang Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong Island
    Tel:
    +852 2576 1768
    Website:
    How to Get There:
    MTR Causeway Bay Station, Exit F2. Turn right along Yee Wo Street and take the overhead walkway across Leighton Road. Turn left on Leighton Road and then right on to Tai Hang Road. It’s about a 10-minute walk.

This guide was produced by HK Magazine Media Group from 2014-2015.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board disclaims any liability as to the quality or fitness for purpose of third party products and services; and makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy, adequacy or reliability of any information contained herein.

Information in this guide is subject to changes without advance notice. Please contact the relevant product or service providers for enquiries.

While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information in this guide, the Hong Kong Tourism Board and HK Magazine accept no responsibility for any obsolescence, errors or omissions contained herein.

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