Hong Kong is one city that often looks better in black and white, or at night. People will tell you it’s a beautiful city, but it’s not. It’s only beautiful when you look across the water at it, or down from one of the peaks onto the skyline. It’s good-looking at a distance. Up close, Hongkers is way too crowded to care much about outer beauty, as a photo essay shows.
The most crowded part of Hong Kong happens also to be the most crowded neighborhood in the world, a staggering 130,000 people per square kilo living in an area called Mongkok (Manhattan is only 27,000 per kilo2). The place is clearly intense and well worth visiting, not so much for any tourist sites, but to see how much life is crammed into this area.
My last blog story was introducing Mongkok and why you should take a walk there (check it here), and the comments readers left surprised me, as so many of them questioned whether they could handle such a place. Although I may have played up the intensity too much, I image any visitor could deal with a visit there, visiting the markets, the stores, the mega-vertical-shopping mall, and eating the food. Every once in a while, I do a photo essay of some place, and this week, it’s Mongkok, through photos done almost entirely on the streets there. It’s possible to have a brilliant time there without going indoors much.
Even many shops aren’t completely indoors. The front is completely open to the street, and merchandise spills out onto the sidewalks. Even if there are no shelves inside, floor space can’t be wasted.
The Fa Yuen Street Market and Cooked Foods Centre includes a protein row, a long aisle full of meat and fish vendors. This one makes their own sausages, and the woman is clearly thrilled about it. The space is jammed, with not just stalls being used, but any wall space. The floors are slick and the smells are strong.
I don’t know what percentage of workers in Hong Kong are dealing with food, but it must be tremendous. The number of mouths to feed in Mongkok means you’ll come across a market nearly every block. They just set up on a sidewalk or street space, as no one drives in Hong Kong anyway. You never see a quiet market in Hongkers, or one that’s spread out.
Mongkok isn’t jammed with cafés and bars. Thus, much of life, and its socializing, happens on the street. It’s a great place for street photography because there are always thousands of people about, and you with the lens will blend into the crowd. Your Mongkok photos could show anything. I find most of my visits to the area to not include entering many buildings–I just walk around the streets.
For your next photoshoot with your loved one, how about going out on the street and sitting in the middle, among the crowds? This photographer was setting up the couple, and I wondered if I should prop my tripod up someplace and put up a sign advertising street portraits for a fee.
She: “We’ll take one.”
He: “We’ll take two.”
With space as a premium, much of Mongkok food only offers take-away. Here, skewers of food are waiting to be chosen by you, cooked by them in a spicy broth, and bagged up. Take them home or just eat them on the street.
Another fish market (and a rare indoor shot). Hong Kong (Cantonese) food features lots of seafood, being on the coast and not having lots of grazing land. The emphasis is on whole fish, not cut filets.
The fish isn’t always dead. Here, dozens of compartments are fed by continuous running water to keep your seafood, much of it crustaceans, alive for you.
There is always something happening on Tung Choi Street. During the day, the “Ladies Market” appears, and at night, there’s no telling. One night a ballroom dance social club took over the street. This is one street you shouldn’t miss on any visit.
Another evening, the K-One Studio (I’m not quite sure what they are) set up a band while some of their members danced. This was wildly popular and must have been known about in advance, judging by the number of young men about who just happened to be porting good cameras.
Mongkok has its sordid side, as does the rest of the city. Prostitution laws there can be vague, and the city is dotted with places usually labeled as a “sauna”, offering a variety of services inside, and labeled mostly by a pretty girl. Other places abound. The sign this guy is checking out is vague. It seems like a hostess bar, a place where guys go to drink and can be provided with female companionship, but it’s probably purposefully unclear; it may be a larger, more public place. The price advertised here, $98 HK, is fairly cheap ($12.58 USD, or €11.15 euro), but I’m guessing that here are other options.
If you liked this, check out my other post A Walk in Mongkok for more detail about the neighborhood.
And check out the other photo essays below.