As a local born Hong Kongese, sometimes I found myself insensitive to the changes of this city. My neighborhood is a typical residential area around Sham Shui Po, it used to be part of the sea as told by my mom. But with my experience, it is developing from a buildings free playground with short tree like Tong Lau buildings into a flourishing jungle.

Tong Lau, can be seen as an identity of Hong Kong Culture. In 1880s, while the European were keen in building the “European Houses” ( those with fancy European style decoration and big space for fancy furniture) for the rich colonial class, the Chinese Elite group were starting to build Tong Lau, ( a style combining the Chinese traditional brick house with small amount of European deco.) to fulfill the needs of the local. Tong Lau, also named “Shop House”, its ground floor was always used as different kinds of shops, the shop owner & family were living upstairs. Another name is “Local House” , theses buildings were the only drewlings available for the local labour class during that period. Even nowadays, the divided-apartments in Tong Lau still housed numerous local households due to the comparatively low rent.

Throughout the years of modernisation, most of the European Houses (both governmental and residential) were demolished or replaced with modernised bungalow and tall blocks, yet large number of these Tong Lau accompanied the growth of local young generation like me. They represent the hardship and the “lion rock spirit” of the local Hong Kong in the 60s-80s. After the handover of Hong Kong, the recontractions process in each district started, large amount of these unknown old tong lau are being removed. Some are abandoned with unknown future, either for demolishment or to be listed as historical building by the government.

When visiting friends arrived Hong Kong, apart from food seeking and shopping, for those who were keen on seeing / sketching the local life, I would bring them to have a walk around the area of Sham Shui Po, Prince Edward, Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun. Looking at these old Tong Lau and shop fronts with interesting Chinese Character Signage, towards a local Hong Kong, it may be nothing special. Indeed they are the hidden gem of local Hong Kong Culture in our realistic daily life.

When I were traveling around any new cities, I would love to walk into ally, explore the architecture and local life with my eyes, camera and pens. Why can’t we do the same in Hong Kong before all these old Tong Lau being removed and turned into a nostalgic symbols like the Kowloon City?

We cannot resist the changes, but we can still record the nostalgic taste when they are still exist.


Alison Hui, a local born Hong Kongese in the 80s, Alison studied Fine Art in the University of Hong Kong. Started her travel sketching since a visit in Moscow in the college period, sketchbook and sketching tools become her travel partners from time to time. She keeps recording the architectures, scenery , people & food with stories which attract her with drawing and words. The goal is to record the moment and to spread the interesting stories reflecting different culture and lifestyle to the audience.

She has written a travel sketchbook with all sketches and stories of her solo trip in South America. She is going to publish a new illustration book about Hong Kong Food Culture.

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