Sail into Hong Kong's old days from Wan Chai pier

September 19, 2015 08:08
Despite the dwindling ridership before its final closure and relocation, the Wan Chai Ferry Pier was once the only hub for cross-harbor transport serving Wan Chai and Causeway Bay. Photo: Bamboo 竹仔

How long has it been since your last visit to the Wan Chai Ferry Pier?

People may have long forgotten this small pier that sat quietly in the shadow of high-rises and the Convention and Exhibition Centre until it was demolished and replaced last year to make way for modern projects.

Not too many commuters would bother walking down a number of streets and crossing several footbridges to the waterfront on the outskirts of Wan Chai for a ferry ride when they have a much swifter alternative to travel underground by train.

Another proof of the pier’s existence in oblivion is that, more often than not, a search of its past on Google will only yield pictures and ads of its eponymous chilled food brand.

But those who used to cross the harbor to get to work back in the 1970s may still remember the pier and its distinctive white and green structure.

Inaugurated in the turbulent year of 1968, the pier soon became a transport hub linking the Wan Chai and Causeway Bay areas to the Kowloon Peninsula, as a separate freight and passenger quay was needed when the business and entertainment activities on the island began to expand into the district.

In its heyday, ferries plied to and from Jordan Road, Hung Hom and Tsim Sha Tsui but its prominence faded after the completion of the Cross Harbour Tunnel in 1972 and MTR Tsuen Wan Line in 1982.

The pier could hardly stay in its old location as Wan Chai itself continued to grow as a result of land reclamations.

The area north of Queen's Road East was part of the sea when Hong Kong Island was ceded to the British in 1840 and the first-generation pier was built along Amoy Street, the bustling heart of Wan Chai almost a kilometer away from today’s coastline.

Subsequent reclamation projects over the following century pushed the shore to Gloucester Road in the 1950s, and the pier was relocated to nearby Tonnochy Road, according to archives of the Civil Engineering and Development Department.

Ongoing mega projects including the Central-Wan Chai Bypass and MTR’s Shatin to Central Link have excavated massive trenches along the harbor waterfront and once again, the pier must be uprooted for tunnels and the Exhibition Station being built there.

The general public’s aloofness towards the government’s plan to pull down the pier was a stark contrast to the outcry and mass objection displayed by conservationists back in 2007 before the Queen’s Pier in Edinburgh Place was dismantled.

One likely reason was that the Wan Chai Pier had a shorter history and was less associated with the territory’s colonial past.

Yet the forgotten war days were not unearthed until after the pier was removed. A large object was found there earlier this year when a contractor was dredging the site.

The metal object is believed to be the wreck of HMS Tamar, a British Royal Navy troopship stationed in Hong Kong which was ordered scuttled in 1941 to avoid capture by the invading Japanese troops.

A new ferry facility has already been up and running since August 2014 at the new reclaimed site, yet it is criticized for its tortuous path and other inconveniences. The new location, even more remote, means the already dwindling ridership may drop further.

The old Wan Chai Pier brings back memories of Madame Chong and her dumplings. A migrant from Shandong province, she set up her dim sum cart at the pier's hallway sometime in 1977 and earned herself a living.

Chong, a single mother of two, later came to be known as “Queen of Dumplings” whose secret recipe turned her modest business into a signature brand.

Her dumplings are now sold in neighboring markets after her business was acquired by US food giant General Mills.

Unable to obtain a license, she once had to guard against surprise raids by police and government inspectors. Off-duty sailors and truck drivers used to volunteer as her sentries at the gate as throngs of commuters passed by.

Those were the days when people helped each other amid the hardships and upheavals, and the pier was a silent witness to a more caring Hong Kong back then.

“It’s more like an old friend than an old place,” Chong told reporters on the day the pier was officially shuttered after over four decades of service.

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Read more about Hong Kong places:

Boundary Street: A metaphor for Hong Kong’s uncertain future

Hung Hom: Two worlds in one

Kai Tak: An enduring legacy

North Point: A living history of Hong Kong

Yau Ma Tei theaters and shops: A slice of HK history

Temple Street: Why the magic endures

Gwo Laan: Fruity story of an old Hong Kong trade

Things you probably didn’t know about Chungking Mansions

Coming MTR line changing life on the edge of HK Island

A 2009 file photo of Wan Chai Pier showing its distinctive white and green structure. Photo: Wikiwand
Children and parents toured the pier on its final day of service on Aug. 29, 2014. Photo: Hayaku Tang
The pier's hallway leading to the waiting area. The facility had no air-conditioning. Photo: Bamboo 竹仔
Inside the waiting area. Photo: Bamboo 竹仔
The boarding lights give commuters a vintage taste of the 1960s. Photo: Bamboo 竹仔
Passengers gaze at Victoria Harbor from behind the windows while waiting for their ferry ride. Photo: Bamboo 竹仔

EJ Insight writer