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Dr Louis Ng on the story of West Kowloon: art all around

Localiiz
  • Written by Localiiz
Hong Kong Palace Museum Director Dr Louis Ng in front of the museum

Image credit: Leo Cheng

“What’s the story of West Kowloon? It’s the people’s lives. The dynamicity, the vibrance,” says historian and director of the Hong Kong Palace Museum Dr Louis Ng. Growing up in the neighbourhood, Ng is part of the story. His work is also intimately involved with some iconic pieces of history in the area, such as the Museum of History, St. Andrew’s Church, and now the Hong Kong Palace Museum. Although some parts of the neighbourhood have changed, the memories remain.

Shanghai Street in Yau Ma Tei

Image credit: Gideon de Kock

To Ng, the best way to experience the neighbourhood is by walking along Shanghai Street. “There are still a lot of small shops there. I enjoy hanging around these streets, compared to going to big supermarkets and malls. There are some small restaurants here, too. I like cooking, and there are a lot of shops on Shanghai Street that sell ingredients and tools for cooking,” he shares. A lot has changed since Ng’s childhood — more high-rise buildings, and transportation infrastructure like the High Speed Rail, but some elements are preserved. “There are lots of people just like me who have been living here for a long time, unlike in Central — the residents there probably change a lot. But in this area, particularly Yau Ma Tei and Jordan, people have been living here for a long time,” Ng says.

Dr Ng walking through West Kowloon Cultural District

Image credit: Leo Cheng

The locals are what keep the neighbourhood grounded, and vice versa. A neighbourhood favourite, preserved bean curd shop Liu Ma Kee, is still one of Ng’s frequent haunts. “You can talk to the people to understand their past. There are lots of good stories there,” he says. Local household names also have ties to the neighbourhood. Ng shares, “The first successful Café de Coral restaurant was on Ferry Street. Although they closed down the restaurant around 10 years ago, they kept the building as their office.” He marvels, “It’s quite incredible that you can explore the history, heritage, and the past, but in the meantime you can also see very modern buildings.”

Dr Ng inside the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority office

Image credit: Leo Cheng

In response to the age-old question of preservation versus development, Ng explains that there is always a way to keep the peace, which is an art form in itself. He explains, “There will always be a debate between the two, but I believe it is possible to find the right balance point. For example, the Yau Ma Tei police station is a project that has been discussed for the past 20 years. We understood that the highway is essential to many people in Hong Kong, thus we were able to find a middle ground where we allowed the Urban Renewal Authority to demolish part of the building to allow for the highway to pass through. But most importantly, the main structure of the building was preserved and we can carry on with our work as usual.” 

Ng thinks the museums have a duty not just to preserve and showcase history, but to enrich it as well. By working with local artists and designers, a connection with the local community is formed — presenting facets of daily life that can be construed as artistic, the general public is able to engage and identify with art pieces. “To me, what is most important is that the art piece can touch people’s hearts and minds,” Ng adds. “When the M+ opens (on 12 November), you can find some interesting pieces within, such as neon signs on display. This is a memory of the local Hong Kong people.” For the neighbourhood that made him, Ng will now return the favour — by celebrating the parts of daily living that make the neighbourhood. 

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

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.

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