22 April 2019
Wan Chai has become a luxury. The question is why?
Photo: HKEJ
Wan Chai has become a luxury. The question is why? Photo: HKEJ

Why I miss Wan Chai

There is no place for me like Wan Chai, where I have fond memories of every street corner.

It’s the best place for lunch. If you’d take me to the Grand Hyatt, I would be able to drop in on my favorite computer shop or bookstore.

Afternoon tea would be in Kam Fung cha chaan teng for its iced milk tea and chicken pie. Then it’s off to the toy stores in Tai Yuen Street.

That’s the Wan Chai I know from having lived there for a year in what was then the most livable district in Hong Kong. You couldn’t get cheaper transport than the tram, only a few meters from my doorstep.

But Wan Chai has become a luxury.

I read that a 591 square foot unit in the Avenue, a redevelopment project in the former Wedding Card Street, has been rented out for HK$35,000 (US$4,513) a month. That’s news for me.

According to Apple Daily, the monthly rental in the Avenue is higher than the average household income in Wan Chai (about HK$33,500).

Last year, Wan Chai was ranked No. 1 district (spare a thought for residents of Kennedy Road rather than those of Lockhart Road).

What’s the big deal?

That kind of rent, arguably not enough for a dinner by former chief secretary Rafael Hui, is still mind-boggling considering that tenants also have to pay a premium for newer apartments.

That is just how one of the world’s freest economies works. It’s the best example of demand dictating prices.

But think about older residents who have lived in Wan Chai most of their lives. They are stuck in a spiral of rising prices and they cannot do anything about them.

Incidentally, this year marks the 10th anniversary of our government taking back Lee Tung Street, more famously known as Wedding Card Street.

The building was demolished in December 2007 and turned into one of the Urban Renewal Authority’s landmark projects after being heavily criticized for spoiling Hong Kong’s cultural heritage.

Now, early risers have nowhere to bring their birds and have cheap dim sum.

In the past decade alone, two of the most famous traditional yum cha restaurants in Wan Chai disappeared, replaced by multi-story pubs such as The Pawn.

Johnston Road and adjacent Star Street are beginning to look like Lan Kwai Fong. Thanks to Swire’s Pacific Place Three and Hopewell Center, Wan Chai is no longer the place I used to know.

An 81-year-old resident of Blue House (near St. James Settlement office) said he misses the old Wan Chai and couldn’t care less about his new neighborhood of wine cellars and bars.

Like me and many other old-timers, he is asking “why?”

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EJ Insight writer

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